Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Tutorial: Gradient 101

I love doing gradients. It's fun to mix colors, they add complexity to even the simplest nail art, and are really fun (and easy!) to do. I posted the gradient below on my Instagram last week, and got an overwhelmingly positive response. A lot of the success of this gradient is due to choosing colors that go well together, and fade naturally, but I must admit that I've done enough gradients to have come up with a few tips and tricks that might help others. So, I decided to put together a gradient tutorial!

I realize everyone and their mom has either made or used another gradient tutorial at some point, but like I said, I've come up with some variations on what I followed when I first got started, and why not throw my hat in the ring. If you're in a hurry, you can just take a look at the pictorial below, but I really recommend reading the detailed steps beneath the photo.

Supplies: make up sponge, clean up brush, pure acetone, polish/acrylic paint for gradient, white/light neutral polish for base, quick drying top coat

Step 1: Paint your base color.
If the "first" color of your gradient (the color closest to your cuticle) is a very light or neutral color, (as shown in the pictorial and photo below) start out by painting your entire nail that color. If your're doing a gradient of all dark, bright, or neon colors, start with a white base--it will make your colors pop. Then, top with a quick drying top coat. This will keep your makeup sponge from sticking to your base!

Step 2: Paint your gradient colors on your makeup sponge.
Paint all the colors in your gradient in thin, barely touching lines directly onto the makeup sponge. If you used one of your gradient colors as your base, paint that color on the sponge too--this will help with blending.

Step 3: Apply sponge to nail.
Gently sponge the painted side of the sponge onto your nail several times, ensuring that the color is applied across the entire width of your nail. I will usually sponge press the sponge down 5-8 times, depending on which nail and how wide it is. Sponging repeatedly (rather than just one) will help you blend the colors.

Steps 4 & 5: Repeat!
Don't worry if your colors are faint or sheer after the first sponged coat. Trying to continually apply the same coat of polish will not help, and will probably end up lifting some of the polish you've already applied! Instead, let the first coat dry completely, then paint a new coat of polish onto your sponge, and apply multiple coats. Here I've done three, but it has taken up to five coats for me to do this in the past! Sponging on color in multiple coats won't build up as quickly as applying multiple coats normally, so you don't really have to worry about the polish getting thick or goopy. 

Step 6: Clean up, top coat, and embellish!
Dip a small make up brush (I love the elf small concealer brush, available at Target for $1) into pure acetone to clean up the skin surrounding your nail. I absolutely do NOT recommend using pure acetone for normal polish removal--it is extremely drying, and will just make your nails sad. But, for targeted cuticle clean up, it's definitely the most efficient route. Once you've removed the excess polish from your skin, apply a coat of your quick drying top coat. This will seal in your mani, and also help (slightly) with blending the colors. Finally, if you want to, embellish your mani with studs or glitter!

Ta da! You're all set with an eye catching mani! 

What do you think? Do you have any secret tips for achievement the perfect gradient? 


  1. The first gradient still makes me go crazy. Such a perfect color choice!

  2. I love your gradients with the nude bottom color, they look so elegant :D Great tutorial -- gradients seem easy but they're actually pretty difficult to get right!

    1. Thank you! I'm a total nude polish junkie, so you're likely to see a lot of them.