It was the one your beauty school teacher told you to use… It was on sale at your local trade show…It came with the starter kit you purchased last week…It allows you better control of your product…

Like shears are to hair stylists, the brush is the nail technician’s most important tool. Nail technicians choose their brush’s size and shape in a number of ways and for many different reasons. As nail technicians become more skilled and experienced, many prefer to increase the size and vary the shape of their brush and use fewer, larger balls of product to speed up service time. And with service speed becoming a major issue in the nail industry, it may be time to “think big” when it comes to choosing your brush.

“Brushes are your most important tool—they make the nail”, says Kim Patterson, director of nail education at For Professional Use Only (Farmington Hills, Mich.). “If you don’t use the right tools to make the nail properly from the start, then the product will fail you.”

Speed Up Your Nail Service

Greg Tosti, nail technician and co-owner of five Nail Depot salons throughout South Florida, say that service speed is the key to keeping his salon competitive. The Nails Depot’s 140 nail technicians each service anywhere from 11 to 12 clients a day. Some service as many as 25 in a day. How do they do it?

Believe it or nor, it’s in the brush. Tosti says that using the proper tools is essential when it comes to service time and quality. So much so, that the salon stocks its own private label brushes for its staff to purchase, but only in sizes 10, 14, and 18. “Bigger balls are easier to lay down on a nail or tip,” says Tosti. "Larger brushes also stay firmer, especially at the belly, making it easier to pull down the acrylic from the cuticle to the free edge."

The Nail Depot trains all of its nail technicians to use bigger brushes and finds that many nail technicians who come to work at the salon move up in size quick­ly because they have a min­imum of two years of expe­rience (a requirement for employment at The Nail Depot). "Usually it is just a matter of watching another nail technician apply acrylic with a bigger brush and a one- or two-ball method for them to get the hang of it," says Tosti. "Yesterday we had a nail technician start who used a size 6 brush. We gave her someone else's big­ger brush and she sat side-by-side with another tech watching her in action. By the end of the day, she was using a size 14 and a two-ball method with skill and confidence."

Tosti says that he still makes sure all the nail technicians in his salon are comfortable laying acrylic with a larger brush so they aren't continuously correcting lumpy or thick acrylic. Continuously adding extra balls and extra filing adds to the service time. Monique Maginnis, educator for Creative Nail Design in Perth, Australia, agrees, adding that less filing also means more stable exten­sions. "In my case, using a larger brush has cut 10 min­utes off my service time and also allows me to push and smooth the product correctly so that I sculpt with my brush, not my files," she ex­plains. Maginnis uses Creative's new Ultra Sculptor, which is between a size 10 and 12 brush.

Creating an Acrylic Ball With a Bigger Brush

Most veteran nail techni­cians agree that being able to use a bigger brush really hinges on how well the nail technician maintains prod­uct consistency during the application process. Once she can, she can really work with any brush size, no matter what size ball she needs to do the nail. "I can take a huge brush and do a fill because I know how many times to stroke it on the dappen dish to release the right amount of liquid, but not every nail techni­cian can," says Kris Hizer, a nail technician for eight years and OPI Products dis­trict sales manager for the southern region.

Rookie nail technicians who are still developing their product ratio skills should generally start with smaller, inexpensive brushes, say some industry experts. "I do not believe that new nail technicians can handle big­ger brushes with enough confidence," says Maginnis. "However, once they master product consistency, they will find that big brushes are just as easy to control."

"I usually recommend to students that they invest in all different shapes and smaller sizes of art brushes while in school because they are less expensive and allow them to experiment," says Sandra Engerran, technical advisor for Star Nail Products (Valencia, Calif.). Start­ing small allows the begin­ner to find her application and brush style that suits her technique the best.

“Then, when she is hired at a salon, she can invest in a good brush in the size and shape she prefers," Enger­ran says.

Until they understand product consistency, newer nail technicians and those trying a new product should purchase the brush that is sold with the acrylic or gel system they choose. "Brush size is not determined by what the nail technician likes, but by what the product re­quires her to use to get the right ratio of liquid to pow­der," Patterson says. "Most systems call for two parts liq­uid to one part powder and require the use of a size 7 or 8 brush."

"I like to pick one compa­ny and use every single prod­uct in their line because that is how the manufacturer for­mulated the product to be used for optimum perfor­mance. It's foolproof," says Rebecca Moore, nail techni­cian and owner of Just Nails in Erlanger, Ky. But as she be­came more skilled Moore found that a bigger brush made by the same company better suited her needs. "I was using a smaller brush from the company who makes the products I use, but I attend­ed a class and learned how to use their bigger brush and still maintain the right ratio," Moore explains. "Taking a class or watching an educa­tor use a brush is the best way for a newer nail techni­cian or someone who is not familiar with a product sys­tem, to get comfortable with a larger brush and still main­tain product consistency. Now my service time is 15 minutes faster."

Knowing No Limits

Some nail technicians may worry that switching to a larger brush will cause lifting. This is not true, says Dao Dobyns, director of product control and educa­tion for Kupa (Buena Park, Calif.). "Brush size doesn't really affect product adhe­sion because the nail tech­nician is picking up the right combination of liquid and powder no matter what size brush she uses or what size ball she chooses. The nail technician is using the product correctly and so it will adhere properly to the nail and will last with­out lifting."

Maginnis also points out that brush size doesn't limit application dexterity. "Using a big brush does not mean you can't pick up tiny beads to perfect the design of your enhancement," she says. "I may need to use several small balls to reinforce a crack at the stress area, yet I don't have to switch to a smaller brush. It is critical that whatever size brush you choose, you keep product consistency the same."  

While some nail techni­cians have been able to take a class or watch a demonstra­tion and go to a larger brush size immediately, this isn't al­ways the best way to move on to a bigger brush size. "The nail technician should try to increase brush sizes gradually and not jump from a size 8 to a 14 suddenly because she will not have the control she needs to lay down the product cor­rectly," says Dobyns. She rec­ommends that nail techni­cians who start, say, at size 6, gradually move to an 8, and then to a size 12, and finally to a size 14 or larger, building their skills and confidence as they go.

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