All of the Different Nail Shapes, Explained—From Ballerina to Squoval

A full set of almond-shaped nails with white graphic nail art


If you’re like me, you might scroll through Instagram, swooning over the many, many nail shapes and lengths that fill your feed. In a world where nail art is a prime way to showcase your personality and style, it’s hard not to. Of course, if you have trouble growing out your nails (hey, hi, same), you may feel like you can’t get in on the fun.

But, thanks to nail strengthening treatments, press-on nails, and enhancements, where there’s a will, there’s a way. So instead of sulking over not being able to participate in the mani moment, turn your attention to nail shapes. After all, not all nail shapes suit all nail beds, nor do they necessarily align with every nail art trend, let alone personal preference. As such, narrowing down your nail shape of choice is the first step to achieving an Insta-worthy mani in real life. 

Not sure which nail shape is best for you and your lifestyle? We’re here to help. We chatted with celebrity manicurists Julie Kandalec and Tom Bachik to get the low-down on the most popular nail shapes, including who they’re best for and how they’re best filed into place. Keep reading to learn more.

Meet the Expert

  • Julie Kandalec is a licensed nail artist based in New York City.
  • Tom Bachik is a celebrity manicurist famous for his work with Jennifer Lopez.
Six of the different nail shapes

Byrdie / Zackary Engeline

The Science of Nail Shapes

While it’s common to assume that nail shape is largely based on personal preference and the ability to grow nails, Kandalec points out that physics plays a role, too. “Nail shapes have much more to do with the physics of the nail than just choosing a shape and trying to file it down [as desired],” she explains. “Several shapes, like stiletto and coffin styles, can only be achieved with a structured product, meaning hard gel or acrylic, or a press-on nail that has an arch (AKA curve).”

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A set of colorful, short, round nails


Round nails are among of the most popular, as they closely align with the shape of a natural nail. “This shape is most flattering on a shorter nail,” Kandalec says. “[To get the look,] file each side a little at a time" to make sure they're balanced.

What’s nice about round nails is that you really don’t have to consider much—if anything at all—when thinking of adopting this shape. Since they’re short and lack pointed edges, they won’t interfere with typing, picking things up, pulling your pants up and down, buttoning garments, etc. In short, if your goal is to adopt a nail shape that’s very convenient for everyday life, round nails are a great option.

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A pale pink nail set with sparkly gems


Like round nails, oval nails feature a rounded tip but they’re on the longer side. “The sidewalls are straight before gently sloping to the rounded shape,” Kandalec explains. While oval nails look lovely on all hands, Kandalec says they’re especially great when paired with shorter nail beds because they “make them appear longer.”

The only downside is that, since oval nails are on the longer side, they can introduce some difficulties with getting dressed, typing, picking things up, and even working out. That said, once you’ve had them for a while, you tend to get used to how to wield your hands to accommodate the length.

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A square set of French manicured nails with black tips


Square nails can be short or long in tip length (according to Bachik the shorter your nail length preference, the squarer you can go), but according to Kandalec, they look best on longer nail beds. To bring square nails to life yourself, Kandalec says to file each nail straight across. “Check it both ways (‘client view’ and flip to ‘nail tech view’) to see that both ways are straight,” she insists, noting that in the end, the tips should be slightly narrower than the cuticle area. 

If you opt for short square nails, you don’t have to consider your lifestyle. If you opt for long square nails, however, the shape can interfere with everyday tasks at first. After you've had them for a couple of weeks, though, they'll become semi-second nature.

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A set of squoval nails with glittery gold tips


Squoval nails are a mix of square and oval, featuring a bit more length but with rounded square edges. “This is the most popular shape for short or natural nails,” Kandalec says.

While squoval nails are incredibly popular on Instagram and IRL, Kandalec says that the term is often misunderstood; she prefers to refer to them as “soft square” nails. To get the look, she recommends you start by filing your nails into a square shape. “Then take a fine grit file and gently file once on each corner to soften it into a soft square,” she says.

The best news? Since squoval nails are on the shorter side, you don’t have to worry about them interfering with daily life.

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A full set of almond nails with white graphic nail art


Almond nails are similar to oval nails, only instead of a rounded tip, they feature a soft point, and instead of straight sidewalls, they feature tapered edges. As popular as almond nails are, Kandalec says they’re best reserved for those who get nail enhancements, as you have to have extremely long nail beds and long tips. “The free edge should be close to or more than the same length as the nail bed (a 50/50 split),” she explains. “Too short and the shape looks off balance.” What’s more, she says that the presence of an apex (a soft curve seen from the side view of the nail) is key to achieving a true almond shape, and enhancements are required for such. 

As beautiful as almond nails are, they are longer, which means they’re more likely to interfere with everyday activities like typing, texting, pulling cards out of your wallet, etc. However, since almond nails are tapered and don’t have a sharp point, they’re more convenient than coffin and stiletto nails (more on those below).

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A set of coffin/ballerine-shaped ombre nails


The coffin nail shape (also known as the ballerina) is reserved for extremely long nails. It’s characterized by long, tapered straight edges that come to a narrow squared tip. “The free edge must be significantly longer than the nail bed, and the arch (apex) must be placed in the proper area to give the nail the proper appearance and strength," says Kandalec. "Think about bridges—they're not straight across. They need extra strength to be able to hold the weight."

Due to their dramatic length, Kandalec notes that coffin nails are among the hardest to create and wear. As such, she recommends seeking the help of a pro to properly bring them to life.

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Close up of a full set of brown stiletto nails


Stiletto nails are the sharpest shape of all. According to Kandalec, they also require the most length. “This shape cannot be achieved properly with the natural nail—having a coating like structured gel or acrylic is necessary to get the proper shape,” she reveals, noting that a nail appointment is the best way to recreate the stiletto nails you see on social media.

Alternative Solution: Press-On Nails

Whether you’re a fan of short, medium, or long nails filed round, oval, square, squoval, almond, coffin, or stiletto, press-ons exist to offer a quick and convenient solution to what can be a very time-consuming shaping and manicure process. Alternatively, if you’re unsure which shape and length you like, Bachik says that press-on nails can help in that department, too.

Luckily for us, press-ons have come a long way since the early ‘00s disasters you may be imagining. imPRESS's Press-On Manicure is sold in dozens of different colors, prints, lengths, and shapes, with each set costing under $10, while Sally Hansen recently debuted its Salon Effects Perfect Manicure Press on Nail Kits, which also cost less than $10. But that’s not all: Some of the most popular nail studios and artists in the country have released press-ons, too. Our favorites include the Chill Tips ($16) by Chillhouse and The Instant Mani ($10) by Olive & June.

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