Nail Art
Photo by Bryony Elena on Unsplash

Forget what Pinterest and YouTube tutorials have tried to convince you because finding easy nail designs to recreate at home is not, in fact, that easy. Swiping on a singular shade of polish without getting it all over one’s cuticles, let alone free-handing any sort of nail-art design, is certainly a struggle that the average person has endured at one time or another. And that’s a big bummer when you get a big kick out of having elaborate nails. We sure love a trip to the nail salon as much as the next person, but even one monthly manicure with the added cost of nail art can certainly wreak havoc on most people’s budgets.

Painting your own nails at home may seem next to impossible, but luckily, there are some nail designs out there that pretty much anyone can nail (see what we did there?) sans years of experience and training. That said, we went scouring the Internet to find 14 of the easiest nail designs brought into existence and decided to put them all in one place. Keep scrolling to find a plethora of easy nail designs that make the prospects of at-home nail art feel a lot less scary.

Delightful Dots

There’s a good chance that every time you take a bobby pin out of your hair, you leave it on your bathroom counter, and it ends up getting knocked onto the floor, never to be seen again. Instead, pull its two prongs as far apart as you can and turn it into a makeshift nail polish dotting tool.

You can dip one of its beaded ends into your nail polish bottle until it’s lightly coated, then use that to gently place polish onto your nail dot by dotAllure news editor Nicola Dall’Asen showed how it’s done in the photo shown above with an almond-shaped set of fake nails from Static Nails and Essie Neutrals Nail Polish in Licorice.

New York City-based nail artist Miss Pop has a similar hack for dots using a tailor’s pin. She pushes the pointed tip into an eraser for a better grip, then dips the rounded head of the pin into nail polish. She says bobby pins are effective, but her method creates bigger dots if that’s the look you’re after. “Bobby pins are cool, but they only do tiny dots,” says Miss Pop. “This will give you a real polka.”

Do not get impatient when waiting for those dots to dry, by the way. If they’re even slightly wet when you paint on your topcoat, they’ll smear everywhere and all that hard work will be ruined. This goes for all nail-art tricks in general, and that’s why you may want to consider trying fake nails. With a set of press-ons, you can paint your designs, then go about your day while they dry down. When they’re finished, just glue them on and go.

Wonderful Watercolors

It is quite possible to turn each of your nails into a watercolor masterpiece, per this beautiful manicure by Amy Tan. Tan tells Allure that she mixed her color polishes “with a few blobs of clear polish and paint[ed] them on loosely to achieve that watercolor effect.” However, before swiping the polish across your nails, she suggests testing the polishes’ opacity on a piece of paper.

As for the nails’ gilded accents, reach for a gold polish to mimic the appearance of fancy gold foil “and paint on a few ‘swooshes’ to accent your mani.” Tan admits that she used gel polishes for this design, but she says that regular polishes would work just as well to create “a similar effect.”

Nifty Neon Tips

You know those donut-shaped stickers you used to use in school to repair your hole-punched paper when it ripped and fell out of your binder? Turns out those little stickies are a very valuable nail-art tool when making these French manicure-inspired neon tips. You might already have some lying around if you are or live with a student. Otherwise, you can pick them up for a few bucks at your local office supply store.

To create these bright neon nails, start off with a set of neutral-colored press-ons. Dall’Asen used some from Kiss, but you can totally use your bare, natural nails as a base or paint them a different color first. Lay one sticker across each nail near the very top, then try to make all the spacing even before painting the tips with two coats of lime-green nail polish by MiniLuxe. The neon-green polish that Dall’Asen used for this design has been discontinued, but KB Shimmer’s Easy Glowing Nail Polish comes pretty close to it.  Before the second coat dries down, reach for some tweezers to pull off the stickers as smoothly as possible.

If you want to get even more customizable, Miss Pop advises picking up some blue painter’s tape from a hardware store. “It doesn’t leave a sticky residue and you can cut it into shapes,” she says. “Apply it directly to the nail, then add your base and color coats around it. Lift the tape when the polish isn’t completely dry but also isn’t wet to the touch.”

Random Doodles

The daydreaming doodles you’ve drawn on the margins of your notebook page can actually serve as inspiration for your at-home manicure, as demonstrated by nail artist Kate Bonar. To take your doodles to your nails, Bonar advises finding a “high-pigmented color for the design to make sure it pops” and using a fine-tipped brush, like Nails Luxe’s Brush H, which she used to paint the doodles on each nail. Lastly, she emphasizes checking that the design is 100 percent dry “before sealing [it] in with topcoat to ensure no smudges.”

Bright Stripes

There’s nothing that a pop of color can’t fix, right? Bring some vivacity to your nails by recreating this look created by nail artist Nataszija Moore. For the double-stripe effect, Moore says that she used an 11-millimeter brush to make the lines, which is about 0.4 inches. In a nutshell, this design requires a very thin brush. After filling in one line with your choice of polish, Moore says to wait until the first side is dry before moving on to the second. This design proves that an elaborate pattern is definitely not necessary when upping your at-home manicure abilities.

Sweet Swirls

You’ve probably seen abstract swirl nails frequent your Instagram feed, but don’t get things twisted (get it?), because New York City-based nail artist Reshma Balkaran‘s take on the trend proves that it’s actually quite possible to create the pattern on yourself.

She recommends “[practicing] the design on paper first” and investing in some detailer brushes or short detailer brushes before playing with your polish. The Sally Hansen Salon Pro Nail Tool Kit has all the tools you need in order to get all those nail art details down. In addition to a detailer brush, the kit includes a marbling and dotting tool, along with a striping brush.

Gothic Goodness

Here’s where things get kind of messy but very, very fun. A toothpick and any combination of nail polishes provide endless ways to make a marbled design like the one Dall’Asen created above with OPI’s Big Apple Red and Black Onyx. This absurdly gothic look required just three steps: paint a thick coat of red on one side of the nail, paint a thick coat of black on the other, and drag the tip of the toothpick back and forth through the polish until it all warped together.

Again, there’s no cut-and-dry rule for using this tool. You can place the pick in the middle of the nail polish and circle it outward for a hypnotic swirl, or drag the polish vertically instead of horizontally as Dall’Asen did. Using two shades makes the process a little faster, but there’s really no limit to the number of colors you can combine with this method. New York City-based nail artist Gina Edwards says she likes to use a pointed kitchen knife to drag wet polishes into fun patterns in the same way.

Holographic Extravaganza

If you’re not willing to try your hand at a design that requires additional tools beyond your bottle of polish, then this manicure is for you. Caitlin Gladney-Hatcher used a polish called Finch Me I’m Dreaming from a brand called Wildflower Lacquer. Gladney-Hatcher says that it applies to the nails seamlessly in a matter of two coats. However, the polish has been discontinued for purchase on the brand’s website, but you can try Cirque Colors’ 24K Affair for a similar holographic, golden-toned finish.

Side-by-Side Shapes

When in doubt, you can never go wrong with an abstract nail design. Anne Thompson, who created the manicure above, confirms that “it’s one of the quickest manicures to make.” Thompson says that the most enjoyable part of the abstract nail art design process “is picking colors that will complement each other and make a bold statement.”

For this abstract design, she tells Allure that she uses “two pale colors, a bold color, and a dark shade.” Once she’s gathered all the colors she needs, Thompson “swipes the polish on randomly.” “I love how each nail turns out differently,” she says.

Rainbow Skittles

This rainbow skittle manicure by Emily Zheng is another no-fuss, at-home manicure option for those who aren’t willing to go the extra mile and invest in some additional tools. Each nail was practically painted in every color of the rainbow with nail polishes from Dimension Nails.

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Her biggest tip to getting the design down? “I always apply at least two thin coats of polish and let each layer dry completely before the next,” Zheng says. “It’s easy to just apply one thick coat, but the polish actually takes longer to dry and imperfections are more prominent if you use that method.”

Gorgeous Glitter

Gorgeous gorgeous girls sure as hell love wearing glitter, which is why you should take some pointers from nail artist Jamie Didlock. To recreate these glittering tips on your own, Didlock says you will need a glitter polish (we’re partial to the Best of Beauty award-winning Butter London Patent Shine 10x Nail Lacquer in All You Need Is Love) and your favorite nude color.

For the main event — aka the French manicure-shaped glitter tips — Didlock says you can use any of the following to create the manicure’s signature crescent shape: a toothpick, an “ultra-fine eyeliner brush, a dotting tool, an inexpensive fine nail art brush, and [even] a brown wooden stick.”

When it’s time to add the glitter to your nails, she recommends pouring the glitter polish onto “to some flat tinfoil or a palette of some sort. Dip your chosen tool just enough that it doesn’t drip,” she says. Make sure to start painting from the middle of your nail, then “softly slide up to each side,” Didlock says.

Fresh Foils

Another elegant yet subtle way to amp up your at-home manicure game is with these foil nails by nail artist Samantha Pasaye. Pasaye applied translucent nail foil onto each tip (check out this nail foil set from Amazon that has some foil colors similar to Pasaye’s).

Before jumping right into adding the foil, she says to paint a coat of your preferred gel base on first, add one coat of OPI’s Gel Color in Put It In Neutral, followed by a layer of Daily Charme’s Foil Transfer Gel. After the transfer gel has been applied, you’re all set to add the foil to your nails. Like with any nail design, make sure to seal it all in with a gel topcoat.

Fine Faces

Drawing faces on your nails might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think nail-art designs, but they sure look pretty damn cute if you ask us. Instead of using traditional polish, nail artist Roveena tells Allure that she used black acrylic paint to make the faces.

“Using acrylic paint as opposed to nail polish means that you can spend longer perfecting the design (nail polish dries quick), and, therefore, is easier to create smooth lines,” she explains. In fact, Roveena admits that she always uses paint for small, detailed designs.

Of course, the tools you use are just as important as the colors you choose, which is why she says to reach for thin-tipped detail brushes when drawing the faces. “The small brush gives you the ability to paint thin lines,” she says.

Radiant Sunflowers

Bring the beaming brightness of sunflowers to your nails with this design by nail artist Krista Lockwood. To “make the [bright colors of the] flowers pop,” Lockwood starts with a neutral color for the base coat. We recommend Deborah Lippmann’s Gel Lab Pro Color in Naked for a beautiful, neutral base.

When it comes to the flowers, she begins with their center by making a small dot. “Then, take a small skinny brush and dip it into the first yellow color (yes, Lockwood uses two shades of yellow for the petals) and drag it from the center and out,” she explains. “Do this around the whole dot to create the sunflower petals.” Once all the petals are painted, she’ll go over them again with a darker shade of yellow “to create more dimension.”

Lockwood concludes the flower-painting process with the brown seeds in the flowers’ centers. She’ll take a thin brush and coat its tip in a brown polish. Try Sally Hansen Good. Kind. Pure. Nail Color in Raw Cocoa for a similar color. “Lightly tap in the center of the flower,” she says. “This technique will give you a ‘seedy’ look!


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