What is Pinstriping Tape?

While it may seem like a simple artistic endeavor, automotive pinstriping is a multi-faceted skill that requires a significant amount of prep work and materials. Got a pinstriping project on the brain? Before you embark on that sleek racing flare, detailed interlocking sphere design or simple sinewy lines, you’ll need the proper tools. Perhaps the most critical component of pinstriping is automotive pinstriping tape — a tough yet easy-to-apply tape that allows for pinstriping artists to create stand-out pinstriping designs — ensuring customization to be a breeze.

Selecting the ideal automotive pinstriping tape for cars isn’t just a perfunctory part of the process, it’s also quite personal. Different artists have different design criteria, and will select the pinstripe tape that best suits the project. Fortunately, there are seemingly endless choices in the pinstripe tape arena.

Unlike other kinds of industrial tape, auto pinstripe tape allows pinstripers to create clean lines without damaging a vehicle’s exterior. Auto pinstriping tape comes in a wide, wide array of colors, styles, widths, and textures, depending on the scope of the project, the vehicle, and a pinstriping artist’s personal preferences. Pinstriping tape comes in a multitude of both vibrant and subtle hues, and most automotive pinstripe manufacturers hail their products as being fairly easy to apply with a peel-and-stick type of application. Other key selling points to pinstripe tape are its ability to withstand the harsh rays of the sun with hefty UV resistance, and being fully pigmented. It’s adherable to any vehicle type — from a petite Vespa to a compact MINI Cooper to a hefty Ford F-150 pickup truck, and everything in between.

The cost of pinstriping tape runs the price gamut, and should be factored into any pinstriping project, even though it will only set an artist back a few dollars on the low end — roughly about $2.99 — and upwards of $25 and over on the higher end, depending on length, type, and width.

Those new to pinstriping may be relieved to discover that auto pinstripe tape comes with detailed application instructions and many brands offer lifetime warranty; most are easy to apply around curves and the contour surfaces of a vehicle. Ask what most pinstriping artists look for in pinstriping tape, and most will say durability, flexibility, and ease of removal. The buzz words surrounding automotive pinstriping include “tight radius curves”, “paint line definition” and “lasting power”. When scouring the Internet and pinstriping outlets for automotive pinstripe tape, gearheads want the perfect tape to use when masking for sharp curves, over rivets, and into the seams of a vehicle.

Another key component of determining the best type of auto pinstriping tape is how it works for creating one’s own design, and not simply how it works with a stencil. Many artists freestyle their pinstriping projects, and their selected tape needs to adhere properly.

Rolls of pinstriping tape vary in size, with standard rolls measuring at approximately 36 yards long. It’s possible to find smaller rolls for small, less detailed projects, as well as larger rolls sold in bulk, often from wholesale outlets.  

Benefits of Using Pinstripe Tape

The benefits of using automotive pinstripe tape are vast and varied. It is truly one of the most critical tools of any pinstripe artist. Its standout qualities include durability (with some brands offering lifetime warranty), thickness, adherence to smooth surfaces, permanence, sensitivity to pressure, full pigmentation, UV resistance, and ease of application. And since automotive pinstripe tape comes in a wide range of widths, materials, and thicknesses, artists can rest assured they will find the perfect tape for their pinstriping needs.

A mainstay for pinstripers for decades, this peel-and-stick product ensures clean lines on any vehicle, making those standout designs of swelling lines and looping circles truly “pop” on any vehicle — from the heftiest truck to the the most compact convertible. Selecting the ideal pinstripe tape for any automotive project will ensure a lasting, innovative look — something artists continually crave.

Because car pinstripe tape is sturdy, and is available in such a wide variety of materials and colors, it’s perfect for whatever pinstriping project an artist embarks upon — from wildly detailed to sweet and simple. Artists have an incredible amount of creativity when it comes to using automotive pinstripe tape, and may even feel like a kid in a candy store when it comes to selecting the best tape for any pinstriping project.

Learning to use pinstripe tape takes practice, but the benefits are long lasting. Artists often say it takes time to become deft at applying the tape in the correct place, and taking care not to allow it to pucker. Once an artist surpasses the learning phase, though, it becomes easier to apply the tape. Artists often find it becomes like second nature to work with such a malleable product.

Another benefit of auto pinstripe tape is the abundance of sizes, colors, and materials. Such a vast amount of choice allows artists to truly contemplate the best automotive pinstripe tape for any given project. Most pinstriping artists prefer a tape that is truly flexible and stretches extremely well, so adherence to a vehicle doesn’t become a costly (and frustrating) problem. In addition to the seemingly unending choices of size, colors, and materials, another major plus to pinstripe tape is its widely available from a slew of big and smaller name online shopping destinations, as well as in most automotive retail stores. This accessibility makes beginning a new pinstriping project much easier when an artist has easy access to obtaining automotive pinstripe tape.

Essentially, pinstriping tape is available in two different quality levels — custom and premium. Custom tape is what one would find in a big box store like Walmart or an automotive parts store. It is usually thicker than premium grade but it’s also easier to use — a big plus for pinstriping newbies. Professional pinstriping artists use premium tape. It’s much thinner than custom tape, and takes longer to learn how to apply it correctly, but it lasts 5 – 10 years. Being thinner, it appears seamless on a vehicle — more like paint.

Popular Types of Pinstriping Tape

Making the decision of which type of pinstripe tape to use is something artist must do before jumping in with those custom swirls or edgy designs. And while an artist won’t be pouring a rainbow of options (like choosing colors), deciding which kind of auto pinstripe tape to use requires a little consideration.

The most popular type of auto pinstripe tape is vinyl — the sturdy mainstay for pinstripe artists everywhere. Vinyl automotive tape is used to create stripe patterns on vehicles to create innovative striping designs.

Vinyl is incredibly strong, malleable, bendable, and able to withstand intense weather conditions. Folks looking for thicker auto pinstripe tape may look into 3M pinstriping tape, while others may opt for a thinner tape in the 2M or smaller area.

For those craving a look that will truly stand out may find a reflective or fluorescent automotive pinstripe tape to fit the bill. Some artists may prefer a reflective tape for safety purposes and to be seen more clearly at night, whereas fluorescent tape casts a neon-esque hue for greater color saturation.

Many vinyl and 3M manufacturers hail their products as being OEM (Other Equipment Manufacturer) approved, and detail the benefits of their product: created from premium 6-8 year outdoor vinyl, most tape fits comfortably over rivets and corrugations, and features permanent automotive-grade adhesive. Most car pinstripe tape comes with a kind of transparent application tape overlay, which is like an extra addition of insurance for an artist’s designs. Top notch automotive tape also resists gasoline and chemicals — a huge plus for ensuring lasting designs without the risk of damage by external materials.

Looking for the thinnest lines? Or wide, inches-thick blocks for a heftier look? In the vast world of auto pinstriping, sizing is practically limitless. Scores of options abound, and artists will find it available in inches, on a roll — from 8/32’’ to 6’’ in size — giving artists tons of range and flexibility for their projects.

The most popular types of vinyl automotive pinstripe tape adhere effortlessly to fiberglass, painted wood, plastic, metal and aluminum.

Another term bandied about with pinstriping is “marine grade”. This term applies to the strength of pinstripe tape, and refers to its ability to withstand extremely harsh conditions without the threat of fading. When it comes to the issue of longevity, stripes have a minimum warranty of 5 years, with most lasting between 7 and 10 years before needing to be re-done or touched up in some detailed way.

One of the standout qualities of pinstripe tape is its flexibility. Artists need their preferred tape to have extremely strong bend and shape capacity in order to make their creative designs truly come to life.

Embarking on a new pinstriping project requires scores of decisions, and choosing the best vinyl pinstripe tape is one of them. Cowles Pinstriping and Die-Cut Designs are manufactured in the United States under strict quality control standards and use only the highest grade adhesives are used to ensure easy installation and years of durability.

Pinstriping Tape Color Options

In the vast world of automotive pinstriping, color options truly run the rainbow gamut from brilliant reds to vivacious violets, and seemingly everything in between. When an artist jumps in to a pinstriping project, choosing a hue for those lengthy lines, wicked curves, or a straight-edged look is perhaps the most thrilling part of the entire project. Similar to perusing paint in a hardware store — where the color swatches are as appetizing as a bowl of jelly beans — selecting the perfect color of car pinstripe tape marks the gleeful beginnings of a fun endeavor. Tantalized by taupes? Moved by moody mauves? Inspired by ice blue? The colors of automotive pinstripe tape are pretty much limitless, with scores of light hues – from the palest yellows, mints, and grays, to medium shades of chocolate brown, apple green, and aquamarines, and rounded out by the smoldering inky blues, metallic silvers, and deep, shimmering sapphires.

Deciding on which color — or colors — for a particular project depends on a variety of factors. First and foremost, an artist should choose a color that appeals to him/her. Perhaps a pale purple will pique one artist’s interest, while another may be swayed by a soft sandstone.

Secondly, an artist should look at pinstripe design, and select a hue that will make an impact — either in an understated or showy way. Craving a design with tons of power and punch? Think bold blues and raucous reds that will draw the eye to the intricacies of the design. Bold lines and heady images work well with strong primary colors. For gentler pinstripe designs, shades with softer undertones make a statement, but in a less obvious way. Colors with names like desert mica metallic, buckskin, autumn gold, and gunmetal gray all connotate light, breezy hues.

For artists looking for multiple colors for a pinstriping project will also find two and three color pinstripe tape available in scores of color combinations. This automotive pinstripe tape offers such dazzling duos as deep red with midnight blue, dark ebony paired with flinty smoke, and muddy charcoal with light, airy adobe. This multi-toned tape is equally durable as its single-toned counterparts, and has been manufactured to provide superior adhesion and compatibility with automotive paint.

As with choosing a single color of automotive pinstripe tape, selecting the ideal two-toned tape is really a matter of personal preference, and should fit the scope of the project. Generally, pinstripes are usually applied in two colors: one that complements the color of the vehicle, and another, thinner line, which contrasts to make the stripe truly pop. And while some may opine that certain colors work better, there are no hard and fast rules: choosing the perfect hue to add punch to one’s ride is wholeheartedly a matter of personal choice.  

How to Apply Pinstripe Tape

Once an artist chooses their colors and specific sizes of pinstriping tape, the next step is prepping the vehicle and applying the tape. The process of applying the automotive pinstripe tape requires several steps:

  1. Take care to ensure the surface temperature of the vehicle does not exceed 65° Fahrenheit (18° Celsius). Many pinstriping manufacturers suggest applying tape indoors, where excessive heat is not an issue.
  2. Ensure the surface is extremely clean. Vehicles are magnets for dirt and dust, so artists need to wipe the surface with a damp cloth or soft sponge, using a 50/50 mixture of water and rubbing alcohol or a combination of gentle dish detergent and water, to ensure the pinstripe tape will adhere properly. Completely dry the area with a soft chamois cloth or a lint-free towel or sponge.
  3. Decide how much of the tape to apply, peel off the adhesive, and gently (but firmly) press onto desired surface. It is extremely important not to stretch the auto pinstripe tape too much, or the ends of the tape will “pop” and not stick properly.
  4. The next step is to go over the vinyl pinstripe tape with your hands to make certain it’s sticking properly. If there are areas that need to be re-done due to error in placement, this can be done by simply lifting the tape gently, and reapplying.
  5. Then, if there are areas of the tape that need to be trimmed, an artist can use a straight-edge razor or an exacto knife to gently slice the tape in all pertinent areas, such as around the doors or panels. This slicing action needs to be very light and with very, very little pressure, so the vehicle’s paint isn’t damaged. Then, open the door of the car to wrap the remaining sections over the panel to complete the application. At this point, if there are other colors of automotive pinstripe tape to be applied, this is the time to apply it. Alternatively, if an artist wants to embark on any type of pinstriping design, this is also the optimal time.
  6. Lifting the clear overlay of the tape is the final step, and should be done only when the artist is satisfied with the line of the application.
  7. If an artist notices any air bubbles, manufacturers suggest puncturing them with a straight pin or a safety pin, as opposed to slicing the auto pinstripe tape to release air. Doing the latter may make the tape spread or gap.
  8. After stepping back to check the application, top tape manufacturers suggest allow at least 3 hours in sunlight before washing or waxing the vehicle.

Applying automotive pinstripe tape is meticulous work and may take a chunk of time, but the payoff is incredibly rewarding when an artist sees the results of his/her pinstriping efforts. Using Cowles Cal-Stripes products can make any pinstriping project much easier and enjoyable — from start to finish —  thanks to its variety of colors and widths, not to mention the ease of applying its tape.