Heat shrink tubing and electrical tape both demonstrate superior insulation and protection properties. Therefore, when considering the varied applicational purposes of each, it makes sense to assume that their use is practically interchangeable.

However, this assumption is wrong. Heat shrink tubing and electrical tape are noticeably different in composition. They have several key differences and knowing these will help you to decide which you should use.

Interested in learning if you should use heat shrink tubing or electrical tape? Keep reading below to discover a definitive answer.

What Is Heat Shrink Tubing Used For?

Heat shrink tubing will shrink to the size of the substrate it is placed around and create a seamless, airtight sleeve. There are a range of different sizes, colours and shrink ratios to choose from, making heat shrink tubing very flexible. The various elastomers include PVC, neoprene, Kynar® and Teflon®.

Additionally, heat shrink tubing can be manufactured to military specifications (MILSPEC) to meet the most stringent military standards. The most common uses of heat shrink tubing include:

  • Wire insulation
  • Abrasion, extreme temperatures and harsh environment resistance
  • Protection from moisture, dust and solvents
  • Electrical component protection
  • The repair of insulation or wires

How To Use Electrical Tape

Electrical tape is pressure sensitive and is typically applied to a joint or portion of the wire to insulate the wire or protect the outer sheath from harsh environments to ensure that it doesn’t become damaged and expose the wire conductors underneath. It’s sometimes referred to as friction or insulation tape.

Depending on the specific application, coloured electrical tape is often used to help identify specific wires and where they will be routed to within a closed or expansive environment. Electrical tape isn’t as durable as heat shrink tubing as it’s more susceptible to abrasion and being damaged, however, it is very useful in maintaining electrical continuity, covering exposed wires and connecting multiple wire types.

Additionally, electrical tape can be made of different plastics, including vinyl, rubber, mastic and varnished cambric. Able to be stretched, electrical tape is very flexible and therefore is used for a range of purposes. Although different colours can be used, the most common colour is black.

The most common uses of electrical tape include:

  • Wire insulation
  • Bundling wires together
  • Repairing sheathing abrasions
  • Identification

Although heat shrink tubing and electrical tape are similar in some respects, it’s their differences that are most notable. Both are used as insulators, are manufactured in different colours and are easy to apply. But that’s where the similarities end.

How Does Heat Shrink Tubing Differ From Electrical Tape?

Heat shrink tubing is manufactured in predetermined shrink ratios. Though it may not be as obviously flexible as electrical tape, heat shrink tubing does allow for that seamless fit that electrical tape simply cannot offer.

The other obvious difference is that heat shrink tubing is manufactured in a variety of different elastomers and therefore can provide tailored insulation, protection and repair depending on the environment you use it in. For example, neoprene is a great insulator against weather elements.

Moreover, heat shrink tubing is more reliable than electrical tape and will generally not need to be replaced as frequently as electrical tape. Although not overly expensive, heat shrink tubing will save you the hassle of repeated application.

What Are The Advantages Of Electrical Tape?

Arguably, the biggest advantage of electrical tape is that it’s simple and quick to apply. The tape can be easily wrapped around an ethernet cable, for example, in seconds. To use heat shrink tubing, you’ll first have to buy or cut the tubing to the appropriate size and then use a heat gun to shrink it until it fits seamlessly around the same ethernet cable.  

Electrical tape does lose its adhesiveness over time and is particularly at risk from environmental attributes, such as chemicals and abrasion. It is ideal as a short-term solution to covering exposed wiring inside a cable sheath. Often, electrical tape will need to be replaced with a more permanent solution – like heat shrink tubing.

Another advantage of using electrical tape is that it is sold in a range of colours and can be used to identify electrical voltage, with each colour representing the amount of voltage. Although you may be able to use different coloured heat shrink for the same purpose, electrical tape is quicker and safer to apply and can be sold in the colours of electrical phasing.

So, which is better - heat shrink tubing or electrical tape? 

Looking at all the above information, it really does depend on what you need a solution for. If you need something temporary, electrical tape is a good quick fix. Something more permanent and at higher risk of succumbing to external factors will probably be better with heat shrink to protect it.