Nail art is one of the great joys we have in life, so it’s a pity when you or your manicurist gives it your all, only for the design to be gone within a day or two. And while you already know gel manicures are a life-saver to those of us prone to chips, what you may not know is that gel polish can also be used to create even the most intricate nail designs.
“I actually prefer to do all of my nail art on my clients using gel instead of regular lacquer,” Brittney Boyce, celebrity nail artist and founder of Nails of LA, tells BAZAAR.com. “Gel tends to be more highly pigmented, allowing you to create fine lines and details.” Plus, she adds, the curing process means you don’t have to wait for polish to dry between steps. “You can cure each layer as you go.” But she admits it all comes down to preference. “Detailed work using regular lacquer is doable, but takes more time and patience. Betina Goldstein does very intricate work using only lacquer.”
And while gel polish is a great medium for complex looks, it’s also perfect for updating minimalist styles like a French manicure. “With regular lacquer, we go in with a dry brush dipped in acetone to clean up the lines and curves, so you can’t have a base color underneath the tip,” explains Boyce. “With gel, you can have different colors underneath but still go in with a dry brush to clean up the top layer.” Need some inspo? Keep scrolling for 12 gel nail designs to add to your mood board, and tools to help you DIY them (if you’re that confident in your abilities).
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1. Drip Effect
“I’m still obsessing over a colored French tip or a French twist nail,” says Boyce. “This gold drip abstract French is slightly more out there.”
2. Bold Brushstrokes
“It looks great whether it’s just one solid color with some gold foil on top, or a mix of three to four shades to create a different canvas,” says Boyce of this look.
3. Thin Half-Moons
“Short nails are great for thin French or a clean half-moon designs,” advises the nail artist, adding that they “look minimalist and cool without cluttering the nail.”
The nail artist also loves the geometric look for shorter nails.
5. Detailed Designs
For pros, precise detail work like these pretty butterflies can be crafted using gel too.
6. Fun Terrazzo
Love the trend for home decor? Add it to your nails with dabs a few shades of polish.
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7. Simple Shimmer
Textured “velvet” polish makes an ultra-cool background for otherwise minimalist designs.
8. Animal Print
Layered patterns like this fun leopard look are far easier to do when you can cure the polish.
9. Colorful French Manicures
The fun French isn’t going anywhere. Using different gel polishes for each nail provides added interest without added difficulty.
10. Swoops and Swirls
Gel extensions allow for even more of a blank canvas for nail art. “Abstract art can be really fun for long nails,” says Boyce.
11. Added Embellishment
Anything you’re adding to the nail benefits from the curing process, too. “If you’re adding any hardware or textures to the nail art, like gold foil or crystals or diamanté, you’ll need gel to seal them in and hold it in place,” explains the nail pro.
12. Negative-Space Designs
Being able to layer multiple colors gives negative-space nail art added dimension.
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This article originally appeared in Harper’s BAZAAR US.