Acrylic Nails

Backfill Basics

Creating and maintaining a permanent French manicure for your clients doesn’t need to be intimidating. This step-by-step guide to mastering the pink-and-white backfill includes a list of common pitfalls to recognize and avoid.

Pink-and-whites. Permanent French. White tips. Whatever you call them, they’re lovely. The ap­plication, which allows clients to sport a clean, polished look at all times, is achieved with white acrylic powder rather than with paint, polish, or airbrushing. Many techs avoid adding the acrylic French to their list of services because they think the procedure takes too much time, or that it’s too much work. Others, unsure of their ability, allow their uncertainty to keep them from offering this increasingly popular service. However with good technique and, of course, practice, you can achieve this beautiful, client-pleasing look in about the same time it takes to do a regular fill.


As you begin to master the technique of a permanent French, be aware of some inherent problems.


First, because of the nature of the service, significant amounts of acrylic are removed during each fill. Removal of acrylic with an abrasive always has the potential to cause friction, and consequently, burning on the client’s nail bed. To avoid this, apply a consistent amount of pressure to remove the acrylic, but don’t use a heavy hand. Also, be careful not to remain in one spot on the nail: Keep the file moving from side to side.



Second, techs who are relatively new at pink-and- white backfills often see an increase in the thickness of their customers’ acrylic nails. This is because the tech didn’t remove enough base acrylic before applying the new, white acrylic. Almost the entire layer of acrylic should be removed from the free edge before the application of new product. This way only the thinnest layer of acrylic remains on the nail plate, and the chance for thick build-up is avoided.

Third, some clients may want the white on the tip to extend farther down the nail plate than then natural smile line. This should be avoided. Because you are removing large amounts of pink acrylic in order to replace it with white acrylic, there is a possibility of burning a client with the file if you go below the free edge. Lysa Comfort, education director for inm, suggests bringing the white acrylic down at the sidewalk so that it covers the full length of the natural smile line. This will give the appearance of a larger white tip without risking damage to the client’s nail bed.

Finally, many techs create an uneven, or misshaped, smile line. Comfort offers a solution to this common problem: Take the sticker form that is generally used to extend nails and place it on top of the nail where you would like to see the crisp white line. With a pencil, lightly trace the smile line using the curve of the sticker as a guide. File along the pencil marks to create a perfect smile line.

Once you are aware of the common problems and how to avoid them, you’re ready to tackle the challenge of the prep work and the application. Begin by sanitizing the client’s nails and gently pushing the cuticle back. The next steps are determined by your choice of tool: an electric or hand file.

Electric File Technique

Prep the cuticle area and the whole nail plate the same way you would for a regular fill, thinning the acrylic out as you move the file over the nail. [photo <p>HAND FILING TECHNIQUE: AFTER</p>1]<p>ELECTRIC&nbsp;FILING TECHNIQUE: AFTER</p>

Position the bit of the file along the smile line. (Avoid placing the file below the smile line as this can cause a burning sensation on the client’s nail.) Slide the bit firmly along the line, moving the file in short, quick movements across the nail, creating a trench. This is where the white acrylic will meet the pink acrylic. While the same look can be achieved using a sanding band on a barrel bit, Comfort recommends using a mini French-fill diamond bit, which looks like a UFO, for this step. [photo 2]

After creating a trench along the smile line, remove the excess acrylic on the free edge. On the first pink- and-white fill, the acrylic may not be able to be removed entirely because there may not be a natural nail under the acrylic. Remove as much as possible without weakening the tip and causing it to snap off. During subsequent fills, remove all the old acrylic from the free edge. [photo 3]





At this point the whole nail is prepped and ready for application. Apply the adherent or primer to any exposed natural nail. Fill in the tip first in order to give the white acrylic time to set before applying the pink.

Working with the white acrylic, place a small ball in the center of the free edge. Work the acrylic down each side of the nail, following the small wall of pink acrylic that was created when you formed the trench. The ball will move easily against the ridge, creating a perfect smile line. Avoid making the ball of acrylic too wet. This gives you less control over the product and also gives the white acrylic an opportunity to bleed into the sanded grooves of the pink acrylic. [photo 4]

Once the white tip has been created, fill the cuticle with pink acrylic. The nail is then ready to file and shape as with a regular fill.

Troubleshooting the Grr’s

“This is so much work!” —Apply only a thin coat of pink acrylic over the entire nail plate No need to add acrylic that you’ll just need to take off. This makes the service longer and creates unnecessary work for the tech

“I can’t stop the heat!” — lighter? up on your pressure Smooth consistent movement will get the acrylic, the no need to dig. Also, check the age of your bit. According to Lysa Comfort, old hit heads have to work too hard to remove product Remember to replace them regularly.

“I get air pockets in the middle of my nails!”—You’re removing product too far below the smile line. The pink acrylic is pulling away from the natural nail.

“I get a lot more separation with these nails than with my regular fills.”—Look at the sides of the nails. When you removed the pink acrylic, did you expose the grove was?

“My white doesn’t (always) look crisp and bright!”—You haven’t removed enough of the pink off the nail before applying the white acrylic—or your haven’t removed the pink evenly off of the nail before applying the white acrylic. This causes different variations of coloring in the white and often creates what looks like a shadow on the white tip.

Pricing the Permanent French

Before you offer the permanent French to your clients, you’ll need to decide on a fair price for the service. When making your decision, consider this: This service requires the tech to perform two fills during one appointment. One is done at the cuticle and the second is done where the white has grown out — where the pink-and-white powders meet. Because this requires more work than the average fill, it jus­tifies an increase in the price of the service. Many salons charge a 15-25% higher rate for the pink-and-white full set and fill. If your salon does not charge more for this service, you’re working harder, not smarter. Even if you’ve mastered the technique to the point of being able to perform a pink- and-white backfill in an hour, the pink- and-white demands a higher price because of the extra work packed into that hour, and for the higher level of skill needed to accomplish the look.

As with any nail service, your personal preferences will create a signature look to the pink-and-white manicure. One thing to consider in determining your signature French is what color pink to use. Pink acrylic powders range from a light transparent pink to a brighter, more noticeable shade. Some techs may even prefer a clear acrylic instead of pink, which often makes the white appear more brilliant and reveals the natural color of the client’s nail bed.

One last consideration: to cover or not to cover. Some techs like to drag the pink acrylic over the entire nail, lightly covering the white acrylic. Others choose to bring the pink up to meet the white, but not cover it, allowing the full color of the white to be displayed. Will you buff your clients’ nails to a high shine? Will you apply a polish over the French manicure? Many clients enjoy a sheer pink or transparent white over the entire nail.

There are no right or wrong answers to these questions; they are a matter of personal choice and client preference. Although there are steps to follow and pitfalls to avoid when creating the perfect pink-and-white set of nails, your signature still adds the final artistic touch.

While the pink-and-white backfill is more work than a regular fill, the extra time it takes to prep the nail pays off at the end of the service. Because so much attention has been given to the shape of the nail and the thickness of the acrylic during the prep, the fine finishing and buffing is much less intensive. Once the application is complete — either using an electric file or by hand-filing — and the free edge has been filed to the cus­tomer’s specifications, very little work remains. Often a light filing over the en­tire nail surface, and the finishing step of the buffer, completes the job.

Michelle Pratt is a freelance writer and licensed nail tech based in Johnson City, N.Y.

Hand File Technique

Tiffany Greco, a Team Creative member and nail tech at Hair Addix in Carlsbad, Calif., instructs techs on permanent French applications. She says to begin the fill by shortening the length of the nail, and redefining the sidewalls.

Next, using a 100- or 180-grit file, reduce the thickness of the acrylic in the free edge by 50%.

File the acrylic in what Greco calls “zone 2” — the area of the nail that has acrylic coverage, but that is below the free edge. Start at the thickest part of the nail and work out toward the thinner acrylic along the sides to bring the level of acrylic down by 50%. [photo 1 ] Now the entire application of acrylic has been reduced. When using a hand file to perform a permanent French backfill, Greco says, “There is no carving out, no making a wall. Keep a thin layer of acrylic on the entire nail.”

Switch to a 240-grit file to gently remove the shine off the natural nail along the cuticle. Apply adherent or primer to any exposed natural nail, [photo 2]

Create the white tip on the free edge with a ball of white acrylic that is dry enough to be controlled and wet enough to be moldable. (Mix ratios vary depending on the brand of acrylic, so check your manufacturer’s instructions.) Shape the acrylic by following the smile line to create a natural curve. Extend the white acrylic to cover the entire free edge [photo 3]

After the white tip has been applied, fill the area at the cuticle with pink acrylic, bringing it up to meet the white acrylic at the tip. [photo 4] The nail is ready to shape and file as with a regular fill.


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