Fundamentals of Masking Outside Surfaces

From a technical point of view, masking home exteriors isn’t very different from masking interiors. However, working outside means contending with certain factors, like shrubbery, with no indoor equivalent. In addition, the types of surfaces you’ll work with outdoors aren’t always the same as the ones you encounter within the house.

1) Assembling Your Toolkit

Drop Cloths

Keep paint and debris off your garden, or the sidewalk, with a well-placed drop cloth. Naturally, you’ll have to determine which type of cloth fits your project: canvas, paper, or plastic.


The phrase “masking tape” probably makes you think of crepe tape with a distinctive beige hue. This is obviously one option for masking; the other standby is painter’s tape, which is blue and manages a neat trick: It sticks well, yet it’s also not difficult to take off. Tape width ranges from three-quarters of an inch to 2 inches.

The reason to use blue painter’s tape, rather than the standard variety, is that sunlight doesn’t cause it to cling to paper for dear life. The result of using normal painter’s tape on paper outside the house is usually shredded paper. Blue tape, on the other hand, allows you to stick plastic or paper to nearly any kind of surface, with the expectation that it will come off when you want it to.

The gluey stuff on one side of painter’s tape can be rendered ineffective by enamels and solvents. If an outside surface has oil-based enamel on it, your tape must be able to withstand it in order to maintain the masking.

Paper and Plastic

Newspaper makes bad masking. Why? Think about what happens to a paper in the rain. Paper designed specifically for masking is the way to go — or, failing that, plastic. If you’re using latex paints, brown kraft paper is probably your best option. Paper that can tolerate solvents is also available. Both work well on exteriors.

If you decide to go the plastic route, you’ll have a variety of widths to choose from. (They range from 2 feet to 8 1/4 feet.) The assortment of sizes is meant to accommodate many different kinds of windows and doors. The plastic used for masking has some weight to it, which makes it less challenging to use than other, flimsier types of plastic sheeting.

Using a Machine

Like most tasks, masking can be done more efficiently with a machine. The hand-held device in question simply uses tape to attach the masking (plastic or paper) to the exterior features you’re working on.

2) Choose What You Don’t Want to Get Paint On

Whatever it is, use your masking material to protect it. Usual targets are windows, handrails on a porch or patio, garden plants, brick, doors, and sidewalks. Also consider covering water and light fixtures, meters, and so on.

3) The Masking Process

Gardens, Shrubs, and Sidewalks

Use a hefty drop cloth with rubber backing, which prevents paint from coming through.

Fences and Decks

If your deck is made of wood, drop cloths should start a short distance (e.g., 3 inches) from the house’s outer wall. Apply masking paper to the wall-adjacent edge using a machine loaded with broad tape. Handrails and fences affixed to the building should receive the same treatment.

Skipping the masking step sentences your fence and/or deck to one of two fates: being sanded and refinished, or being painted.

Vertical Surfaces

You can mask an exterior wall more or less the way you would an indoor one. The main difference is that painter’s tape doesn’t stick to some outdoor surfaces, like brick, especially if they aren’t completely clean. It’s easier to put tape on a finished wall; masking on the trickier surfaces may have to be done more deliberately — and manually.

Doors and Windows

Both kinds of portals should be masked completely on the outside. Keep the masking material firmly attached around each door and window, without gaps.

Exterior Features (Lights, Meters, etc.)

Most of the things that protrude from an outside wall can be covered in plastic, with painter’s tape as the adhesive. Even trash bags can do the job. Just make sure to match the bag’s proportions to those of the feature you’re masking.

Painting meters, valves, and the like isn’t the usual practice, so they tend to be masked. However, if they stick out like sore thumbs, aesthetically speaking, you may wish to camouflage them with paint, to help them blend into the exterior.

Spray Painting

If you elect to spray paint, it’s imperative that you fully mask anything you want to protect. Wind can carry spray beyond where you aim it, and this unpredictability calls for unusually precise planning.

Using the Right Stuff

Good brushes, rollers, and paint are more likely to get the paint where you want it to go — and not where you don’t.