Acrylic Nails

Playing Fast Ball: Working Quickly With Acrylics

You can’t squeeze more hours in a day, but our experts can show you ways to fit more appointments into your schedule. How? By learning to do full sets in half the time.

Is completing a full set of acrylics in less than an hour a struggle for you? Most nail technicians take an hour and a half to two hours for the service so you’re not alone. What would you say if you heard that some nail technicians have got the service down to 20-3o minutes, and as little as 45 minutes for a permanent French manicure? These aren’t assembly-line jobs that a professional nail technician wouldn’t reputation on. We’re talking beautiful salon nails that are strong and light but not too thin.

Some regional markets for nails demand that services be fast, particularly in metropolitan areas. “Our clients are professional women, and they don’t have time for a luxurious service. Many come in on their lunch hour or sneak away from their desk for 30 minutes to make their appointment,” says Sherri Isley, co-owner of Expressly Nails in Washington, D. C. These markets tend to hive more nail salons per square mile, so the competition is fierce. In fast-paced cities, speed tends to be the priority for clients, therefore a competitive priority for (salons. So the challenge for many nail technicians is to do quality work in a very short amount of time.

Nails Aflying

There’s no one trick to getting your service time down say the nail technicians we spoke with who shared their techniques with us. Doing nails fast combines smart shortcuts, new techniques, and plain old fast work.

When doing a full set fast, break down the entire service into steps, develop a system, and do it the same way with every client. Pat Vasquez, a nail technician at J. Russell Salon in Palm Desert, Calif., and producer of her own educational videos, including “The 20 Minute Full Set,” recommends these six steps:

  1. Prep nails
  2. Apply tips or forms
  3. Prime nails
  4. Lay the acrylic
  5. Shape the nails
  6. Wash, buff, and polish

Sound familiar? These are the basic steps of even a slow full acrylic set. Of course each step has a number of sub-steps, but however you fine-tune your system, stick to it, as repetition will make you faster, says Vasquez.

Isley insists that one of the keys to doing the technique well is to take shortcuts, but not in the fundamental application. “Don’t compromise as far as the application of the nails is concerned. We guarantee our work for a month and do the nails in 30-45 minutes,” she says, and explains that the salon would go out of business if its nail technicians sacrificed quality, as fixing broken nails would take up all their time. So concentrate on doing these steps well, and dispense with the fringe benefits, such as the massage, or polish if you can do a fast permanent French manicure.

1) Prep nails. Resist the temptation to skimp here. A poorly prepared nail plate will probably mean the acrylic will lift. If (not when) that client returns to you to give you a second chance, you’ll waste far more time fixing the nail than if you’d spent a bit more time on prep work.

You can keep a spray bottle and hand sanitizer at your station to save the time your client would otherwise spend getting up, walking to the restroom, and washing her hands, says Kim Patterson, owner of Artistic Nail Supply in Fairfax, Va. “An added bonus is that you know the scrub brush is cleaned between clients,” she adds.

Remove the shine on the nail plate with a file and push back the cuticles. Make sure you’ve removed all traces of oil. You can use a nail dehydrator on the nail during a fast service; it only takes a few seconds.

2) Apply tips or forms. Blythe Albert, Isley’s partner in Expressly Nails, uses forms and starts with the pinkie and goes to the index finger. “I apply forms to the fingers on one hand, then to the other hand. I do the thumbs last; otherwise I end up knocking them off and having to reapply them,” Albert says. She also recommends that you don’t knock yourself out getting the forms on perfectly. “I put them on quickly as best I can, then fiddle with each one when I get to applying the product on that finger,” she says.

Vasquez uses tips, and she saves time at this step when sizing the client’s nails. “I measure one hand, but get the tips out for both. I’ve found that 95% of the time, both hands will take the same size tip. With the other 5%, one nail might be different, maybe because the client might have a misshapen nail caused by a damped matrix,” she says.

3) Prime nails. Do it fast, but don’t get sloppy. Don’t go so fast that you end up with too much primer on the brush that will get all over the client’s cuticles.

4) Lay the acrylic. This is where you should spend the most time during the service. At this point, the closer you get the shape of the nails to the finished look, the less time you’ll spend filing in step 5.

You can do this with one ball for clients who wear polish or two balls for clients who wear permanent French manicures. The fastest way is to use the biggest brush you can get It takes practice to learn how to manage a large brush, says Vasquez, but as you get better, you will know just how much liquid your brush will pick up, what size ball it will pick up with that amount of liquid, and the proportion of liquid to powder that you need, she says. “One of the most common mistakes nail technicians make is they’ll either get too much or not enough acrylic on the brush. Usually this is because they’ll use the wrong size brush. If you pick up too much acrylic, it will get everywhere on the nail, all over the cuticles and in big lumps. To know the right size brush for you, you have to judge by how much acrylic you apply. Larger balls need a larger brush. Coordinating the proportions of the appropriate amount of acrylic you need to apply is all visual. You have to look at the nail and visualize what size ball that nail needs,” Vasquez explains. She has noticed that often, a nail technician will err on the side of caution. “Then she’ll have to apply a lot of small balls, and that chews up time,” she says.

When doing the one-ball method, you’ll save time if you apply the ball at the cuticle end of the nail rather than the traditional method of starting at the free edge, says Kim Grandinetti, owner of Nail Express in Sunrise, Fla., who does a 30-minute full set. “If you lay acrylic excellently, it will take two minutes,” she says. Lay the ball near the cuticle and pull it to the free edge, putting as much of the finished shape into the nail at this point as you can. This is very similar to the standard application behind the free edge, but you do it all with one ball of acrylic rather than laying and shaping the free edge, then pro­ceeding to the nail bed.

Applying a permanent French manicure takes a bit more time (about 15 minutes longer) and is more difficult to do at the rapid pace to get the client in and out of your salon in 45 minutes. It’s possible, though, and nail technicians think it’s worth the effort. “We wanted to do pink-and-whites quickly but not charge the client more for the service as a value-added benefit. We spent three months figuring out how to do the permanent French service in the same amount of time it took to do a standard set of nails,” Albert says. She credits the electric file for making that work. “We use the drill frequently, but responsibly, and we probably rely on the drill more than most nail technicians,” she says.

Here’s the technique they came up with at Expressly Nails: Pull up one ball of white powder and lay it on the free edge. Run the corner or tip of the brush around the smile line to make it perfect. Do this on all four fingers of one hand, then do the thumb. Go back to the first finger (as with tips, Albert starts at the pinkie and works to the index finger) and lay in the pink nail bed color up to the stress area and feather it over the white. Do this in one ball as well. Go to the next hand and do the same thing. At this point, you should be about 20-30 minutes into the service.

5) Shape the nails. If you use an electric file for this step of the service, the way to use it most precisely and quickly is to brace your hands well as you file, says Albert. “This will let you make smooth, even passes over the nail,” she says. This is important because if you don’t use even pressure across the nail, the drill bit will leave hills and valleys on the surface of the nail, says Grandinetti “Make sure you use even pressure all the way down the nail as well as from side to side. If you lift the drill even a little bit, you’ll get lumps and bumps on the nail,” she says.

Albert first files the underside of the nail with a barrel bit to remove the shine underneath the nail and shape the C- curve. She turns the hand over and uses a coarse sander over the top of the nail to do gross shaping and to thin and bevel the edges. She then examines the nail by looking down the barrel of the nail, and refines the C-curve, but only if it’s necessary. “Refining the C-curve at this point is a crutch for me. It’s best to shape it from the underside of the nail, but I’ll fix it on top if it really needs it,” she explains.

Albert then switches to a hand file to shape the sidewalls and free edge. After she does the first nail, she asks the client if that’s the shape she wants, and then proceeds accordingly to finish the remaining nails.

6) Wash, buff, and polish. You’re almost done at this point, but don’t run out of steam and dawdle to the end of the appointment. It’s tempting to start getting pickier when you’re buffing the nails to get them even shinier, but you don’t want to get lost in it and waste time. Kym Lee, founder and CEO of Galaxy Nail Products (Corona, Calif.), suggests that not only should you have a system for filing, but use it for buffing as well. “Do you waste time going back and forth between nails when buffing? Keep to a system to stay fast,” Lee says.

Again, you can have your client wash up right at your station, and it’s a good idea to have your polishes displayed there, too, either on a rack within arm’s reach or on a polish chart. Everyone who spoke with us bemoaned the slowpoke client who strolls over to the polish rack across the room and takes her time picking out polish when your next client is on her heels.

Going Into Autopilot

Part of what you need to do when you’re working on gaining speed during a service is to develop your own system for doing the nails and sticking to it. You’ll probably learn that something that works for one person might not work for you. Adjust your system, but keep at it. Albert and Isley got faster when working next to one another and pacing each other. Says Isley, “We would watch each other and note where each other was during the service. If she had started laying acrylic and I was still applying the forms, I knew that something around that part of the service was hanging me up.”

One thing you need to watch out for is your rapport with your client. Working so quickly might rattle her nerves a little, and she might feel rushed, says Jodee Cohen, a nail technician for Grandinetti at Nail Express, who does a 30-minute full set “You can be a fast nail technician and not rush. I move quickly but not noisily. I don’t knock around the station doing the work,” she says.

Practice, practice, and more practice will let you work faster without diminishing your skills. You won’t have to think about what size tip will fit each finger; you’ll just know from experience, says Grandinetti. It’s the same concept Vasquez teaches, to visualize the right size ball of acrylic for a particular nail. Pretty soon, many parts of the service will come more naturally to you.

Time-Shaving Pointers

Here are some tips from expert nail technicians on how to save valuable time during your service without compromising the quality of your work.

  • Have your workstation ready to go. Kym Lee, founder and CEO of Galaxy Nail Products (Corona, Calif,), says that if your station is lined up properly, you’ll be able to reach for all your tools without even looking. “This is a tremendous time-saver,” she says. Make sure your dappen dish is full, you have enough powder for the service, and all the towels you need are within arm’s reach before your client site down.
  • Review technical skills in your salon once a month. Working on a filing system or laying acrylic fester can be more productive if everyone in the salon participates in technical worlcshops after-hours Jennifer Coleman, head nail technician at The Cutting Edge in Raleigh, N.C, and educational sales consultant for Creative Nail Design Systems (Vista, Calif), uses in-salon seminars to decrease service time.
  • Prepare the nail plate carefully, if done correctly, this can save time not only when applying the full set but at every fill your client gets. Michele Yaksich, co-owner of Nail Galleria in Pittsburgh, applies nail dehydrator with cotton wrapped on an orangewood stick to do two things at once, prep the nail plate and push bade the cuticles.
  • Know when you can cut back on buffing. Clients who wear polish are good candidates. For this time- saver. Heather Sweat a nail technician at Salons Nail and Hair Boutique in Oak Ridge. Tenn., recommends you use oil and a medium fine block buffer instead of a three-way shiner “This smoothes out the nail enough so that when polish, you won’t see any scratches,” she says.
  • Reduce the time you spend fixing broken nails Encourage your clients to have standing appointments, Kim Patterson, owner of Artistic Nail Supply in Fairfax, Va., has 80% of her clients on standing appointments, which she says helps to control breakage and time spent on repairs.
  • Keep track of time during the service. Brenda Bollard, owner of Bran’s Nails :n Conroe, Texas, wears her wristwatch on the hand she uses to hold her client’s hand with the watch’s face on the inside of her wrist No more turning your hand over or stopping arid looking up from you work to check the time .
  • Polish, the’ nails in three strokes. Patterson says this let you polish in less than six minutes.
  • Buy high-quality files and make sure they are clean before your first client walks through the door. Good client files let you file faster and more efficiently.

Eliminating the Biggest Time-Waster of All: Late Clients

Late clients can throw off your entire day, not only by inconveniencing each subsequent client but by tempting you to cut corners and rushing through each service to get back on schedule. Following the advice of the nail technicians we spoke to will help you get back on track while doing good work, but sometimes you just need to put your foot down. This means having a policy for late arrivals.

According to Kym Lee, enforcing a late-client policy is not in most nail technician’s nature “Nail technicians tend to be service-oriented, so they have a tough time telling a client ‘No’,” she says. The key is to have a policy you can stand behind and your clients can live with posted for all your clients to see.

“I post my policy, and it reads as follows Late Policy, 0-10 minutes later no problem, 10-15 minutes late’ no polish, 15-30 minutes late, polish change and minor repairs, 30 minutes late or more reschedule. Clients took it well when was posted, but there were those who tried to buck my system and get me to bend the rules. These clients are usually habitually late,” Lee says.

The way to view late clients is to understand that it is their responsibility to be on time for their appointments, says Lee; but if you choose to give them a service that includes time from the next appointment, the responsibility for punctuality is now on your shoulders. “Don’t give your clients control over your schedule. You have to make the decision when the first client is late how to manage her service while bearing the responsibility for the quality of the work you will do the entire day. It is very sensible if you look at it from a business perspective. For example, other professionals, such as attorneys, won’t push back other clients if one is late. They establish guidelines for themselves and sticky by them, and so should nail technicians,” says Lee.

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