To most people, tape seems like a common household item or an office staple. For toy inventor Andy Musliner, the tape was perfect for play. Andy invented the popular toy, “Playtape.” By unrolling it, sticking it down, and then running a toy car along it, anyone can make a road anywhere. Best of all, the tape is easy to remove and doesn’t leave residue on surfaces.

Recently Andy Musliner, the Founder, and CEO of InRoad Toys discussed his experiences inventing this playful product and more.

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Tape, toys, and the invention process

Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you get into toys and how did you think up PlayTape?

Andy Musliner (AM): I have always been a fan of cars and tape and stickers.

I still have a sticker collection from when I was eight. So, it’s probably not a big surprise that I came up with the idea for PlayTape – combining my passion for cars and tape – when playing with my own kids. I have three boys – all grown now – but in 2002, when my youngest, Brian, was just four years old, he (like me) loved playing with toy cars and trucks. I would sit on the floor with him scooting Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars around in circles. One day I wondered, “Where are all the roads? We have boxes of boxes of toy cars, but no roads to drive them on!” So, I started making roads out of masking tape, and Brian drove all over them. Since plain masking tape is a poor approximation of a road, I went looking for a product that was a tape road and found nothing. That gave me the idea for PlayTape – instant roads for toy vehicle play, anytime, anywhere.

MM: What differentiates PlayTape from regular tape and what was the invention process like?

AM: PlayTape is a special combination of the right type of substrate, the right adhesive, and the right coatings. First, PlayTape is made of paper (like a masking tape), as opposed to plastic (like a packing tape). This is critical because a three-year-old can handle and play with PlayTape without any sharp scissors or other cutting devices. It’s paper; just tear it. Safety first! The paper itself is a bit flexible, so it nicely conforms to the surface you put it on. This makes it much easier to use than trying to make a tape out of something like printer paper, for instance, which is not as flexible.

The adhesive is the most critical aspect of PlayTape. It’s a low-tack, surface-safe adhesive that won’t harm the surfaces you stick it to, and it won’t leave any sticky residue behind. It’s a specially formulated balance between “not sticky enough” and “too sticky.” Call it “Just Right Sticky.” And it contains no natural rubber latex (which many tapes do), so it’s allergen-free! PlayTape also has various coatings on it to prevent the ink from running, make it hold up when handled by damp little fingers, and to make PlayTape easy to unroll.

Finally, PlayTape passes rigorous third-party testing, so it conforms with the stringent safety guidelines required of toys in the U.S., Canada, Europe, and around the world. PlayTape looks simple, but no regular tape (and no competing product that we know of) has all of its qualities.

It took me ten years of industry, market, manufacturing, and intellectual property research, and two years of prototyping before I was ready to launch PlayTape in 2014. I called a lot of candidate manufacturers before I found one who was willing to try something completely new with tape. I am forever grateful to “Dr. Tape” for his patience with my endless demands for excellence. We’ve tweaked and perfected the PlayTape formula over the last three years, so it’s even better today than it was in 2014 when we first launched it.

MM: How many styles of PlayTape do you currently have on the market and what was the process of getting them in stores like?

AM: We make PlayTape to-scale and define our product styles by width and design. Currently, our products include 2” wide PlayTape Road and, separately, Curves, 4” wide PlayTape Road and Curves, Hot Wheels PlayTape Track and Curves, and Thomas and Friends PlayTape Track. Getting PlayTape into stores is both easy and hard. It’s easy because it’s a no-brainer for retailers to offer toy roads to complement the toy cars they already sell. It’s hard because getting set up as a vendor with major retailers and orchestrating the initial logistics is quite time-consuming and complicated. However, once we’re shipping product to a retailer on a regular basis, it gets (relatively) easy again.

PlayTape models, kids, and other items

MM: What are some of the most popular and most unusual PlayTape models? Also, which is your personal favorite?

AM: The beauty of PlayTape is there are no instructions, no rules, no limits, and no right or wrong. It’s all about turning your imagination into reality. So, there’s no common or popular creation and no end to the design genius we see from kids…and adults! Some of the creations I think of as my favorites represent milestones in the creative application of PlayTape – using PlayTape in unique ways and environments. Not necessarily complex, but clever.

The first time I handed a prototype roll of PlayTape to some kids at a Christmas party, one boy immediately decided to create a bridge of PlayTape over thin air. In twelve years of thinking about PlayTape, it had never occurred to me that it didn’t have to be stuck to something along its entire length! Again, in the early prototyping stage, my sons created lower Manhattan in our kitchen. This proved to me you could do almost anything. A few years later, someone smart at the North Pole figured out that the Elf on the Shelf had to get to the shelf somehow…. Simple but brilliant! We’ve even heard from teachers who use PlayTape to teach Euler graph theory. Who would’ve thought PlayTape belonged in math class! Again, simple but ingenious. I often see colorful scenes that kids create, using PlayTape to integrate toys of all kinds, and most impressively, I’ve seen elaborate cities with PlayTape roads that look like replicas of actual places.

MM: How have kids played with this tape and what have been the best reactions to it?

AM: Kids make roads, highways, cities, race tracks, room décor, birthday decorations, school dioramas, board games, scrapbooks…the ideas are nearly endless. Parents take PlayTape to the classroom, grandma’s house, the doctor’s office, the airport, the hotel, the restaurant, the tornado shelter (not kidding!), the office, the wedding reception (also not kidding) -- everywhere. Hobbyists and wargamers take PlayTape to the display workbench, to gaming night, and to the convention hall.

When a child picks up PlayTape for the first time, it takes them about two seconds to figure out what they have in their hands and what to do with it. After that, you might not see them for an hour. Don’t be surprised to later find an artistic creation and a long line of cars on your floor. The most stunning reaction I ever heard about was the dad who wrote that his son cried for 20 minutes when his roll of PlayTape ran out. Always keep a spare!

MM: How has PlayTape evolved since you first started it and how do you foresee it expanding in the future?

AM: Since we first launched PlayTape in 2014, we’ve improved the product itself, added PlayTape Curves (the answer to the question, “How do you go around corners?”), and expanded to include Hot Wheels PlayTape track as well as Thomas and Friends PlayTape train track. We’ve got a ton of additional designs waiting in the wings. We need a good way to prioritize. What would your readers like to see? We also are expanding PlayTape into other toy areas. With a little luck, you’ll see some of that for Christmas 2018!

MM: Have you invented any other items and are you working on anything new at present?

AM: We have a new product line we’re working on for release in late 2018 that we’re very excited about. It’s high tech, AND it’s tape. Crazy, huh? Can’t say more just yet…Thank you for the opportunity to tell the PlayTape story! As you can tell, we love to see what our genius young customers create. We encourage posting photos and videos of your PlayTape masterpieces and tagging us (#PlayTape, @InRoadToys). We’ll be sure to share! And, if your readers have ideas on what they’d like to see next in PlayTape, we are all ears. Drive on!