Whenever I was lucky enough as a little kid to get my nails done at a salon, watching the nail technician paint a little pastel flower on my nail with their special nail art tools was just the neatest, most impressive thing my little eyes had ever seen.
I’m fairly certain I had the same wide-eyed expression the first time I watched a YouTube video of someone doing their own nail art. Somehow the idea that we could do this ourselves at home had escaped me. But the damage had been done and I immediately started collecting nail art tools.
If you keep seeing all these incredible stripes, patterns, and drawings on people’s nails online and it’s driving you mad with envy–I’ve been there and you can make it stop.
I’ve built a list of the top essential tools you’ll want in your nail art kit. Not everything you need will be on here, but if you’re reading this I’m assuming you already have the basics of your nail kit like sponges, manicure tools, and top coats.
Isn’t nail art hard?
There’s a huge range of nail art methods, techniques, brands, and styles. All of them take practice.
Don’t get discouraged if your first attempt at water marbling looks like a sludgy mess. That’s okay. Either wear it with pride that you’re trying something new or that’s what they made nail polish remover for.
It’s going to take a few tries to get any of these methods looking Pinterest-worthy. When you have an hour to kill, sit down with your new tools and play around with the intent that you’re not planning on leaving with a passable manicure.
If you’re a nail stamping magician and on your first time out of the gate your nails are perfection, that’s phenomenal and you are a god amongst humans. For the rest of us mortals who’ll more likely spend a session or two making a mess before we get it right, you are not alone.
Have your favorite nail color ready to cover up any nail art attempts you’re not happy with and know that once you get the technique down, no one can stop you. So cut yourself some slack if you don’t get it on the first try.
You don’t need to be an artist to create jaw-dropping nail art.
While I absolutely believe that everyone can learn to draw with time and training, I personally don’t have that kind of commitment so I’m not the type who can draw graceful roses on my nails with a brush. Some of you are and you are cooler than I am.
But that’s okay because there are tons of tools and tricks of the trade that don’t need high levels of artistic ability and can give you gorgeous nails that look like you couldn’t possibly have done them yourself.
Plus, you can use them on the little nail polish lovers in training in your life and they will think you are truly magical.
1. Second Skin Latex Polish Barrier by Magique
This is a product I really thought was superfluous or a luxury when I started doing nail art. I very, very soon came to the conclusion that it is pivotal to my sanity.
Second Skin is a liquid latex barrier that you paint around your nails to keep your art off your cuticles. Whether you are marbling, doing a sponge ombre, or stamping, nail polish is going to get on places other than your fingernail.
At first, I figured so what? I have nail polish remover and Q-tips. It only took one session of endlessly scrubbing polish from all over my hands and smudging my design that I decided getting a latex barrier was 100 percent worth it.
I bought this with my own money and I can happily say I love Second Skin. It paints on smoothly and doesn’t have an overpowering smell like some cosmetic latex. You don’t need a thick layer for it to work so it dries within minutes.
Second Skin goes on light pink and dries to a dull fuchsia so there’s no guesswork as to when your hands are ready for polish. Once you’ve applied your lacquer, you simply pull the latex barrier off leaving you with clean cuticles and nail polish only where you want it.
This latex barrier is made in America and is never tested on animals. Keep in mind of course that if you have any kind of latex allergy, this is not for you. But if you’re not allergic, treat yourself.
This stuff saves me time and sanity and I won’t ever be without it again.
2. Pro Design Silicone Manicure Workstation by Beaute Galleria
I’m clumsy. Recently while I was stamping, I dropped the brush to my black polish which fell on the table, bounced twice, and landed inside my slipper.
The table was unharmed because I use a silicone workstation mat. My slipper was another story.
When you’re working with highly pigmented laquers and chemicals like acetone, it’s smart to protect the surfaces you’re working on.
I love the silicone because it cleans well with nail polish remover and is easy to roll up and store. The slightly grippy silicone texture means it won’t slide around on your table while you’re working either.
This Pro Design Workstation goes further by giving you a bunch of different tools. You have areas of different colors so you can see what your polish or stamp will look like swatched over black, white, blue, red, yellow, pink, orange, green, or purple.
If what you love to do is create your own nail decals with paints and top coats, this mat has nail guides for all different sizes and shapes so you can paint your design on and then lift it off with tweezers to glue to your nails. It’s a good size space while not taking over your whole room at just under 12 inches by 16 inches.
Save your table.
Price: $8.99 (62 percent off MSRP)
3. Pro 20 Piece Nail Art Brush & Dotting Tool Set
I fully admit that I’m not one who is great with painting, but I live with someone who is the and the things people can do with tiny brushes are mind blowing. If you’re handy with a brush or would like to try it out, this brush set by Bundle Monster has all the tools you’d need.
This comes with six dotting tools and 14 brushes. Five of the dotting tools are double-ended and one other very small dotter has a paintbrush handle.
These are great for creating dots of all different sizes and can be used to make those cute little flowers I thought were magic as a kid. It does lack a very large dotter, but with 11 different size dotters included I can forgive it that.
The 14 brushes range from loose fan brushes to the smallest, tightest detail brushes. Each brush head arrives wrapped in a protective plastic tube to protect the bristles during transport. The whole kit comes in a very professional looking black roll-up case with organized compartments for all of the included tools.
4. OPI Refillable Nail Corrector Pen
Even when you’re not doing nail art wild enough to need your latex barrier, nail polish still has a tendency to end up where you don’t want it.
Instead of messing around with a cotton swab, corrector pens get right to the problem so you can clean up your design without messing up your lacquer.
I love that this is refillable so instead of having to throw it out and buy a new one once it’s empty, you can just refill it with your own nail polish remover. It even comes with an extra tip that you can swap out when your first pen nib starts to get worn down.
5. 10 Piece Paisley Flow Stamping Plates
Everyone interested in nail art ought to give stamping a try. If you find you like it, once you get the hang of it the possibilities are endless.
Stamping plates are sheets of metal with designs etched into them. You fill the grooves with polish and use a stamp to transfer the design to your nails. It takes practice and a light touch but the results are worth it.
This set by Bundle Monster comes with 10 single sided plates. These swirling, floral designs remind me mandalas and are great for so many color combinations.
It’s a perfect starting plate set because if part of a design doesn’t quite come out while you’re still learning, it doesn’t look as strange as it would if you were stamping a cute bunny that ends up not having a head.
Plates can be cleaned with nail polish remover and keep in mind that they are thin but heavy. You need a specialized stamp to work with these and that’s next on the list.
Price: $11.99 (46 percent off MSRP)
6. Dual Head Clear Silicone Stamper & Scraper Set
There are several kinds stampers out there and which is better is really a matter of taste. I like these silicone stamps from Born Pretty because you can see right through them.
With opaque stampers, you are going with your best guess when you are placing your stamp on your nails. With this transparent stamper, I can look right through it while I’m placing it on my nail and center it perfectly every time.
In this set you get one stamping barrel, two jelly-like stamping heads, and two scraping plates. The scraping plates are covered in snowflake designs which is a little strange but they’re a good size and work perfectly fine.
The two heads are easily stored inside the barrel with one in the stamping position and the other inside the handle area. There are two caps, one clear cover for the stamping end and another for the storage compartment.
The photos don’t show it well, but the second cover is filled with rhinestone glitter which slides around and sparkles and makes me happier than it has any right to, but I’m a known glitter fiend.
I bought this one for myself last year and it’s still holding up after a year of use. You clean these by stamping on a lint roller so clean up is easy.
Polishes made for stamping work perfectly with this stamper but if you’re not using a stamping polish it will take some experimentation to see what of your stash works well.
If you’re having trouble picking up the polish, you may be pressing too hard. Silicone is a little sticky and it only takes a little pressure to grab the polish.
7. Born Pretty 25 Color Stamping Polish Set
While there are some drugstore polishes that will work with stamping plates, it’s not always easy to find them. Pretty much, if your nail polish needs two coats, it’s not going to be a good stamping polish.
Stamping polishes are a little thicker than normal polish, more highly pigmented, and opaque. Born Pretty makes many different sets of stamping polishes but this 25 Color Set is a great set of staple colors that are vibrant and fun.
Perfect for beginners, you get 25 mini nail polish bottles including the essential black and white as well as metallic silver and gold.
8. Julep Nail Polish Swatches
When you’re practicing your technique or just trying out a new color combination that will either be fantastic or awful, sometimes you’d rather not test it out on your nails.
I generally swatch out my colors and designs on my workstation but then trying to hold my hand near enough that I can get an idea of what it would look like on my hand is tough. I have a hard time seeing something flat and imagining it on my nails.
These swatches let you swatch your colors, designs, and stamps on a surface that is shaped like a nail. The best part is that you can hold this clear wand over your own nail and see exactly what it would look like on.
This fan comes with 22 swatches in a foldable fan so you can swatch out your designs and colors in an easy to store way to refer back to later.
9. 1275 Piece Vinyl Nail Art Stencil Set
I have done the DIY trick of using a rubber band to do your French manicure. It’s hard and it only sort of works. Get yourself a decal set and save yourself a world of smudges, cursing, and time.
These work by covering up an area you don’t want to polish. So you can lay a base color, let that dry completely, and apply your stencil.
Then apply your second color over your stencil and gently pull up the decal before your polish is dry. Instant two tone nail art.
This set by eBoot is 36 sheets of decals. There are 49 different designs to work with for a total stencil count of 1275.
You’re not going to be running out anytime soon. You get French tip guides of several types of curves, but also chevrons, spirals, stars, and all sorts of other shapes.
10. Starry Sky Foil Transfer
Transfer foils are a way to move a pattern of colors not made of nail polish from the sheet to your nails. With these foils, you apply the nail side of the foil to wet nail polish and then peel up the backing, leaving the foil behind.
Then you can cover the whole thing in a top coat. Like all nail art, it takes some time and practice.
This foils collection from iNewCow comes with 24 different foil colors including ombres, metallic, and holographic colors. For the most part, foils work with your wet nail polish alone, but sometimes they function better with a layer of nail glue applied right before the foil is placed down.
I wish they came packaged together as a kit, but there is a chance you might not need it. The effect transfer foil gives is an irregular pattern that looks like a stained glass window.