Do-It-Yourself Acrylic Nails – Part 1: Nail Tips and Glue

In Acrylic Nails, Uncategorized on May 2, 2013 at 12:50 am

Part 1

Welcome to my step by step tutorial on how to do acrylic nails. I have been a licensed manicurist for over 25 years specializing in acrylic and gel nail enhancements. I have attended 1,000’s of hours of continuing education in order to perfect my artificial nail enhancement services. The following series of blogs includes the cliff notes as well as any details that I feel are necessary for the average consumer to do do their own nails. Each section is directed toward the consumer not a professional manicurist, I am assuming that the reader has no professional training. I intend no offense. Professional manicurists may find some of the information helpful, just keep in mind that I am directing this series to the non-professional.

Please refer to my page “Nail Anatomy” throughout the next several blogs if you do not understand what part of the nail I am referring to or if you do not understand a term I have used.

What You Will Need

Paper towels large enough to cover your work surface

A sheet of paper in a plastic sleeve

Plastic nail brush

Sanitizing hand soap that does not contain any conditioners or moisturizers

Acetone, straight acetone not acetone polish remover

Cuticle remover

Cuticle pusher

Cuticle nippers

Nail clippers

Nail files: 180 and 100 grit

Buffing block: 240 grit

Nail tips: full well, cut out well, French white, natural, clear or designer, your choice in a wide variety of sizes

Nail glue, thin or thick viscosity, your choice, I like a thick viscosity gel glue

Nail dehydrator

Lint-free nail/brush wipes

Non-acid nail primer

Acrylic nail liquid and powder from one company, traditional set with pink and white powders recommended

Dappen dish and eye dropper

Acrylic nail sculpting brush size 6, round with a point, not flat, get as good quality as your budget allows, the quality of a brush plays a big part in product control

Cuticle oil

Getting Started

I strongly suggest that you get a full set of acrylic nails from the best Nail Tech in town. Fills are much easier to do than a full set. However if you insist on doing everything yourself, buy an acrylic starter kit that has everything in the kit that you will need including plastic nail tips. Always use all the products from one company. Do not mix liquid and powder from two different companies. I cannot stress the importance of not mixing product lines enough. Manufacturers use several different chemicals in their products to create their patented formulas. They are not all the same. There are some chemicals that can be put in the liquid or the powder and each company decides what chemicals will be in their liquid and which will be in their powder. So if you use one companies liquid and another’s powder you could get twice as much of one chemical and none of another and as a result your nails will break, lift and/or turn yellow.

Check the list of products included in the kit against the above list to be sure you have everything you need before you get started. Kits do not normally come with a plastic nail brush, cuticle nippers, cuticle pusher, cuticle remover, hand soap or acetone. Some kits contain only liquid, powder and primer. Read the box for a compleat list of what is in the kit before you buy. Another kit that costs more but contains more of what you will need may be a better bargain.

If you insist on doing your own full set, I recommend that you use plastic nail tips for your extensions. Sculpting nail extensions is a whole article by itself. You can use nail tips from any company with any acrylic product line. The only products that it is essential that you use from one manufacturer is the liquid and powder. You can use the primer, tips, tip glue, files and cuticle oil from different companies, however, most manufacturers formulate all of their products to work together for optimal results. So, I recommend that you use one entire line when possible to keep things simple. If you choose to use tips, tip glue, cuticle oil, etc from a different line you may or may not have problems with your nails.

That said, choosing products can be overwhelming so I have some suggestions as to what to look for when choosing products or you can take the easy way out and just buy a starter kit with everything you need in it.

Plastic Nail Tips

I will start with plastic nail tips and tip glue. If you have healthy nails that have a nice natural shape to them, I recommend a cut out well tip. Cut out well tips are available with and without a contact area. I recommend the tips with a contact area for beginners to help with placement.

If you do not have healthy nails with a nice natural shape or your nails are heavily ridged or extremely short, use a full well tip. A full well tip will require more prep filing but it will give your not so perfect natural nail body a perfect shape as a foundation for your acrylic overlay. The full well tip should not cover more than 2/3 of the nail body, if it does, cut or file the tip well shorter until it fits your nail body properly.

If your kit came with full well tips and you want to use cut out well tips, simply file the tip well down to the desired shape/coverage.

Colored cut out well tips or cut out well tips with airbrush art designs on them are great, fun options but you will need to purchase clear acrylic powder to use with them and not all company’s clear powder is crystal clear. Usually the less expensive lines look cloudy when used over design tips. Buy the best quality clear acrylic powder and a liquid that has UV inhibitors ( all the top brands have it ) as your budget allows.

Price is a huge indicator in quality of acrylic product. Triple sifted powders self level better and allow compleat acrylic liquid absorption, much better than single sifted power and it costs more for the manufacturer to triple sift the powder in better machines to manufacturer it. The same with acrylic liquid. The better quality the chemicals used in the manufacture of the liquid the better the color stabilization and the stronger the polymerization, cross linked bond with the powder. In the acrylic product world you get what you pay for. That is why some salons charge $15 for a full set and others charge $75 or more. MMA liquid, dental acrylic liquid that should NEVER be used to make acrylic nails, is about $20 a gallon. EMA liquid with color stabilizers and UV inhibitors runs around $200 a gallon. EMA liquid is available without the color stabilizers and UV inhibitors for around $150 a gallon. The better the quality of the liquid and powder system, the higher the price and the better quality, longer lasting results.

I got off subject a little, not really, everything in a manufacturers system works with everything else and that is why I recommend using all products from one manufacturer. Anyway, on to tip glue.

Tip Glue

Viscosity refers to the thickness of a glue. Thin viscosity glues are available in a tube or in a “brush on” bottle. If your natural nails are healthy, smooth and ridge free, you can use a thin viscosity glue to apply your cut out well tips.

If your nails are heavily ridged or you are using a full well tip, use a thick viscosity glue. Thick viscosity glues are available in a tube and are sometimes marked as “gel glue” or “gel adhesive”. They are referring to the viscosity of the glue being the thickness of a gel not that the glue should be used only with gel nails or that the glue itself is a gel nail with the exception of “no-light gel nails”. See my blog post about gel nails for more information on “no-light gel nails”.

Thick viscosity glue will fill in spaces, ridges, dips and other unevenness between the nail plate and the plastic nail tip avoiding air pockets where moisture can become trapped and a bacterial infection can start.

Applying Plastic Nail Tips

To begin cover the surface of your work space with a paper towel to protect your work surface. Note that acetone and polish remover will damage wood and laminate surfaces. Glass or tile surfaces are best.

Wash your hands. Any lotion or oil that you have on the nail tip or your nail plate will interfere with the adhesion of the nail tip to the natural nail.

Apply cuticle remover to all 10 cuticles and rub in. Use a cuticle pusher to gently push back your cuticles. Wash your hands with soap and water to remove all traces of the cuticle remover. Carefully nip any dead tissue that will interfere with acrylic application. Do not trim living tissue. Trimming cuticles will cause them to grow back thicker and will leave the nail matrix open to infection.

Clip your natural nails as short as possible and use a 180 grit or higher file to shape the free edge of your natural nail to fit the contact area of the nail tip.

Use a 180 grit or higher file or your 240 grit buffer block to remove the shine from the entire nail plate.

Use the nail cleanser, with a lint-free wipe, that came in your kit to clean all filings off the natural nail plate. If your kit did not have a cleanser, use pure acetone or 99% isopropyl alcohol. Not acetone polish remover and not 97% isopropyl alcohol, these products may contain other ingredients that will leave a residue on the nail plate and will interfere with glue adhesion. If you do not get a watertight seal between your natural nail plate and the plastic tip you risk having the tip pop off or getting a bacterial infection (greenies).

Tips come in different sizes to fit different width nails. The tip should fit from sidewall to sidewall of each nail. Pre-fit the tips before gluing them on to check for proper fit. Fit all ten tips and lay them out on the work space in front of you to be sure you have enough of the right sizes. If your nail width is between sizes you should choose the larger of the two and file down the sides to custom fit your nail. It is better to size down a tip to fit than use a tip that is too narrow and does not fit all the way down on the sides.

Apply glue to the tip well on one nail tip at a time. Hold the tip at a 45 degree angle to the nail and rock the tip down onto the nail. This will force any extra glue out the end of the tip and prevent glue from collecting under the free edge. Press and hold the tip firmly in place for 30 seconds or until the glue sets. Wipe any excess glue off with an alcohol soaked cotton swab or nail wipe. Do not worry if some cotton fibers get stuck in the glue, they will file off when you etch the plastic tip after the glue has dried.

Trim nail tips to desired length using nail clippers. Clip from the side of the nail tip to the center on one side then the other. Cutting Straight across the tip with a flat nail clipper will split the tip down the middle or cause the newly glued tip to lift on the sides.

Use a 180 grit file to blend the nail tip flush with the nail plate being careful to thin the plastic tip in order to blend it and not filing into the natural nail. If you use a cut out well tip you do not have to blend the tip line. Only the full well tip will show on the finished nail if the tip is not blended flush to the nail plate. You do need to remove the shine from the cut out well tip with a file or buffer or the acrylic product will not adhere to the tip, you just do not have to blend the line where the tip meets the natural nail. If you use a camouflage pink powder you do not need to blend either tip line. If you are using designer tips, do not blend the tip line. Remove the shine with a buffing block being careful not to file into the design.

Remove all filing dust with a plastic manicuring brush. Do not touch the nail with your fingers you will transfer skin oils to the nail and cause your acrylic enhancements to lift. Do not use a blush brush or any other soft “cosmetic” brush. These brushes are meant to spread powder or blush over the skin, you need all the dust removed from the surface of the nail and nail tip or your acrylic nail enhancement will lift. Do not wipe the plastic tip with nail cleanser or acetone, both products will “melt” the surface of the nail tip, smoothing out the surface and that will interfere with the acrylic product adhering to the nail tip.

Part 2 will cover both nail dehydrator and primer application.

  1. […] To read more: Do-It-Yourself Acrylic Nails – Part 1: […]

  2. this text is very well written, you must be a really intelligent person, keep up the good work. lista de email lista de email lista de email lista de email lista de email

  3. Thank you for your feed back. I read and rewrote the introduction in part 1. I did not find any other part of the blog to sound offensive. I read through the rest of the series and did not find anything that I though needed changing, but then, I do have a dark, sarcastic sense of humor ( as you may have noticed ). If you find anything else on my blogs to be offensive, please do let me know. My intention is to educate, not to offend.
    Katherine Fahrig

  4. Instead of using the acrylic liquid does it work to use any sort of nail polish remover (acetone free etc) as I’ve run out of acrylic liquid and need some for friday

    • I’m not sure what you are asking. In general, polish remover can not replace acrylic liquid ever. it is not possible to create an acrylic nail with polish remover and acrylic powder.

      Do you mean polish remover in place of acetone? For prepping the natural nail? Well, um, as long as it is acetone polish remover and does not contain conditioners, it’s better than nothing. Do not use non-acetone polish remover to prep the nail, it will cause lifting. If you have 99% alcohol, use that to prep the nail, it’s better than polish remover in place of acetone.

  5. I am not sure where you are getting your info,
    but good topic. I needs to spend some time learning more or understanding
    more. Thanks for magnificent info I was looking for this info for my mission.

    • Thank you for your positive feedback 🙂 I have been a licensed Manicurist in the state of Missouri for 27 years. I attend continuing education classes yearly and I have been a manufacturers educator in the past. My information comes from all the different manufacturers classes I have attended as well as my personal experience.

  6. Кeepp this going please, great job!

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  8. I’m guessing that you are a brand new student. Be patient, your instructor will teach you what you need to know. Hands on is the best way to learn. After you finish your program, start reading my step by step blog from the beginning (part 1) and it will make more sense to you. Then if you have any questions post them here and I’ll be glad to answer them. Be patient with yourself and give yourself time to learn. There is a lot of information to absorb.

    To answer your question; Acrylic nails are sculpted from acrylic monomer (liquid) and acrylic polymer (powder). The same acrylic monomer and polymer are used to sculpt acrylic nails regardless if it is over tips, on a form or as maintainance.

    Best of luck in your studies. Nails are a lot of fun, enjoy!

  9. Read “Do-It-Yourself Acrylic Nails ” Parts 1 – 6 in my blog. Detailed instructions are painstakingly recorded. Goo luck and keep practicing! It’s great that you have so many people to practice on!

    • Hi Neha,

      I’m liking you a lot, you are so cute and sweet. 🙂 You did fine filing the gel off and re-sealing with the top coat.

      The reason why the gel ran onto the clients skin is that you applied the gel too thick. The little finger is so small and it is a common mistake. When I need to do a thicker coat on the little finger, or any finger for that matter, I apply the needed amount and then “set” the gel in the lamp for 10 seconds. Putting the clients hand in the lamp for 10 seconds cures the gel long enough so it will not move. I then apply gel to the rest of the nails and cure the whole hand for the recommended amount of time.

      Get into the habit of checking all the nails before you put them into the lamp and remove any gel that has run onto the skin with a manicuring stick before you cure it. This reduces the need for filing after the gel is cured.

      You are doing fine. Keep practicing!


  10. In my assignment it said red gel overlay and instead i made such a silly and stupid mistake and put natural nails with red overlay on top of the fake soo scared i hope my lecture dose not shout me.coz with me thats what usualy happens eeish.please came out so nice i realy love the nails done on my what do i do wish i could call her back and redo it but i know its impossible. Coz the nails aint gona come out.

    • How are you doing Neha? You’ve had a few weeks to practice and learn new challenges. Are you feeling a little more confident now?

      • please can you give me your personal number if you have because i might need your help alot
        i get so confeused every now and then

  11. I’m a beginner at doing my nails and don’t have any interest in making a career out of it, I just want to do my own nails so I don’t have to go to the salon. I just received my acrylic starter kit. It comes with a plastic finger so I decided to practice on that instead of my own hand. Just in case I messed it up. Well.. I did. Is it natural for it to suck this bad my first time applying the acrylic? It’s all lumpy and not smooth. I’m kinda worried. How long will it take me to get the hang of it? :/

    • Hi Natalie,
      Maybe I should have put the blog about product control as step 1. I was thinking in terms of accurately doing nails and each step in the order it needs to be done. Skip ahead to the blog about product control. Practicing on a practice sheet to learn product control is the key to successfully doing your own nails. You were very wise to try your new product on the practice finger. I suggest stepping back one more step and practicing mix ratio and product control on a practice sheet. Play with it, use more liquid, less liquid, larger beads, smaller beads, to find out what works for you and your product.
      What is the brand name of the product you purchased? Is it traditional set or fast set? Traditional set acrylic is better for beginners. It takes 3 to 5 minutes for traditional set acrylic to set up, giving the beginner plenty of time to work with the product. Fast set products set up in 2 minutes or less and require greater skill because of the short working time. If you tell me the brand, I can tell you if it is fast or traditional set. Some manufacturers offer both, the label should indicate which product you received. Or you can throw me a curve and say that it’s CND which is both fast and traditional set, I call it medium set. As long as you are working with it, it will not set up ( for up to 4 minutes ), stop working it and it sets in less than 2 minutes.

      • Thank you so much for your response!:) I’m using the product “Chen xi” I’m not sure if it’s traditionally or fast set. Hopefully you can tell me. It did set pretty fast as I was messing with it on the practice finger the first time. I stopped to get a ball of crust off the brush and when I turned back, it was already set and why it came out all lumpy the first time around. I will keep doing as you instructed, keep practicing. I want to get good enough to do my own nails at home. Do you have an email that I could reach you if I have any further questions or do I just keep commenting on your posts?

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