How to Paint Your Nails in 5 Easy Steps


You would think that painting nails should be a simple task. Just slap a bit of color onto every finger and you’re all done, right? Wrong. For a lot of people, fingernail painting is a grueling, messy battle. There’s polish all over the skin, and for some reason, it just won’t dry no matter how long they stand in front of a fan.

If this sounds like you, don’t be discouraged, even artists who work with paints all the time can have difficulty mastering the mysterious art of nail painting. Like all skills, polishing your nails requires practice before it can be mastered. Here’s how you can make sure you’re painting your nails for the best results every time.

The Tools

The Steps

1. Preparation

Remember that the most important part of painting your nails correctly is patience. Create a relaxing environment by putting on your favorite music, or your favorite TV show to keep you entertained throughout the process.

Polish takes a while to dry, so as part of your preparation, do everything that you wouldn’t want to do with wet nails, like use the bathroom, or eat.

Find an area where you have good lighting, and where there’s a flat surface that you can use to place your hands on top of. You don’t want to have wobbly hands that you can’t see because you chose to sit on the dimmest part of the couch.

2. Simple manicure

Use polish remover to rid yourself of any leftover nail polish from your last painting disaster. Give yourself a quick and simple manicure before you start painting. Tame your cuticles and cut and shape your nails. Wash your hands to remove any excess dirt and clear your hands of remover.

3. Apply a base coat

A base coat will protect the bed of your nails and give them a nice even base for the polish the stick to. It also prevents the color from staining.

4. Paint

Paint your nails in layers. You’ll be tempted to do one thick coat at a time, but this will only lead to a long drying times. Your polish will end up staying very soft for hours, and it will be more vulnerable to smudges and dents. Thin layers dry faster and eliminate the risk of bubbles.

Allow your polish to dry between each coat before applying the next one. Continue this until you’re satisfied by the color opacity. The amount of coats that you’ll need will vary depending on the type of polish you’re using, the quality of the polish, and your personal preference.


Use the rule of three strokes. This means that it should only take three big strokes to cover the entire nail. This is the technique that is used in many professional salons. To do this, just apply a drop of polish to the bottom center of the nail and create one stroke up the center, and then two more strokes on either side. It may take a little practice, but once you’ve got it right, your nails will be so much neater.

5. Dry time and a top coat

Relax a bit and watch some TV while you let your nails fully dry. Getting up and doing errands is the surest way to destroy your hard work. Once they’re dry, apply your favorite top coat to add additional shine and extend the life of your manicure. If you have a quick dry top coat that you’d like to use, then this can be applied without the wait time.

Seal the ends of your nails with the top coat to prevent premature chipping.

More Tips

– Get your hands and nails as clean as possible before you begin. Dust and oils can keep your polish from properly sticking to the nail, and prevent your manicure from looking as smooth as possible.

– Remove excess polish from the brush by sliding it along the sides of the bottle. Too much polish on the brush will create a mess on your nails and make you more likely to get it all over your skin.

– Add your first drop of polish a little above the base of the cuticle. By starting too close to the cuticle, you may end up with polish that pools out onto the skin.

– Use a q-tip dipped in polish remover to fix your accidents. If you have an old lip brush, this is even better because they’re thinner than a q-tip and you can easily use them for more precise clean up.

— Dry your nails fast by dipping them in ice cold water. If you have cooking spray on hand, this is also a quick way to get your nails rock hard.

– Maintain your manicure by regularly applying top coat. You should also fix chips as soon as they happen. All manicures can be rescued by applying a bit more polish onto the problem areas and then applying extra top coat.

For more, check out our post on nail painting tips here.