Acrylic Nails at Home: DIY Beginners Guide (Step-by-Step)

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A step-to-step guide on how to do acrylic nails at home for beginners.

Getting acrylic nails has been a very popular beauty treatment for a long time now, and the craze is only getting bigger. With new styles and ideas popping up all the time, more people want to learn how to do them themselves.

Doing acrylic nails at home not only saves you money, but it’s a great fulfilling hobby you can learn. So, if you have always thought about trying it out or are looking to learn this skill, then now’s the time; this is the acrylic nails at home: ultimate beginners guide. 

In this post, you’ll find everything you need to do acrylic nails at home successfully; this includes everything such as all the products you’ll need, a step-by-step guide for applying the acrylic how to maintain and remove a set of acrylic nails.

Questions most people have before prepping to do their own acrylic nails

What are acrylic nails?

Acrylic nails are a mix of a powder and a liquid monomer that is placed on top of your natural nail to create an artificial nail. Most people apply acrylic nails because they have fragile nails, and it stops any damage, they have very short nails and struggle to grow them, or they get acrylic nails for aesthetic purposes.

What is the difference between acrylic nails and gel nails?

The main difference is the substances; acrylic nails are made up of a powder and liquid, whereas gel nails are made with a gel. Acrylic nails are air-dried, whereas gel nails need to be cured with an LED or UV lamp. Although acrylic nails and gel nails produce similar results, acrylic nails require more maintenance and upkeep than gel nails. 

Do acrylic nails damage your natural nails?

Acrylic nails don’t cause any more damage than any other type of manicure. If you look after them properly and treat your nails once you remove them, then they won’t cause any damage to your nails. Having acrylic nails can make your natural nails thinner and weaker; however, if you keep them hydrated and while wearing the acrylic nails, you protect them from damage; they will get much stronger.

How long do acrylic nails last?

Acrylic nails last 6 to 8 weeks with infills every 2 to 3 weeks. You also need to take care of them to avoid chipping and lifting so that they last as long as possible. It is advised that you take off your acrylic nails every three months and leave them off for about a week to 2 weeks to allow them to breathe and repair themselves naturally. 

Acrylic nails at home: Equipment

It is very important to make sure you have the correct products needed to do acrylic nails, as this can be a vital part of making sure your acrylic nails look good and also don’t cause any damage to your natural nails. I have split all the products and equipment into two lists; an essential beginner list and an optional list. The essential items list consists of every product necessary to do a set of acrylic nails, and the optional list is if you want to add nail tips or items that may make it easier for you to do your nails but aren’t essential. 

Essential beginner items

  • Acrylic powder – Acrylic powder is the powder used to form the acrylic nail; it is activated with the monomer to mold and form an acrylic nail.
  • EMA monomer – Monomer is the liquid mixed with acrylic powder to activate it and create an acrylic nail. EMA monomer is the one you want to use, as there are illegal monomers available that are dangerous to use, so it is crucial to get the correct type of monomer. 
  • Acrylic brush #10 & #12 – An acrylic brush is used to apply the acrylic to the nail and form the nail. There are many different size brushes available, but the most recommended sizes for beginners are #10 and #12 as they are bigger sized brushes and are easier to control the acrylic with. However, this is a very personal preference so that you may find another more comfortable size for you.
  • Nail Dehydrator – A dehydrator is used to remove all the moisture from the nail to allow the acrylic to adhere better and prevent any fungal infections. 
  • Nail Primer – A primer works alongside a dehydrator and helps with removing oils and moisture from the nail bed; it also removes any air bubbles, which helps enhance adhesion. 
  • Topcoat – A top coat not only adds shine to your finished manicure; it seals the acrylic nail and nail polish, which prevents chipping and helps nails last longer.
  • Buffing block – A buffing block smooths out ridges and makes your nails look shiny and healthy. A buffing block can even help your polish adhere if you choose to wear polish, as it provides a rougher surface.
  • Nail file – Having a nail file is good for shaping your nails and making the sides more even. Some people choose to use an electric file as it’s quicker; however, this is unnecessary if you are a beginner as you can get the same results with a regular nail file. 
  • Paper towels – Paper towel is essential for cleaning the nail brush during the application of acrylic. 

Optional items

  • Colour acrylic powder – Coloured powder is the same as acrylic powder; however, it is used on top of a clear acrylic layer instead of nail polish. It is recommended to try using both clear acrylic and colored acrylic when you are a beginner because they have different consistencies. It helps you get used to them both; however, this is not necessary, and you can use nail polish instead.
  • Nail tips – Artificial nail tips are used if you want to add length; if you struggle to grow your nails or would prefer to have longer nails, then these would be great for you to use; however, they are not necessary. 
  • Nail glue – The nail glue is used to stick on the nail tips to your natural nail. 
  • Nail tips cutter or nail scissors – There are specific nail clippers that you can get to cut down nail tips to the desired length; however, you can use standard nail clippers if you don’t want to get specific ones. 
  • Cuticle oil – Cuticle oil is used to add moisture back into your cuticles and skin around your nails once you have done it. This is an optional item because you can use any repairing oil or hand creams; it doesn’t need to be a specific cuticle oil.
  • Acrylic dish – An acrylic dish is used to put the liquid monomer in to make it easier to access while applying the acrylic; however, if you have a dish or a lid you can use instead, you don’t need to get one.

Acrylic Nails at Home: Method

To do acrylic nails at home successfully, I have broken it down into five key stages. Each stage is a vital part of making sure your application is as smooth as possible and your natural nails are kept in the best condition throughout.

A key piece of advice before you begin your acrylic nails at home is, make sure you have everything you need at hand. Once you start, it will become harder to come away from what you are doing, so make sure you have easy access to everything you need, and you can open them easily. 

Stage one – Prepare your nails

The first stage is to prep the nail; this is one of the most important stages as it not only makes the acrylic application better and keeps your natural nails in better condition and helps avoid any damage. 
Make sure to wash your hands with warm soapy water so that your hands are clean ready for when you apply the acrylic. 

If you have long nails, begin by cutting them down, you want to cut them so that they are just under the tip of your finger. Cutting your nails down will stop them from getting too long underneath the acrylic, and it makes them more hygienic.

You now need to file and shape your nails so that they are a smooth surface and the shape of your nail suits the shape of acrylic you are going for. The shaping doesn’t need to be perfect; however, if you roughly shape it to match, the final finish will look cleaner and more natural.

Once you have filed and shaped your nails, use a nail file with a 240 grit on your natural nail bed to remove the shine. Removing the shine will help the acrylic and nail tip (if you choose to apply) to adhere better to the nail and make them last longer. When filing the nail bed, file in the direction of nail growth as filing side to side can damage the nail plate layers and cause weakening of the nails.

The final stage in prepping the nail is treating your cuticles. Try not to cut your cuticles; there is no benefit to cutting them, especially if you aren’t trained in doing so. If you cut your cuticles, it can encourage more bacteria to build, and it can lead to infections, so it is best to stick to pushing your cuticles back and treating them regularly with oils to keep them soft.

So, to prepare your cuticles ready for your acrylic application, gently push them back to reveal more of the nail; if you have any skin on the nail bed that can be removed, then do so; if not, don’t force anything. Your cuticles and skin surrounding your nails are very sensitive and can cause a lot of pain if tampered with too much, so try not to remove anything that doesn’t need to. 

Stage two – Applying nail tips

If you don’t want to apply nail tips and are putting acrylic onto your natural nails only, skip ahead to stage three.

There are two types of nail tips you can use; there are full tips, these cover the entire nail, and there are half tips that only cover the top part of your nail. If you want to be applying acrylic to your nails, then it is best to use half tips, as applying acrylic to your natural nail will last longer than a full tip as a full tip acts, in the same way, press-on nails. 

To apply nail tips, start by picking out the right sizes for each nail. To do this, you need to find a nail tip that matches the best with the C-curve of your natural nail to give you the most natural look. Make sure that each edge of the C-curve on the nail tip meets both edges of your nails (demonstrated in the photo below).

If you find that you are in-between sizes, it is best to choose the larger size rather than, the smaller size. With the larger sizes, you can file it down or customise it to fit perfectly, whereas, with the smaller size, it will leave a part of your natural nail exposed. 

Once you have all the correct sizes for each nail, you can begin to glue them on. A key tip would be to start gluing the tips onto your dominant hand as it makes it easier to do the second hand. 

Apply the glue to the well of the nail (the dip in the well); you want enough glue to fill the well but not too much that it overflows and leaks onto the rest of the nail. Slowly place the tip down onto the nail and press down gently to make sure it is in the correct position. Press down the nail tip for about 10 seconds to make sure that it properly stuck down; repeat with the rest of your nails.

Once all the nail tips have been stuck down, cut them down to the desired length. Try to cut them a little bit longer than you want them, as when it comes to filling and shaping them; this will make them shorter.

There are a few ways to cut down nail tips; the easiest way is to use a nail tip cutter as it is shaped to fit the nail tips. However, if you want to use a standard nail clipper, all you need to do is cut inwards from both sides to the center of the nail tip; this stops the nail tip from cracking down the middle.

Shape the nails to your desired shape; if you want a more structured shape like coffin nails, you can cut the nail with the clippers as it will make it a lot quicker and easier to get your desired shape. When you file and shape the nails, you also need to fill the sides down to a more smooth finish.

When you have your nails at the desired length and shape, you need to buff the top of the nail where the nail tip meets your natural nail. This is to make sure the transition between your natural nail and the nail tip is even. Try to avoid buffing your natural nail too much and focus on the nail tip, which will cause less damage to your natural nail.

Stage three – Dehydrate and prime your nails

Now that you have prepped your nails, you now need to dehydrate and prime your nails. This stage does follow on from stage one; however, you need to do this after applying nail tips.

Before you start this next stage, wash your hands with warm soapy water to get rid of any dust left from filing your nails. Dry your hands thoroughly as you don’t want any water droplets or soap left; otherwise, the acrylic won’t go on properly. Using a lint-free wipe, wipe each nail; this ensures that all nails have been cleaned properly.

Once you are ready, apply one coat of a nail dehydrator to your nails. You only need to apply the dehydrator to your natural nail, not the artificial tip, as there no moisture on them. When you have applied it to all the nails, leave your nails to dry for 1 to 2 minutes to ensure it has fully absorbed and has worked effectively. Your nails should look more washed out, and they will become a much rougher surface. 

Now that the dehydrator has been applied and you have allowed it to dry, you can now go ahead and apply the primer. Again, like the nail dehydrator, apply one coat of primer to your nail bed; however, you can apply it to the nail tip this time. 

When applying the primer, make sure to use a thin layer, as too much of the primer can flood the nail plate, and it can cause chemical damage. Too much primer can also affect acrylic adhesion, so to make sure you get the best results, use as thin coats as possible. 

Like the dehydrator, allow the nail primer time to dry. If you apply acrylic on top of the wet primer, it will prevent the acrylic from adhering to your nail, so again leave it for 1 to 2 minutes. If you feel that it needs longer to dry, leave it for a few more minutes, this is a crucial stage of making sure your acrylic application goes smoothly, so you don’t want to rush this stage.   

Stage four – Applying the acrylic 

Now that your nails are all prepped and ready, you can start to apply acrylic to your nails. To start with, you need to make sure you have the acrylic powder and acrylic liquid ready and easy to access; when the acrylic and monomer mix, they will dry quite fast, so make sure you have everything you need, and you are prepared to put it on your nails straight away. 

Begin by dipping your brush into the liquid monomer to ensure that the bristles are all laying smoothly. When your brush is ready, dip your brush into the liquid monomer again, and this time lightly wipe one side of the brush on the side of the pot to make sure your brush isn’t too wet. 

An acrylic bead is an acrylic ball made when you mix the acrylic powder and the liquid monomer to apply to the nail. Getting the correct type of acrylic bead is essential for your acrylic nails to form properly. There are three types of acrylic beads; wet bead, dry bead, and the perfect bead. 

A wet bead is when you have too much liquid, and the acrylic is too thin and runny; a dry bead is when there isn’t enough liquid, or there’s too much powder, and the acrylic is too dry and heavy. 

A perfect bead is when there is the correct amount of both liquid monomer and acrylic powder so that the acrylic can be manipulated and formed into a nail. Getting the perfect balance to create the correct type of bead isn’t going to happen the first time, so don’t worry if you have to try a few times before you get the hang of it.

Once you have got the perfect bead, you want to place the acrylic in the apex the middle of the nail, where the natural nail and the nail tip meet if you have used nail tips (as shown in the diagram below), as this is the thickest part of the nail. You then want to gently drag the acrylic down toward the tip of your nail and lightly flatten it down until you have covered the entire tip in an even layer.

If you need to move the acrylic around once it’s on the nail, then dipping the brush in the monomer will help you to move it around easier. 

With a second bead slightly smaller than the first, place it just above the first bead. Drag the bead towards the cuticle area without touching it, and again even it out to a smooth layer. You can go over the first acrylic bead if you have leftover acrylic. If you find that the tip area is thin, you can add a little more acrylic to the tip and drag it down your nail.

If you want to use coloured acrylic, you can put a very thin layer of clear acrylic on first, so when you have to infill them, it’ll be an easier process. Also, apply a thin layer of clear acrylic on the top of the coloured acrylic, which prevents any chipping. Apply coloured acrylic in the same way as clear acrylic.

*Pro-tip* Keep cleaning the brush 

If you allow the acrylic residue to build up in your brush, it will damage the brush and affect how the acrylic goes on your nail. 

The best way to keep on top of this is to wipe your brush after touching the nail; this may seem excessive; however, acrylic can build up in the brush very quickly and dry almost immediately. Wipe the brush on a paper towel after each time you touch your nail or place acrylic on the nail, don’t keep wiping the brush in the same part of the paper towel as it’ll start to build up.

Once you’ve finished applying the acrylic to all of your nails, you should clean your brush in the monomer. This helps remove any acrylic left in the brush so that your brush isn’t clogged up for the next time; you need to be quick to clean the brush as acrylic can dry very fast.

Stage five – Final touches

Now that you have applied the acrylic to your nails and it has dried, it is time to shape and smooth out the edges. To make sure your nails have fully dried, tap them gently, and if you hear a clicking sound, this means they have dried. This sound is hard to explain to a beginner, however, once you hear it, it’ll be easier to understand.

To shape your nails and smooth out any ridges, use a nail file with a grit of 180 – 220, as it’ll give you more control over the shape and won’t take off much length. Try to define the shape you want and if you have any bumps when applying the acrylic, then smooth out those areas. 

When you are happy with the nails’ shape and appearance, buff them to even out the nail bed and give it a smooth finish. You shouldn’t need to buff it too much as you should have evened it out when shaping it. 

Dust off your hands now that you have finished shaping and buffing your nails, and then wipe each nail with a lint-free wipe to make sure all the dust and moisture is removed before applying a topcoat.

If you have used a coloured acrylic powder, you can go straight on to applying a topcoat; if you want to paint your nails, you can do it now. With regular nail polish, use two coats to ensure that the nail is evenly covered and the polish is pigment enough. Once all the nails are painted, leave them to dry for about 15 to 20 minutes. 

When your nail polish is dry, you can apply a topcoat. You only need to apply one coat of the topcoat, but make sure to cover the edges and the tip to seal the nail polish properly. Leave to dry for 10 to 15 minutes; once it is dried, gently massage a cuticle oil or moisturiser into your cuticles and skin around the nail.

Acrylic Nails at Home: Tips & Tricks

What you need to know beforehand 

Acrylic nails aren’t as simple as they look; they do need a lot of maintenance to keep them in the best condition for as long as possible. For example, you need to get infills every two to three weeks, and if you want the best results for the longest amount of time, you need to make changes to daily activities. 

These can be simple things like wearing gloves when washing up or using harsh chemicals or reapplying a topcoat every other day. They may seem simple, but they can become very demanding if you aren’t used to them. 

When getting acrylics, you need to be aware of the products you’re using, there are illegal products available, and it may be hard to notice which ones you should be using. For example, you should only use an EMA monomer; any other monomer is too strong and can cause your nails and hands to burns and, therefore, illegal to use. 

With this, you also need to make sure you have good quality products. It’s best to do a lot of research on the products you want to buy before buying them, to make sure it is the best for what you’re looking for. You don’t need to spend a lot of money on products, but you also don’t want to buy the cheapest options as they may be bad quality, so this is important to consider before doing acrylic nails. 

It is essential to clean all your products before using them to avoid any infections. If any of the products have any sort of bacteria or harsh chemicals on them, they will be transferred onto your nails and can cause allergic reactions or, in some cases, infections. These are very serious cases but can happen to anyone, so it is very important to keep this in mind.

Tips to make it easier

Practicing acrylic beads will help make the application of acrylic a lot easier. Getting the right techniques and consistency for acrylic beads is hard to get used to, so practicing beforehand will help you become more accustomed to the idea of it. 

On average, it is advised to try doing 100 acrylic beads before doing it on a hand; however, this isn’t a must. If you get the hang of it a lot quicker, or you are only wanting to do acrylics on your own hands and aren’t fussed about getting professional results, then you don’t need to practice as much.

Allow yourself enough time to do your acrylic nails. The worse thing you could do is rush yourself or not give yourself enough time to get everything done. Acrylic nails are a complex type of manicure and, on average, take between 1 to 2 hours to do a full set, so it is important to give yourself too much time rather than not enough. Remember, you want your nails to look clean and tidy, not rushed and messy so take all the time you need. 

Start with your dominant hand. Starting with your dominant hand will help give you more control over your nails when it comes to the more complicated stages. For example, it’ll be harder to apply acrylic to your dominant hand with a set of acrylics, so doing it the other way round will make it slightly easier to keep in control of what you’re doing.

Useful youtube videos

Acrylic Nails at Home: Maintenance

How to make your acrylic nails last longer

There are a few key ways of helping your nails last longer; each of these are a simple thing you can do, so incorporating them into your daily life can help you get longer-lasting nails. Applying a topcoat layer every few days and using a cuticle oil or moisturiser regularly will help keep your acrylic nails in good condition for a lot longer. 

The topcoat will help keep the seal over the acrylic and prevent it from chipping, and the cuticle oil or moisturiser will keep your nails and hands hydrated and healthy. When it comes to acrylic nails, you want to keep your nails looking fresh, but you also want to make sure your natural nails are kept as healthy as possible as it provides a better foundation for your acrylic nails in the future.

Another simple thing that will help your nails last longer is, choosing a length you can work with. Usually, nails break because they get caught or are overused; if you have a very practical job or you know you need a manicure suitable for everyday life, choose a shape and length that is suitable for your needs. 

The most sturdy and practical shapes are square, rounded, or coffin, do not choose shapes like stiletto or almond if you need an appropriate shape for everyday tasks as they will break very easily.

How to keep your natural nails healthy

To keep your natural nails healthy, it is important to give your nails a break. Once you start getting acrylic nails, it’s hard to take them off, but it is such a crucial part of keeping your nails healthy. As mentioned earlier, with acrylic, you need to get them infilled every 2 to 3 weeks; this is to avoid your nails getting too long and breaking off.

In addition to getting infills, you should also remove your set of acrylics every 6 to 8 weeks and allow your nails to breathe. Leaving your nails in their natural state for about a week will help them rehydrate and give them some air to stop any bacteria from growing. Along with that, it’ll also strengthen them, as having acrylic on for a long time can weaken the nails.

Treating your nails and cuticles will also really help your natural nails stay healthy. When you give your nails a break from the acrylic, doing a simple manicure will help keep your cuticles and hands in good condition, and in turn, help keep your nails in better condition. You don’t need to do this regularly, but doing a manicure every so often will help replenish your hands and nails.

Acrylic Nails At Home: Removal

The best method to remove acrylic nails

There are a few methods to remove acrylic nails; the most common and safest way is to remove acrylic nails using hot water. All you need to do is put some hot water into a bowl and soak your nails for 15 to 20 minutes; if you want to make it more effective, you can place a smaller bowl filled with acetone into the hot water and soak your nails in the acetone for 10 to 15 minutes. 

These are the safest and effective ways to remove acrylic nails; if you want a more in-depth method of removing acrylic nails using these methods, check out my post on how to take off acrylic nails at home with hot water

How to do it safely

If you can, it’s best to get your acrylics removed professionally so that they use the right products. However, if you can’t get it done professionally, then it is completely safe to do it from home, as long as you follow the methods correctly so that your natural nails won’t get damaged. 

When it comes to removing acrylics, try to avoid scraping them off. If you scrap the acrylic off, it’ll most likely end up scraping off the top layers of your natural nails, which will end up weakening your nails. 

To avoid scraping your nails, make sure that the acrylic has had long enough to soak off. A good way of making the acrylic come off easier is to file the top layers before soaking them. This allows the hot water or acetone to penetrate further down into the acrylic, which will make it easier to come off. 

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