How to Do Nail Art

Six Methods:Prepare Your NailsBeginner DesignsPolka Dot DesignsBlended Color DesignsWater-Marbled DesignsFinding Inspiration

Looking for a beautiful and gorgeous way to add flair to your look? Nail art can complement your outfit for a special event or add a unique touch to your personality every day. While very detailed nail art is best left to professionals, there are a number of designs you can create yourself. Try duo-tones, glitter and jewels, polka dots, blended colors, marbling or stamping to create a gorgeous effect.

Method 1
Prepare Your Nails

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    Remove old nail polish. Make sure you're starting with a clean slate by removing any old polish still lingering on your nails.
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    Trim and file your nails. Shape your nails to make them neat. Since you're creating nail art, try not to trim them too short. It's better to have more space to work with.
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    Apply a basecoat. Basecoats are usually clear or bluish in color, and can be purchased wherever nail polish is sold. Basecoats protect your nails from getting stained or damaged by nail polish and other nail art materials. Apply one layer of basecoat and allow it to completely dry before proceeding.Some basecoats remain tacky after drying. This texture is meant to help the next layer, the polish, stay in place longer without chipping. Choose whichever basecoat you like best.

Method 2
Beginner Designs

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    Go with a glitter effect. Try one of these techniques:
    • Mix loose glitter with nail gel or clear polish and apply it to your nails. When the application has dried, add a top coat.
    • Cover one or more of your nails with nail gel or polish. Dust the nails with glitter and allow them to dry before finishing off with a top coat.
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    Paint just the tip of your nail a different color. Choose two complementary colors that will look great on the same nail.
    • Apply a basecoat color or a clear basecoat. Allow the polish to dry.
    • Place a French manicure sticker across your nail, leaving the tip exposed. If you don't have a French manicure sticker, use a similarly-shaped sticker, such as the circular stickers that reinforce punched holes in paper.
    • Paint the tip color above the sticker. It's okay if you overlap the paint with the sticker a bit.
    • Remove the sticker while the paint is still wet, so you don't pull of chips of paint with it when you take it off.
    • Allow the design to dry completely and finish it off with clear top coat.
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    Add a jewel or sticker to your nail. Start with a coat of your favorite nail polish and accent it with a pretty decoration.
    • Apply a base coat color or a clear base coat. Allow the polish to dry.
    • Place a dab of nail glue or nail gel on your nail. Put it high on the nail, toward the tip, or in a lower corner. Think about where it will look best.
    • Pick up the jewel or sticker with a pair of tweezers and drop it onto the gel or glue. Use the tweezers to gently press it into place. Allow the glue to dry.
    • Paint a clear top coat over the nail to keep the sticker or jewel from falling off.

Method 3
Polka Dot Designs

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    Create simple dots. Choose two colors, a base coat and a dot color. If you'd like, you can use multiple colors for the dots.
    • Apply the basecoat color. Allow it to dry completely.
    • Dip a small brush, toothpick or pin into the polish you chose for the dots and lightly tap the implement on your nail. Continue doing this until your nail has as many dots as you want. For other effects, you can create dots of varying sizes by using thinner or thicker-tipped implements. To make fading or trailing dots, dip the implement in the paint once and apply several dots without reapplying paint. You can also use your fine-tipped implement to drag the paint out from the wet dot to create rays, swirls and other designs.
    • When the dots are dry, finish with a clear top coat.
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    Make a floral design. An arrangement of dots can be made to look like a flower. Choose three colors: a base coat color, a color for the center of the flowers, and a color for the petals.
    • Apply the basecoat. Allow it to dry completely.
    • Use a thin-tipped brush or toothpick to place groups of five dots arranged in circles on your nails. These are the petals.
    • When the petal dots dry, use the the same color to paint a simple circle in the center of the petal dots. You can add extra detail by placing a tiny white stripe in the center of the petals, or creating leaves with green nail polish. Take care not to crowd too many flowers on each nail. Make sure the flowers are distinct from one another.
    • When the flower designs are dry, finish with a clear topcoat.
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    Create a leopard print. For this look choose two colors: a light and a dark. Try fuschia or orange and black.
    • Use the lighter color to make splotches on your nails. The shapes don't have to be uniform, just as leopard's spots aren't uniform.
    • When the splotches dry, draw "C" or "U" shapes around the outsides of the blobs using the darker color.
    • When the leopard spots are dry, finish with a clear top coat - or, for added flair, paint over the design with a clear glittery nail polish.

Method 4
Blended Color Designs

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    Make a swirl. You'll need three different colors: a base coat plus two different colors that will look good swirled together on top of the base coat.
    • Apply the basecoat color and allow it to dry.
    • Apply a clear topcoat to seal in the base coat, and allow it to dry.
    • Apply a dot of the first swirl color using a toothpick.
    • Use a clean toothpick to apply a dot of the second swirl color on top of the first dot while the first dot is still wet.
    • Drag the colors outward together and create swirls using a clean toothpick, a striper brush or other implement. You can also create a marble effect by randomly placing several dots of the first swirl color on the nail, then placing several dots of the second swirl color around and on top of the first set of dots. Swirl the dots around and together by moving your implement in a criss-cross, S-shaped or figure-8 pattern.
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    Try gradient (ombre) nails. Ombre looks best with colors in the same color family, like purples and blues. For this look, you'll need three colors: a dark color, a medium color, and a light one.
    • Apply a coat of the darkest color to your nails and allow it to dry.
    • Dip a makeup sponge into a dark colored polish (only a dab of polish is needed on the sponge) and apply the medium color to the tips of your nails, starting at the tip and moving down to create a fading effect.
    • With a clean makeup sponge, dab the lightest color onto your nails in the same fashion, starting from the tip and fading downward toward the base of your nails. The resulting look should be bright-tipped nails that fade downward toward the darkest base coat color.
    • Apply a clear top coat while the polishes are still wet to more completely smear the colors together.
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    Create a watercolor effect. In this case you'll need two or more colors: white, and another color or two of your choice.
    • Apply the white polish as the base coat.
    • Before the base coat dries, use a toothpick or other implement to place dots in another color or two on top of the base coat.
    • Dip a large brush in acetone and dab it onto the drops of polish. Use the acetone and the brush to thin and smear the dots over the white base coat. If you're successful, you'll have an impressionistic Monet-inspired design.
    • When the watercolor design is dry, apply a clear top coat.
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    Make acid-washed nails. To simulate the look of acid-washed jeans, use blue and white polishes.
    • Use the blue color for the base coat. Allow it to dry and apply a clear topcoat.
    • When these coats have dried, paint a single layer of white polish over the basecoat.
    • Dip a makeup sponge in acetone and use it to lightly rub away and thin out the white polish. Stop when enough of the blue layer shows through to create an acid-washed look.
    • When the acid wash design has dried, finish with a clear topcoat.

Method 5
Water-Marbled Designs

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    Gather your supplies. Water marbling is a creative technique that uses water and a variety of colors for a unique look. Get the following materials ready: A basecoat and two or three colors that blend well together, like light blue, yellow and white. A shallow, wide-mouthed cup or bowl filled almost to the brim with room temperature water. Petroleum jelly.
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    Apply the basecoat color. Allow it to dry completely.
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    Add color to the water. Drop some polish into the water from a low height. Notice how it creates a circle of color within the water.
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    Drop an alternate color into the center of the first color. Continue adding drops in the same way, at the center of the circle of color, alternating the colors until you see a bulls-eye shape.
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    Use a toothpick to alter the design. Insert it in the water and drag it through the bulls-eye of color to create patterns. Spiderweb designs are popular, as are flower designs and geometric shapes. Don't go too far with the toothpick; if you blend the colors too much they won't be distinct from one another. If you create something with the toothpick and you don't like it, simply discard your first attempt and start over from the beginning.
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    Apply the design to your nails. Spread petroleum jelly on the skin around your nails and onto your fingers. Carefully place your nails against the design that you created and then submerge them slightly. Remove water from the nails. Blow off any water droplets and use a cotton swab or cotton ball (coated with acetone if necessary) to clean up the edges and remove polish from your fingers.
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    Allow the design to dry completely. Finish with a clear topcoat.

Method 6
Finding Inspiration

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    Take a class at your local nail salon. Just a few hours with a professional teacher can advance your skills more effectively than years of practicing on your own.
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    Read books on nail art. You may be able to find a book in your local library or bookstore or you can purchase something online.
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    Search the Web. The Web provides a multitude of resources, especially if you’re just looking for new ideas. In addition to finding sites with photos of new designs, you can find forums in which people who love nail art talk about techniques and learning experiences.
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    Watch videos on sites such as YouTube. These videos will show you step-by-step procedures for many different designs.


  • You can also use a Bobby pin to make small and precise dots on your nails.
  • Reapply a clear top coat every two or three days to protect your art and keep your nails looking shiny. Apply cuticle oil daily.
  • You can buy professional-grade nail art kits that include all the brushes, stripers and marbling tools you’ll need,. You can also improvise using a toothpick or bobby pin to apply dots and swirl colors with precision, or you can buy thin-tipped detail brushes at your local arts or hobby store. You can easily buy kits for more complicated techniques, like airbrushing, on Amazon or other sites.
  • Cover skin around nails with nail polish remover then paint let dry clear coat, then wash hands four times.
  • All nail art starts with healthy nails. Your nails should be even and well-shaped (and non-bitten). Your cuticles should also be healthy and not peeling.
  • Use different implements for different colors, or clean your brush or tool between each color, just as you would clean a paintbrush when you change colors.
  • You can put sticky tape around your nails, to prevent the nail polish creeping onto your skin! You can also make a 'crystal' effect, by applying a base coat, then applying your first coat of nail polish, followed by the second coat of nail polish, and then you can add sugar or glitter, before applying your nail polish cover.
  • Have all of your materials together when you start your project. Because the polish is always drying, you are working against time. You'll need everything handy before you get started.
  • You can purchase dotting tools to help draw different sized dots accurately.
  • If one of your nails chips, start over and file all your nails down. If you don't want to file your nails all the way down, do a solid color. French manicures will draw attention to your uneven nails.
  • Try your best on doing the nail designs, It's ok if it doesn't come out right. The only thing that matters is your effort!
  • When using the water marble technique glitter polish does not work as well as plain. The glitter tends to separate.
  • You can get nail pens at grocery and local stores to help you to draw your designs. They are super cheap.
  • Treat your nails with care — wear gloves when gardening or doing other work, and exercise caution when performing tasks such as opening soda cans, as they may damage your nails.
  • For a more the more advance nail artists, use nail stamping. Nail stamping is a technique that allows you to apply a detailed image to your nails. It requires special equipment that can be found at nail supply stores.
  • Remember, not every brand of nail polish work for water marbling. Try it out by putting one drop into some water, if it does not spread, its most likely not suitable for water marbling.
  • If you have decided on a nail art product you should check the purposes detailed before you consider buying a different one. Some can do both whilst others are unique.
  • Use glue for a easy peeling base coat or peel off tape around your finger as an alternative.
  • Find inspiration in fashion magazines or the scenery around you.
  • You need a steady hand and a knack for drawing or doodling. Nail art takes time and patience, it is not something that can be told to you. You have to get a book with the different nail designs or make up your own in your head. You can also google nail art design images and you will get plenty.
  • If you don't have a dotting tool, try using other equipment at home, such as toothpicks, pins, pens, etc.
  • Use toothpicks for tiny details, paper reinforcements to create the dashing half moon effect, a straw to make a splatter effect . So then, you don't need those super cheap equipment when you already have household everyday items around you! It really brings in the professional look in you!


  • Make sure each color of nail art is completely dry before starting another color (unless you’re trying to blend them); if the first color is still wet it will smudge and ruin your art.
  • Do not wash your brushes in water. It will cause the nail polish on it to harden. Clean them with nail polish remover instead.
  • Acetone and many nail polishes give off fumes and are flammable. Use them in a well-ventilated area and avoid fire, sparks or smoking around these products or while they are wet on your nails.
  • Some people may be allergic to some nail products. If you experience an adverse reaction to a product, thoroughly wash your hands, use acetone to remove it if necessary and discontinue using the product.

Things You'll Need

  • Nail polish
  • Nail glue or gel
  • Cotton bud
  • Jewels or stickers
  • Tweezers
  • Topcoat
  • Glitter
  • French manicure sticker
  • Thin-tipped brush, bobby pin or toothpick
  • Makeup sponge
  • Cotton swab
  • Acetone
  • Wide-mouthed cup or bowl
  • Petroleum jelly
  • Stamper
  • Scraper
  • Image plate
  • Stamping polish
  • Books, Web and YouTube for inspiration

Sources and Citations

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