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DIY Nail Art - How To Do Gradient (or Ombre) Nails

Updated on July 20, 2014

What You Will Need

It's always good to be prepared before doing your nails, so begin by gathering the supplies that you will require for the gradient design. Whilst you can use more colours for the gradient, it might be best to stick with two for your first try. Once you are confident with adding gradient effect on your nails you will be able to try lots of different things with the design, but for now you might like to choose two shades that are quite similar (e.g. two shades of blue or a red and pink). For bolder looks, colours that clash can be used in a gradient. Aside from two (or more) nail polishes, you will also need a top coat. This will make your design longer-lasting and mask any unevenness.

You will also need sponge for this design. Make-up sponges are commonly used, although bathroom or kitchen sponges will do the same job. An orange stick or toothpick is also required, or any other object that you can find that is similar.

Finally, you will need something to mix polishes on. This might be a board or tray, a polythene bag, folder pockets, ziplock bag, or any other surface that you are willing to get messy with polish or dispose of. You might want to raid your kitchen if you are struggling as cling film, baking paper or tinfoil may be good for this. Remember not to use nail polish remover to remove polish from surfaces or objects as it can melt some materials - choose something that you can throw away or re-use.

Nail art over a bold gradient
Nail art over a bold gradient | Source

Step One

After doing any necessary preparation on your nails (cutting or filing, managing cuticles or applying false nails, for example), you can then get started. If you use base coat then apply this first and allow to dry before continuing.

Now, paint your nails in the lightest shade of those that you have chosen. This will be the base for your gradient design. You must ensure that your nails are completely dry before moving on to the next step.

Step Two

Time to get messy! On the safe surface that you have selected, pour or drip the polishes. The colours should be in separate puddles but should be touching each other at the edge.

Now the colours need to be mixed together. To do this, take the toothpick or other chosen object and begin to swirl the colours gently in to each other where they meet (you don't need to mix all of the polish into each other, just where they come together). As you do more gradient designs, you will come to see that the depth of which the colours are mixed into each other determines how long the gradient between the shades is on your nails. For your first time you might want to play around at first to see how different mixing of the colours effects the end design.

Sponge used for gradient nails
Sponge used for gradient nails | Source

Step Three

Take your sponge and dip it into the nail polish mixture. The sponge should then be dabbed on to the nail lightly a few times. Whilst dabbing, move the sponge up and down the nail very slightly to give a more gradual change between the shades. Repeat this step on all of the nails that you wanted the gradient look on.

You may want to repeat this more than once after your nails have dried.

A blue gradient design
A blue gradient design | Source

Step Four

Once your nails are perfectly dry, apply the topcoat. You may want to apply several layers of topcoat - keep ensuring that they are dry in between layers!

Now that your nails are dry, they can be cleaned up around the edges and are ready to show off!

Ready for action!
Ready for action! | Source

Help! I Don't Have Some of the Materials & I Need This Manicure Right Away!

A gradient look can also be achieved by painting stripes of nail polish directly onto the sponge. This means that you can achieve this lovely look even if you are struggling to find an ideal surface or something to mix with!

Follow the same tips as above - moving the sponge up and down very slightly to blend the colours together nicely.

If you have a pale or glitter polish, you can even gradient it into your own nails, painting one stripe onto the sponge, again blotting gently. See below!

Glittery ombre nail art design
Glittery ombre nail art design | Source
An amazing gradient manicure
An amazing gradient manicure | Source

I Want More!

The fantastic thing about gradient designs is that they can also make a fantastic base for even more nail art!

Here are some ideas of what you could do over the top of your ombre nails:

  1. Add some nail art stickers, rhinestones or some nail caviar
  2. Apply striping tape or freehand some stripes with a thin nail art brush
  3. Use a dotting tool or bobby pin to add dots
  4. Paint nail art over the top (the possibilities are endless!)
  5. Add an accent nail (or a few!)
  6. Add French Manicure tips
  7. Apply a layer of glitter or add a glitter gradient

Gradient Nails are Versatile

Once you have the hang of gradient nails, you will find that colour choices and little extras can really make them very versatile!

  • A pale pink or subtle glitter gradient may be ideal for the workplace
  • Bold colours or heavy glitter can look fantastic for a night out
  • Deep colours or rhinestoned gradients can be classy for more formal occasions
  • Choose colours or details that go with your coat or another item of clothing that you wear a lot to co-ordinate

How easy did you find doing this nail art technique?

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