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What are Fingernail Designs?

Diane Goettel
Updated May 21, 2024
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Fingernail designs are decorative nail art that can be added to the fingernails during a manicure. Most fingernail designs are simply designs that are painted onto the fingernails with nail polish. Others, however, are more elaborate and may involve the gluing on of rhinestones and other small accent items. The work that goes in to creating fingernail designs required delicate movements and a steady hand. Some people are dexterous enough to be able to paint designs on their own fingernails, but most people rely on nail technicians and spas and nail salons to do this work.

Some people who regularly wear fingernail designs change them according to the season, especially during holidays. Near Christmas, for example, one might wear fingernail designs that included Christmas trees, snowflakes, or snowmen. Valentines Day might be a time for hearts and small bows and arrows to be painted onto the fingernails. Some people even go so far as to decorate their fingernails with shamrocks for Saint Patrick's Day and pumpkins for Halloween.

Not all fingernail designs are so festive or season-specific. Also, some are more abstract and simply include swirling lines or patterns. Some popular patterns, for example, include polka dots and leopard print. Also, fingernail designs are not only for the hands. Many women who like to have designs on their fingernails also have designs on their toenails. Decals and rhinestones are not usually applied to the toenails because they can easily come off in shoes and socks.

There are some kinds of fingernail designs that can be applied at home, even by those who are not particularly dexterous. Decals can be placed on top of the bare fingernail or on top of the polished fingernail. Sometimes they are fixed in place with a clear coat of polish. They can usually be removed with normal nail polish remover and a cotton ball.

Fingernail designs can be painted onto natural nails and many kinds of artificial nails including glass, silk wrap, and acrylic. In fact, it is common for these kinds of designs to last longer on artificial nails. This is because nail polish that is applied to artificial nails often stays on better than nail polish that is applied to natural nails. Less chipping occurs. As such, it is often more common for women who wear artificial nails to have designs painted on their nails than women who just have nail polish applied to their natural fingernails.

BeautyAnswered is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Diane Goettel
By Diane Goettel
"Diane Goettel has a BA from Sarah Lawrence College and an MA in English from Brooklyn College. Diane lives in Mount Vernon, New York with her husband, Noah. They are the proud parents of a Doberman Pinscher named Spoon. Specialties: book editing, book marketing, book publishing, freelance writing, magazine publishing, magazine writing, copywriting,"
Discussion Comments
By SarahSon — On Sep 10, 2011

I have found the easiest way to paint designs on my fingernails is to use the long skinny brushes that have a very pointed end.

You don't have a whole lot of room when working on one fingernail, and with a small tip, you can create a nicer design.

I find patterns online or in a magazine that are easy to follow when I am looking for a new or different design.

There is no end to the combination of colors and designs you can paint to make your fingernails look really nice. I always get compliments on my nails when I take the time to paint designs on them.

By LisaLou — On Sep 10, 2011

It has taken me a little bit of practice, but I have gotten pretty good at painting designs on my fingernails. It took me some time to get good at using my left hand, but I just take my time and good slow.

Sometimes if I want a simple look, I will just paint the same design on my thumb and ring finger.

I always make sure to finish with a good top coat so the design will stay on for a long time.

By aLFredo — On Sep 09, 2011

@bluespirit - I have just recently noticed this fad of painting just one nail with a design. The person who was sporting this look was the principal that works in my school, so I just figured that maybe she thought that having only one design was more "professional" than having the design everywhere.

However, I think that a design on all of your nails looks professional because it shows you take care of your nails.

By bluespirit — On Sep 08, 2011

I think this a wonderfully fun thing to do with young girls because it gets their creative juices flowing trying to figure out what they want to paint on their nails, but they also have to use problem solving because they have to figure out what design is going to be doable on such a small surface with the size brush they are using.

I have also seen a particular acrylic fingernail design that leaves a design on just one nail, for example one may just have a design on their pinky finger or just on their thumb. I guess this is for someone who likes the design but is not ready to commit to a who hands full of design?

Has anyone else seen this?

By aishia — On Sep 08, 2011

@ElbowTickle - As a fellow person who hates to have her nail-painting take too long but loves how fingernail polish designs look, can I ask you something? How do you make your nails look pretty and interesting without taking forever at it?

It could be that I'm just inexperienced at these things (and admittedly not very artistic -- I need to have a picture of something to be able to paint anything like it onto my nails, even little flowers), but it always takes me forever to paint my fingernails.

Details like little rhinestones seem terribly fancy to me -- I can't get them to stay on my nails, even though they're self-adhesive, so I tend to avoid using them. Any tips?

By hanley79 — On Sep 07, 2011

Does anybody here know how I could get a job in nail art design? I'm really good at coming up with designs that would fit well onto fingernails and look neat, but I don't actually have much experience or interest in doing the nail painting myself.

I thought maybe, like people who draw fashion designs and tattoo designers, there might be a job for nail art design for an artist who just draws the designs. Has anybody heard of that? Is there any kind of degree I could look for at a college just for designing nail art, not for painting nails?

Thanks for any help you can give!

By tanner182 — On Sep 06, 2011

@lighth0se33 - I do a lot of fingernail art designs for Christmas. My friends always ask me to do theirs, so I must be pretty good at it! Or they just want to save money, which ever.

My favorite design last year was glittery red, green and blue nails with little "ribbon" stripes going around the tip and up the middle like a wrapped present. Than I would add a tiny bow along the ribbon. They were adorable and I did the same designs on two of my girlfriends.

Christmas has lots of different designs for it. I've done snowmen, tiny Christmas trees, teddy bears and so on -- but snowflakes are probably the prettiest. I usually use a like light polish and white snowflakes with a clear glitter polish over the top. Simple and pretty -- plus they look great as toenail designs because they don't use gemstones.

By OeKc05 — On Sep 05, 2011

Nail decals are cool, but I personally prefer painted designs. I don’t like to feel bumps when I run my fingers over my nails.

I like to paint on a solid color first. Last week, I painted on a bright red and let it dry. Then, I painted a green dot in the middle of the nail. I painted a smaller yellow dot on top of it. Then, I made white petals by stroking outward from the dot. My design was a daisy.

I get elaborate like this with my nail designs at times, but if I don’t have a lot of spare time, I will do something easier. One simple thing I do for an interesting nail effect is paint them solid black and then paint one big shiny green streak vertically down the middle. The green is dark yet shimmery, and it almost blends into the black at the edges. My dad calls this the “green fly,” but I prefer to call it the “dragonfly.”

By ElbowTickle — On Sep 05, 2011

I love changing my nails to the seasons. I like stars and stripes for the 4th of July the best. I even add in little golden explosions like fireworks going off.

I do all of my fingernail designs myself, so I use a lot of nail stickers. Walmart has a bunch for really cheap and they stick as good as brand name ones.

There are so many cute fingernail designs! My favorite one for summer is Hello Kitty. It's a little childish, but they come out so cute. I always get people oohing and awing over them and they are not just kids.

I like my nails to be pretty but not always complicated. Sometimes I just make simple fingernail designs like swirls or little flowers. I only use the really fancy gemstone designs when I want to draw attention to my hands at parties or special occasions.

I have a lot of the little fingernail paint pens too – they work great for zebra stripes! My sister loves zebra strips too, so I bought her a black pen and some white nail polish for her last birthday. Then we painted our nails up and took lots of pictures. She's a photographer too, so they came out really nice.

If anyone has the time, fingernail designs are really fun!

By orangey03 — On Sep 04, 2011

I love the look of rhinestones on nails. When I had my nails done for prom, I got an iridescent polish that reminded me of mother of pearls painted on as the background color. Then, I got rhinestones that looked like diamonds glued onto the tips.

The nail lady glued them in an arched row about a centimeter from the actual tips of the nails. That way, they would have a bit of support behind them.

The shiny design looked great with my prom dress. When the light would hit both the polish and the rhinestones, they would change colors.

By cloudel — On Sep 03, 2011

I love to get creative with my nail designs, and my friend’s two young daughters are fans of my work. So, I decided to buy them nail pens for their birthdays.

I bought one girl a pink nail pen and the other girl a purple one. These pens have a tip small enough that you can draw things with it. When you press on the nail, the paint comes out, in much the same way that shoe polish comes out of the bottle when you press the foam pad to the shoe surface.

They absolutely loved the nail pens. They did their own designs, and they showed them off to me at church on the Sunday after their birthday party. They were proud of their nail artwork.

By lighth0se33 — On Sep 02, 2011

I am one of those people who paint on their own nails. I do get festive around holidays.

For Halloween, I like to do an orange stripe, a yellow stripe, and a white stripe for candy corn. Around Christmas, I do a background of shiny red polish with either one big gold diagonal stripe or several small white stripes.

When I do large stripes, I can just use the brush that came with the nail polish. If I want to do more intricate designs, like clovers for St. Patrick’s Day, I have to use a tiny art brush. It gives me much more control.

Diane Goettel
Diane Goettel
"Diane Goettel has a BA from Sarah Lawrence College and an MA in English from Brooklyn College. Diane lives in Mount...
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