If you've ever gotten your nails done before, then you're likely familiar with acrylics. They have long been one of the most popular types of nail enhancements. They're also referred to as L+P (liquid and powder) because, as nail artist Lauren Denney points out, liquid and powder are key to their creation. "Acrylic nails are a combination of liquid monomer and acrylic powder (polymer)," she explains. "When you mix the liquid with the powder, a polymerization process takes place and hardens, which sets the acrylic."
Like polygel nails, acrylic nails are sculpted onto the nail with a form, Denney says. Or, a tip is glued to the nail, and acrylic is then overlaid to boost the nail's shape, length, and strength.
As for how acrylic nails come to life, Bellacures nail artist Hayley Dang let us in on the process. "We take a brush and dip it into an acrylic liquid—we use this to make a moldable acrylic bead by dipping the wet brush into our acrylic powder," she explains. "Once we have our bead, we place it into the nail bed, spreading it until it is even across the length of your natural nail and the plastic tip." It's this step, she says, that makes or breaks an acrylic mani, as it's what creates a natural-looking nail surface that's smooth and uniform.
“After giving the powder time to harden, we begin filing the nail into whichever shape you’d like, whether it be coffin, stiletto, almond, round, or square,” Dang says. Once the acrylic—typically clear or a neutral pink or nude hue—has set and the shape has been formed, nail color and nail art come into play. “[Acrylic nails] truly are a stunning look for those who like their nails to be a bit longer in length, or like the look of an elongated finger,” Dang adds.
Now that you’re up to speed on the acrylic process, let’s dive into shapes. Ahead, learn more about the top five acrylic nail shapes.
Meet the Expert
- Lauren Denney is a celebrity nail artist and educator, trained by celebrity manicurist Julie Kandalec.
- Hayley Dang is a nail artist at Bellacures in Los Angeles.
As the name suggests, square nails are squared off at the tips. "This shape has been the standard since the 80s but has recently made a comeback by showing up on the runways and being sported by celebs like Billie Eilish and Gigi Hadid," Denney says. With this style, the straight sides of the nail don't taper in (tapered edges make for a whole new shape, which we'll cover ahead).
Square nails can be any length, ranging from short to super long tips. According to Dang, they’they'recally the easiest acrylic nail shape to achieve since most tips are squared. Because of this, they'they'reof, if not the most popular acrylic nail shapes.
Stiletto nails feature straight sides that come together into a sharp point. They work so well with acrylics because it's often difficult to achieve the shape naturally. Plus, attempting to file a natural nail into the pointed shape is likely to weaken the nail, whereas acrylic provides plenty of reinforcement for the look.
Strong, sharp points aren't the only thing stiletto nails have going for them. "Stilettos are ideal for intricate and flashy designs but can also be subdued with a single color or classic nude," Denney adds, noting that the long nail shape makes achieving intricate nail art ideas a breeze.
Where square nails feature straight sidewalls, coffin nails feature tapered edges that square off at the end, Dang says. “They are not as boxy in form,” she points out.
According to Denney, coffin nails are one of the most popular acrylic nail shapes, noting they look flattering on everyone. “They are super edgy and have the wow factor of a stiletto nail without the commitment and maintenance of a sharp, pointy nail,” she adds.
Almond nails are similar to stiletto nails in that they come to a point; however, rather than a sharp apex, it's rounded off for a gentler effect. Still, almond nails require some length, so they're a great acrylic shape candidate. "This nail shape is great for elongating short fingers and can give the illusion of longer nail beds," Denney adds.
Round nails are a bit of an outlier in the world of acrylics. That’s because, most times, acrylic is used to add notable length to nails, and round nails don’t require length. "Shaped much like its almond friend, round nails are more circular and usually shorter for more functionality,” Denney explains, noting that they’re popular among people with small hands and short fingers.
Part of the enhanced functionality is the fact that acrylic also strengthens nails. Because of this, Dang and Denney agree that round nails are among the most popular shapes for acrylics simply due to their ability to create more durable, natural-looking nails.
There are five key acrylic nail shapes—square, stiletto, coffin, almond, and round—all of which are popular for different reasons. "Those looking to create the appearance of an elongated, thinner finger usually opt for an almond or rounded shape," Dang says. "Nail lovers who are a bit bolder and experimental tend to go for a coffin or stiletto shape, whereas those who enjoy a classic look love a square-shaped moment."
The point is that acrylic nail shapes can't be ranked, as their popularity depends on personal preference. "There is no 'one size fits all' when picking the perfect nail shape for you," Dang adds. "It just depends on the individual's personal preference and style."