A Tale of Two Techniques

by NLS Staff | February 1, 1996

So you use tips, or forms or both? Nail technicians have their preferences; some learned how to apply nail extensions with tips, while otheres learned using forms. Both are good tools for creating nail extensions, if you know what you're doing. Proper nail application is a combination of personal technical skills and knowing whether tips or form-extended nails will work best for a particular client. Many factors help determine whether a tip or a form is going to work best on each individual. Knowing when to use each tool and how to use it properly will cut service time, reduce the number of repair jobs to have to fit into your schedule, and give otherwise nail-less clients beautiful extensions.

How's Your Form? 

Forms are the more versatile of the two extention-building tools available, say the experts we spoke with. When applied properly, they fit any client for building a full set of nails. Brenda Bollard, owner of Bren's Nails (Conroe Texas), uses forms to sculpt repairs, too. "If a side is out, I sculpt my repairs. This saves time; otherwise I would have to go through the whole process of removing the entire nail and reapplying a tip," says Bollard. 

Sculpting with forms is also best for clients with active lifestyles or who are rough on their nails. Jewell Cunningham, former champion nail technicians and present "Mayor of Nail City" at Strata Nail Foundation (N. Hollywood, Calif.), explains that the nail you make with a form is stronger than a nail with a tip.

"A sculptured nail is one complete unit, whereas a tip-with-overlay will have varying thinknesses of acrylic. The acrylic will be thinner on the free edge because some of the total thickness of the nail is, of course, tip material. When you get back to the nail bed and cuticle area, however, there is no more tip and the acrylic is much thicker. What happens is that you end up with a weaker nail that is vulnerable at the stress area," she says. 

There are also some situations in which chances are you can't use a tip, and a form is necessary. In most cases, extending on bitten nails, for example, requires you to use a form. Kym Lee, founder and CEO of Galaxy Nail Products (Corona, California), says that some nail technicians might think a tip on a nail biter is a better choice, but she has found that tips pop off nail biter's nails. Cunningham explains that that is because you have to glue the tip to the skin; after a while, the adhesive will dissolve or lift due to oils secreted by the skin. She also notes that nail biters with tips have to wear polish, as they tend to have unnaturally short nail beds and the smile line will look misplaced.

Applying forms can be quick and painless not only if you know what to do, but also if you know what not to do. For example, Cunningham sees nail technicians try to apply the center of the form before attaching the corners. "They try to attach it to the center of the nail and then use their finger to tuck the sides of the form under the corners. That is difficult and leads to other problems," she says. 

Another common mistake is not properly gauging how far to drop the sides of the form on the finger, Cunningham says. After you have the form under the corners, you lift up the free edge of the form while at the same time dropping the sides of the form next to the nail grooves. If you don't pull the free edge up high enough so that it's snug against the nail, you'll leave a gap on the underside of the free edge, creating more work for you to fill. 

Finally, Cunningham says another mistake with form-created nails is that nail technicians don't file the sidewalls enough. "The sidewalls should come out of the nail bed straight, all the way to the end of the free edge," she says, adding that if they aren't straight they will look splayed and chunky. 

Forms work with acrylic and gel systems, but they don't work well on fiberglass. According to Melissa Perry, northeast regional sales manager for Backscratchers (Sacramento, Calif.), extending with fiberglass on a form isn't recommended. "You can't seal the underside of the free edge if you use a form, and you have to seal the mesh with three coats of resin," she says. 

Tip Your Hand

There are so many tips available today it would be hard not to find one to work on a client. However, some of the specialty tips, like the extra-white tips, require a modification of traditional application and maintenence techniques. 

The application procedure to make tips stick is still simple, but how you prepare the nail and tip for application can make or break the nails you apply. According to Perry, if you follow the steps required of the system you are using, including sanitizing, etching, and dehydrating the nail plate, the tip application will be sound. Also critical to a tip's durability is sizing. All the experts we spoke with agree that using the wrong-size tip is the most common mistake nail technicians make. 

Vanessa Tinsley-Stone, owner of Stage Fright Day Spa in Naranja, Fla., and educator for IBD (Gardena, Calif.) and Gena Laboratories (Duncanville, Texas), says nail technicians routinely apply tips that are too small. "This is true especially on clients with round nail plates. These nails are narrower at the cuticle than at the free edge, so the tip appears wo fit properly when the free edge is short. As it grows out, though, the free edge splays out and the tip no longer fits from sidewall to sidewall," Tinsley-Stone says. 

After choosing the correct size, you usually must customize the wall of the tip, says Perry. She recommends that, with a standard tip, you first cut it with a straight nail clipper from sidewall the sidewall. This adds flexibility as weel as reduces the chance of air pockets getting between the tip and the natural nail. 

Getting the tip on the nail requires some knowledge and skill, but the job doesn't end there if you expect the tip to stay in place. As you progress through the service, you do things that affect the integrity and strength of the tips.

For example, the quality and amount of primer you use not only affects the adhesion of product to the natural nail; it also affects the strength of the tips. Nadine Galli, educator for OPI Products (N. Hollywood, Calif.), cautions against priming tips. "Ther is absolutely no need to apply primer to the tip. Primer warps tip material, and acrylic is attracted to plastic if you've removed the shine from the tip," Galli explains. 

You can also affect the appearance of the tips during subsequent steps of the service. If you are applying extra-white tips with an acrylic overlay, you can create an even more dramatic visual impact at the smile line while you apply the overlay. Cunningham suggests doing this by placing a small bit of white acrylic at the corners of the tip, where the sides of the smile line come to points. "This attracts the eye to the contrast of the white next to the pink, and it makes it look more like a sculptured nail as well," she says. 

What Do You Keep on Hand?

All the nail technicians we spoke with agree it pays to know how to work with both forms and tips. But just what tips and what forms should you have in stock? Of course, there are many styles on the market, but it is impractical to stock them all, especially with innovative manufacturers improving existing styles and creating new ones. 

Technical Tips: Apply Tips and Forms Quickly and Easily

Improve your techniques with these pointers from the experts:

  • Jewell Cunningham offers this simple technique to apply a rectangular form quickly: "Hold the form with your thumbs on the numbers and your index fingers on the back. Roll the form between your thumb and index fingers to recreate a natural C-curve. While keeping this curve in the form, tuck the form into the corners of the nail first. When you catch the corners with the form, make sure you don't let the form touch the finger. Use the corners as a slide guide and bring the free edge of the form upwards. The form will conform to the natural nail.                                                                          Make sure the form is attached to the sides of the fingers, look down the barrel of the form to make sure it is straight, then press the corners at the end of the form at the free edge together." 
  • To sculpt acrylic on a nail biter, Cunningham suggests that you apply acrylic to the nail bed first, instead of creating the free edge first as you would with a standard set of acrylics. "Bring the pink out to the end of the finger. This is when you can build in the C-shape. Then slide the form under the pink and sculpt the free edge. Make sure you sculpt the pink all the way out to your new line of demarcation [smile line], but don't try to sculpt white over the pink," she says. 
  • Some nail technicians can customize a plastic tip so the well area doesn't adhere to the nail biter's skin. Barbara Griggs, owner of Nail Visions Salon in Pasadena, Md., and educational sales consultant for Creative Nail Design Systems (Vista, Calif.), carves out the underside of the lower arch of the tip. "Just past the stop-point I make an exaggerated cut so the tip looks like a saddle. This is so the tip doesn't adhere to the skin," she says. Griggs cautions against placing the contact area all the way to the cuticle; let it go only halfway. 
  • When the tip is ready to go on the nail, apply a tiny bit of adhesive in the well of the tip (as opposed to one the nail; Vanessa Tinsley-Stone says this makes it much easier to place the tip exactly where you want it), hold the tip at a 90 degree angle to the free edge, and rock it onto the nail so the tip goes on the nail from the center of the nail back, with the corners to the tip at the sidewall adhering last. This pushes out any air that may otherwise be trapped under the tip. 
  • Be sure you don't use too much adhesive on the tip. "More is not better when it comes to glue and tips," says Tinsley-Stone. She says that too much adhesive will make tips vulnerable to breaking and lifting, just as too little can. She recommends you use enough adhesive so the well area is moist, but not so much that it floods out the bottom of the well or gets on the skin at the sidewalls. 

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