Acrylic Nails

Fast and Fabulous

Applying acrylics fast requires mastery of the art of sculpture.

Unlike other arts, the art of sculpting nails demands that you create perfection in a very short period of time. The tools of your trade (the acrylic) and your audience (the client) leave you with an hour or less to create 10 masterpieces. In addition, clients want the time to be spent not only on their nails, but also on conversation, a cup of coffee, and a hand massage.

Are you doing everything you can to speed up your service? With many of the products available today, it is possible to work fast and well. All it takes is a little effort.


 “The key to saving time when using acrylic is to master the application technique itself. If you can apply acrylics at the perfect weight and contour you will have less buffing and that will definitely save time,” says Melodie Underwood, owner of Nails Unlimited in Charleston, South Carolina.

 “Whether you’re applying tips or sculptured nails the application should have the proper width and thickness,” adds Laureen Wright, president of The Nail Institute and Nailtech Supply Company in Toronto. “You’ll have to replace the nail later if it’s incorrect, and you’ll waste more time replacing the nails than if it’s done right the first time. Be neat around the cuticle area---that will also save you time later.”

Some techniques are quicker than others, says Jo Livingston, a nail technician at Amico’s Grand in Chicago. “They are all based on the same 1 to 10 application,” she says. “I use the one-ball method, which saves me a lot of time. Even if I’m doing a French manicure, the white part is the one-ball method. If I have to hit one nail more than three times, I’m wasting time. With this method, I can get the set out in 35 to 40 minutes, tops, including polish. A lot of new products are one-ball, the best technique since acrylics came out.”

Whatever technique you use, it’s important to have the acrylic under your control. As you work with the product, determine the “styling time”---the amount of time you have between the moment you apply the product and the it begins to set. Knowing how much time you have to manipulate the acrylic lets you make the most of it. As with any skill, practice improves your ability. “One of the biggest things is to gain control of product while it’s wet,” says Wright. “Find training or sit down and practice. The smoother you apply the product, the less buffing you’ll have to do.”


Practice is often a matter of educating yourself. Augment your education by reading, attending classes, and talking to more experienced nail technicians.

 “Competitions are a way to learn,” says Robin Lee Sitko, owner of The Nail and Body Boutique in Rochester, Michigan. “Talk to the winners and look at different products to see what looks best. Ask them questions about the forms, products, and files they use.”

Once you’ve started improving your skills, don’t stop. “Any tech, no matter how experienced, is always learning. The minute you close your mind, you stop learning,” says Underwood.


While you’re asking that first place winner about his or her files, brushes, and products, think about the tools you use and where you keep them.

 “There are so many different kinds of tools,” says Sitko. “Find good files that will blend and take down the thickness quickly and will last a long time. Stick with forms that are easy to use.” Also, try clipping a nail instead of filing it to take down length quickly.

Take good care of brushes by cleaning and storing them properly. “If you try a new product, use a brand new brush,” says Sitko.

 “Being organized and keeping the table clean will speed you up. If the tools and files are scattered and cluttered, it’s more time consuming. Keep stuff neat and in one place, then you can go to that place without looking,” adds Underwood.

The most important “tool” you use is the acrylic powder and liquid system itself. Choosing the right acrylic system for your skill level will allow you the time you need to create a perfect nail. Livingston, who teaches new technicians, says, “When I’m working with novices, I like using an acrylic with a larger grain that uses equal liquid and powder. This allows the technician to play with it for a longer time before it sets up. It doesn’t harden or freeze dry fast.

 “The intermediate pupil can try a medium grain product,” continues Livingston. “It sets up a little slower than the finer powders, which gives you more time. Odourless acrylics are medium grain and use less liquid. Odourless takes longer to set up, but once it’s on, you have to leave it alone. Too much manipulation ruins the chemical balance and rubberizes the nail.

 “A fine grain product sets up rapidly and is for more advanced nail technicians. You use a one-ball method here,” says Livingston. Of course, once a technician has learned to use several products, she will find it saves time to use the product best for the client. For example, a coarser grain may take longer to set, but a client who is hard on her nails needs the extra strength. Using the right product for her lifestyle means fewer repairs when she returns for a fill.


And speaking of clients, communicating with your client is the surest way to give her the nails she likes the first time. “Question your client as to what shape and length she wants,” advises Wright. “If you question her first, you can shorten or lengthen the product according to her taste. When you put nails on too long, you waste time shortening them.”

Testing for allergies may seem like a waste of time, but if you should come across a client who reacts to the chemicals, you’ll save her the pain and yourself some time and perhaps some guilty feelings.

Says Wright, “If you do a test nail and the client develops an allergic reaction, you have to remove only the one nail. Let the client try one free nail first. Let her wear it for 24 or 48 hours and return. If her skin and nails don’t look irritated or inflamed, you can put the rest of the nails on.”

Above all, save yourself a little time by using that artistic eye that led you to become a nail technician in the first place. “It’s a very artistic business. Technicians should start looking at the nail plate as a canvas.” says Wright. “When clients tell you what they need, you should be able to picture it and go from there.”

Develop your eye, develop your skill, and pretty soon what will be developing is your client roster.



Time-Saving Tips

  • Shape nails by sculpting rather than by filing.
  • Clip, rather than file, nail to bring down length.
  • Keep your workable organized.
  • Experiment with different systems to find the fastest application for you.
  • Attend competition. Learn from winners
  • Use the right files to shape quickly and effectively.
  • Use sable brushes and take care of them. Use a new brush with a new system.
  • Ask your client what shape she wants before you start to sculpt.
  • Test for allergies on one nail before applying acrylic on all 10.
  • Practice your technique until you can do most of your work while the acrylic.

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