Everything You Need to Know About Getting 3D Nail Art

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I’ve long wanted to try 3D nail art, but I never thought the textured look would work for me. As Glamour’s junior art designer, I’m constantly drawing, so I prefer to keep my nails short. My teensy tiny studio apartment doesn’t have a dishwasher, which means I'm always washing dishes and exposing my nails to damage. To top it all off, I also play the viola, so all nail tips, charms, and gems end up getting in the way.

My nail envy deepened after I saw some of my favorite celebs wearing textured manicures. From Lizzo’s Barbiecore look to Megan Fox's holographic jelly set, textured manicures have popped up all over my feed. I’ve accepted that I’ll never be able to wear long nails, but wouldn’t my short nails look just as good with a 3D design? I decided to bite the bullet and find out. Feeling inspired, I made an appointment at Akiko Nails in New York City's Chinatown to learn everything about textured 3D manicures.

What is 3D nail art?

Three-dimensional nail art was popularized in South Korea and Japan, emerging from the Harajuku fashion movement. Nail artist Isa Rodriguez is one of many technicians who specialize in textured designs. “When it comes to the appeal of 3D nail art, it's about taking nail creativity to another level,” she says. “3D and textured designs, popularized by Asian nail artists, offer a whole new way to tell visual stories.”

Rodriguez, who trained in Tokyo, has assisted manicurists backstage at New York Fashion Week for designers like Dion Lee, Collina Strada, and Thom Browne. One of her celebrity clients includes Emily Ratajkowski, who left the studio with a witchy serpent-inspired set.

When I arrived at my appointment, I wasn’t offered a book of gel swatches. Instead I sat down with Rodriguez and showed her some inspiration pictures. We talked through the intended look, my style, and favorite colors. Other than that, I let Rodriguez take the lead. She chose cool earth tones, pieces of seashells, glass, and warm chrome accents. It was like she looked into my eyes and could see the jars of collected sea glass I have on display in my childhood bedroom.

Rodriguez advises clients to come in with an open mind and not to ask to copy the exact work of another manicurist. Poke around online and browse nail artists before making an appointment: “We all have our own style and techniques,” Rodriguez says.

Nail artist Miki Higuchi, who works with the likes of Ariana Grande and Liz Gillies, agrees and points to her own unique style. “I get inspired by paintings, nature, vintage objects and jewelers,” she says. Higuchi describes her designs as playful and ethereal, using tons of gems, stones, and textures to make each finger its own work of art.

How do nail artists create 3D nail art?

Rodriguez started with a basic gel manicure using Presto gel pots. To achieve the chrome look, she applied black polish mixed with a thicker gel on a thin brush to establish the shape and height of the design, before brushing the chrome powder on. “The black helps the chrome really pop,” she says.

While the nail art felt a bit heavy at first, I got used to them by the second day. “My go-to technique is flash-curing 3D textures with a handheld UV LED light right after sculpting to ‘freeze’ the design, and sealing in charms with a layer of soft builder gel before the top coat,” Rodriguez explains. “The double coat is the ultimate key to having charms last a month or more.” If you wear rings, take into account how the height of your nails may affect your accessorizing.

Rodriguez creating my 3D nail art at Akiko Nails
Rodriguez creating my 3D nail art at Akiko Nails

What is the difference between natural nail art and 3D press-ons?

3D manicures can be built directly on natural nails or built on to press-ons, which can be prepared ahead of time. My manicure was built directly on my natural nails.

For press-ons, Higuchi swears by Apres Extensions to build the design. To prep the nails for press-ons, she gently pushes back the cuticle, buffs the nail bed, and wipes nails with acetone to remove any oil. She then applies double-sided tape, advising not to use cuticle oil or moisturizer after, since it can ruin the adhesive.

If your 3D manicure is going directly on your natural nails, use cuticle oil to keep your natural nails hydrated and healthy so they won’t break under the textured design. To create a strong base, Rodriguez cleaned my nails and trimmed my cuticles to improve the staying power of the gel.

How much does 3D nail art cost?

Expect an appointment to run for a minimum of an hour and up to three depending on the complexity of your design. Prices vary and can range anywhere from $75 to $300.

How do you maintain 3D nail art?

This manicure is meant to last: Nails done exceptionally by a professional will last up to three weeks, and press-ons can last up to two weeks with good care. I followed a few simple rules laid out by Rodriguez and Higuchi to ensure my manicure lasted the longest it could, including limiting my hand sanitizer use (instead opting for an antibacterial soap) and continually moisturizing my hands.

“I truly believe that nailing the prep, choosing the right products, and using a gentle removal process make up 90% of the recipe for a long-lasting mani,” says Rodriguez. Higuchi agrees and recommends protecting your nails from any damage. “Wear gloves when you do household chores, and don’t use your nails as tools, like for opening cans or packages,” she adds.

By the time I returned for removal two weeks later, my 3D nail art was still completely intact. “If chips or lifting do happen, skip the DIY fix and head to a pro ASAP,” Rodriguez says. “Messing with a damaged manicure is dangerous territory. And peeling off gel nails or fiddling with intricate 3D designs can damage the health of your nails, making future manis even shorter-lived.”

My finished 3D nail art look
My finished 3D nail art look

How do I remove 3D nail art?

Don’t get crafty—leave it to the professionals. During removal, an e-file—a professional drill—is used to break the gel seal, followed by an e-file with a smaller attachment to work away at the spaces under and around the adhered stones. After the seal is broken, stones and charms are gently removed with two sets of pliers. My nails were shaped and built with gel; therefore, the removal process was easier and took about 30 minutes.

Once my nails were bare and fresh, it was time to select the next design. For winter, Rodriguez and Higuchi are loving 3D chrome French tips, bows, futuristic short nails, and cutout shapes. “My next dream project is making my own nail zine, an art book,” says Higuchi. “I want people to know that you can express a lot of things with nails.”

Originally Appeared on Glamour