Which Drywall Tape is Best ?
Regardless of whether you’re a complete novice or an experienced do-it-yourselfer, starting a new project means assembling your materials. As you get everything ready, you may find yourself wondering which drywall tape is best. It’s a pretty common question, especially for those who are seeing the newer mesh tape for the first time. As is so often the case for “which is best?” questions, the answer is: it depends. Fortunately, we’re here to help you make sense of the different taping products out there and pick the right one for you. Let’s get into it!
Stronger or Faster/Easier to Apply?
One of the principal differences between paper tape and mesh tape is that, generally speaking, paper tape makes a slightly stronger joint than mesh – but that strength comes at a price. The main reason paper tape can give you a stronger joint is that to apply it, you first have to apply a layer of mud underneath the tape to stick it to the wall. That gives you an extra layer of mud in the joint compared to mesh tape, which is self-adhesive and can be applied directly to the sheetrock.
Naturally, this means that paper tape also takes a good deal of time to apply, since you have to first do the adhesive layer, embed the tape, wait a few hours for the adhesive layer to dry, and then apply a second coat of mud. This process also takes considerable practice to master and if you aren’t careful to embed the tape perfectly, you’ll end up with air bubbles under the tape that will weaken the joint. That said, a perfectly finished paper tape joint will have less movement – and thus less potential to form cracks – than a mesh tape joint, thanks to that extra mud coupled with the nonelastic nature of paper.
Fiberglass tape, on the other hand, is comparatively easy to work with. It is self-adhesive, so it can be applied to all the joints in one go and then mudded over in a single pass, skipping the first layer of mud entirely. As an added bonus, because it skips the adhesive layer, you don’t need to worry about air bubbles causing problems down the road. All this makes mesh tape easier to work with, especially if you’re not an expert. It can also save you time and is particularly well suited to patch jobs where the strength of the finished joint is slightly less important. The downsides of mesh tape, though, are that it is much more difficult to apply by hand (it can easily get crooked without an applicator and needs a different, special applicator for inside corners) and that you’ll need to finish it with setting-type compound (rather than standard compound), so you’ll need some extra supplies. The setting compound protects against cracks that can develop from mesh tape’s comparatively high elasticity, which can otherwise give joints more movement than they would have with paper tape.
Bottom line: paper tape is a perfectly good choice which leaves a slightly stronger joint thanks to the additional steps it requires, but those extra steps take time, practice, and patience. Mesh tape has a much shallower learning curve and can save you significant time on the job but you’ll need some extra tools and materials to work with it and it can leave a slightly weaker joint even though the material itself is stronger than paper.
Location, Location, Location
Another important consideration when choosing what kind of tape to use is where you’ll be using it. Here, the edge goes to fiberglass mesh, which is more resistant to mold and thus a better fit for limited wet areas like bathrooms and kitchen backsplashes. By comparison, the paper tape itself can serve as a growth medium for mold.
Other locations that might affect your choice are accident-prone areas like high-traffic outside corners or areas near doors and windows. Here, paper tape’s slightly sturdier joint can offer protection. On the other hand, corner beads (especially vinyl beads) offer a huge upgrade to corner durability, so if you want to work with mesh tape and durability is a concern, just apply a corner bead and set your mind at ease (and consider using corner beads with paper tape, too!).
Bottom line: generally, mesh tape beats paper tape for versatility of environment. It is more mold-resistant and better suited to wet areas. It can be a fine choice for high-traffic areas, especially if paired with corner bead. However, if you’re working in a dry environment and decide you don’t want to use corner bead for some reason, consider using paper tape for high traffic-areas since it can be slightly more durable than mesh.
In a perfect world, of course, every project would be completed with the best materials available. Unfortunately, reality often means adding up costs and making some tough decisions about where to spend the budget.
If project cost is a big or primary concern, paper tape should be your starting point as it is very inexpensive and won’t require the extra tools and special compound that mesh tape needs. Beyond the extra tools and materials for mesh, the fiberglass tape itself costs more than paper, especially for the ultra-thin kind that leaves the prettiest, smoothest finish.
Bottom line: if budget is your top priority, go with paper, since it’s cheaper and won’t require additional tools or materials.
Deciding which drywall tape is best isn’t a simple “one or the other” decision. Both types have advantages and disadvantages, so you’ll want to consider your experience, timeframe, budget, and the location of the job before you pick which tape to use. You might even want to use paper tape in some areas of the project and mesh in others, but both types can provide great results if applied carefully and correctly.