Why Use Acrylic Paints for Nailart?

acrylic paint folk artUp until three months ago I had never used acrylic paints for nailart.  I didn’t even know that was an option. But when a fellow nailartist recommended I give them a go I went to the local art shop and bought a few tubes of acrylic paint by folkArt – a red, blue, yellow, black and white – and went home to try them out.

I couldn’t really see why they would make any difference, I was getting on just fine with nail varnish and nailart pens after all, but I’m always keen to try new techniques, and this was one I’m certainly glad I did.

What I discovered totally transformed my experience of nailart.

1. Waste not, want not

Using nail varnish, I was often reluctant to try an intricate design as I knew how much polish I would waste – pouring out small amounts of varnish onto a palette and then using a tiny brush or dotting tool to transfer the correct amount of paint to my nail.  I knew I needed to work fast as the polish would dry so fast on the palette, turning thick and gloopy and would therefore need frequent top ups.

Compare this scenario to using acrylic paint – you squeeze some out onto a palette and it stays the perfect consistency for over an hour, allowing you to work at your own pace.  If it does start to dry up, just add a small amount of water to thin it out.

2. See your true colours

With acrylic paints you can mix the exact colour you want with ease and accuracy – beautiful pastel shades by adding white, murky colours by adding the opposite hue – the possibilities are endless.

colour wheel

3. The best mistake you’ve ever made

Have you ever done a design and had to start all over again after making a mistake – painstakingly reapplying your base coat and two coats of your background colour?  Well if you can make the properties of varnish and acrylics work for you, you won’t have to again.  Paint your base coat and background colour with nail varnish and do your detailed design in acrylics, and any errors with the acrylic paint can be wiped off with water and won’t upset the varnish.

4. Pure concentrate

When doing a gradient or ombre with nail varnish, you often need to apply three of four layers to see the richness of the colours.  However, with acrylic paint, just dabbing one layer of colour gives you a strong, vibrant and faster finish.

Rainbow Gradient Nails

5. No messing around

Every girl knows how frustrating it can be waiting for nails to dry.  Well, with acrylic paint, though it dries slowly on a palette, it dries almost immediately on your nails!  In addition to the obvious benefit of being out the door soon after painting, another plus is that if you make a mistake you can paint straight over it and it doesn’t form a thicker section that then takes even longer to dry.  It also means that if there is a second or third part of the design which requires sticking striping tape onto your nail, you needn’t wait for an age before applying it.

Illusion stripe nails

6. Cheap and cheerful

Acrylic paint is a lot cheaper than nail varnish and goes much further too, plus with the options of colours you can mix, there’s no need to fork out for all the different shades.

7. It won’t get under your skin

When doing a gradient with nail varnish it can be an absolute bore to try and remove any that ends up on your skin.


When using acrylic paints however, after applying top coat to your nails, you can simply rinse your hands and any water based acrylic paint that went on your skin will wash right off.

8. To top it off

Not only does acrylic paint dry super quickly, but after putting a normal top coat on your nails to seal in your design, the top coat will dry much faster too.  You may need to use a few layers of top coat however, especially when using light shades, as acrylic paint isn’t quite as hard wearing as nail varnish, but if sealed in correctly, your design can still last up to a week. And an extra couple of layers of top coat is a small price to pay for quick and striking designs.

My technique

So those are the benefits of using acrylic paint – but where to start?

Here’s some advice on 10 Tools for Nailart with Acrylic Paint which outlines what equipment you’ll need and where you can buy it.

Now for the method…

When using acrylic paint I will always put on a clear base coat, followed by two coats of white nail varnish.  This is like canvas preparation.  It provides an opaque backdrop and will make the colours of the acrylic paint stand out and seem brighter.  I have tried using just white acrylic paint as the background but it came out too translucent.  Depending on my design, I will sometimes put a layer of white acrylic paint over the two coats of white nail varnish so that my canvas dries faster, as it will mean I can start painting a design or sticking striping tape over my nails straightaway.

Take a look at my Love Nails Tutorial to see acrylic paints in action.

Valentine's Day Love Nails

I hope that’s helped explain why acrylic paints are so fundamental to nailart. Let me know if you decide to give them a go and how you get on.


29 thoughts on “Why Use Acrylic Paints for Nailart?

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  6. I’ve been using acrylic paint for nail art for 2 years now and I LOVE it!!! It’s so easy. I’ve never used polish because I knew it would such hard work. So I always recommend my follower’s to use them. 🙂 Great post.

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  9. I’m pretty new to nailart and have only just discovered using acrylic paint over nail polish. But I have been using gel polish ALOT and I love it as its hard wearing and I have 3 children to rum around after.
    My question is can you use acrylic paint on top of gel polish and can you seal it in with a top coat of gel polish cured under an LED lamp? X

    • Hi Elspeth, so pleased you’re enjoying painting your nails and able to find time with 3 children – wow that’s very impressive! Sadly I’ve never used gel polish so can’t answer your question but all I can say is give it a go!! I’ve made many a trial and error and always learn something even if they don’t turn out quite as expected!! Xx

  10. Hi! Thank you for your insight and tips! I am a nail polish user and I have been wanting to try this, but just haven’t after reading this, its really made me want to try it!
    Just a quick question.. if I apply gel or acrylic powder on my nails before using the paint, will it still work?

    • Hi Kim, so pleased you’re up for trying this. Highly recommended! I’m afraid I’ve never used gel so can’t advise on that sadly. Let me know if it works though!!

  11. I’m going to use the folkart like what you used I’m curious when you use it do you need to dilute it first? Some acrylic paint people use for their nails they dilute it before applying to nails. This brand folkart do you need to dilute it or can use straight from the bottle thanks!!! And great article

    • Glad you liked the article! I don’t dilute the folkart paint unless I leave it on the palette for so long it starts to go hard but even then you only need a tiny bit of water. Hope that helps!!

      • Awesome! Coz some you need diluted first. Considering you are an artist then it means the consistency is great! May I ask where you bought your paint? Coz I want to buy from Amazon but scared of getting a dry one . Thanks again for the fast reply 🙂

      • I saw folkart acrylic paint and it says enamel? Is that the same as what you used the bottle don’t look the sand lol but would that work too

      • Hmmm, I’m not sure. It looks like it’s still acrylic paint but for glass. I’m guessing it would still do the job but just might be more expensive

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