nail art,nail art gallery, nail art designs

January 31, 2012
Social Share Toolbar

Necessity is truly the mother of invention, and this one was a long time stewin’.  I’ve been trying to figure out for months how I could create patterns and manicures for people without, you know, having to spend all of that quality time with somebody’s hand in my lap (I’ll admit to being super pokey with some designs and can literally waste away 4+ hours working on something… who wants to sit through that?!).  The baggie transfer from the dry water marble nails *would* have been a cool way to do it, but — if you’ve ever tried this you probably know — peeling the nail polish off of the plastic is actually pretty difficult, and all the tender tugging can often warp or rip the polish, which obviously doesn’t do well for really precise designs (i.e. with lines).

Last week while dinking around in the kitchen I thought to pull out all of the various papers and foils at my disposal to do a little spot test: put down a couple of layers of polish and see how it pulls up.

Wouldn’t ya know, parchment paper was the big winner.

No sticking.  Nada.  Just lifted right off.

So this, dear ladies, just may solve the problem of the orphaned hand (I don’t know about you but my right hand is pretty much useless beyond simple lines and shapes when I try to do something on my dominant left hand) and make it easier to spice up your friends’ nails.

And yes, you can always just buy the blank nail slugs, paint on those, but the press-on nails drive me bonkers.  Did anybody else go through that phase in junior high?  They were cute little pink bugs to have on your hands, but a) they definitely looked fake, what with the being so thick on top of the real nail and b) they constantly fell off because those sticky strips were complete crap.  I don’t have a lot of love in my heart for press-ons anymore.

Here’s the basic trick of it:

1.  Lay down a couple of layers of clear coat on a section of parchment paper.  You want it to be thick enough to really hold everything together, and will need a decent buffer between your art and the paper; not enough and your stuff could crackle/stretch/morph later when you add more polish underneath.

2.  Paint in whatever design you want!  I just used black acrylic paint to swipe in some quick little birdies for this, but you can do… anything.  Use polish, use acrylic paint, glue in some stones or feathers or whatever, this is your canvas.  NOTE: stay away from papers.  I know, I know, it’s super tempting to just slide a picture or a magazine cutout in there to look cool, but I’ve never seen a printed paper surface respond well/look good after being slathered in nail polish (tested this out ages ago and the paper surface would sort of… dissolve into this weird texture like it was disintegrating and the colors completely changed, it just looked like crap).

3.  Once that’s dry, you can throw another clear coat over it to seal it — good idea for acrylics, not so necessary if you just worked in nail polish.

4.  Put a thin coat of polish on your nail.  I use the cheapo Wet n Wild topcoat because I know it’s thin and dries pretty fast.  The base on this manicure is two days worth of wear on ULTA Alter Ego (I like this polish much more than I thought I would in the bottle, it’s really pretty and looked great in two coats).

5.  While that’s drying, peel (and cut if you want) the polish off of the parchment paper.  Because my little design is small and the polish is all clear, I just used a general shape, but if you’ve loaded up a ton of color and want to avoid more cleanup later you can cut the polish down to size.

6.  It should have been about a minute since you put the clear coat down on your nail so that now it’s more tacky than wet — that’s the ticket.  You want the polish to have oomph enough to grab onto your homemade decal, but not so wet that it won’t ever dry sandwiched in between there with no air.  Now you’ll take your decal, drop it on your finger (like you would with the foils) and start rubbing it down and in to seal it to your nail.  You may be tempted to tug at and clean the edges right now:  DON’T.  Wait til everything is completely dry.  These nail transfers are all dry anyway so it’s not like it’s making a huge mess, though you may notice some color bleeding in the corners of your nails where the wetter polish is settling in.  But if you start trying to clean right away while the sandwich layer is still wet you may end up pulling pieces from the corners or morphing your design; treat your fingers like you would if you had just polished your nails a couple of minutes ago and they still need to set: no knocking, scratching, bumping, hard pressing, etc.

DIY nail decal

ULTA Alter Ego

7.  Go in with a Q-tip or flat nail brush and some polish remover once it’s dry to strip the excess off of your hands and clean up the edges.  Finish it up with a good topcoat (like Seche Vite) to seal it all down (don’t forget to wrap the tips!) and you’re all set!

blue bird nails

Cool, right?  And maybe this has been done elsewhere before but it’s the first I’ve stumbled on the technique and am super excited to use it for my left hand and friends.


  • Makes it easy to create designs in advance
  • Gives you the ability to work on something for hours without rendering your hand useless
  • Full designs for your dominant hand!


  • Probably won’t last as long as a manicure that’s conventionally built up on your nail
  • Edges may not be perfect/can be a pain in the butt with full-cover designs
  • I realized in testing this that I do a LOT of my brush work by moving my hand instead of the brush, so I’m actually more used to and comfortable with painting directly on the nail
  • Because you’re not painting on the nail, placement and positioning becomes a little hit-or-miss depending on how good you are at eyeballing

And oh yeah, this time I actually went the extra step and captured a video of me doing this in case it’s confusing — don’t expect these a lot, but hopefully it’s helpful!

FINALLY, to round out this epic post, a couple of SITE NOTES:

  • Last day to get in for the Winter 2012 Giveaway!  Get ‘em in while you can, I’m shutting it down at midnight CST time and will announce at some point tomorrow.
  • Mardi Gras has officially invaded my server and taken over the site design — welcome to New Orleans ladies.  :)
  • Google announced yesterday that they’ll be discontinuing the Google Friend Connect service on March 1, which means the 500+ of you following me via that little sidebar widget probably won’t be seeing Nail Nerd in your list after that (the details of the end of GFC is a little nebulous right now in terms of how they’re actually going to handle converting these communities, but safe to assume the worst really).  It’s pretty clear that Google is trying to funnel everyone into their Google+ platform, so I’ve added that widget below the existing GFC chunk in the sidebar if you want to sign up.  NailNerd.com content is also cross-posted to Facebook and Twitter if either of those are easier for you, all of those links are up in the top right corner of the pages now.  Basically I adore y’all and don’t want to quit you because Google’s being a pain!  :)

Also, big round of applause for anybody that recognizes those little birdies from the Shel Silverstein Where The Sidewalk Ends book!

52 Responses

  1. Mimi says:

    This is a really neat trick with the parchment paper, good to know!
    On a side note, I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but when I go to this post, it automatically tries to get my computer to download the video. Is it embedded in the page? I didn’t know what it was at first, thought it was malware or something and freaked out a bit!

  2. You’re so clever. ; )

  3. nail crazy says:

    i’ve been thinking about doing this myself… but i was never completely satisfied with the result :-(
    yours are perfect, love it :-D

  4. the nerd says:

    Thanks ladies! I really did tinker with it over the weekend to see what worked best (number of layers, sequence, what stuff you could get away with putting in there, etc.) so give it a shot, it should work out okay!

    • aricel says:

      i need to know, do you put a clear polish on our nail or somethin’ else?

      • the nerd says:

        You could do a clear polish if what you’ve got on the parchment is full color, or you can put down a colored polish and put your transfer over it. There are thousands of options, let your mind run free!

  5. Kejal says:

    this is soo super useful..m gonna try!! I hope I have told u enough..that I LUV ur blog!!! xoxo

  6. Fingers says:

    I love your new blog layout! I have been adding blogs via my google reader. Not a fan nor do I get Google+. It sucks that Google is doing this-but I will still get my Nerd fix thru my reader!!

  7. Kayleigh says:

    Great idea thanks for this! Finally a use for the roll of parchment paper in my drawer! LOL

  8. April Brooks says:

    Thanks so much for this! I have some ideas I want to try that I couldn’t figure out how to accomplish. This technique just might get me the results I want.

    Have a lovely day!

  9. ABOP says:

    Parchment paper – who would have thought?! I’ll definitely have to try this because the ziploc bag option was definitely not working for me. Thanks!

  10. Anutka says:

    Very interesting! I’ve used ziplog bags and sheet protectors for this, never thought of parchment paper! Great tip. Thank you :)

  11. Melissa says:

    Do you know if you can use wax or tissue paper in place of parchment paper?

  12. Melissa says:

    That is awesome! I have been doing my own nails as a hobby since my teens and have recently gotten back into doing them again. This idea of getting art on nails that your not comfortable with doing fee-hand is genious. Do you know if you can use wax or tissue paper in place of parchment paper?

    • the nerd says:

      It’s totally a lifesaver for your non-dominant hand for sure! I don’t have wax or tissue paper on hand but you can certainly give it a test run and see how it works… with the wax paper I’d probably use the non-waxy side though, I don’t know how the wax would play with some polish formulas.

      • aricel says:

        heard someone say if you can use tissue paper..if you do so, won’t it get all wet?can we use a sharpie marker?

        • the nerd says:

          I’ve never tried either of those — Sharpie I’d worry about staining, and I’m not sure if tissue paper is thick/strong enough to peel up from, but you can always give it a shot!

  13. Katheryn E. says:

    I tried this with parchment paper, and it’s not wanting to peel off. Did you use wax paper instead, or am I doing something wrong? :(

    • the nerd says:

      Oh no, really? It’s definitely parchment paper — the outside of the roll, not the inside (they feel a slight bit different to the touch I think, or I’m just being nuts). Was it just one coat of polish, or more?

      You know what I did recognize the other day when I did this: I ran out of my goopy topcoat — you know, one of those slow to dry but really thick sort of numbers, like glue — so I used this little Art Club striper topcoat to cover up the design I was putting on my left hand. But what I didn’t realize that it was one of those eroding sort of polishes, the kind that eats up whatever it’s around. So by putting it over the stuff I’d already laid down it ended up soaking through those other two layers straight down to the paper. When I pulled it up there were some actual holes in the transfer from the polish eating through. Maybe it’s just a matter of using a different topcoat?

      I wouldn’t use SV, it’s definitely one of those that pinches up. The fast dry ones aren’t a good idea either. I’ve found that the nubar, OPI and CND topcoats work best for this stuff. They go on thick, are flexible, aren’t quick dry and don’t eat up whatever is around it. Maybe try it again? Which is sucky, but a lot of this work is trial and error… and if it’s not peeling up I’m inclined to think it’s a matter of there not being enough to actually pull up.

      Or not. Feel free to email me if it still doesn’t work…

      • Katheryn E. says:

        Yay!!!! Regular parchment paper on a roll (rather than the icing triangles I was using) worked beautifully! Can’t wait to try ‘water’ marbling with this – thank you so, SO much for discovering and teaching the rest of us about this!!

        • the nerd says:

          Ok phew, glad we got to the bottom of that one! :) Hope you have tons of fun with it — it really does open up a lot of options for your non dominant hand, friends, even just planning a mani in advance for something.

    • aricel says:

      can’t find parchment paper….anything good to sub?

      • the nerd says:

        You can use the old plastic baggie method — I always had a rough time getting it to peel up though…

  14. Archie0625 says:

    Hey Nail Nerd! I realize I’m a bit behind on this post, but I came across your blog a few months ago looking for Mardi Gras design inspiration. I love the idea of nail stickers, but I’m having a problem with it that I hope you can diagnose.

    The first time I did this, it worked really well. My painting skills weren’t so hot, but the method worked. Then I tried to make stickers last night, and it failed horribly. I laid one coat of clear polish on the parchment, and when I went to put a second coat down, I found that the first coat had dried, and curled up and off the paper. I was using Wet N Wild clear polish, which I _think_ is what I used last time also. Any ideas why that would happen or how to avoid it?


    PS– I lived in NOLA (Audubon/University) for five years before moving back to the northeast two years ago, so I’m always psyched to see your NOLA-based designs. It was sad that you didn’t have a Muses design for Mardi Gras, though– they’re my favorite krewe! Any chance of seeing a Muses design next year?

    • the nerd says:

      Hey Archie! I’d try switching up the topcoat — I’ve only used a few clear polishes for this so far, but did notice that I had problems with the fast-dry type (it sort of ate holes into the design/did a curl and pucker) and Seche Vite (it also pinches up and isn’t all that flexible when dry). I had really good luck with CND Super Shiney, OPI and nubar clear polishes; none of them dry really fast, which seems important in this process, and remain pliable even when dry.

      And yessssssss Muses! I’m actually a member and had a great design all planned out for this past Mardi Gras with Joan Jett (oh gosh she killed it at the party this year!), the shoe and the bathtub and the whole thing. And then Mardi Gras happened and I realized a few days into it that there was just no way I was going to get away with sitting around the house painting my nails for hours when visiting friends wanted to go out and party/I was… a little messy shall we say. I do still have the design idea saved on file and have been meaning to get back to it, so I’ll bump it up the list and see if I can’t get it cranked out soon (better late than never right?) Are y’all planning on making it back for next year?

      Also, not sure if you saw this Muses story during Mardi Gras, but seriously best ever and reminds me why this city is so great (even if gunshots go off way too often in this neighborhood). The start of the story just makes you want to bawl — be sure to read the link to her mother’s blog — but there’s a really happy ending to it:


  15. aricel says:

    do we put clear on both sides? or no…..?

    • the nerd says:

      If you’re using all nail polishes then no, you don’t need clear on the top, but if you’ve painted something in acrylic you’ll want to seal it down with a clear coat over it so it doesn’t chip or flake off as you’re applying it.

  16. Mary says:


  17. BB says:

    This is a cool trick I gotta try this one day cause I love trying different things!!!

  18. Anna says:

    Hi, so I’ve got a question for you

    What other products would work well besides parchment paper? Would wax paper work?


  19. Nice way to make tattoo on nails, really creative post.

  20. Katherine says:

    Whenever I try to do this, it always messes up. If you have any tips like what’s the best nail polish to use that would be great. Thanks for any help you give me

  21. Jessie says:

    Is the parchment paper like wax paper I’m not really sure what kind it is?

  22. Kayla says:

    I tried this, and it totally worked!!! The first time, I didn’t have the video, and it was WAY too gloppy. But when I did it again, it was perfecto!!! Compliments to the nerd!!!

  23. Snow says:

    If I were to do a full color nail with the whole process. Like the nail transfers that you get at Walmart and all, how could I remove the edges without having a leftover mess? And what’s the least time to let it dry on the paper? BTW I love your designs, I’ve taken a strong liking to nail art and have started as a beginner. Do you have any tips?

    • admin says:

      I use an orangewood stick dipped in nail polish remover to remove the excess nail polish from the sides of my nails — sort of like if you’ve been really sloppy while painting. The dry time is going to depend on the polish you use, but as long as you let it dry for the same amount of time that you would on your nail (I usually go for an hour just to be sure) you should be ok! And check out the “Quick Tutorials” section, there are some how-tos in there that might be helpful. :)

  24. Shelly oti says:

    I am amazed at your artwork. I check in haphazardly and enjoy seeing the new creations. Appreciate all the ideas and instructions shared with new nail art dabblers like myself.Thank you and good luck with the Google thing. Keep up the good work.

  25. Dayna K says:

    I tried this for the first time, with AMAZING results!!

    Thank you

  26. Lena1998 says:

    Just a couple of questions:

    1_ The side of parchment paper that we paint our design on is the side that we press onto the nail, right?

    2_ The format is:(Top) Clear polish
    Clear polish
    Base colour (I’m guessing optional)
    (Congrats if you understand that… don’t worry if you don’t.)

    3_ Peeling the layers of parchment paper appart (in the video) sounds tricky. Is it necessary? And if so, HOW do you do it???

    4_ Actually, this last one is more of a request. I recently heard about this newspaper design.
    Basically, you place a peice of newspaper over the nail and then use alcohol -generally vodka, rum is too sticky- or even an alcohol-based mouthwash to ‘print’ the letters onto the nail. I’m not sure if you have done an article on this yet, but if not please do! Some details would be SO useful!!!

    Thank you so much for all your help and ideas!
    -Lena x

  1. [...] 4. Nail Nerd » Creating Your Own Nail Transfers [...]

  2. [...] Creating Nail Transfers by NailNerd.com: I think this is an awesome idea, but I’ll admit that I haven’t tried it yet. But for those of you who can create a freehand design and want to use a transfer to make it easier, this tutorial is for you. [...]

Leave a Reply


NailNerd on Google+ NailNerd on Facebook bloglovin Nail Nerd on Tumblr Subscribe to RSS feed Email me

Search the Nails

The search box below will help if you're looking for a specific polish, otherwise you can use the links further down the sidebar to browse by polish color, theme, brand, whatever!

Have an Idea? I looooove getting ideas from people for what to do for the more intricate nail designs — use the email link up above to shoot me a note and I'll add your idea to the list! (because yes, there's a list, but it's AWESOME.)