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Acrylic Nails - A step-by-step guide to do it yourself

Updated on January 2, 2014

Do It Yourself Acrylic Nails

Do you want beautiful acrylic nails without the expensive cost?

Many years ago, I wanted to save money by doing my own acrylic nails. At that time, acrylic nail kits were scarce and you practically needed a beauty license to buy the products individually. Well, I did find and buy a nail kit, and it even came with a VHS tutorial video! Talk about back-in-the-day.. I got pretty good at doing my own nails and saved some money. I eventually started going back to the salon because I was a new mommy and didn't have as much time or the inclination to do my own nails.

Fast forward to now and I'm looking for ways to cut costs again. I recently went to a local beauty supply shop and was excited to find a lot of choices in products for doing your own acrylic nails. You can even get most, if not all, of the items in the beauty section of Target, Walmart, Walgreens, etc. I decided to create this do-it-yourself step-by-step guide with easy to understand steps to explain how to get that salon look without the salon price. Just like when you learned to paint your own nails - with a little practice it will get easier and easier.

I plan to add a lens on how to do an acrylic nail fill and how to remove acrylic nails too.

*For those of you that learn better through watching, I have included a video near the bottom of this lens (after the written steps).

Items You Will Need

- Paper Towels

- Cotton Balls

- Non-acetone Nail Polish Remover

- Nail Scrub Brush

- Nail File

- Acrylic Nail Clipper/Cutter

- Artificial Nail Tips

- Nail Glue (If applying tips)

- Dappen Dish

- Acrylic Liquid

- Acrylic Powder

- Acrylic Brush (Sable recommended)

- Filing Block (4-sided, fine grit)

- Cuticle Oil

Have or Have Not?

Have you ever had acrylic nails?

See results

Let's Get Started

  1. Remove any existing nail polish with a non-acetone nail polish remover.

    Don't use an acetone remover because it will dissolve artificial nail tips and acrylic.

  2. Trim and file your nails.

    Prepare your nails by giving them a really neat manicure to remove all the dead skin and to smooth out rough edges. Trim nails back short almost to the skin, not too far though. The reason for cutting your nail back short is that if the tip of your acrylic nail breaks, it won't take half of your natural nail off with it.

  3. Use a soft file to remove the natural nail shine (the top layer of the nail).

    File in one direction only rather than back and forth to help prevent weakening the nail.

  4. Gently push back your cuticles.

    Use an orange stick or other cuticle tool. You may want to soak your nails first to make the cuticles softer. Gently brush off dust with a dry nail brush.

  5. Prep the nail plate by applying nail prep to remove moisture and oils from the nail.
  6. Apply nail tips if you wish to extend the length.

    Find a size that fits your nail, if this is not possible find one that is closest and file it down. Apply just a drop of glue on the tip. Hold the tip in place for about 5 seconds. If you apply the acrylic nail wrong you can quickly remove it by soaking it in water.

  7. Apply nail tips if you wish to extend the length.

    Find a size that fits your nail, if this is not possible find one that is closest and file it down. Apply just a drop of glue on the tip. Hold the tip in place for about 5 seconds. If you apply the acrylic nail wrong you can quickly remove it by soaking it in water.

  8. Apply primer to the natural nails only (not the artificial tip) and allow it to dry to a chalky white. A small amount goes a long way.
  9. Pour some acrylic liquid into your dappen dish.

    The liquid may have a strong smell so work in a ventilated area. Dip your brush in the nail liquid and wipe the brush against the inside of the dish as you would with nail polish to remove excess liquid. Then wipe both sides of the brush on a paper towel and flatten the brush to shape it and remove any remaining excess liquid.

  10. Dip the tip of the brush into the powder, or draw a line through the powder with the tip of the brush, to collect a small moist ball.

    It should be damp, but not too wet. Apply this ball on the edge of the acrylic tip where it meets your natural nail. Starting in the center of the nail at the smile line, flatten the bead and brush to the tip. Flatten each side and brush to the tip. Quickly spread it out and smooth it in, but be careful not to flatten it too much as you will want it to have a natural curve towards the middle. Wipe your brush to remove excess product

    Then repeat with the acrylic liquid and powder to build and copy the natural curve of your nail, apply a coat to the tip as well, just not as thick. However be careful NOT to apply any acrylic onto the cuticle area! This could cause lifting and you could develop a mold or fungus under the nail if it lifts.

  11. Repeat on all your nails, then let dry (less than 10 minutes).

    File the sides of the nail and close to the cuticle with a nail file (I like to use 180 grit), then shape the nail to look natural. Then smooth with a fine grit nail filing block and scrub them with soapy water and a nailbrush to remove any dust and filings.

  12. Apply cuticle oil.

    Remember to apply some cuticle oil on your cuticles as you just exposed them to chemicals and buffering and they will need to retain their moisture. I recommend a really good one below.

  13. Now, you can apply your favorite polish and you are set to go. Or, you can file with a super fine grit file until they are as shiny as glass.

    Approximately every two weeks you will need to reapply some acrylic to your nails as your nail will grow and move the acrylic nail up.

Update

A helpful reader, Ren, has advised me that if the products contain MMA, that is what will make your nails turn yellow. Please watch for that when you make your purchases.

I have experienced that some products will actually turn into a yellowish color when it should be clear or white. I would love to hear your comments below if you have experienced which products do or do not seem to turn a yellowish color. I will be updating this with my own experiences too so this can turn into a great reference guide for the best acrylic nail products.

I can personally say that the Beauty Secrets brand nail liquid and/or nail powder did turn a yellowish color. Please be sure to share your comments with me on brands you like or dislike and why. You can send me a comment or an email (if you are a Squidoo member).

Electric Files and Drill Attachments

If you want to speed up your finishing time, try out an electric nail file.

Nail Scrub Brushes

I prefer plastic nail brushes over the wooden ones because the wooden ones will eventually break down and get water absorbed into them, which can cause the wood to deteriorate and hold bacteria.

Watch How It's Done

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    • Lubowa profile image

      Lubowa 24 months ago from Uganda

      Thank you InSearchOf LM for this detailed tutorial on how to do acrylic nails. It has been informative and I have used the knowledge I gained here to write an article for a client who liked it and had it incoporated into their tutorial published at http://www.designsauthority.com/top-10-adorable-st...

    • InSearchOf LM profile image
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      InSearchOf LM 3 years ago

      @Littlewings25: I agree. It can add up quickly and become expensive. I am sorry to hear about your health and work situation. I hope things turn around for you. I'm so happy it helped and if you have any questions please feel free to ask and I'll try to help.. Best of luck to you!

    • InSearchOf LM profile image
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      InSearchOf LM 3 years ago

      @sharon-gonzales-7547: I'm so glad it was easy to understand and thank you for the compliment.

    • profile image

      sharon-gonzales-7547 3 years ago

      the way you said your steps 1-13 was very helpful and easy to understand for me the sites that i looked at this one was the best thank you sincerely sharon rose

    • profile image

      Littlewings25 3 years ago

      Hi, I have just decided to take up doing acrylic nails myself as a lot of friends and family spend a fortune getting theirs done, especially around weddings and special occasions. Due to ill health at the moment i am unable to work and so wanted to find something to keep me busy and that would be useful in the future. I've saved your step-by-step guide and plan to use it for my practice! Thanks for such a detailed and easy to follow guide! :)

    • InSearchOf LM profile image
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      InSearchOf LM 3 years ago

      @NailArtDesign LM: Thank you. I appreciate that you enjoyed it.

    • InSearchOf LM profile image
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      InSearchOf LM 3 years ago

      @Kimberley Vico: I am so glad it was helpful. Thank you for visiting.

    • NailArtDesign LM profile image

      NailArtDesign LM 4 years ago

      Really great lens, lots of great advice and information. Well done! :)

    • Kimberley Vico profile image

      Kimberley Vico 4 years ago

      Informative and most helpful for those who'd like to do your nails at home - like me - thank you!

    • InSearchOf LM profile image
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      InSearchOf LM 4 years ago

      @endamclarnon: Thank you so much for sharing. I hope they find it helpful.

    • InSearchOf LM profile image
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      InSearchOf LM 4 years ago

      @oiloflife: You are very welcome. I'm glad I could help. I plan to add other lenses on nails too. Any questions, please ask me.

    • profile image

      militaryswag 4 years ago

      I absolutley can't wait to so buy my supplies tomorrow! I'm in the Navy and there's only certain things females can do with our nails that's in standards. I plan on helping a lot of chicks out! I'm so excited!

    • InSearchOf LM profile image
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      InSearchOf LM 4 years ago

      @militaryswag: I'm so happy to hear that. Please let me know if you have any questions and let me know how it goes. Thank you so very much for your service to our great country. :)

    • endamclarnon profile image

      Enda McLarnon 4 years ago from Belfast, Ireland

      I sent this to both my daughters and they will love it

    • profile image

      oiloflife 4 years ago

      This is such a fascinating lens!!!! I found it so full of useful informative information. Thank you for sharing this with us...

    • profile image

      sailor_man 4 years ago

      jessica nail

    • veronicatarantino profile image

      veronicatarantino 4 years ago

      I love it

    • profile image

      CEFA-CEFA 4 years ago

      Nice lens...

    • InSearchOf LM profile image
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      InSearchOf LM 4 years ago

      @Tamara14: I hope you two have fun doing that together.

    • InSearchOf LM profile image
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      InSearchOf LM 4 years ago

      @dogface lm: Thanks, I appreciate you stopping by even though you aren't into this type of thing.

    • InSearchOf LM profile image
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      InSearchOf LM 4 years ago

      @NevermoreShirts: Thank you. I really appreciate it and worked a lot on this lens.

    • InSearchOf LM profile image
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      InSearchOf LM 4 years ago

      @JoshK47: And thank you for stopping by. Much appreciated.

    • InSearchOf LM profile image
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      InSearchOf LM 4 years ago

      @anonymous: Thank you. I enjoyed creating this lens and have continued to enhance it. I'm glad you liked it.

    • InSearchOf LM profile image
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      InSearchOf LM 4 years ago

      @Bellezza-Decor: That is great. Mine do not grow strong, I have tried several times. I think maybe because I used to bite my nails when I was a teenager, maybe not... I don't know.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Beautifully done first lens! Wish you many more great lenses. :)

    • InSearchOf LM profile image
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      InSearchOf LM 4 years ago

      @Mary Crowther: HAHA love it. Thank you for stopping by and reading my lens.

    • InSearchOf LM profile image
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      InSearchOf LM 4 years ago

      @laurenrose lm: I'm sorry to hear that you had such a bad experience. I've heard a few other people say they have had bad experiences also. I hope this is helpful and thank you for your link.

    • InSearchOf LM profile image
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      InSearchOf LM 4 years ago

      @anonymous: Thank you for stopping by.

    • InSearchOf LM profile image
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      InSearchOf LM 4 years ago

      @Scotties-Rock: It does take some practice. I appreciate you stopping by.

    • InSearchOf LM profile image
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      InSearchOf LM 4 years ago

      @sheezie77: Thanks, I'm trying. I had fun making it.

    • InSearchOf LM profile image
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      InSearchOf LM 4 years ago

      @shellys-space: Thank you so much.

    • InSearchOf LM profile image
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      InSearchOf LM 4 years ago

      @Thrinsdream: Thank you for commenting. I am glad you liked it.

    • InSearchOf LM profile image
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      InSearchOf LM 4 years ago

      @Fcuk Hub: Thank you very much.

    • InSearchOf LM profile image
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      InSearchOf LM 4 years ago

      @Onlinemum3: I'm glad you liked it. I had fun making it.

    • InSearchOf LM profile image
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      InSearchOf LM 4 years ago

      @myamya: Thank you so much.

    • InSearchOf LM profile image
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      InSearchOf LM 4 years ago

      @anonymous: It's easier to understand once you are doing it. I've also added a video to help show how it is done. I hope you have great results.

    • InSearchOf LM profile image
      Author

      InSearchOf LM 4 years ago

      @WriterJanis2: Thank you. It was fun putting this lens together.

    • InSearchOf LM profile image
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      InSearchOf LM 4 years ago

      @dream1983: Thank you very much.

    • InSearchOf LM profile image
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      InSearchOf LM 4 years ago

      @OliviaDaughter LM: I'm glad you enjoyed the lens.

    • InSearchOf LM profile image
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      InSearchOf LM 4 years ago

      @BrandonSharp: I'm sorry to hear about your bad salon experience. That's a great idea on the sister lens. Thank you.

    • InSearchOf LM profile image
      Author

      InSearchOf LM 4 years ago

      @katemiya: It is something to consider. The acrylic is pretty strong.

    • InSearchOf LM profile image
      Author

      InSearchOf LM 4 years ago

      @PatriciaJoy: Thank you so much for the blessing. I hope you have wonderful success with it. Remember that it does take some practice so don't expect perfection right away but it is fun once you get the hang of it because you can do them how you want them.

    • InSearchOf LM profile image
      Author

      InSearchOf LM 4 years ago

      @anonymous: I always wondered why some turn yellow and some don't. Great info. Thank you!

    • InSearchOf LM profile image
      Author

      InSearchOf LM 4 years ago

      @anonymous: Wow, that's interesting that it's the same drill. Thank you for leaving the product recommendation.

    • InSearchOf LM profile image
      Author

      InSearchOf LM 4 years ago

      @anonymous: You are correct. I mentioned that in the sub-paragraph of step 3. :) I hope you enjoyed the lens.

    • PatriciaJoy profile image

      PatriciaJoy 4 years ago from Michigan

      Angel blessings. Great tutorial. I just bought a kit and will start practicing on doing my own fills.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      There turn yello because the product contains MMA cheap and nasty.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Can I just say that when filing your nails you should only file in one direction as you can weaken your nails =)

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I am also doing my own since I've been an expanded duties dental asst. For 15 years, we use the same drill bit in the mouth ;) anyway. I like using opi absolute. The acrylic didn't turn yellow;)

    • OliviaDaughter LM profile image

      OliviaDaughter LM 5 years ago

      I have never done my own ! Thanks for info.

    • profile image

      dream1983 5 years ago

      Fantastic lens, well done!

    • WriterJanis2 profile image

      WriterJanis2 5 years ago

      The nails look beautiful.

    • profile image

      myamya 5 years ago

      Very nice lens! thumbs up for you!

    • Onlinemum3 profile image

      Onlinemum3 5 years ago

      Thanks for a great step by step guide.

    • Fcuk Hub profile image

      Fcuk Hub 5 years ago

      Great lens. Great acrylic nails :)

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      This is a great step by step guide, but the step u made about spreading the powder was a bit confusing.. other than that it was really good :) Can't wait to try this!!

    • Thrinsdream profile image

      Thrinsdream 5 years ago

      Great step by step guide. With thanks and appreciation. Cathi x

    • shellys-space profile image

      Shelly Sellers 5 years ago from Midwest U.S.A.

      You have done a great tutor for applying acrylic nails!

    • profile image

      sheezie77 5 years ago

      Great lens keep up the good work!

    • Scotties-Rock profile image

      Clairissa 5 years ago from OREFIELD, PA

      They look beautiful. I do not think I am that skilled to be able to do this myself. However, what a savings it would be. Great Lens.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I've never had acrylic nails but sure do enjoy seeing them on others.

    • laurenrose lm profile image

      laurenrose lm 5 years ago

      I went to a salon to get my nails done and this was a big mistake! Definitely going to do them myself from now on.

      Ill leave a link to my lens incase you want to read about what happened and if you have any tips to leave that would be great.

      Thanks for your helpful lens

      http://www.squidoo.com/beauty-treatments-at-home

    • Mary Crowther profile image

      Mary Crowther 5 years ago from Havre de Grace

      Thanks for the great tips! (no pun intended, haha)

    • Bellezza-Decor profile image

      Bellezza-Decor 5 years ago from Canada

      I used to get acrylic nails done years ago. Luckily now my nails grow long and hard.

    • profile image

      JoshK47 5 years ago

      Good work on this, thanks for sharing. :)

    • profile image

      NevermoreShirts 5 years ago

      Great work on this lens! I look forward to seeing more!

    • dogface lm profile image

      dogface lm 5 years ago

      Nice, too bad that as a male I'm not too keen into nails and such things :D

    • Tamara14 profile image

      Tamara Kajari 6 years ago from Zagreb, Croatia, Europe

      My teenage daughter is all into nail art and manicure, so I'll have to ask her to follow your tips and make me her model :)

    • BrandonSharp profile image

      BrandonSharp 6 years ago

      I've never done my nails myself, but I did get really upset at one salon and after walking out I decided to remove the acrylics myself and it wasn't easy. You give such a great steps on putting the nails on, you might want a sister lens to help people take them off safely.

      Great lens!

    • katemiya profile image

      katemiya 6 years ago

      I haven't had acrylics done in years. With the way I like to attack my nails, this might not be a bad idea.