DIY Packing Tape Window Art

Yes, you read that right; this is nothing but PACKING TAPE on glass! Have you ever seen some awesome stained glass? ‘Packing Tape Art’ works along the same premise. It completely boggles my mind! AND whenever I see something that is really innovative I do what I do best; take on the challenge!

Check out how a simple roll of packing tape and an old picture frame became my ‘masterpiece’ without any drawing whatsoever. Just think of it like a colouring book but using tape…

Supplies Needed for this project:

  • A good digital image that is not too detailed and has a good range of dark and light tones
  • Digital image editing software that can make vectors and posterization (Adobe Photoshop & Illustrator is best)
  • A roll of packing tape
  • xacto knife or scalpel and extra blades
  • source of light like a light table or a window
  • an old picture frame with glass
  • basic printer to print black & white images (letter size is ok)
  • a bit of masking tape
  • light table or window

The Image:

Choose a good digital image when making this type of art and consider the size of your frame. You do not need to draw anything but you need some ability to follow lines with a knife (easy). This can be tedious if you pick an image that has too much small detail. Simple backgrounds are also a good idea.

This image is planned for a 16″ x 20″ piece of glass as I had an old metal picture frame.

This wonderful special friend is Lisa MacIsaac; my favourite musician from the awesome Madison Violet (Talented Canadian Band); who can play a fiddle + & sing like no other! ‘And it is such a lovely pose with perfect lighting showing the magical fingers….

Using the Adobe Creative Suite (Photoshop & Illustrator) these are my steps:

  • Adjust the ‘levels’ (‘image’ > ‘adjustments’ > ‘levels’) in PS to give a good range of light and dark
  • Change the image to be in ‘Grayscale’
  • Under the ‘Image’ > ‘Adjustments’ > ‘Posterize’ the image
  • I chose 10 levels to have a bit of flexibility (if the outcome is lacking definition then go back and adjust ‘levels’ and redo the steps)

More Image Manipulation:

Now that the image is ‘transformed’ into a set (10) of graphic values it can be interpreted into layers of tape. Each additional layer of tape will make the light less able to penetrate so that will produce a darker value and thus be much like the way posterization works.

To be able to have some good reference to be able to work from the image still needs more adjustment (to make it super easy for you)

In Adobe Illustrator:

  • Open the image in Illustrator and use the ‘Live Trace’ function
  • I used 13 colours as a ‘tracing’ preference (but feel free to experiment)
  • This will make the image change into ‘vector shapes’, which will allow us more needed control
  • Once you have the vector shapes keep a copy of this image as your major Value guide (To refer to)
  • ‘Expand’ the image
  • ‘Select All’ (the vector shapes) and change the ‘fill colour’ to white/transparent and the ‘outline’ to black. This will now look like a colouring book version of the image – perfect to use as the cutting reference under the glass

Get the Prints Ready:

It is important to print these carefully. Since this was a large frame and I only have a small printer I needed to ’tile’ the pages which means that it will print pieces in sections that can be taped together. Look for the controls in the print menu of the application. Since they are only reference that is fine for me! Both the outline and the grey-scale image should be the same size.

Use some transparent tape to assemble them. Cut these to the size of your glass. This project uses principles that could well be translated to making Art quilts or any painting ideas.

Once you have the outline ready place it under the glass piece and tape in place with masking tape.

The Basic Principle of Packing Tape Art:

Notice the small value scale? This is how the tape makes different colours/values by blocking light. Each step of the scale is another layer of tape. A Magical way of making light and dark values!

My tool of choice is a scalpel but an xacto knife will work as well. Make sure you have lots of blades as the glass dulls them quickly.

To be able to see how the light is blocked you will need to work on a light table or tape it to a window.

I started with the easy parts; the background. I did not want to be too fussy AND have it look like an interpretation rather than a photo. Think of it as ‘painting layers’ with tape. Place the strip and cut where you like. Peel of if there is a an edge to follow. Or, you can just cut some random pieces and place as you like in bits and keep adding layers of small bits (like strokes of a brush) to keep building up to darker tones. If you had a super large image like a whole window you could just use the full strips like thick brush strokes.

Tips & Tricks:

“Artist’s always break the rules” Be fussy or not, remember it’s about creating an image.

Random pieces work well for the back ground and do kept referring to the printed image to see where the layers need to be more – and therefore darker.

It’s quite fun to see it develop; sort of like painting but the image(outline) is under the glass to see and follow. Who said it’s wrong to trace?

When it comes to the more important parts, do have a plan. I did want the face and fingers to be pretty defined so I followed the outlines more here.

It’s just Light & Dark:

Most areas have a lighter area that has steps of darker values around them. So work from the darker areas first and then second, third, forth etc over them to build up the details. Example; the eye was the darkest small shape, another layer slightly larger and then another larger etc. Then the eye ends up having a few layers = dark.

The lines from the outline print give you the places to cut and how many layers comes from the image that you refer to. It does not have to be exact but the values should define the shapes. Standing back from it to look at progress or squinting lets you see how well it is really looking (artist trick)

Doesn’t she look so pensive?! I can almost hear the sounds of Madison Violet when I see the fiddle through the light!

This was an old framed picture that has a metal frame that is easy to open and close. So I slid it back in and tightened the corners. The springs clip were slid back to keep the glass against the front. Done!

If there are any huge bubbles that bug you a poke with the knife and smoothing with a credit card will ‘deflate’ them.

It is quite forgiving as you can just peel off extra or add more… no paint to mix or colours to decide. This is a great way to understand light & dark; the principles of ‘value’. It does not matter that there are odd cut shapes as they each represent a stroke; somewhat like the swirls by Van Gogh!

Once you are happy with the picture you can consider yourself done… it IS art and does not need to be perfect to every detail! Actually, it’s more impressive art-wise if there is some ‘suggestion’. ‘Much more interesting!

How cool does that look?! Do be careful to not cut my fingers off when cutting the tape. This Packing Tape Art looks so amazing even though it was a quite simple project. The rich colour of the packing tape also has a warm glow from the light, somewhat like the sepia tone photos I remember from Art college, how lovely!

Sometimes the simple projects are the best… Enjoy! Rock on Lisa MacIsaac!

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  1. Absolutely stunning!!
    I agree with another comment that it seems to take alot of patience, but would love to give it a try sometime.
    Thank you for sharing your incredible talent with us. ❤