Some days, it feels like the only reason Instagram and Pinterest exist is to propagate unattainably beautiful nail art. While you could certainly commission a pro to create an intricate manicure, the cost of custom nail art can add up quickly.
And as it turns out, some of those seemingly complicated techniques are much simpler than you might think. We talked to self-taught nail artist Amelia Baxter-Stoltzfus about the six essential items for a home toolkit and what types of effects you can create with them. (After getting your base coat professionally applied at a nail salon, of course. You want to make sure you start off on the right foot—er, hand.)1. Striping and Scotch Tapes
What they’re used for: Striping (duh) and color-blockingHow to use them: Striping tape is essential for creating thinner lines of color (shown at right). Wait until your base coat is totally dry, adhere the tape in whatever pattern you’d like, then paint over it with a second color. “Take up the tape while the top color is still wet to prevent peeling,” Amelia said. For larger blocks of color, though, just use plain-old Scotch tape.Photo courtesy of The Wow Style via Pinterest2. Makeup Sponges
What they’re used for: Gradients and “galaxy” nailsHow to use them: To create ombre-inspired gradients, simply paint multiple colors in parallel, touching lines onto a single sponge. Then, press the sponge onto your nail (shown at left). Amelia likes this technique because it allows you to build color until it’s as vibrant as you want. A lighter touch creates an entirely separate effect, however. “Smaller dabs of different colors can give a cool space effect for galaxy nails,” she said. To polish off this look (no pun intended), she suggested incorporating glitter for a starry effect.Photo courtesy of Instagram user deborahlippmann via Pinterest3. Bobby PinsWhat they’re used for: Polka dotsHow to use them: “These are straightforward in theory, if not in practice, when trying to keep your non-dominant hand steady,” Amelia admitted. Simply dot polish onto the heads of the bobby pins, then dot the pins onto your nails. Bonus tip: use bobby pins and toothpicks to create dots of varied sizes.Photo courtesy of Instagram user amnorton1212 via Pinterest4. Rubbing AlcoholWhat it’s used for: Newsprint transfers
How to use it: Though it looks impossibly intricate, Amelia said this trick might be the easiest of the bunch. Simply soak a piece of newspaper in alcohol (Amelia has experimented with crossword puzzle answer keys), press it on the nail for 30 seconds, then peel it off. “Make sure to use a topcoat or the ink will smudge,” she said.
Bookworms might want to try simple blocks of text, whereas pop-art lovers could dip into the funny pages. Photo courtesy of Beautylish via Pinterest5. Stamping Plates and Stampers
What they’re used for: Stamping, of course
How to use them: Unlike the newspaper trick, stamping is a bit more complicated. “[These] require more initial investment to get and some experimentation once you have them,” Amelia said. Stamping plates have designs etched into them, and the stamper rolls over the surface of the plates. “Paint a layer of polish over the etch, scrape off the [excess] (I use an old gift card, although you can buy actual scrapers for this purpose), roll the stamper over the etch, and then very quickly roll the stamper onto the nail.” (Here’s a short video of the process, which actually shows the makeup-sponge technique as well.)“It takes some practice, and some polishes are better than others,” Amelia said. “You can buy stamping-specific polishes, but some regular brands stamp well, particularly older, slightly dried-out polishes.” She likes the Bundle Monster stamping sets.Photo courtesy of Cosmetic Cupcake via Pinterest6. Cleanup KitThis consists of three items: cotton swabs, petroleum jelly, and topcoat. Swabs dipped in acetone or polish remover can erase mistakes, a coat of Vaseline on your cuticles can prevent polish from sticking during messier projects, and a quick-dry topcoat ensures your fingers stay flawless. Read more about the wide world of nail art:Your French Manicure Can Be Way More FunAstroWifey’s Manicures Are So Good, They Were in a Museum