For those of you that don’t know, tape is bad for paper and books! Tape eventually stains paper it comes in contact with (the length of time it takes to do this depends on the type of tape and environmental conditions), and the vast majority of the time this staining is non-reversible. Removing the tape itself is a high-risk activity, as there’s a chance that the top layer of paper can peel away, or fragile paper can tear during the process. If you want to keep anything for the long term, it’s just safer to keep the tape far, far away from it!
There are lots of different ways to remove tape – some tape is so old and desiccated it almost falls off by itself, some types of tape easily come off in a water bath or with a poultice, and sometimes heat or solvents have to be used. In our studio we try to avoid strong solvents as much as possible just for our own health, so our usual tape removal techniques involve heat.
My go-to method has always been warming the tape up with a tacking iron to reactivate the adhesive and then picking at it with a microspatula or scalpel. After the carrier (the plastic or paper part of the tape that the adhesive is attached to) is removed, the sticky residue that remains can be picked up with a crepe eraser. Sometimes this method works great, but sometimes that tape just does not want to move! In those cases I get out the air pencil.
The air pencil is something I had never seen before starting my job here. It is a soldering tool that generates a hot, concentrated stream of air. While it’s made to melt wires together, we use it to heat up tape.
It’s a good alternative to the tacking iron because you’re never applying pressure directly to the tape, which can make the tape just adhere more securely to the paper rather than helping to lift it. The air pencil reactivates the adhesive without actually touching the tape itself, making it much easier to slide a scalpel under the carrier!
Be aware that the air pencil can get really hot – remember that it’s made to melt wires! It’s easy to not only burn yourself but also burn the paper or even melt the tape carrier. We keep the temperature between levels 1 and 2 which seems to work on most tapes and has yet to damage any paper.