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Your Guide to Packing Tape Dispensers, Guns, and Applicators

You can buy strong, wide packing tape at a great price, but if you don’t have a fast and reliable way to apply the tape to your boxes, you’re going to be frustrated by unnecessary hassles. Anybody who’s endured the experience, even for a short time, of peeling and cutting every piece of tape off the roll knows how tedious and time-consuming it can be. Before you start packing, you want to have a tape dispenser you can count on to apply tape quickly and consistently.

The Cheap, Easy-to-Find Solution

A lot of people buy packing tape with a built-in dispenser. This seems like the obvious answer, and for many people, it does the trick just fine. On the other hand, it’s easy to assume that a built-in dispenser will work without a hitch because it’s specially made for that roll of tape. Unfortunately, some “clamshell-style” dispensers may fail to catch the tape, or they may grab the tape in odd ways, causing you to overuse and/or throw away a segment of tape between applications.

Often, there is a specific way to hold and tear the tape to make these dispensers function reasonably well, but this isn’t the sort of thing for which there’s a user manual. Worse, imagine what happens if you’re packing with a spouse and one of you “gets it” and starts packing boxes like nobody’s business, while the other person is literally handcuffing themselves struggling with sticky tape and a seemingly innocent three-inch-piece of plastic.

Packing Tape Guns and Easy-to-Use Applicators

Rather than pinching a clamshell dispenser with one hand and pulling the tape out with the other, a packing tape gun allows for an easier handheld grip and extra flexibility in guiding and tearing the tape for application. Even if you know what you’re doing with a basic clamshell dispenser, you’ll be able to go even faster with this type of dispenser.

Not sure whether this separate purchase is worth it? If you’re taking on even a modestly-sized moving or storage project, it’s almost always a smart investment. Whether it’s the local hardware store, Amazon, or some other online supplier, you can typically find this accessory for anywhere between $5-$30. Even a basic gun-style applicator should save you time during the initial project, but just as importantly, you’ll never have to worry about the next clamshell dispenser that comes along. Instead, you’ll know that you have a tape dispenser that works.

Of course, when it comes to real-world applications, YouTube videos don’t always tell the whole story. Worried you won’t be able to do your packing with your spouse working in the next room and demanding silence? Worried you yourself won’t be able to work at the computer after packing has exacerbated your carpal tunnel? A good tape dispenser can help reduce hand soreness, fatigue, and even noise. Here’s a great online guide to what the different styles of tape dispensers have to offer.

Get Extra Tape Dispensers: Make Sure the Help can Help

What about when you’ve enlisted multiple people to help with the packing? It depends on the size of the project and the number of people helping. Just you and your best friend? Maybe one of you gets the nice tape gun, while the other makes do with the clamshell dispenser. As your project and crew grows, so will the amount of supplies you want to have on hand. People who want to help can quickly become bored and irritated when they’re standing around with nothing to do. That said, this doesn’t necessarily mean you need to have six dispensers just because you have six people. Instead, you can likely set up something of an assembly line in which some number of people pack boxes, while other people take care of sealing and labeling them. Thus, when you’re working with a group, maybe have one more dispenser available than you think you’ll actually need.

Other Types of Tape Applicators

As nifty and efficient as packing tape guns may seem to the average person taking on a moving or storage project, commercial and other high-volume project needs tend to use even more sophisticated applicators.

  • A lot of these operations use water-activated tape (WAT) with specialized dispensers that allow for preset cut length, easy cutting, and water application. These dispensers can cost one hundred, several hundred, or even thousands of dollars. The upside? Unbelievably strong and fast application. You should never need a second piece of tape for packing boxes.
  • Looking for the extra strength provided by filament tape in which fiberglass yarns are used to reinforce the tape? At the very least, you’ll want heavy-duty scissors on hand, or better yet, a filament tape dispenser designed specifically for this purpose.
  • Have a project that needs double-sided tape? Ever wonder how double-sided tape is applied? The tool you’re looking for is called an adhesive transfer tape gun (ATG), also known as a reverse wound tape transfer gun. Here’s a great example.

Don’t let a packing tape dispenser become the Achilles heel of your packing needs. Seriously, for just a few bucks, you can take a serious bite out of the hassles associated with shipping, moving, and storage.

Video Demos

Trying to get a better picture of exactly how these tape dispensers work, and how much benefit you can expect to get from each one? We did the YouTube research for you: