Gaffer tape (also known as gaffer's tape, gaffing tape, gaff tape or gaffa tape) is a heavy cotton cloth pressure-sensitive tape with strong adhesive properties. It is widely used in theater, photography, film and television production, and industrial staging work.
While similar to and often confused with duct tape, it differs in the composition of both the backing, which is made from fabric as opposed to vinyl or other plastics, and the adhesive, which is more resistant to heat and allows easier removal without damaging the surface to which it was adhered.
For budgetary purposes, gaffer tape is ordinarily categorized as a production expendable because it is discarded after use and must be re-ordered periodically.
The precise origin of the name is unknown, one theory being that it is named for the gaffer (chief lighting technician) on a film crew. When cables are taped down on a stage or other surface, either to prevent tripping hazards or conceal them from view of the audience or camera, they are said to be gaffed or gaffered.
Properties and Uses
Gaffer tape is manufactured in many colors, including fluorescent and custom colors, but perhaps the most common variety is matte black. A matte finish keeps the tape from reflecting light so it blends in with a typical stage floor. It is sold in a variety of widths from 1/4" to 4"; 1" and 2" is the most common. Gaffer tape is strong yet can be torn by hand, so no cutting tools are necessary, and it can easily be ripped into narrower strips when desired. The synthetic adhesive typically leaves little or no residue and will generally not damage most surfaces when it is removed. This is however more likely in warm conditions, so care must be used in considering whether a different type of tape would be more appropriate in a given application. Gaffer tape is usually more expensive than duct tape because it is manufactured in smaller quantities, has more exacting specifications, and is marketed for professional use.
Gaffer tape is one of the most versatile tools at a technician's disposal, and its uses are limited only by the imagination.
A common application for gaffer tape is securing cables to a stage floor, podium, or other surface, either for safety or concealment. It is also frequently used whenever a quick ad hoc fix is required, from temporarily attaching fixtures or props, to salvaging a broken piece of production equipment. A narrow version of gaffer tape, called spike tape, is used in theater productions for floor layout. 
In the absence of console tape or artist tape, live sound engineers or lighting board operators may use a strip of white gaffer tape along the bottom of a mixing board, to label the channels or submasters used for a particular show.
It is also widely used by audio-visual departments in hotels and conference centers for holding down wires to podiums and stages. It can also be used as a waterproof packaging tape and some grades even meet packaging certification standards such as ASTM D5486.
Gaffer's tape is also often used for the marking of indoor climbing routes.
- Lawler, Mike (2007), Careers in Technical Theater, Allworth Communications, Inc., p. 97, ISBN 9781581154856
- "gaffer tape n. (also gaffa tape, gaffer's tape)" Oxford English dictionary (second ed.), 1989[dead link]
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