Nail Tips and Tools pt2: Painting Technique and Effects Polishes

I've gotten lots of questions about nails so I thought I'd put together a little series of posts about some of my favorite basic products and tools, along with some tips on how I get the most from my mani. There are loads of nail blogs out there with far more detailed information as well as step-by-step instructions ranging from simple to the complex, and of course tons of nail art on Pinterest. One of my favorite nail art blogs is Chalkboard Nails, you can get to lots of others from there. A very comprehensive Pinterest collection can be found here, with a HUGE nail art board specifically found here.

Painting Technique

My favorite is the 3-stroke technique, a great visual and explanation can be found here. All of the tips listed in that post are excellent as well, especially starting with your non-dominant hand; she's also got a great little tutorial about nail cleanup linked at the bottom, though I usually just gently peel off anything that strayed onto my skin in the shower. I've found that the key to keeping the lines clean, off your skin, and out of your cuticles is don't be afraid to go slowly. I find it especially helpful as my hands are a bit shaky, so taking that extra time helps stabilize the lines.

The other thing that will help your manicure last longer, especially with longer nails, is to wrap the tips (photo #1). By this I mean to swipe a bit of polish along the tip of your nail so that the polish is wrapped around your nail, from above to below; use another finger to gently pull the skin away from the nail. I usually paint the nail and then wrap the tip, but I don't think the order matters. If you wear your nails short, it's difficult to do this without smearing polish all over your skin, so I skip this step when my nails are short and just make sure that I extend the polish all the way to the tips. Hopefully my photo helps make sense of wrapping for you, it was tough getting a picture of both hands by myself ;) After using Seche Vite as a topcoat, this is the second most important tip I can share!!

Specialized Effects Polishes

I'm not going into much detail about the myriad effect top coat options out there, just a couple of the most unique and helpful (photo #2).

The first is a matte top coat, many of which are available out there. I use an inexpensive one from Essence, you can find them at ULTA. While there are some matte finish polishes out there, using the top coat will transform any polish into a matte version of itself. When using this, I'll do the manicure as usual including the Seche Vite top coat and then follow that with the matte top coat last. The matte effect will wear off as the days go by, so I'll sometimes pop another coat on to refresh the matte look a couple days in.

There are also many types of nail stripers out there, most often in crème or glitter finishes. These come with a long, thin brush which allow for finer detail work, the most common of which is, as the name implies, striping.

And  though not a topcoat, one other really fun polish I showed dries to a matte sandy finish; I'm especially fond of the ones with sparklies in them. When worn alongside normal polishes you can get some really interesting effects. No top coat used on these, so you definitely have to let them dry a good while. I like to do 2-3 VERY thin coats with these as opposed to fewer thicker layers, which speeds the drying time up a bit as well.

Beyond these, some of the other common effect-type polishes you'll find are: glitters (in all shades, shapes, sizes, and densities), flakies (color shifting transluscent shards, found in silver/clear, yellow, red, green, and blue), duochrome polishes (both standalone and topcoats) that shift colors depending on the angle, and shattered top coats.

I'm happy to answer any questions, and would love to hear your own tips!

[Part one: The Essential Stuff You Don't See]
[Part two: Painting Technique and Effects Polishes]
[Part three: Tools, Household and Specialized]

This post is also published in the youlookfab forum. You can read and reply to it in either place. All replies will appear in both places.


  • Joyce B replied 6 years ago

    Wow, that's a whole tutorial. Thanks for sharing, I will keep for reference.

  • Karie replied 6 years ago

    Thanks for the tips, Aida! A while back you mentioned Seche Vite and it truly is magical stuff. It makes my polish last a lot longer. I always put it on last. Above, if I understand correctly, you said you put it on and then put a different kind of matte top coat on top of that? 

  • Aida replied 6 years ago

    If you want to use the matte topper, yes that's right. You would do the whole manicure just as normal, including the Seche Vite. Then you just add the matte top coat over the top. That way you get all the hardening and quick dry benefits of the SV. Matte toppers dry pretty quickly, just a few minutes is enough.

  • Karie replied 6 years ago

    I'll try that, thanks!

  • shevia replied 6 years ago

    I love when you explain things, even if I haven't painted my nails since 7th grade!

  • kellygirl replied 6 years ago

    Very cool, Aida! I'm curious, DD's got a nail art set from my mom for Christmas. It came with some pens that allow you to draw on pictures or designs on the nails. What we noticed is that when you cover them with a top coat, the lines smear--even after letting them dry awhile. Is there a product we should be using after drawing the design? FWIW, the pens were Migi Nail Art  and there was nothing in the directions about this. 

    This is such a great tutorial. I can't wait to have time to read through this and follow all of the links. I might even paint my nails--but don't hold your breath!

  • Neel replied 6 years ago

    Omg Aida. You are such a sweetheart for doing this! I bought a lot of nail paints the last month inspired by you and leopard luxe's always polished pretty nails! And I have been painting them myself. Finally I have learnt what shape suits my finger nails. And this series of posts is like the bible for painting nails for dummies like me. You are a genius! Thanks for doing this for us! x
    ETA: I always skipped the wrapping technique and wondered why my nail chipped at the tips :)

  • Gracie replied 6 years ago

    Thank you Aida for sharing your expertise. I'm really enjoying your mini series. How close to the cuticle do you get with the polish? I used to touch the cuticle with it but noticed, after having a salon manicure that she left a little space. I've been doing that and my thin nails are not breaking as easily, I'm thinking it made a difference. Also, I'm filing them a bit more square than my previous "squoval."

  • Ariadne replied 6 years ago

    This is so great, Aida! I'm starting to paint my fingernails regularly for the first time ever as a way to try to stop myself from biting my cuticles.

  • Aida replied 6 years ago

    Happy to share this info ladies ^^

    Kelly, sometimes the top coats (or any clear-based polish, really) will pull at the polish below even after it's set. I haven't used any of the nail pens, but it might be worth trying a quick dry oil and letting that sit for a minute or two before applying the top coat. And making sure that you use a light hand with the top coat to help prevent pressure smearing.

    Neel, if you wear your nails any longer than purely short wrapping will make a huge difference!

    Gracie, I try my best to stop just before the cuticle as well. Partly because it makes for a cleaner, prettier manicure and partly because it allows me to keep my cuticles hydrated with the cuticle cream. Which in turn keeps my nails healthier overall.

  • Gigi replied 6 years ago

    Ah, wrapping the tips! I love the tip about pulling the skin back with another finger; I'd never thought of that! And I thought I was the only one who got polish all over herself when trying to wrap when my nails are short. :^) I do have difficulty doing this even when my nails are longer, however. It seems like the polish has started to get tacky by the time I get around the wrapping the tip. But I always use the "safer" nail polishes, without some of the chemicals. I wonder if those polishes tend to set up faster...?

    Thanks for the note that it's okay to go slowly when applying polish. I finally figured that out after several attempts at not-so-good manicures! Now that I go slowly, there's a lot less cleanup, which saves so much time.

    Gracie, the books I have read about manicures say to always leave a bit of space above the cuticle and also at the sides of the nail. I think it is supposed to make a cleaner appearance.

    Aida, I bought some glitter polish in a clear base and have been wondering whether to use a top coat with it (my plan is to paint my nails as usual and then use the glitter polish on top). Am I right that you would say a top coat is unnecessary here?

    And like kellygirl, I have had problems with top coats "picking up" pigment from the nail polish underneath, even though it's completely dry. There was one time that I painted my toenails red, and a week later (the pedi was still good), I decided to add some white polka dots on top. After adding the dots, I put on another top coat, and the red polish bled into the white dots. Obviously, the red polish was completely dry since it had been done a week ago. Does this happen to you?

  • Aida replied 6 years ago

    Gigi, do you paint all of the hand and then go back to wrap or do you do it for each nail as you go? The latter will help with drying, and you could also try doing them one at a time with the wrap first. For the glitter toppers, I'd actually recommend going even heavier on the top coat to help get the same glassy finish you'd get with a crème; otherwise you'll notice a somewhat textured effect from the glitters. Nail art enthusiasts sometimes call polish that does that "hungry", as in it needs more top coat than a normal polish ;) I think all polish can cause that bleed, polish tends to dissolve polish to an extent (especially clears). In fact there are some people out there who remove glitter polish by painting fresh polish over the top and then using polish remover, because the fresh polish soft-sets the layers below (I don't recommend this method though!).

  • Gigi replied 6 years ago

    Hmm, interesting idea about painting fresh polish over the glitter polish to get it to come off! I haven't tried the glitter polish yet...just bought the bottle. Good to know in advance that I might need to go heavy on the top coat. There's nothing more annoying than spending lots of time doing a nice mani only to not get the top coat right and discover the polish chipping less than 24 hours later!

    When I tried to wrap, I tried to do it on each nail as I went. I tried it both before painting the nail and after painting the nail. But I'll have to give it another try. I give up easily. :^( 

    When you wrap, do you wrap each coat of polish, or do you just wrap one coat?

  • Aida replied 6 years ago

    Gigi, I must forewarn you that glitter polish can be a bear to get off! I would highly suggest that you let the polish remover sit on the nail through whatever you use to remove so that they can soak a bit. Otherwise they reaaallllyyy like to stick to the nail. I usually do two coats of the base coat when I plan to put glitter on top, too. Of course some glitters will come off easily, usually the smaller ones. I thought about the wrapping; I always do it after painting the nail and do it with each coat including the top coat. What was the issue you were having? Hopefully I can give you better tips that way :)

  • Gigi replied 6 years ago

    Ha ha, the glitter polish I bought has big flecks, not small. So it probably will be difficult to come off! When using nail polish remover, I soak some cotton pieces in remover and then stick them on top of my nails and then let them sit for a few minutes before removing them. That usually gives the polish time to soften up pretty good, and there's not much scrubbing. So I'll make sure to do this with the glitter.

    If I am planning on putting a regular pigmented polish on my nails first before applying the glitter polish (the glitter polish is in a clear base, so I'd like a pigmented polish below it), would you still recommend two coats of the base coat? Or were you envisioning a situation where the glitter polish goes right on top of the base coat? (The devil's in the details...)

    The issue I was having with wrapping was that after I paint a nail, and then I try to wrap it, I feel like the applicator brush is dragging along the top of the nail, like the polish that was already applied to the edge is too tacky for me to go across it like that. But it just dawned on me that maybe I am not being careful enough...perhaps the nail polish shouldn't even be touching the nail plate at all? I don't think I have been careful to paint JUST the edge of the nail (the nail thickness); some polish also gets applied to the edge of the nail plate.

    Would you ever consider doing a post on how to best file nails? I have a very difficult time with getting the edge to be smooth. I file in only one direction for each side of the nail (up to the tip), but the edge is ragged when I am done. I try to bevel it by filing down over the free edge at a 45-degree angle, but I still end up with bits and pieces on the free edge. Grr.

    And how about a post on mani maintenance? Do you have tricks to make your mani last? (I'm not shy about doling out work for you, Aida, am I?)

    Sorry for all the questions! Your nails do look beautiful, by the way. I love seeing them in your WIWs.

  • Aida replied 6 years ago

    I don't mind the questions at all :D

    Re the glitter base color: It's really up to you. If the base polish very opaque then one coat might be enough, but if it's a low-coverage polish then two thinner coats would be ideal as you'll be adding more with the glitter coat. Glitter over one coat of a sheer shimmery base is a fun look too. And to be crazier still, if you have a transparent colored base (called a "jelly") then you can do alternating coats and get amazing depth with the glitter! Check out this "jelly sandwich nails" search.

    Re wrapping: Having a light hand as well as very little polish on the brush is key. It should just be a thin bead along the edge, with a little polish above and a little polish below. I found this blog post online which kind of shows how thin that bead usually is. As with everything, it takes a bit of practice to figure out.

    Re filing and maintenance: I do very, very basic filing myself. My nails are very round in both directions so when I clip them I have to do pretty much all shaping then. After clipping I will use a very fine, very soft emery board block like the ones below along the nail tips to smooth any rough edges, as well as a little on the corners sometimes to keep my round shape. No filing anywhere on the nail except the tips for me; if I need to smooth anything out, I use a ridge filler. My only maintenance is the Seche Vite top coat and the Burt's Bees cuticle cream, really! By the time the manicure is in need of any further maintenance I'm usually ready to change it anyway ;) This post over on Chalkboard Nails has great info and great reference links!

  • Gigi replied 6 years ago

    Thanks for the links! I do think I was using too much polish when wrapping. I'll definitely give it another go. Thank you for clearing this up for me! And I *love* those jelly nail pics you posted. I do have some sheer shimmer polish that I could do with the glitter and maybe get some looks like that. Ooh, lots of possibilities...

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