They’re some of the most important tools in your arsenal—but which brushes are best for the task at hand, and how can you prolong their performance? Check out these important tips and product picks.
Whether you’re applying gel, acrylic, polish or nail art, there’s a common denominator in virtually all of your services: brushes. “The brushes you use can make or break your outcome when doing nails.But what types should you select, and how can you keep them operating at peak performance over the long haul? Start brushing up on your know-how with these expert insights.
The bristles of nail brushes are made from natural animal hair (usually kolinsky or sable), synthetic fibers or a combination of both. Each tech has her own preferences when it comes to what works best and when. That’s why Analiese advocates trying as many brushes for each application as possible to find the ones that work best for you.
Natural animal-hair brushes can outlast synthetics—and, if gel is accidentally cured into the bristles, it can be removed, notes Amy Becker, CEO and artistic director of Masterworks by Amy Becker in Cedarburg, Wisconsin, who prefers kolinsky for its performance and longevity. Analiese also gravitates toward natural kolinsky bristles for acrylics, explaining that they hold enough monomer to create the correct product ratio, and, therefore, the best beading. Analiese selects synthetic for gels because they maintain shape and a wider synthetic model for fast lacquer application.
It’s best to stock a range of brush sizes to handle any task. King scouts craft stores to sample different sizes and shapes of brushes for nail art—often selecting a thin brush with bristles about the length of a fingernail for painting lines (the extra length adds control), and shorter bristles for painting details like flowers. For acrylic, she prefers a smaller brush, applying three beads of acrylic per nail. “I can control the product around the cuticle better and perfect my work to do less filing,” Artists explains. “But larger brush sizes definitely speed up application time.”
Analiese also designates brushes for each job (full-coverage, blending, detailing or one-stroke) and for different product types, such as lacquer, gel and acrylic, but generally prefers smaller sizes. “I make sure the brush is not too big (larger than the nail itself), which helps with product control,” Analiese notes. “Sometimes we think if we go big it’ll shorten our application time, and sometimes it does, but then we need to correct application issues or waste a ton of product.”
For gels, keeps it simple: a #5 flat oval kolinsky brush. Any smaller, and a tech can’t pick up enough product to do a single nail application, which adds more service time and may introduce excess bubbles into the gel. “I prefer flat oval over square or round brushes because it mimics the shape of the cuticle area and offers better control. Plus, you can keep the gel on one side of the brush,” Nail Artist says. She recommends keeping three separate brushes—one each for pink-and-whites, gel polishes and glitters—to avoid accidentally melding colors.