A-Z Nail Glossary & Terminology For Nail Art [2023]

nail art supplies terms and uses

Nail art has become increasingly popular in recent years, with more and more people experimenting with different designs and styles.

If you're new to the world of nail art, you may be wondering what all the different terms mean.

To help you out, we've put together a nail art glossary with definitions of some of the most common terms.

Nail Art Glossary & Terminology Of Nail Art Supplies


This is a product that is used to remove nail polish. Acetone is a colorless solvent that breaks down & dissolves the nail polish so that it can be removed from the nail.


Acrylic nails are one of the very first products that nail techs have used for nail art enhancements. Acrylic nails use acrylic powder and a monomer.

Once the nail art brush is dipped into the monomer, the acrylic powder is picked up and applied to the nail. Acrylic powder can be used on a natural nail and also nail tips.

Acrylic powder can be molded into many shapes and dries hard.

Autoclave Sterilizer

An autoclave sterilizer is a machine for nail technicians that kills harmful bacteria with steam that is under pressure. This machine will sterilize nail art supplies that have different shapes and crevasses that can't be properly cleaned by hand.

This machine is one of the best pieces of equipment to have in a nail salon or studio because it will sterilize tools quickly and effectively between clients.

Builder Gel

Builder gel is a viscous gel that is used to create length and strength. Builder gel is a lot thicker than regular gel polish. Builder gel is created from monomers and other ingredients that keep the gel workable until it's cured under a lamp.

Once cured, there is a sticky layer called the inhibition layer that can be removed with a gel remover or isopropyl alcohol.

During the cure process, the gel hardens and creates a strong layer on the nail or nail form. The best way to remove builder gel is by carefully filing it off. It cannot be removed by regular acetone.

Builder gel comes in a pot, or brush on from a bottle depending on the brand you choose. Read our article about builder gel tips & FAQ's to learn more about using builder gel.

builder gel

Cat Eye Gel Polish

Cat eye nail polish is formulated with finely milled pigments that can be moved around with a magnet. When the light hits the polish, it creates a multi-dimensional look that appears to shift in the light. Cat eye gel polish requires a cure lamp.

cat eye gel polish

Dried Flowers

Dried flowers for nail art can be used in many different ways. You can embed the dried flowers into a builder gel. Or you can cut tiny pieces off of the flowers to place on top of a manicure, then go over with polish or gel to smooth them out.

Look for dried flowers that lay flat and are small enough to fit on to the nail. Read more about dried flowers for nail art.

dried flowers for nail art

Eco Glitter

Eco glitter is made from plant cellulose, which is mainly sourced from the eucalyptus trees.

Eco glitter is often coated with an ultra thin layer of plastic for shine so the term eco friendly may be misleading.

E-file Or Nail Drill

An E-file is an electric tool that is used for filing nail and removing gel, acrylic and other nail art. This manicure tool uses bits that come in many different sizes, shapes and grit. 

Empty Nail Polish Bottles

Empty nail polish bottles are good to have on hand for those times when you are mixing your own polishes or blending polish colors that you already have.

When shopping for empty nail polish bottles, sometimes they will come with the agitator balls and with other sets you will need to purchase the balls separately.

Extension Nail Gel In A Pot

This is almost like a builder gel and is used to extend the length of a nail using a form. Extension nail gel can also be used for embedding nail art decorations and glitter.

This product requires a cure lamp. The consistency is thick but not so thick that it can't be brushed onto the nail.

Gel Polish

Gel polish is a formula that is created with monomers that requires a UV or LED cure light to set. When a gel polish is applied correctly it will give a manicure that can last up to 4 weeks without chipping.

Gel Polish In A Pot

Gel polish in a pot is a formula that is like regular gel polish but comes in a solid instead of a bottle. A UV or LED cure light to set. When this type of gel polish is applied correctly it will give a manicure that can last up to 4 weeks without chipping.


Glitter for nails comes in many different sizes and brilliant colors that are made sparkle in the light. Glitter can be made from natural earth elements like stones, mica & malachite, and also glass.

Plastics, polyester and polyethylene and cellophane are common glitters found in nail art supplies.

Many types of glitter are made by coating a thin sheet of plastic with pigments. The sheet is then cut into shapes. Do be aware that using craft grade glitters might not have used cosmetic grade colorants.

loose glitter for nails


Lacquer is a type of nail polish that is formulated to be more durable than regular nail polish. The formula is also a bit thicker than a regular nail polish so it's less prone to chipping.

Lacquer is a solvent based coating and can be removed with regular nail polish remover. It does not require a uv light to set.

Nail Polish

Nail polish is a solvent based coating that is used to decorate nails. Today's nail polish formulas will provide a flexible and strong coating to the natural nail.

To help a nail polish manicure last as long as possible, always use a top coat. Nail polish will normally last for about 1 week before it starts to chip and crack.

Nail Serum

A nail serum is a fortified liquid that helps revitalize your nails and cuticle area. The best nail serums are all natural and have extra emollients like vitamin e & natural oils. 

Using a nail serum at night is the best way to keep your hands looking their best.

Nail Tips Gel

Nail tips gel is a medium that allows you to apply a gelly nail tip with a UV lamp or make nail art designs by using it as a UV glue. See our tutorial how to use nail tips gel.

nail tips gel

Manicure Tools

These are tools to create nail art designs. Manicure tools can be made from stainless steel to orange sticks that push back the cuticles.

No matter what manicure sets you use, it's very important to learn how to keep nail art tools clean and disinfected.


Period after opening. This is a term used by nail brands to let you know how long their product can be optimally used after opening. The range can be 12 months to about 16 months depending on the product. The expiry date will can sometimes be on the outer packaging or in very small writing on the product itself.


Pigments are colorants used to create nail polish, gel polish, acrylic powders and nail art. Nail polish brands use mica, oxides, ultramarines and glitter to color their polishes.

Many kinds of pigments are available to DIY nail artists in a vast array of colors and milling sizes. Finely milled pigments will disperse evenly in a gel medium or polish base.

Rhinestones & Gems

Used for decorating nails. It is important that when using rhinestones and gems that they are totally secured onto the nail. Using a proper rhinestone nail glue that is specifically made for this kind of nail art application is recommended.

Silicone Practice Hand

A silicone practice hand (or foot) is created by using a real hand to make the form with silicone. They can be reused over and over for practicing nail art. 

The best silicone practice hands will look lifelike, will be able to bend the fingers and are made with high quality silicone that will not degrade when using acetone, cleaners or acrylic powders.

When choosing a practice hand look for a hand that has enough room in the cuticle area to slide up the nail form. Read up on how to clean silicone practice hands and how to choose a silicone practice hand.

silicone practice hand

Solid Nail Tips Gel

This medium is a very thick and viscous gel that is used to adhere a nail tip onto the natural nail to extend the length.

This gel can also be used to glue on nail art rhinestones. A UV lamp is required to cure the gel. Solid nail tips gel will usually come in a pot. See the tutorial on how to use solid nail tips gel.

solid nail tips gel

Train Cases and Organizers

A train case is a mobile unit that nail techs use to carry nail art supplies. A train case is especially handy for a nail tech who has a mobile nail art business.

The best train cases will have wheels for easy mobility and lots of storage. Choose a case that has a hard shell for easy cleaning. 

Waterslide Nail Decals

Water nail decals, also known as water transfer nail decals or waterslide decals, are nail art designs that are printed onto thin paper sheets using waterproof inks.

Waterslide decals come in many different designs including glitter & 3D stickers. See the tutorial: how to apply waterslide nail decals.

waterslide nail decals

Yellow Staining

Yellow staining can be caused by either nail polish or a medical reason. When staining is caused by nail polish, it is usually shades of red and some blue colors that are most likely to cause the natural nail to have a yellow tinge.

In Conclusion

We hope this list helps you with your nail art supplies search.

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nail art glossary and terms