How to Use Painter's Masking Film

Man on ladder getting ready to paint ceiling
Ulrike Schmitt / Getty Images

The difference between a small painting job and a big painting job is the prep time. Preparation is often the time vacuum for many do-it-yourselfers because they don't expect it to be so complicated. You can easily devote an entire day to masking, filming, tarping, and taping—and that's all before even cracking open a single can of paint.

By painting by hand, you can mask off areas at your discretion. While it's not recommended, you can paint an entire room with a brush and even a roller without spilling a single drop on the floor or furniture. But when you use a paint sprayer, you have to mask off areas that will not be painted because overspray is inevitable.

To mask a window or two, you can always use newspaper and masking tape. But for anything more than that, you'll make your life easier if you use a one-step masking and tarping tool called masking film.

What Masking Film Is

Masking film is not the same thing as a tarp. Tarps are not meant to be form-fitting or to create a paintable edge. For walking on or for covering items, consider using a canvas dropcloth.

Masking film comes in long rolls (such as 50 or 100 feet) of widths from 12 inches to 12 feet. You will find two types of masking film:

Pre-Taped Masking Film

Pre-taped masking film has a strip of adhesive painter's tape running along one edge of the film. The tape will firmly attach along the edge of anything that doesn't need to be painted: another wall, trim, masonry, flooring, and more.

Cling Masking Film

Cling masking film relies on the plastic's static-cling properties to hold it in place, instead of painter's tape. You can run masking tape along any edge you will be painting next to or leave it as-is.


You can add a zipper to the film to allow access to adjacent rooms.

Choose the Right Size

The pre-taped film combines two steps: taping and draping (it should be noted that you may need to tape the other three edges separately). Remember, too, that bigger is not always better. Using oversized masking film doesn't just result in waste—you also need to cut or tape up all of that excess, which can be a pain when dealing with this extremely thin film that always wants to cling to your hands and arms.

How to Use Masking Film

  1. Unroll Film

    Unroll about a foot of film from the roll.

  2. Attach Tape to Edge

    Attach the tape on the masking film directly along the edge that will not be painted. Make sure that the film side of the masking film is on the side that will not be painted.

  3. Pull Down Film

    After the tape has completely been attached, press your hand against the film to prevent it for tearing off as you use your other hand to pull down the film. Continue down the length of the film until all of the film has been pulled down.

  4. Smooth Out Film

    Smooth the film across the surface. Static electricity should hold it in place.

Where to Use Masking Film

Interior Walls

A classic way to use masking film when painting a ceiling is to run the adhesive edge along the top of the wall, unfold the film downward, pressing it flat against the wall. Then begin to paint.

Windows and Doors

Masking film works great on windows because it sticks well to the glass. Masking film will rarely match the exact size of windows and doors. But all you need to do is run the adhesive strips down two sides of the area to be masked. If you have at least 6 inches of overlap, it's not necessary to tape between the two sections (though it can never hurt).

Other Areas

Remember that masking film isn't just for painting right to the edge. Often you need to cover cabinets and flooring to protect them from an ambient spray. Masking film works great for this.


Masking film is perfect for particle-collection. Unlike plastic tarps, masking film's static-cling almost magnetically pulls paint and dust particles toward it.

Large Areas

If you have large areas to mask, it's nearly impossible to use newspaper. Masking with masking film consumes far less time than masking with newspapers because, with film, you're only dealing with a single sheet of film. With newspapers, it can take five or six sheets to properly cover a window or door.