Beginners Guide & Glossary

When I started out I had noooo idea what I was doing. After I’d hunted through some nail art websites I found that there were many techniques that were very straight forward to do and looked really pretty. I’ve decided to list a few of them here in hope that anyone new to nail art may find it useful! I’ll continue to add extra techniques as I continue to learn, perhaps even some pictures or short videos.


Nail stamping is the process of transferring an image from an engraved metal image plate (see Tools & Kit) to the nail using a stamper and a scraper.

1. Protect the surface you will be working on. Place a pad of cotton wool soaked in nail varnish remover directly next to the stamping plate and tools so that as soon as you scrape, you can clean of the excess and grab the stamper.

2. Put a line of varnish along the bottom of the stamp design on the plate OR fully cover the design with the nail varnish.

3. Take the scraper, place it evenly along the base of the design and scrape away from you (wiping the excess polish from the scraper onto the cotton pad to keep things neat) then quickly grab the stamper and press directly down on the plate in the centre of the design with even pressure.

6. Line up the top edge of the stamp with the top of your nail and carefully use a rolling motion down the nail to the cuticle or across the nail from side to side.

7. Allowthe pattern to dry for a moment, then finish with a top coat, being careful not to ‘drag’ the brush up the nail, it could smudge the stamping pattern.

Click here for a full stamping guide (including video).


Neat Edges Nail Clean-up

Painting nails is a messy business, however, pure acetone is your friend! This comes with a heavy warning though, pure acetone is rather dangerous and I’ve melted not one, but two of my keyboards by accidentally knocking over the bottle. However, when used with care, it’s a godsend. All you need is an angled or flat brush, making sure they’re not too thick. Dip the angled brush in the pure acetone and gentle go round the outer edges of the nail. Keep a dry cotton wool pad close by to remove the excess from the brush as you go.


Easy Glitter Removal

Usually one of the first things I hear people say in reference to glitter nail varnish is ‘Oh I love it but it’s such a pain to remove’.

One way around this to paint a coat of PVA on the nail before applying the glitter, then you can peel it away when ready (credit: or another is to paint 2-3 coats of clear on the nail before applying so that it may be possible to peel the nail varnish off when you’re ready if you don’t happen to have the PVA.

Easy Glitter Application (without 100 sticky never-drying layers!)

Some sparse glitters require layer upon layer of glitter to make it look decent, which can mean it takes forever to dry. To avoid this you can apply glitter onto a foundation sponge first then dab it onto the nail, wait for it to dry off and repeat. This way means that you don’t get a clear varnish build up and the glitter is more concentrated. Be careful not to get the glitter on the skin around the nail.


Saran Wrap Nails

If you’re English and have never heard the term ‘saran’ it just means cling film (American brand). This is the process of applying 2 layers of your chosen polish colour, allowing it to dry, then painting an alternative layer over the top and dabbing it gently while wet with a scrunched up ball of cling film/seran wrap. This creates a nice, soft duo colour textured effect as shown below. I’ve also attempted this with kitchen foil and it’s seemingly a viable alternative. Original Saran learning credit to: Demelza’s World.


Watercolour Nails

This look is achieved by using a paintbrush dipped in acetone which effectively ‘waters down’ the varnish before gently dabbing on patches of the selection of colours onto your nails.


Water decals

These are amazing, I love ’em! Such a better, and longer lasting alternative to stickers (which tend to peel through top coats and get caught). These come in small sheets and all you do is cut them out, dip them in warm water for 10-20 seconds, gently slide away the backing then place down on the nail. The decal will need a certain amount of patting down to ensure there is no water stuck underneath. A hair-dryer can be used to speed up the ‘sticking to the nail’ bit, but that’s not always practical!


Acrylic Nail Extensions

Acrylic nails are a very common form of artificial nail. There are two main types of acrylics, tips and forms.

Tips are light, plastic plates that are glued on the end of the real nail. After the tip is applied, an acrylic solution is then coated over the entire nail. Forms are fitted over the whole nail. Then, an artificial nail is made out of acrylic and the form is taken off to correctly shape and buff it. Both types of acrylic nails harden on their own without the aid of a UV light. Tips are now available in a vast range of colours and designs.

Acrylics help conceal or fix broken, damaged, short, or bad nails. They also help to prevent people from biting their nails, breaking their nails, and protecting from splits. However, they aren’t all that healthy for the natural nail, making them weak and thin when the acrylic nail is removed.


Gel Nail Extensions

Gel nails are a type of artificial nail that most closely resemble the natural nail. They are similar to acrylic nails, but still different.

Gel nails are formed by a combination of monomer liquid and polymer powder. The monomer liquid reacts with the polymer powder when put together which, in turn, forms long polymer strands. After being cured under a UV light and LED light they dry and harden to form a resin that looks like a real fingernail. Gel nails can come in any colour and can include many different patterns and designs.

Gel nails are glossier, aren’t meant to chip and last for a longer period of time than other artificial nails and polishes. However, they are not as durable as acrylic nails.


Nail Wrap Extensions

A popular alternative to acrylic or gel preparations are fibreglass or silk wraps. Pieces of actual fibreglass or silk fabric are cut to fit on the surface of the nail or tip and then sealed down with a resin or glue. These sort of treatments are commonly used to protect the nails if they have been broken. The silk or fibreglass overlay acts as a false layer of nail and thus protects to nail plate from splitting or becoming damaged any further.


Gel Nail Polish (UV Curing)

Gel nail polish should last up to two weeks. It is painted on the nail like a regular polish after using a ‘prep’ lotion on a lint free cloth to ensure the nail bed is clean. It does not dry until it is “set” under an ultraviolet or LED lamp. This polish is of a thicker consistency than normal nail polish so requires a little more care during application. It also requires a gel base and top coat. These nails come out super durable and shiny!

Gel polish is more difficult to remove than regular nail polish; it is usually scraped off after soaking the nails in acetone for 5-10 minutes.


Shellac Nail Polish (UV Curing)

Shellac nail lasts for weeks without chipping (CND brand). However, the difference between ‘shellac’ and gel nail polish is that it’s made of a thinner consistency which makes it feel similar to applying normal nail polish. Like gel nail polish, Shellac still requires each layer to be set with a UV lamp and needs soaking in acetone to remove the polish.


Gel-Effect Nail Polish

Many popular brands now stock a gel-like nail polish. Generally this polish is thicker than normal nail polish and has a higher level of solid pigment. It’s designed to be more durable than normal nail polish and give a high-shine glossy finish.


Base Coat

This type of nail polish is a clear or milky coloured polish formula that is used specifically first, before applying nail polish to the nail. The purpose of it is to strengthen nails, restore moisture to the nail, and/or help polish adhere to the nail. Some base coats are marketed as “ridge fillers” and, by creating a smooth surface, reduce the appearance the ridges that can appear on unhealthy nails or due to aging. Base coat may also help prevent staining on then nail, though this heavily depends on the thickness of the base coat and the colour strength of the main coat.


Top Coat

This type of polish is a clear formula that is used specifically last, after applying the desired nail polish colour to the nail. It forms a hardened barrier for the nail to prevent chipping, scratching and peeling. Many top coats are marketed as “quick-drying” and, in addition to drying quickly, may also help the underlying coloured polish dry quickly such as Seche Vite.


Gradient Nails

Gradient nails are a type of manicure in which a gradient effect is created. A light colour on the bottom of the nail gradually blends into a darker colour toward the tip.


Ombre Nails

Ombre is a style of manicure where you take 5 shades of one colour and paint one shade per nail in order.



Nail foils can be purchased either on a roll or pre-cut in the shape of the nail. They are the texture of, yes, foil and come in huge variety of patterns and textures! The pre-cut foils are like stickers and can be carefully applied over 1-2 coats of dry base coat. Once the foil is securely in place you can gently pull away any excess. Roll foil is similar however, it requires a foil adhesive followed by the application of the foil.


For information on what you’ll need to start your nail art empire, please seen ‘Tools & Kit’.

Text reference: Some from with modifications and additions from me :).

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