Nail tips are made by a meticulous process that involves a computer, complex mathematical calculations, acetate pellets, and high-powered injection molding machines.
Birth of a nail tip: starting on paper, a nail tip design is created entirely by computer with careful mathematical calculations. Once the dimensions have been drawn and checked, this computer design is sent to a company that transfers the paper design into a steel nail insert which creates a cavity where the nail tip is molded. Once a design is finalized, an insert set is created for each of the 10 nail tip sizes.
A handful of tenite acetate pellets in their pristine form (right) are crystalline, nearly colorless. On the left are the same type of pellets after they have been dyed to resemble the color of a human nail. Natural nail edges have a very murky color; they are not even close to a true white. Great pains are taken to mix the appropriate colors to match natural nails.
This is one part of a mold created in 1974 for plastic nail tips. Made completely by hand without benefit of computer calculations the mold cost about $40,000 and took seven months, to complete. Flash problems were frequent since it was nearly impossible to perfectly balance the nail sizes so that the proper amount of plastic flowed into each of them. At the bottom of the photo, you see a modern-day nail tip insert, designed and cut entirely by computer.
This nail tip mold forms the base in which the nail inserts are placed. The two blocks fit together and are placed inside the injection molding machine. Liquid plastic is forced into the hole (or “sprue”) on the top of the mold, and with a pressure as high as 22,000 psi (pounds per square inch), it is injected quickly and evenly into every crevice of the mold. The nail tip mold is made of solid steel and is composed of 20 sets of individual inserts (each set creates a nail tip of a specific size). Each insert is linked by a runner to the main stem; a “gate” is a tiny opening just before the nail tip cavity. It controls the flow of liquid plastic and is sized differently according to the size of the nail cavity it guards. Cavities, runners, gates, and stems are all channels into which plastic flows swiftly and evenly.
It only takes a few seconds for this high-powered injection molding machine to melt the plastic, pump it into the mold, cool the mold, and then pry it apart to let a newly created stem of nail tips to fall into a box. From here a worker inspects each stem carefully for flaws. A floor supervisor is on hand at all times to adjust the speed and temperature of the machine. A new set of nail tips is made every 10 to 15 seconds, depending on the style.
The nail tip sterns are then shipped to another facility, where workers “degate” each stem carefully breaking the nail tips off of their runners .The tips are sorted according to size.
Then the tips are packaged into either boxed assortment or refill packages of the same nail tip size. Refill packs of tips are weight-counted (counted by weighing batches instead of counting each tip individually), which is quicker than counting by hand. It also means nail technicians often get a couple of extra tips.