Nail Art

Dedicated to the infinite joys of nail art and design: handpaint, airbrush, colored acrylics and gels.


Blown Away - Airbrush Techniques and Troubleshooting

There are those clients who forgo nail art for the sake of a French manicure or a crisp seasonal polish. This doesn't always bode well for nail techs who long to get more use out of their airbrush. Here we show you how to hook non-nail art clients on airbrushed nails by offering a level of personalization and service that polish alone can't provide.


For clients who prefer a more traditional look to nail art, the airbrush is often viewed with mistrust. When these clients think of airbrushed nails they might picture an elaborate, colorful affair that may or may not include a pink flamingo. This is not the type of self-expression certain clients crave, but it doesn’t mean that your airbrush has to take a vacation. Instead, present your airbrush as a tool that fits their agenda: fast, efficient, and understated. Rather than offering animal prints or stencils, mix paint to create a signature color,

match the color of their outfit, or create a quick and perfect French manicure. Single-shade airbrush applications are easy and fast, as well as a great way to introduce otherwise reluctant clients to the benefits of airbrushing.

Show Your Piece

Start by making your airbrush as handy as all of your other implements. Keep it ready and available, and keep paints where clients can see them. “If techs make their airbrush convenient to use, they will be more likely to convince a client to try it,” says Ellen Torchia, an educator, award-winning competitor, and nail tech at Beauty Airbrushing in North Bend, Wash. “If you are excited about it, your clients will be excited too.”

Practice Makes Perfect

Once you have made your airbrush as handy as a bottle of polish, make sure that your application makes it last as long. “With proper preparation, airbrushing can last as long as polish,” says Torchia. Meticulously clean the natural nail bed and remember to protect the nail with base coat and top coat. “I recommend that nail techs encourage their clients to be proactive in the upkeep of their nails,” she says. “Retail a bottle of top coat for use at home. It is a good retailing opportunity for the tech and beneficial to the client.” Until practice makes perfect, Denise Loden of Safari Airbrush suggests protecting the cuticle area with cuticle oil or nail forms to minimize cleanup. “You’ll soon a minimum,” she assures.

Create Airbrush Envy

Learn what is important to your clients, and present the airbrush as a valid substitute to polish. Whether they are concerned with speed, quality, custom colors, or cost, educate your clients on the benefits of airbrushing.

“Colors in the bottle are true,” says Loden, “and the paint dries seconds after it is sprayed. The client only has to wait for the top coat to dry versus two coats of polish and top coat.”

“Airbrushed French manicures are better than anything you can do with polish,” says Torchia. “With a stencil you can do competition-style free edges or perfectly straight, crisp lines. And you can charge for the second color, if you want.”

If a client wants a color that isn’t on your polish rack — from sheers to pearlescents — you can mix it for her quickly with airbrush paints. You may also consider whipping up batches of popular shades to entice those clients who are married to their just-so red or signature plum.

While there will always be situations in which only polish will do, introducing more clients to airbrushing can only benefit your business. Paint is inexpensive and a few drops can coat all 10 nails. Airbrushing a full set takes less time than polishing and drying time is nearly instantaneous. Customizing colors for your clients differentiates you from other nail techs and adds to your professionalism. The bottom line: Get your clients used to airbrushing and get the most out of your investment.

Whip it up

“Learning to mix custom colors is relatively easy,” says Ellen Torchia. “Paints are so inexpensive that you can stand to practice and make mistakes.”

Whether you mix a large batch of color or just enough for a set of nails depends on the situation. But the process is the same. “The key is to know the ratios for each color,” says Torchia, and take note of them for future reference.

For smaller amounts “all you need is a few drops of each color,” says Denise Loden. “You can mix this directly in the reservoir of the airbrush.” The spraying action of the airbrush will homogenize the color, but Loden suggests stirring the color together with a toothpick and spraying a test shot to make sure the paints mix well.

When mixing paint look for formulas that mix easily and well, suggest Dianne D’Agnolo of Too Much Fun. “If you are mixing larger amounts, don’t count drops, instead mix by using ‘parts’ of a bottle,” she says.

“Mix larger amounts in bottles,” advises Torchia. “You may want to do this for standing clients, if you know they are going to use the color frequently.”

D’Agnolo says it’s also important for nail techs to understand basic color theory before they start mixing their own paint for clients.


With one flat canvas of color, imperfections can sometimes be more noticeable. Here we’ve collected some tips to help ensure that your handiwork is crisp and durable.

• Cracks can sometimes appear on the nail after it is sealed with top coat. This may be due to incompatible chemistry between the paint and top coat. Try another brand of sealer or top coat. Another potential reason cracking appears is that too much paint was sprayed on too quickly. Correct this by slowly building up thin layers of paint.

• Streaking and scratching may occur while applying top coat. This is due to too much pressure on the brush or bristles that are not fully coated in top coat.

• Color fading and chipping may occur if the natural nail is not properly prepped, or if the appropriate paints and sealers are not used. Make sure to meticulously clean the nail bed and use paints that are formulated for use on the nails. Remember to protect the nail with both base coat and top coat.


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