Painting Your Nails: The Basics

Sometimes, you have to start from the beginning.

While Lindsay and I had some nail-painting skills before we began the July Challenge, we are by no means experts. Lindsay is just now learning how to care for her cuticles, and I still can’t make a perfectly-curved nail shape to save my life. As we learn these new tricks (and become super rich hand models) we’ve found a few other tips we’d like to share with you – just the basics, so you can get started on your profitable hand modeling career, too.


  1. Keep your hands hydrated and clean. For those about to paint: put lotion on your hands, do your cuticle work, and then wash your fingers before painting. You’ll get the hydration you need while prepping your nails, but also have a clean “work space” to paint on.
  2. Buff, buff, buff! Buffing your nails makes them more even, which in turn makes them much easier to paint.
  3. Oxygen is awesome. Well-ventilated rooms make polish dry more quickly and evenly.
  4. Shake it up! Roll the polish bottle between your hands before applying: it gets rid of air bubbles and evens out the color as it’s applied to the brush.
  5. Center, side, side. It might seem smartest to paint from one side of the nail to the other, but starting with one stripe, right in the center, then doing each side makes for a more even coat. (And people are going to see your nails straight on, more often than not, so who cares if the sides are a little uneven?)
  6. A clear top coat: it’s worth it. Seriously.
  7. Go acetone-free. Along with being less toxic, non-acetone polish remover won’t dry out your nails. Either that, or use lemon concentrate.
  8. Keep it cool. Nail polish should be kept away from heat and light – cool, dry places are best…so figure out where your potatoes are stored, and ask your polish to join them. (Or put them in the fridge. You know, since it’s easier than the basement.)


The above photos are me and my favorite brand of polish, Zoya. Zoya is free of toxic chemicals like toluene, formaldehyde, DBP (phthalates) and camphor, goes on smooth and dries quickly. The above red is Posh Matte – yes, matte, I love matte, matte matte matte – and the blue is Robyn. If you get tired of the matte style, just add a clear top coat and let the shiny commence.

Do you have any nail polishing tips for us?

Check out other posts that are part of the July Challenge: Manicure/Pedicures!

  • I’m new to the manicure world. I have crappy nails so for the past few months I’ve been really doing my best to grow and protect them. My top tips are:

    1. Wear gloves when washing the dishes or keeping your hands in water for more than a bath/shower. Too much water, especially hot water, is horrible for your nails and cuticles.

    2. Keep a nail file handy at all times. I even have those mini-matchbook ones in my purse. Keeps you from gnawing off a split.

    3. Buy these two things – O.P.I.’s Drying Drops and Seche Vite quick dry top coat. This top coat really does dry fast and shiny. And the drying drops are magic. I think this was about $20 but you only use a few drops per nail so it’s going to last forever. Using these two things means I can do a full manicure and have my nails be dry in 10-15 minutes. This is really opened me up to changing my polish more.

    I’ve got 4 or so polishes from Zoya too. They’re great.

    • Yes! Protecting your nails while your hands are in the water is paramount. These are all great tips!

      I haven’te ver used OPI’s drying drops. I’ll have to check them out.

  • Whoops! One more thing. I actually do use 100% acetone polish. It is drying but I try to keep my nail area nourished in between polish changes. Most other removers contain gelatin which isn’t vegan, so that’s out for me.

  • Totally agree with Poochie. Love Seche Vite, def keep files everywhere (purse, car, beside the bed), always wear gloves when washing dishes.
    I noticed when getting a pro mani, they moisturized the heck out of my hands then took some rubbing alcohol and a q-tip to clean my nails off before the polish.
    Oh, and I don’t cut my cuticles, I push em up. If I cut, I get those feathery little bits of dry skin, and usually end up hurting myself.

    • I’m a “pusher” too. It you gently nudge once a day, with lots of lotion, you almost never “need” them cut.

  • the_kcar

    You start an hour ahead by moisturizing hands. Five minutes after applying of the moisturizer, use your orangewood stick to gently push back the cuticle.

    When preparing to actually manicure, first remove all traces of nail polish with your preferred nail polish remover. From there, you use a good detergent to clean the hands and eliminate the oil base on the nail that is ever-present [and causes that day-four lift on the nail polish]. Personally, I recommend Dawn dish detergent – that stuff works *best*, leaves nothing behind.

    From there, allow the hands to thoroughly *dry* – and swab nails with rubbing alcohol, to ensure a dry surface.

    Now: those micro-ridges that annoy you are cured with a good base coat [an added bonus: no “yellow nail” when you remove the lacquer later!] – it helps the color coat stay put, too. Application trick: use just the tip of the brush, swipe down the left side of the nail, beginning at cuticle. Then swipe down the right side of the nail – again, beginning at cuticle. Then start at the center, and slightly overlap the two stripes to make a solid, streak-free,glop-free, thorough coverage. Be sure to fresh-dip the brush back into the container and remove excess polish *each* time, for *each* nail – it keeps the base [and polish and top coat] in an even consistency with each application. Allow it to dry. Seriously: allow it to dry – you want the finish to be as “ding-proof” as possible, and having each layer allowed to fully harden helps a *whole* lot.

    Next: make sure that your nail polish is not thick [in fact,make sure each product you use is not thick] – there is a product [Sally’s Beauty Supply carries it] that you can use as a thinner [the nail polish inside the bottle, not just your nail polish remover, which dulls the polish for some reason]. Apply the same way: outside, then once down the center. Again: allow to completely dry. If you estimate that the color is not “quite” right, apply a second coat at this point, in the same manner [left, right,center] and check again.

    If you wish to add stripes, decals, gems, etc.- it would be at this stage that you apply these. Handle the objects with tweezers [you don’t want to trap any residual oils into the nail color, after all this…]. If you just want the basic color, skip this part.

    Now allow the nails to thoroughly dry again. Do *not* check nails with fingertips or any surface skin [oils…bad thing…] – if you *must* check, gently tap nail tip to nail tip to check for “tackiness” [I still disagree, but some get antsy at this stage…]

    Top coat: seals in the color, and good to resist fade/wear. There are matte finishes available, from what I remember. Same process…left, right, center.

    Allow to thoroughly dry. No, a “quick fixative” spritz does not “do” the job…you wind up with softened polish between the layers…which “dings” all to readily!

    With everything finally dried and “set”, wash hands again, then moisturize again. You’re good to go.

    Carry fine-grit emories to ward off minor hang nails. Carry Krazy Glue or its equivalent for when you get the occasional half-broken nail emergencies, as a quick-fix repair until you break out your tools again, down the road.

    There are five-way nail buffers out on the market. Day two or three, when you [inevitably] get those micro-scratches on the nail face, you can use “4” and “5” on the surface to gently correct, apply alcohol, then re-apply top coat to maintain the “just done” look.

    Hope these tips help.

  • the_kcar

    Tiny notes: roll, don’t shake, the polish bottles…bubbles = not good. Applying polish with tip of brush: at 30 degree angle, start at cuticle,push slightly in direction of cuticle to just barely touch, then draw down nail. It might take a bit to get the right “touch”, but it’s worth the pro quality.

    I shouldn’t post so lengthy…I wind up hijacking your site. My apologies…if I’ve taken up too much room, feel free to edit or delete.

  • Cool…. Thanks for sharing :)

  • Need a little chat with the “girls”? Check out all the great ideas and information about dating, style, love and more. What makes a girl explore her possibilities? Have fun, laugh and love….

  • Thank you for the tips!!! I greatly appreciate them…
    my fiance thinks I’m crazy lol he says I am cause I always have to have my nails painted no matter what the occasion is anyways thanks again..

  • :)

  • here in Britain some people have really long nails anyways goodbye forever mynewyearsresolution was no internet oops bye

  • awesome

  • irti

    This Article was really amazing and i liked it alot…. With summers around the corner and our lust for getting the perfect manicure here is the list of a few tricks and tips that will make painting your nails easier and less messy. Check for more.
    Tricks to paint your Nails

  • The Budget Babe

    Great tips! (pun intended)

    • Broke & Beautiful

      OH MY GOSH, I can’t believe you tracked this down…! This is so bad, haha. Yours was so much better, but still! Nasty folks and nails. :)

      I guess since we upgraded up Disqus, the icky comments are gone – oh well… ;)