Acrylic or Gel Manicure? DIY Perfect Nails at Home

by Aprill Coleman and Caroline Harris

Acrylic or Gel Manicure? DIY Perfect Nails at Home
Shop Story

Get a salon-quality manicure in the comfort of your own home. Creating your own nail design can be fun! All you need are some at-home professional nail essentials to pull it off. From sleek red nail designs to glittery nail art, every look is possible with the right DIY materials. After this mini mani guide, you’ll be able to achieve acrylic or gel nails that are the envy of every party.


But first, get to know the differences between acrylic nails and gel nails. Whether you’re the type that wouldn’t dare to show off her natural nails or simply want to try something new, we’re spilling the deets on these nail trends. Should you go with gel nails, or are acrylics more your thing? Here’s the 411 below.



Acrylic Nails


What are Acrylic Nails?


Acrylics, the most popular artificial nail, are a combination of a liquid and powder that creates a hard, protective layer over the natural nail. A nail tip is applied to the nail, then a ball is created by dipping a brush into liquid monomer and placing the wet brush in powder polymer. This ball is placed on the nail bed and patted into place using liquid monomer. The finished product is cured, normally by air drying.



Pros and Cons of Acrylic Nails


Acrylics are very popular at the nail salon, but you can emulate this sleek style at home. Tansy Breshears, a licensed cosmetologist and nail artist, noted that the biggest benefit of acrylic nails is durability. “Acrylic is so, so strong. It lets you…manage whatever’s going on with less worry of cracks, breaks, and lifting because it’s so resilient.”


On the downside, acrylics can look unnatural if applied incorrectly. These nails are also very difficult to remove without damaging the nail bed, which means you have to refill every few weeks or suffer the growing out period of your damaged natural nails after removal. Some workplaces also don’t allow acrylic nails due to the hygiene hazard of long nails, which can trap dirt and debris. Acrylics also emit a very strong smell during the application process because of the chemicals involved. Make sure you have plenty of ventilation!



Gel Nails



What are gel nails?


Gel nails are quickly becoming one of the most popular forms of artificial nail application. In order to achieve gel nails, a nail tip is first applied if the length of the nails needs to be extended. Then two to three layers of gel nail polish are applied with each layer being cured using a UV lamp. The nail is then filed and polished with the desired color or decorated with nail art.



Pros and Cons of Gel Nails


Gel nails have a more natural look with a glossy finish. Unlike acrylics, if the nails are primed correctly, there is no damage to the nail bed. Gel nails cure faster than acrylic nails since they are cured under UV light. Gel nails are also more flexible than acrylic nails. There is no odor, and gel nails can easily be removed with no damage to the nail bed by soaking in acetone.


Gel nails also have a downside. Because UV light is involved, there is a concern that this exposure to UV light could increase your risk of skin cancer. Breshears noted that gel is not as strong as acrylic, and gel nails are sometimes prone to peeling. “Neither of those materials can take the beating that acrylic enhancements can,” Breshears says.


Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide which nail type is for you, based on your lifestyle, budget and personal taste. Since acrylic and gel nails both have their own set of benefits and weaknesses, giving each one a trial run might help you make your decision.


Check out these YouTube tutorials to give you some pointers and Instagram posts for inspiration. Then collect the products you need to DIY the perfect nails at home.



Acrylic Nails: Tutorial and Instagram Inspiration






Gel Nails: Tutorial and Instagram Inspiration








1 of 15 Image Credits: Amazon

Ophanie Electric Nail Drill Set for Acrylic Nails


Maintain flawless fingers by shaping and trimming your nails with an electric drill set. Polish your nails to a shiny surface, and remove your calluses.

What Reviewers Are Saying:
This product is excellent for a home manicure or pedicure. At first it was tricky to know which tips to use at what speed, and at what angle to hold the device. With a little practice it got much easier. My nails grow very fast and I use this to file my nails down, then I use a nail file to get the corners how I like.

2 of 15 Image Credits: Ulta

Acrylic Mani: Step 1 - Shape, Trim and Clean Nail Bed

Red Carpet Manicure Tool Kit


Make sure you have the right brushes to apply your acrylic powders on to your nail. These brushes are perfect for customizing your nails with all the stylish flair you could ever want.

What Reviewers Are Saying:
This brush kit is so great and has lots of potential. It is exactly what I needed to do a French tip and so much more.

3 of 15 Image Credits: Amazon

Acrylic Mani: Step 2 - Get the Nail Art Brushes

AORAEM 500pcs Lady French Acrylic Style Artificial False Nails


Glue nail tips to each of your nails. Then trim and file as needed to match the nail tips to your natural nail shape. Don’t forget to buff down and blend the top of the nail ledge after applying the tips. After a quick and easy application, your nails will be prepped and primed.

What Reviewers Are Saying:
Stop searching for a better deal and buy these nail tips. They're super sturdy and thick, plus I doubt I'll run out anytime soon.

4 of 15 Image Credits: Amazon

Acrylic Mani: Step 3 - Apply & Prep the Nail Tips

Mia Secret Mia Secret Liquid Monomer 8 oz.


Create a ball by dipping a brush into liquid monomer then placing the wet brush in powder polymer. Apply the ball to your nail bed, then pat the ball into place using a liquid monomer. In the future, to swap out the design on top of this clear layer, you can buff down to just the clear layer and apply the new design on top again.

What Reviewers Are Saying:
I started doing my own nails. Although it took a lot of practice and I'm still learning, Mia Secret is the brand I've decided to stick with. This is my second time buying a refill of this monomer, which is now my go-to.

5 of 15 Image Credits: Amazon

Acrylic Mani: Step 4 - Apply a Clear Acrylic Layer

Glam and Glits Acrylic Powder Color Blend Collection


Create a colored ball with the color acrylic and monomer liquid, and apply on top of the clear acrylic layer. Here’s a hack: If you want to mix in the glitter acrylic with the color, see the product below in Step 6 to mix and apply together in one layer.

What Reviewers Are Saying:
This is the most lovely red velvet shade for nails. I love it. The color is great for Valentine’s Day nails, and any other occasion where you would want red nails.

6 of 15 Image Credits: Amazon

Acrylic Mani: Step 5 - Apply an Acrylic Color Layer

Beauty On Line Color Glitter Powder Dust


Add in the glitter acrylic accents on top of the color. Then repeat Step 4 again to apply a clear layer on top of the colored and glitter acrylic. After it dries, file the nail edges. Then wipe the dust with a damp paper towel.

What Reviewers Are Saying:
I love it! This glitter is great. It’s very fine, with bright colors and no need to repeat the application. All of the containers were about ¾ of the way full. I use my glitter for nail art, and I’m very satisfied. I would definitely recommend this product and would purchase it again.

7 of 15 Image Credits: Amazon

Acrylic Mani: Step 6 - Accent with Glitter

Kiara Sky Soak Off Gel Polish Non Wipe Top Coat


Apply this top coat on top of all the acrylic layers. And voila, you’re done.

What Reviewers Are Saying:
I am a nail technician, and this is the best gel top coat I've ever used. It’s so unbelievably shiny.

8 of 15 Image Credits: Amazon

Acrylic Mani: Step 7 - Apply the Top Coat

Gadgets Entrepot Nail Art Base Coat and Top Coat


Create a strong foundation for your polish with a gel base coat. This set includes a top coat as well, so after completing Step 4, use the gel top coat to complete your manicure.

What Reviewers Are Saying:
This is my first time doing gel nails, which I started creating on my own to save money. I am very pleased with this base coat and top coat. The instructions are simple and I’ve had my polish on for a week now, with no chipping or other issues. The top coat is so shiny, and every day it looks like I have brand new nails. This product saves me an extra step because I don’t have to wipe the sticky part off the top coat. It’s an amazing product for the price.

9 of 15 Image Credits: Amazon

Gel Manicure: Step 1 - Apply a Gel Base Coat

Gellen New Gel Polish Set


Shine on with a metallic manicure. From purple glitter to silver shimmer, metallic nails are perfect for anytime of year.

What Reviewers Are Saying:
These are nice colors and they are not too loud. They’re great contrasting colors when matched with others. I’m very satisfied with my purchase and will be buying more in the future.

10 of 15 Image Credits: Amazon

Gel Manicure: Step 2 - Paint with Metallic Gel Polish

Gellen UV Gel Nail Polish


White nails are a fun look that have great visual impact. Keep it classic and paint all your nails white, or incorporate some metallic accents. Who doesn’t love a little sparkle on top?

What Reviewers Are Saying:
This gel nail polish is designed to be used with LED nail dryers. The polish goes on smoothly, dries quickly and stays put for a long time. My current nails are going strong for the third week in a row. This product saved me money and time for sure.

11 of 15 Image Credits: Amazon

Gel Manicure: Step 3 - For White Nails, Try This Stylish Polish

Kiara Sky Matching Gel Polish and Nail Lacquer


Go for the gold in the shiniest polish of the season.

What Reviewers Are Saying:
I love this gel polish.

12 of 15 Image Credits: Amazon

Gel Manicure: Step 4 - Add an Accent Nail for Fun Flair



Dry your freshly painted manicure with a salon-quality UV LED nail lamp. You’ll have four drying options to choose from, and the comfortable white light is safe for your eyes. This advanced technology will soon become your go-to.

What Reviewers Are Saying:
I used this UV LED Nail Lamp as a beginner to gel nails. It works like a gem. Helpful instructions are included.

13 of 15 Image Credits: Amazon

Gel Manicure: Step 5 - Let Your Nails Dry

Diamond DIY Rhinestone Beads


Customize your manicure with sparkling decals that will elevate your look from great to glamorous. Make sure to apply these when your gel polish is still tacky.

What Reviewers Are Saying:
I love doing my own nail art and sometimes I like to use larger rhinestones as accent pieces on my nails. This is a beautiful set of 100 gems.

14 of 15 Image Credits: Walmart

Gel Manicure: Step 6 - Accessorize with Sparkling Decals

Equate Sterile Alcohol Prep Pads, 100 Count


Gel polish has a tacky layer when it’s done curing. Use a sterilized alcohol prep pad to wipe off the tacky layer on top of the gel polish. Make sure to use different wipes for your nails to maintain each nail’s brightness.

What Reviewers Are Saying:
I'm giving this product a thumbs up. The alcohol prep pad works great, and doesn't fall apart like other generic brands.

15 of 15 Image Credits: Sephora

Gel Manicure: Step 7 - Remove the Tacky Layer

L’Occitane Shea Nail and Cuticle Oil


Wait at least a minute after using a sterilized alcohol prep pad, then apply cuticle oil. This product deeply conditions your cuticles and makes your nails shinier.

What Reviewers Are Saying:
I never thought I would buy a dedicated nail and cuticle moisturizer. But I tried this on a whim in the store on some truly horrific nails. My nails were splitting almost down to the nail bed in spots after an ill-advised gel job. Suddenly the splits closed up and stayed clean for at least 12 hours from one application. This product is definitely going on my love list for the future.