It’s been a winter of minimal manicures, from the celeb-loved milky mani to easy-breezy lip gloss nails. But as the weather starts to warm up and we’re brightening up our wardrobes, our nails are following suit, and bolder manicures are starting to trend once again. The latest? Watercolor nails, which make your tips look like a work of art. Ahead is everything you need to know about the trend. It’s time to pick up your paintbrush and channel some of the greatest artists of all time with a museum-quality manicure.
Just as the name suggests, watercolor nails are a delicate, abstract nail design similar to a watercolor painting, with soft colors fading and bleeding into each other for a diffused effect. They can be an ombre style with similar colors blurring into one or a mix of shades in your chosen palette.
Floral prints and patterns scream spring and summer, but so do nature-inspired textures and colors reminiscent of the outdoors—hence the seasonal popularity of watercolor nails. “Spring is the perfect time to embrace soft pastel hues, pretty pinks, and glittery colors. It’s the transition period into summer nails, which I always think of bright and bold colors,” says Essie manicurist and nail artist Amy Le. “Watercolor nails have always been popular, but they recently made a comeback this season, especially as a base for chrome accents.” The design fits right in with the ethereal manicure trends of this spring and summer, like fairy nails, and is the sweeter sister of edgy oil slick nails.
How to Get Watercolor Nails
You’ll need a few supplies to get that hazy, dreamy look; pretend they’re your palette, ready and waiting by the canvas. Le preps the polish for a thin, blendable finish by diluting it with a teeny bit of polish remover or alcohol and recommends a “thin liner brush” or dotting tool to help create a swirling effect; you can also use a small sponge if that’s easier for you. For color inspo, Le loves Essie’s Feel the Fizzle spring collection, which includes mint green, sky blue, baby pink shimmer, and light lemon yellow, which are all perfect for swirling together. “The pastel colors all pair perfectly together and would make the ultimate watercolor combo,” she says. Pro tip: Use colors that you know complement one another, like yellow and pink or blue and green, for the most natural diffused look.
For a sheer, extra-dreamy vibe, try jelly finish polishes, which impart a shiny wash of color and are practically made to be layered and mixed together. Cirque Colors offers a plethora of jelly finishes in tons of different colors from bright cobalt blue to a cool dove gray. You’re the artist here, so feel free to get creative and let the spirit move you to paint a masterpiece.
The easiest way to DIY a set of watercolor nails is to paint a neutral base color and let it fully dry before grabbing your chosen shades (diluted or not), applying a few generous blobs to each nail (or to an easy-to-access surface like a plastic tray or some foil), and then using your brush or dotting tool to blend or swirl them together. A makeup sponge can also come in handy here, as it’s easy to manipulate and smush the colors together.
If you’re a pro painter, you could even draw on each little watercolor splotch with the nail brush, but it may take some time to perfect the technique. Remember iconic painter Bob Ross’s advice: We don't make mistakes—we have happy accidents.
If using polish to play the role of Van Gogh feels a little intimidating, you can get a watercolor look with a set of Sharpies. One genius TikToker used Sharpie markers on a GelX nail extension, diffused the colors together with a brush dipped in rubbing alcohol, and sealed it all in with a shiny topcoat.
No matter how you choose to paint your (nail) canvas, watercolor nails are all about expressive color and serene vibes. Wait, is that the Louvre calling to ask if they can put your design in their permanent collection?