Taping Drywall with Fiberglass Mesh or Paper?

Drywall 101
July 21, 2011
May 03, 2024

Fiberglass Drywall Mesh Tape vs Drywall Paper Tape?

What do you think of when you hear the word tape? Scotch© tape, masking tape, your favorite album from the 1980's? In the world of drywall, tape is the stuff that covers drywall joints. Drywall tape adds strength to joints and helps create a smooth finish. There are two types of drywall tape that can be used, paper tape and mesh tape. Which is better? Can you use mesh tape wherever paper tape is used?

Why Use Drywall Tape

Drywall tape is used to provide strength to the areas where two pieces of drywall meet. Both paper tape and mesh tape are applied using drywall mud. After the tape and bed-in mud dries, it can be floated over with more drywall mud to create a smooth drywall finish. Drywall tape both hides drywall joints and prevents drywall cracks by reinforcing the areas of the wall that are under stress.

Picture of fiberglass mesh drywall tape next to paper drywall tape

Drywall Paper Tape

Paper tape is much cheaper than mesh tape. Paper tape has been used for decades for finishing drywall. It has stood the test of time and is the go to method for taping and finishing drywall joints.

When finishing drywall butt joints, paper tape is the preferred choice over mesh tape. It can be coated with a very thin layer of mud. Unlike mesh tape, it does not show through the mud very easily so even a very thin layer of mud will do the trick. This is especially important for butt joints that are slightly raised due to poor framing or improper drywall installation.

Paper tape should always be used when finishing drywall corners. Paper tape can be folded in half to form a nice crisp angle that is placed in the corner. That's something, you just can't do with mesh tape. Paper tape can then be finished using a drywall finishing corner tool. You don't have to worry about taping corner tools getting caught on paper tape like it can with mesh.

Only drywall paper tape can be used with automatic drywall finishing tools such as a drywall bazooka or drywall banjo. For this reason, larger drywall projects almost exclusively use paper tape for taping joints, corners, and butts.

Paper tape can be used with most types of drywall mud including all-purpose, lightweight, and quick set drywall mud. It should not be used with topping mud since that does not have as much adhesive properties. Topping mud should only be used for finishing coating drywall.

Drywall Mesh Tape

Drywall Mesh tape is a relatively newer addition to the drywall finishers toolkit. In the late 1980's and early 1990's drywall supply shops began selling self-adhesive fiberglass mesh tape as an alternative to paper tape. It was originally met with skepticism by some long time drywall finishers but now that it has been around for over 30 years, it is generally accepted and commonly used by drywall tapers.

Drywall mesh tape is commonly used for drywall repairs and wall patches. The most obvious benefit of mesh tape is its ease of application. Unlike paper tape, it is self-adhering. This means it can be placed directly on the drywall without using mud. However, it must be covered over with a thin layer of quick set drywall mud to bed it into place.

When using drywall mesh tape, only quick set drywall mud should be used for the bed-in coat. While it is possible to use all-purpose drywall mud with mesh tape, it is not a good choice.

One reason that quick set drywall mud is preferred for the bed in coat with mesh tape, is that it hardens quickly which is essential for bedding in mesh tape. The self-adhesive property of mesh tape should only be counted on for an hour or two. Therefore quick set mud ensures that the mesh tape is secured and solid before moving onto further finishing steps.

Mesh tape can be used on newly installed drywall. Though it can be used on drywall butt joints, it is generally preferable to use paper tape instead. The fiberglass strands of the tape have a tendency to show through thin coats of mud. So when you have a drywall butt joint that is slightly elevated, it is difficult to hide the tape and not create too high of a mound of mudded drywall.

Mesh tape should never be used when finishing inside drywall corners. Mesh tape does not crease well so it is nearly impossible to create sharp crisp corners when using mesh drywall tape. It also has a tendency to show through the mud when used on corners.

Which is Stronger Paper tape or Mesh Tape?

Paper tape is generally considered to be better at preventing drywall cracks. If quick set mud is used when bedding in mesh tape, it can strengthen the joints considerably. However, if you know that a certain drywall joint will be under high stress, it is better to go with paper tape for added protection.

Regardless of the type of drywall tape used, drywall seams and corners will sometimes crack. Drywall tape adds a measure of strength but can only do so much to prevent cracking. When the underlying structure moves, cracks can and sometimes will appear at the weakest points of a wall.

The best protection against drywall cracking is to focus on good framing techniques and ensure that drywall is installed properly. There needs to be adequate backing behind each and every sheet of drywall and you want to make sure the right type of drywall and drywall fasteners are used.

When taping drywall, whether you use paper tape or mesh tape, you want to make sure that the building is dried in and will maintain a constant temperature for the duration of the construction process. The interior temperature must be above 50 degrees Fahrenheit, and ideally, you want it to be warmer than that.

Temperature changes cause the building, including the drywall, to shrink and expand. If the building or even just the drywall moves, it can cause drywall cracks that even paper tape cannot prevent.

When you are selecting a type of drywall tape for doing repairs, the strength of the tape can be a factor. If you are repairing holes in the wall or dimples and scratches, either paper or mesh tape should do the trick. However if you are repairing drywall cracks, it is probably best to go with paper tape. Usually, cracks appear at the weakest point along a surface. So if you are trying to prevent further cracking, you want to choose the type of tape that will provide the most strength. In many cases, paper tape is better for fixing drywall cracks.

In Summary

Mesh tape can be used in many applications with similar results to that of paper tape. When using mesh tape, you should always use quick set drywall mud for the first coat to bed-in the mesh. Paper tape should always be used when taping inside corners to ensure crisp 90° angles. Paper tape is slightly better at preventing drywall cracks, however it will crack under the stress of major structural movements.

See also:

How to tape drywall joints

What is the best drywall mud?

How to repair drywall cracks?