How to Use Nail Stencils

Nail stencils now make it super easy to create art on your nails -- for special occasions, holidays or just to showcase your creativity.

Fingernails have long been canvases for single colors or two-toned French manicures, but nail stencils allow you to create art on nails to suit special occasions, holidays and outfits, or to just showcase your creativity. Nail stencils, or nail art stencils, are just like stencils used to paint designs on a wall or letters on a sign but on a much, much smaller scale.

Ready-made stencils come in sheets or individual pieces, and in single-use or reusable materials. One-time use stencils are usually adhesive, while most of the reusable kinds are made of flexible and sturdy plastics. If using an adhesive stencil, you can simply pull off the backing, adhere the sticky cutout to your nail and paint in any color to contrast with either a clear or colored nail beneath. Once peeled off, the design stays put.


Reusable stencils can be taped in place around the edges or sides or just held over the nail tightly while paint goes on. They often come in a wheel or strip shape with multiple designs for layering or mixing it up, and they're easy to clean for reuse.

Stenciling nails is simple once you get the hang of it. We'll look at some prep and finishing steps as well as a way to personalize your nail art, next.


Nail Stencils: Preparation

Always start with a good base coat to prep your nails for your stencil application.

Depending on whether you have nail stenciling done in a salon or you do them yourself, the cost can vary from a few dollars to in the hundreds. Kits available at drug and beauty supply stores usually won't run more than $5 to $20, while a specialty salon visit can range from $15 to hundreds depending on how involved the nail art gets.

However and whoever applies the stencils will follow a similar set of steps, however, beginning with a good basecoat and/or layers of nail color to prep the nails. Stencil designs can be painted on to bare fingernails but they won't last as long and may not stand out as much as when applied in a layer to a coated surface.


Once prepped, the possibilities are endless! Stencils come in simple lines, zigzags and geometric shapes, or can be complex lace-like overlays, cameos, and landscape or nature-inspired scenes. And if you don't find a pre-made design that strikes your fancy, maybe you can nail some down on your own.

Nail Stencils: Tips to Make Your Own Stencils

If you have a design or motif in mind, for example a type of tree or a repeated pattern of stars or plaids you want to re-create on nails, you can bypass the premade nail art and salons and make your own stencils. Craft stores are great sources for adhesive paper such as laminate or sticker sheets, and scrapbooking sections have hole punches and scissors in all shapes and sizes for making unique cutouts.

Something as simple as scotch tape will work too, although it can be too thin for a complex design. Masking tape or other, tougher types of tape can be cut and adhered tightly to keep nail polish from seeping underneath, and stay strong enough to come off in one piece without tearing and messing up the paint job.


It may take some trial and error to get the design you want and the material that will work best, but it's fun experimenting and easy enough to try and try again with some nail polish remover and ideas.

Nail Stencils: Drying Tips

The final step is easy -- sit back, relax and let the polish dry.
Brand X Pictures/Thinkstock

Making sure the under layer is completely dry before applying a stencil is an important step in doing it yourself, but finishing steps are equally important. Nail art will stay on for a time without anything over it, but a final layer or two of clear topcoat or a specialty fast-dry sealant will ensure that designs stay put much longer.

Some topcoats seal in color and dry in several minutes, and these may be especially good for stenciling because layered colors will be less likely to run or bleed into areas outside of the stencil work. Heated stations at nail salons make fast work of baking polishes onto nails in a very short time too.


If neither fast-drying clear coats nor salon tools are at your fingertips, it never hurts to kick back, relax and simply watch the paint dry.

Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • "Stencils for Nails." 2012. (June 23, 2012)
  • Sally Beauty Supply. "Nail Art and Jewelry." 2012. (June 22, 2012),default,sc.html
  • Seche. "Seche Top Coats." 2012. (June 23, 2012)