Tarpaulin is believed to be derivative of the words “pall” and “tar,” the combination of which would indicate a covering coated with tar. Modern tarps certainly fit this description, at least to a point; they are used as coverings and are known for their water resistance.
Among the most recognizable tarp varieties are polypropylene tarps, which have come to be known as polytarp in some places. Polytarp is often blue in color and comes in large, square or rectangular sheets. The sheets are usually fitted with metal grommets to make the attachment of ropes or other cordage possible. Polytarps are very popular waterproofing materials in camping applications, in building construction and in many other contexts.
Polytarp may be the most popular and recognizable tarp variety, but other water-resistant sheets are also referred to as tarps. Tar-coated canvas, though outdated and much less widely used compared to polytarp, qualifies as a tarpaulin variety. Other plastic materials like PVC are also used to manufacture tarps.
In addition to their uses as protective coverings, tarps are used extensively as advertising surfaces on billboards and during commercial tenancy or ownership transitions. For example, if a company buys a commercial space, it may reach out to a sewing company for the purpose of placing a printed tarpaulin to temporarily identify itself until a permanent sign is installed.
Because there are many contexts and applications for which tarpaulins are required, tarp manufacturers produce tarps in a variety of configurations. Polytarps are the most versatile tarp variety. Because they can be used in so many different situations, they are among the most widely produced tarp varieties. The same polytarp composition and configuration might be found on the shelves of a sporting goods store as well as in an automotive repair shop.
Such tarps usually feature a lattice of interwoven polypropylene strands overlaid with a polypropylene sheet. This combination of weave and sheet make the tarp waterproof and stretch and tear-resistant. Non-plastic tarp varieties resemble polytarps in terms of their construction. Canvas tarps, for example, feature woven canvas overlaid with a waterproofing material, which gives the tarp some of the same qualities as polytarp, though to a different extent.