Nail Art

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


How Nail Art Products Are Made

How much can there be to manufacturing a tiny nail decal or a thin sliver of striping tape? Take a look—you’ll be surprised.

How much can there be to manufacturing a tiny nail decal or a thin sliver of striping tape?  Take a look—you’ll be surprised.


Decals and striping are two of the basic tools of the trade for nail artist.  But like many nail products, these two items actually evolved from another industry entirely.


Before stripping tape, nail artists had only paint to create straight lines on the nail.  Then someone noticed that the micro-thin tape used for pin striping automobiles could be adapted very simple for nails.  Striping tape material comes as a long roll of either vinyl or Mylar film in various colors.  It has a strong adhesive on the back; the front side contains a silicone release agent so that the tape doesn’t stick to itself.  This roll is placed on a nail striping machine and sliced with ultra-sharp die cuts, usually to 1/32-or1/64-inch widths for nail art use.


Decals are also an important automotive product, (if you own a pickup truck with a camper shell, it may have a Vista decal on it).  The same basic technology is used for the tiny decals nail artist use as a finishing touch on their nail art.  Starting with a roll of frosty-clear vinyl as the backing with a white print color base, a die cutting machine is also threaded with color print rolls of varying colors (depending on the design of the decal).  These rolls run underneath a printing plate which stamps the design down through the color and onto the white base; each color runs under its own section of the plate.  Then a die cutter cuts out the shapes around each colored design.  While the designs are still warm, a worker might brush on a layer of top coat to make sure their designs don’t smear.  Each decal must be cut deep enough so it peels easily from the sheet, but not so deep that it is sliced through the backing.  Preparation time for each new design is as long as two hours since the operation must break down the old setup, conduct any test runs, and clear out any defective product until everything is just right.


The life of a nail decal begins on a computer screen. The artist must layout every step, so that each printing plate is etched to receive the proper color. Here, Dalmatian designs (15 to a sheet) get one plate for black, one plate for white, and a third plate (called a die space) to be used as a pattern for cutting around the shapes.


Quick turnaround time is critical in the decal business, especially when it comes to trendy designs. These Dalmatian decals were designed on a computer in about a day. Plates were created, and black and white print rolls were ordered. Then the die cutting machines began to move, and at capacity were cranking out 20,000 decal sheets a day.


On this die cutting machine, a cards and dice design requires two rolls of black print color, and one roll of red. One roll of black makes the card borders (which are raised), and the other one makes the dice. The red roll makes the card suits. Machine operators make sure that there is a correct balance of heat, pressure, and time dwell for each new design; otherwise, the decals will not adhere properly. However, waste is minimized even if some of the decals come out wrong. Here, workers carefully peel off the good decals and place them on a new sheet.


In the ‘old’ days maybe four or five years ago - this heavy contraption was used to stamp out one sheet of decals at a time. The newer automated die cutting machines increased production by about tenfold. This machine is still used for printing display logos, such as the ones you see on Lucite retail racks.


Typical nail striping tape comes into the factory on 3-inch-wide mils containing 100 inches of tape length. The controls on this computer determine the width each roll of striping tape will be cut.


To make a pretty sheet of vari-colored “jewel” decals encased in gold, a stranding process is used to prepare the colored strands.  This machine takes the release liner off of each strand of print color and puts all of the colors onto the same roll. (It was built especially for automotive pin striping.) Now, one roll will advance through the die cutting machine and create jewel decals in four colors on each sheet.


A roll of un-sliced tape is being prepared to be cut into strips for the retail market (for consumers who have trouble handling rolled tape). Note the many cutting lines on the metal spool; these will press into the tape to slice it in varying widths. The tape is then re-spooled and brought to another machine, where it is put on sheets and chopped into easy-to-use strips.

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