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Nail Tools: What You Need and How to Use Them

Nail Tools: What You Need and How to Use Them


By semick

“There’s nothing worse than trying to use the wrong tools to create a look,” says celebrity man-icurist Tom Bachik, whose mini masterpieces have adorned the talons of Zooey Deschanel, Jennifer Lopez and Anne Hathaway. “Each brush or tool helps to create the proper effect in an easy and efficient way. “

Here’s how to use each of these top nail art tools to create masterpieces of your very own:


nail brushes - which ones to use for nail artBrushes

+ Angled French Brush
When it comes to creating one-stroke looks like a French manicure or simple color blocking, the angled brush “can help create crisp edges and corners of a design,” Bachik says. Pick up a small (¼- to ¹/8-inch) angled brush at your local art supply store.

+ Striper Brush
A striping brush is “a must for crisp, sharp even lines,” Bachik says. Look for one with a long head; too-short bristles will cause wavy lines, he warns. If you can’t seem to find that perfect striper, pull a MacGyver like Bachik: He makes his own stripers out of cheapie brush sets found at craft stores.

+ Detail Brushes
Small, intricate designs and outlining require detail brushes. Bachik favors Presto Art Fine Point Gel Brush #4 and #6, $13.95 each, “This is the brush that makes it all come to life. Detail is everything,” he says.

+ Fan Brush
Paint your nails in a base color and let dry. Dip the very tips of your fan brush in polish and lightly sweep it over your nails  to get a wispy feathered effect.



“I like to create texture and effects, and different sponge types can help create splatter, stone-type effects or fades,” Bachik shares. Scour the aisles of a craft or beauty supply store for sea sponges and makeup wedges, or grab a classic kitchen sponge. They make color-blending and creating ombré-like effects a cinch.


dotting_tool_nails_how_to_useDotting Tool
Take the guesswork out of creating symmetrical circles (think: eyes, polka dots and flowers) by using a dual-end dotting tool.


“A good tweezer is a must-have,” Bachik urges. “I love multidimensional art—adding beads and stones—and anything I can stick to the nail requires precision application,” he says.



cuticle_nipper_nails_how_toCuticle Nippers
Don’t be fooled by the name; you should never cut live cuticle skin. The skin around your nail is there as a barrier – cutting it open puts you at risk for infection. Use nippers to cut dead skin like hangnails. We like these from OPI.



nail_striper_striping_brushStripers and Nail Art Pens
While you can use a traditional striping brush and a bottle of polish, the striper makes it one step easier: the long, thin brush comes with the bottle. We recommend Stripe Rite from It’s So Easy. If you’d like to feel more like you’re drawing that painting, go with a pen. The Sally Hansen Nail Art Pens come in a variety of colors. Make sure to use them only on polish that’s completely dry.



cuticle_pusher_nails_remover_how_toCuticle pushers and removers
Use the wide cushiony side of these (called the pusher) to push cuticles up off the nail plate before doing nail art. This lets you get polish on the whole nail and prevents the polish from pulling off the nail there. The pointy side (remover) is then used to scrape away the remaining bits of dry cuticle off the nail plate. (Note: on the top [pink] remover, use it by holding the prongs facing up towards you, and scrape the thin metal edge against the nail to remove the bits of dead skin form the nail.)


konad_nail_stamper_how_to_useNail Stamper and Scraper
To do nail stamping, you’ll need a stamper, scraper, design plate, and nail polish. Paint polish over the design on the plate you want to use. Hold your scraper at a 45-degree angle and scrape off the excess polish from the plate. Quickly “roll” the rubber side of your stamper across your design and then do the same across your nail to transfer the design. (See this article we did on stamping tips.)



nail_stamping_plates_how_to_useStamping Plates
With indie polish brands now also making their own, you’ll find a huge selection of stamping plates on the market now. Try ones from Bundle Monster (shown left), Vivid Lacquer (shown right), Konad, Wistonia, Cici & Sisi.


nail_buffer_and_file_how_to_use_nailsFile and buffer
One the simplest ways to make an at-home mani look professionally done is to make sure all your nails are all cut and filed to the same shape before applying polish. Always start with the “rougher,” larger grit end of your file to get the right shape, and then use the “smoother,” fine grain to buff and smoothe. A buffer block like this one from Barielle is especially handy – each side has a different grain, and they’re all numbered, so you know exactly which grit you’re using. Extra tip: when filing nails, only move file in one direction, not back and forth like a saw. This prevents the edge of the nail from tearing.  More tips on filing here.

orangewood_sticks_how_to_useOrangewood stick
This is the ultimate nail tool – made for just about any purpose. Use the angled side as a cuticle pusher. Make 3-D nail art easier by dipping the pointed tip of the stick in top coat and then using it to pick up rhinestone or stud. Or use either end to touch up lines gone awry or to pull polish off sidewalls (the skin on either side of your nail).

striping_tape_and_decals_how_to_useNail vinyls and striping tape
Use striping tape to either block off areas of your nail before polishing, or add it on afterwards to get pretty metallic stripes. You can mix up the size and shape of your designs by going with sheets of nail vinyls, like these in straight lines and chevrons from SO Gel Nails.


-Kristen Oldham Giordani, Sarah Emick