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
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
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
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.
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.