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Everything to Know About the 3-D Nail Art Trend From Celebrity Artists

Megan Thee Stallion, Yumi Nu and more have shown their creative side with these impressive designs.

Gone are the days when basic manicures were the only option. In fact, it seems that nail ideas are endless and have even gone three-dimensional. This new approach has become an extension of someone’s style and personality. Just look at 2022 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit 2022 cover model Yumi Nu and 2021 SI Swim cover star Megan Thee Stallion, both of whom express themselves with their 3-D nail art, which is a major step up from flat designs.

Through innovative practices and advancements, there really is nothing that can’t be done and the outcome is always on point. “I get my inspiration from different places,” says nail artist Coca Michelle, who works with MTS and Rosalia. “One of my latest concepts was from a bad dream someone had told me about. I had envisioned snake-shaped nails and Jenga pieces. I like to curate around a setting and subject.”

Nu’s nail artist Stephanie Kao of Studio Aoko in Brooklyn bases her creations on anything and everything and creates sellable one-of-a-kind nail sets that are another level from press-on options. “For Moonlit Water [one of Nu’s looks], I deferred to Yumi’s creative vision. It was a gorgeous clear set with a pale blue blossom-effect pattern encrusted with rhinestones all over, but my inspiration is derived from the joy of life itself,” she shares. “It might be a beautiful Murano glass vase that I’ve come across, a delicious dinner, an afternoon at the MoMA, a vintage Pucci print, your cat or a gorgeous Kintsugi ceramic piece that I wish I owned so I translated it into a nail set instead.”

New York City-based artist Aki Hirayama, who has worked with Zoe Kravitz, Storm Reid, Ashley Park and more, turns to the fashion industry for much of her work. “I envision designs with the current trends and seasonal colors,” she explains. “Traveling sparks my imagination as well as exploring a new culture, structures and even feelings.”

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What Is 3-D nail art?

Different types of gels like 3D gel, hard texture gel, poly gel and builder gel have replaced solely using acrylic for nail designs. And now the nail art has gone from painting faces on nails or using a brush to draw flowers to adding actual items on the nail and sealing them in. As is the case with any gel manicure application, the manicurist will apply several coats of gel and then put a top coat over the design and items used to make the design three-dimensional.

How is 3-D nail art done and what is the removal process like?

Though it may take a bit longer to complete these designs (Michelle once spent 20 hours making her own vision a reality complete with sculpted 3-D characters and moving parts), an appointment will be at least 90 minutes. It really depends on the level of intricacy and if you are getting it with a structured manicure, which can also be a gel extension. Patience is key when it comes to gel removal, so get settled and comfy because this part isn’t fast. To remove, the nail stylist will most likely first use a nail nipper to loosen the gel top coat seal over the 3-D portion of the nail design. Another step for removal is using an electric nail file to keep breaking the gel around the 3-D charm. Once the item is removed, an acetone soak can be done or the technician may continue to use the electric file.

Where can I get this type of nail art done?

Across the country there are skilled experts like Michelle, Kao and Hirayama who can turn your nails from mundane to wow with one brushstroke or application. Before booking an appointment, you want to make sure the salon can in fact perform what you have in mind. If you want to save time sitting in a chair, there are pre-made options like the ones from Studio Aoko.

How much do 3-D nails cost?

This really depends on where you are based and the individual technician, but it can run an average of $10-$30 for a 3-D art design per finger. The more difficult the art is, the higher the price.

For the moment, Kao notes that sexy molten chrome styles, airbrushing and 3-D blob nails are enjoying their time in the limelight. Inspired by legendary nail artist Vivian Xue Rahey, Kao has been experimenting with liquid thermal crystal. Coca adds that lately the trend is a lot of textures like lines and more abstract art. Really anything goes, which is why so many have been drawn to TikTok videos that show artists incorporating items like real flowers or peanut butter into the actual nail design. Despite the level of ingenuity these sets take, Hirayama isn’t convinced it’s for the best. “The videos are fun to watch but not good for real life,” she states. “It’s not very hygienic.”

The great thing about these 3-D designs is that you don’t have to be so extreme to get an impressive style. Hirayama has done clean natural nails with chrome color texture art and Kao thinks the 3-D organic shapes and topographic styles will maintain their foothold for fall as well as earthy tones, deep gemstone palettes, classic glossy reds and more chrome metallics.

What shape nail do you need for 3-D art?

Don’t assume you need to have super long nails in order to test out your own designs. “I think all shapes work for 3-D nail art,” says Michelle, who started doing airbrush designs at the age of 8. “There’s a lot you can do with shorter and more natural shaped nails.” Adds Kao, “I usually leave this up to the preference of the wearer. It's what you personally can function and feel good in.” The simple square shape has also been updated with people going for almond, coffin or stiletto nails.

Yumi Nu's nails. Nail art by Marina Tee.

Yumi Nu's nails. Nail art by Marina Tee.

What is the maintenance for 3-D nails?

The important thing to remember when opting for these far-from-average nails is that they may need a bit more TLC. “Generally, the more parts there are to a nail (rhinestones, cabochons and other fun little bits), the gentler you’ll have to be with your nail set due to its more delicate nature,” says Kao. “Sets made completely of 3-D gel tend to be a bit more resilient by comparison, but I always advise exercising caution and doing your best to not be so hard on your nails when you have 3-D action going on.” Hirayama also shares that applying an extra topcoat can help the nails last longer than three weeks. Michelle herself will use gloves to protect her nails from getting caught in her hair when showering.

Can the nail art damage your nails?

Regardless of the intricacies of these designs, there really is no consequence to the nail bed. “I recommend 3-D art with a gel manicure,” Hirayama reveals. “Gel will protect your natural nails and last longer.” Adds Michelle, “3-D nail art shouldn’t damage the nails as long as the foundation of the set is applied and removed correctly, since it does add more weight.” Kao does suggest, however, letting “your nail beds have a breather every once in a while.” Until then, the options are endless, so it’s time to get on trend with your own fabulous nails.