I Finally Mastered Nail Art Thanks to These Salon-Quality Nail Stickers

Samantha Driscoll
·6 min read

This is the first of our new weekly series called Test Drive, where our team of beauty experts demystify products and tools, as well as explore new techniques IRL.

Like many others, I’ve been spending most of my time at home over the last couple of weeks. Working from home definitely has its perks, one of them being more free time now that I don’t have to commute into the city every day. I probably could have been spending that time cleaning and organizing my apartment, but instead, I tasked myself with mastering salon-quality manicures at home.

While I have close to 40 bottles of nail polish (I’m always testing out new colors from the beauty closet at work!) and I’ve become pretty good at painting my own nails, one thing I’ve never been able to master is nail art. Nail artists make it look so easy, but my attempts at DIYing it have all failed miserably. I’ve tried creating negative space and two-tone nails, but my lines always come out uneven.

After seeing more and more nail stickers that each look like salon-quality manicures, I decided to give them a try. Nail stickers come in many forms: some are strips made of actual polish while others are press-on nails that require glue to bind to your natural nail. There are even stickers that are meant to be stuck on top of nail polish.

“The technology and look of press-ons and stickers has dramatically improved over the last decade,” says nail artist Madeline Poole. “You can now find options with a natural curvature, an interesting design or chic plain color, as well as an array of trendy tip shapes like squareletto (a hybrid of a stiletto and square nail) or almond.”

For most stick-on manicures, the trick is to start with clean, dry, and warm nails. “Oil is the enemy to adhesion, and if you leave lotion or grease on the nail plate your polish will chip faster, your stickers will peel and your press-ons will pop off,” Poole says. To avoid any problems, she recommends washing and drying your hands after lightly buffing the nails. Right before applying any adhesives, you should wipe your nails clean with an alcohol or acetone wipe (some nail kits, like ManiMe and Color Street, come with one).

And when it’s time to take these stick-ons off? The slower the better for press-on nails. “Some leave behind a thin layer of sticky adhesive. You can buff this off with a light buffing block and then follow with a hand wash.” For gel and polish strips, she advises liberally applying cuticle oil once the sticker comes off.

Here are five stick-on nail polish options to perfect your at-home manicure once and for all! No more sitting and waiting an hour for your nails to fully dry.

Real Polish: Color Street

If you’re looking for a quick replacement for regular nail polish, plus tons of added patterns, these are the strips fit the bill. Made of 100% real nail polish, these strips are packaged when they are 70% dry, meaning that once you open the package you will have enough time to apply each strip before they set completely. Since they are not fully dry, they can bend and form around your nail bed easily. Not only that, but they come in so many colors and patterns including plaids, florals, glitters, and tie-dyes.

Staying power: lasts up to 10 days

Buy It: Color Street Nail Strips Long Time No Sea, $13, Color Street

Custom Fit: ManiMe

Each set is custom fitted to your nails’ exact size and curve since you submit photos of your nails before placing an order online. These stickers are gel rather than polish (they are thicker than other polish stickers) so you have to work harder at pressing them firmly into the cuticle when you’re putting them on. That being said, they did fit my nail bed so much better than typical stickers thanks to the 3D modeling feature. Once you nail down the technique, putting these gels on becomes a breeze.

Staying power: Lasts up to 2 weeks

Buy It: ManiMe Getting Red-Y, $17, ManiMe

Gel Mani: Dashing Diva

Another gel manicure alternative, these gel strips don’t wrinkle easily as you’re putting them on. Each pack does come with plenty of extra strips to best match the size of each nail. I’ve found that it always works better to size down rather than up, since you’re the only person that’s going to notice any exposed nail that the sticker doesn’t cover. The best part of this kit is that it comes with a base color and three pattern options, so you can add a fun accent nail—or three!

Staying power: Lasts up to 2 weeks

Buy It: Dashing Diva Gloss Gel Strips in Feeling Flush, $9, Dashing Diva

Press-On Alternative: Impress

If nail polish strips aren’t your thing, or if you’re looking for an acrylic nail replacement, these press-on nails are the closest at-home alternative. Each individual nail has an adhesive backing (Instead of glue, it’s a dual-layered sticker: one layer binds to the press-on nail and the other binds to your natural nail to hold it in place) which makes the application process so much easier since all you have to do is remove the plastic backing before pressing the nail down. Even better, these press-ons are thinner than others and look a lot more natural once they are on your nail. When you’re ready to take these off, it’s important to not pull it straight up or you’ll risk damaging your nail bed. Instead, gently lift from the side of the nail, and if it’s still stuck then use an acetone nail polish remover to help ease the removal process.

Staying power: Lasts up to 7 days

Buy It: Impress Press-on Manicure Harlem Shake, $7.99, imPRESS

Sweet Stickers: Olive & June

For the days your regular polish just needs a little extra pizzazz, this sticker pack contains a mix of rainbows, daisies, and hearts. To make sure the stickers stay on as long as possible, press them onto your nail after applying your polish but before your top coat. Once you’ve pressed all of the stickers on each of your nails—or your accent nail if you want just one—seal the nail polish and sticker with a clear top coat (this helps make sure the sticker won’t snag on anything you might accidentally hit with your hand).

Staying power: Should last as long as your polish lasts with a top coat

Buy It: Olive & June Loveliest Day Nail Art Stickers, $7.50, Olive & June