Sticky situations… the problem with sticky tape

Welcome back to our virtual tour of the Preservation lab here at QSA. This week, we’re getting ourselves into a sticky situation and examining the problem with sticky tape, lamination and other things… well… sticky.

If you’ve missed previous installments, catch-up on what we covered so far.

Sticky tape

Have you ever had a document or something that’s a little bit torn, and thought I can fix that, sticky tape will do? Bad idea.

Sticky tape might work in the short term, but eventually it degrades and not only does your repair fail, the tape will most likely fall or peel off, leaving behind remnants of the adhesive.

Those remnants are far from harmless. When they dry out and become brittle, acidic and you get a fantastic powdery substance and a very unattractive yellow/brown stain on what was probably a nice clean piece of paper and changes in the inks…. not very attractive anymore, and possibly difficult to read now.  

Image of 1st Gold Lotto ticket covered in sticky tape and the damage caused
Image of what the 1st Gold Lotto ticket would have looked like

Plus, sometimes the residual adhesive left on the document remains tacky and will stick to other things.

If you do get into that sort of sticky situation, you can avoid causing further damage to the record and other records.  Try and prevent the sticky areas on the originals from coming into contact with other materials or records. You may even have to house each affected page in a polypropylene or polyethylene sleeve to keep it and other records safe.

You may also need specialist conservation treatment to remove the adhesive residue and to repair the original tear(s).

So, in other words, best to seek professional help before whipping out the sticky tape.


We’ve probably all at one time or another had some fun with the laminating machine. We get it, it’s fun and makes things look a little but more swish.

Here’s the technical details – laminating involves sealing a document between two pieces of plastic film, then using heat and/or pressure to adhere to the paper inside. Aka stick the paper to the nasty plastic front and back forever… the keyword being stick.

Like using sticky tape to repair the tear, lamination is only a short-term solution. Yes it can afford some protection to short term temporary records, providing a physical support and barrier to moisture and contaminants.

But… like sticky tape it will end up damaging the records down the track, so definitely not appropriate for significant, long-term temporary or permanent value records.

The plastics and adhesives will eventually break down and deteriorate over time, becoming yellow, brittle and hard or even soft and tacky… just like sticky tape but over the whole document and front and back.

It is also almost impossible to remove the original document completely from an old laminate.

What to use instead

Ok so sticky tape and laminating are out… as are any other kind of sticky plastic on paper solution. So what to do instead?

Encapsulating is cooler than laminating and definitely recommended over a stickier solution for preserving your records.

Why is it so cool and better? Encapsulation involves enclosing a document into a protective polyester sleeve. If you’ve been to QSA on a tour you’ve probably seen some posters that have been encapsulated.

Image of person encapsulating a building plan

Encapsulation looks like it’s been laminated but it hasn’t… only the edges are sealed, leaving the document lovely and safe and un-sticky inside the sleeve. It also usually has little open bits around the edge so the record can breathe.

And best of all, it means that the sleeve can easily be removed in the future and it doesn’t harm the record.

If encapsulating isn’t an option, you can also use a polypropylene sleeve to house a torn page. It will keep the document together and stop any further damage occurring and keep the pieces together so you don’t have to do the jigsaw thing later on.

More information

That’s it for our visit to the Preservation Lab today. Stay tuned for another visit next week.

In the meantime, if you want more information on storing, protecting and caring for records – both digital and physical – particularly more information on paper selection and appropriate materials, check out our advice on the website.

Remember, you can contact us via email, telephone (3037 6630), Records Connect and on the website.

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