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As a serial DIYer, I’ve done a lot of painting over the years. And to me, the worst part about it is all the paint prep work that you have to do before you even pull out a brush. By the time I lay out the drop cloths and masking film and tape off all my surfaces, it feels like half the day is gone. Painting almost becomes a relief once I can actually start. So when I saw a weird-looking tape dispenser in my Instagram feed, I was instantly curious about how it could cut down on prep time (if it even worked at all).
The 3M Hand-Masker Painter’s Tape and Masking Film Dispenser promised to be four times faster than prepping with the same materials by hand, which is a huge difference if true. Instead of laying out your masking film and trying to tape it in place after, you can do both at the same time by pulling your dispenser straight across the surface you’re trying to tape off. Videos featuring the tool show people laying down entire rooms in a few minutes. It seemed too good to be true, so I had to put it to the test.
My husband and I recently installed new flooring and baseboards as part of a home renovation, and opted to paint the baseboards ourselves to save money. But the daunting task of protecting the brand-new floors pushed this project off for months. I was excited to get my hands on the tool to see if it could help with that mental hurdle and limit my prep time so I could actually get to the painting part of this project.
There are various bundles with different attachments offered, but I found that reviews most often recommended the set with the straight-edge blade. I will note that the instructions that came with the tool were severely lacking. Even 3M videos didn’t get into the details of how to use it. For example, I couldn’t figure out why the blade wasn’t working as shown in the videos until I accidentally tore off the guard while examining it. Here’s what I learned about how to best use the product in my testing.
How to Use the 3M Painter’s Tape and Masking Film Dispenser
Once you remove the packaging, carefully thread the tape under the black tab that keeps the plastic masking film in place and underneath the yellow tab right at the base of the handle. The instructions didn’t mention going under the yellow tab, but many reviewers mentioned that this was essential for keeping the tape on track, which I found to be true as well.
You can adjust the masker to hold masking rolls of different sizes (24″, 48″, 72″, and 99″) and painter’s tape of different widths (18mm, 24mm, 36mm, and 48mm). Loading the masking roll and tape was relatively easy, but aligning the tape with the masking roll was a bit finicky.
Pull some masking film and tape a bit past your blade to get started. You’re going to want to stick down that initial bit on the surface you’re trying to tape off. Many Reels depict smoothly running the tool parallel to the surface and applying the tape all in one go. I attempted to apply it the same way and found the process immensely frustrating, as the tape wasn’t precisely applied to the edge of my wall.
After further research and watching more videos, I noticed that 3M actually demonstrates using the tool more like a painter’s tape extension. It was much easier to apply the tape with this tool when I started thinking about the all-in-one as an extra hand solely there to unwind the tape. Instead of trying to lay down long stretches of tape and masking film, run the dispenser in small sections with one hand while firmly pressing the tape down and ensuring it’s close to the surface with the other hand.
Once you get to the end of your line, pull the tape and masking film taut and tilt the blade at a 45 degree angle towards you to make a finishing cut. I could never quite get the same all-in-one clean cut that I saw on Instagram, but in fairness, I struggle with similar mechanics in using a cooking cling wrap roll. It would definitely be worthwhile to practice a couple of cuts before starting. I did not, and ended up cutting our floor with the blade on my first attempt.
After the tape is firmly applied to your surface, simply pull out the pre-folded masking film to protect a larger surface area. This is where I really saw the benefit of the tool. Before this, I was questioning why anyone would add extra steps to essentially put tape down. But being able to pull the sheet out and have the floors completely protected for 72 inches back, knowing it was firmly and securely in place right up to my baseboards, felt really good. The plastic itself feels very durable and 3M claims that it’s flake-proof for multiple coats.
While initially getting the hang of the tool, I felt like I was wasting a lot of tape and masking film to get into the flow. But after using it in one room, I could see myself reaching for it again. I’m not sure that it was four times faster than applying by hand, but it cut prep time down by at least half.
So, is it worth it? This bundle is typically around $85 but can range between $65 and $90 (yes, for the exact same bundle — turn on those sale alerts!). The cost for the specialty 8.25 ft. x 90 ft. masking film refills is $20 to $24. (The painter’s tape is the same as what you would apply anyway, so I’m not including that in my cost comparison calculations.)
Alternatively, it would take about eight basic 8.25 ft. x 90 ft. sheets to cover the same area, making the cheapest no-tool alternative roughly $35. I was shocked to find that the specialty rolls were actually cheaper than buying the regular rolls, although you obviously have to factor in the initial cost of the applicator.
To me, the $85 upfront cost of the tool feels too steep if you only plan to use it once. But if you’re looking at a huge run of paint projects — say, if you’re renovating and repainting an entire house — then this can absolutely be worth that initial investment when you weigh that against what you’d pay for just the film (as well as the time you’d save). It’s not surprising to me that I see plenty of painting pros using this for their work.
Final verdict: If you have only one paint project on the docket, skip this buy. But if you have plans to use it multiple times within the first year of purchase, it’s definitely worth it. Just make sure to practice using it before you dive in!