The Ultimate Guide To Picking Your Next Nail Shape

Look, we get it. Venturing into the world of semi-permanent nail treatments can be really intimidating. Everyone seems to be getting their nails done professionally these days, and you might be worrying that, while others pull off artificial nails well, they might look absolutely ridiculous on you. Let's put these fears aside. 

If you're someone who likes to take good care of yourself and enjoys expressing yourself through make-up and style, having a killer set of nails is going to boost your style to the next level. Dope nails are able to say so much without ever uttering a word. In fact, a nail's shape, length, and design can signify classy, feminine elegance or fun, fashionable kitsch. 

The right set will make sure that your style and glamor levels are heightened while being appropriate for your lifestyle. Artificial nails are a semi-permanent treatment, so let's take a moment to think about how each shape might enhance or detract from your personal aesthetic and your lifestyle. After all, you're looking for nails that'll work for you, not against you, so let's break down the right nail shape for your next mani appointment.

Choose your canvas: acrylics, dip-powder, or press-ons

Before deciding on your nail shape, it's important to pause and consider the types of artificial nails to choose from. Acrylic, gel nails, dip-powder nails, and press-ons are the most common types. Acrylic nails are considered to be the strongest type of artificial nail and therefore the most permanent. However, press-on nails are the least permanent and most affordable option. They give you lots of flexibility with experimentation but just be aware that the press-on nails you find at the drugstore won't have the va-va-voom quality of a set from a professional nail technician.

If you see yourself wanting to wear your nails for a while and plan on continually getting them filled every two to three weeks, going to a salon is going to be your best option. You'll want to develop a relationship with a manicurist who understands your style, is technically gifted, and one that you won't mind spending a good amount of time with since building nails often takes a good while.

Artificial nails are constructed from meticulously brushing layers of powdered acrylic to bind a plastic nail to your natural nail. They can also be constructed through dip powder, which is sculpted into the desired shape before curing under a UV light. After the nails are cured and prepped, the technician will then paint and design them in any style you wish. Being prepared with a specific vision and armed with sample images will help expedite the process, which might take up to three hours to finish.

Level 1: round nails — short and sweet

New to the nail game? Short, round nails are your best bet. They're easy to wear, natural in appearance, and comfortable to wear, and they don't hinder your ability to type or be on your phone. There are so many ways in which these short, round shape nails can be customized to match your style. From here we can try the classic French manicure or we could try an artistic, complicated design. Short and sweet round nails suit all styles, the possibilities are endless. The versatility of these short nails makes them appropriate for work, school, or any other event.

If you have brittle nails and your tips are always jagged due to breakage, acrylic nails will give your nails that uniform look that you might not be able to achieve naturally. You're not a licensed manicurist, after all. You'll notice that nails shaped this way will look natural but optimized. Each nail will be shaped and painted with the utmost care and precision.

Daring to try something new is an achievement in and of itself. For those who are venturing into the unknown for the first time, requesting that your nails be shaped short and round is a great place to start your journey. Beware, though: your first good set of nails most likely will serve as the gateway to more experimentation. It'll be a habit that's definitely hard to kick. Just remember not to wait too long to go back to the salon for a fill if you decide to keep your nails. Adhesion will start to lift the acrylic from the natural nail, increasing the risk of painful breakage. Your full set will last longer and look its best only when proper maintenance is continued.

Level 2: square nails — simple elegance

The simple, short square nail shape is really something else. With this entry-level manicure, you'll notice that your hands have suddenly begun to look different. As if it were magic, your fingers suddenly appear slimmer, your nail beds appear longer. Welcome to a world of subtle drama and elegance. This is a nail that'll introduce you to a realm of melodrama and mystique, literally in your hands. This look can echo golden-age Hollywood glamor or be a conduit of refined minimalism: the choice is yours.

Square nails are very versatile, the length can be adjusted to be longer or shorter based on your preference although it's important to note that your nail technician can easily trim the nail shorter if the length is too long, so make sure to speak up. Once the nail has been attached, it is more difficult to remove and it's very time-consuming to remove and rebuild a brand-new nail which will be annoying for you and for your nail tech.

Square nails look great painted in many different ways so they'll suit most styles. They are also pretty discreet so they're easy enough to type with and you'll be able to wear them in a more formal professional environment. Just like round nails, these are nails that you can pretty much wear for all occasions. Playing around with different designs and nail polish colors can dramatically change the vibe of these nails.

Level 3: Squoval — versatile glamour

Squoval nails get their unique name from their shape which is neither completely square nor oval. To create this shape, the sides of the tips of the nails are rounded so that there are no sharp points. Although the name makes it sound like the style might veer towards the ridiculous, this style is actually still quite subtle. If worn short, these nails can look even more natural than square nails due to the beveled edges. The softened edges also make them less accident-prone, which might be helpful if you spend a lot of time around children.

As with the two previous nail shapes, squoval nails are very versatile and can be painted or decorated to suit your personal style. They also suit longer or shorter nails, so there is a lot of room to play here. If you are new to getting your nails done, consider trying this style in a shorter length first, as the natural nail grows the tips will extend. You can keep getting your nails filled as your nails grow out and not have the nail tips trimmed. Through this process, you'll learn what nail length you're comfortable with.

Level 4: oval — subtle drama

Oval nails take you deeper into the realm of high glamour. The soft curved shape is highly feminine, and you'll likely be amazed by how elegant your hands look with this subtly dramatic style. This shape truly echos vintage Hollywood glam. What's more, oval nails are a great way to experiment with longer nail lengths without being over the top. 

With agility, these nails should not be too much of a burden to your lifestyle. Begin to be mindful of hygienic factors. Longer nails can trap dirt and grit, so it's important to keep the tips of your manicure clean. Invest in a high-quality tool and incorporate daily cleaning and maintenance practices. To keep manicures looking their best, cuticle hydration is crucial. Regularly use a moisturizing cuticle cream or oil to moisturize your drying cuticles. It's best to do this after washing your hands since cuticles are more likely to dry out as your hands dry.

Level 5: almond — sophisticated drama

Almond nails get their name from their shape. Long nails are filed inward at the sides, and the tips of the nails are rounded to look like almonds. This nail shape gives fingers a long, elongated look as the verticals along the fingers are extended by the shape of the nail. You'll discover that the longer the nails are, the slimmer the fingers will look. Although this is a dramatic look, the rounded tips of the nails give a soft and feminine vibe. These nails look great when worn in medium or long lengths. 

As you experiment with longer nail styles it's important to note a few lifestyle changes. After getting your nails done, you may experience a feeling of pressure on your natural nail bed. You may find that typing is uncomfortable and that using your phone might be a challenge. Adjust to using the tips of your fingers to type and use your devices. At first, it might feel awkward, but you'll quickly find yourself adapting. 

Level 6: ballerina — easy-going high glam

Ballerina-shaped nails are one of the most popular nail shapes and it's a beloved look that has been trending for a few years now. This shape is achieved by filing the nails from the sides at a slight angle towards the center, creating a triangular shape that resembles the tip of a ballerina's pointe shoe. They are similar to almond nails as the sides are the nails are filed inwards, however how they differ is that the tips of ballerina nails are trimmed horizontally.

This style looks best on medium and long nails. Experiment with French tips to create an elongating effect on the fingers. Juxtaposing a dramatic look with a simple nail design is a great way to create a balance that'll make these nails wearable and versatile, so they'll complement and heighten all of your outfits.

Be mindful that ballerina-shaped nails require maintenance to keep them looking their best. Don't wait too long to return to the salon because the edges need to be filed and shaped regularly to prevent them from growing out at a strange angle and looking wonky. It's going to be more difficult to type and perform certain delicate tasks with your hands with this nail style, so remember to be mindful of your lifestyle if you're considering this nail shape.

Level 7: coffin — a slick statement

Some might argue that ballerina and coffin nails are one and the same but what differentiates the two is the coffin nail's dramatic length. No, this is not a versatile nail that can be worn at all lengths; these nails are worn long. For the ultimate finger-slimming effect, try coffin nails painted in nude or neutral tones. The shape of these nails makes a statement on their own, so there's no need to double down.

Longer artificial nails have become very fashionable and very mainstream. Khloé Kardashian is known for wearing long coffin-shaped nails. They are a particularly good choice for special occasions such as girls' trips, proms, and other notable events. What to experiment with the look but not be locked in? Consider press-on nails. There are many choices available, including boutique brands that offer press-ons that are higher quality than what you might find in a drugstore. 

Level 8: stiletto — bold and edgy

Stiletto nails are a popular style of acrylic or gel nail extensions that are characterized by their sharp, pointed tips. Another shoe reference, the shape of this nail mimics the sexy stiletto heel. Stiletto nails have been worn by celebrities and fashion icons in recent years, and they have become a popular choice for special occasions or as statement looks. Stiletto nails require a certain amount of length to achieve the desired shape and are typically created using a combination of filing, shaping, and sculpting techniques. Here the imagination can run wild as nails can be decorated with a variety of nail art designs, including glitter, rhinestones, and intricate patterns.

While stiletto nails are visually striking, they can also be difficult to maintain. They can put extra pressure on the natural nail bed, which some may find uncomfortable. With precariously pointy tips, these are high-maintenance nails for a high-maintenance gal that's ready to make a bold statement.

Level 9: lipstick — experimental and artistic

With a sharp, slanted tip, experimental and asymmetrical lipstick nails mirror the shape of their namesake. Like stiletto nails, lipstick nails have a dangerous aura about them when worn long. There is something a bit softer and more playful about lipstick nails, and it's interesting to see this nail shape paired with soft and feminine pastels. Style, fashion, and novelty are often linked so don't be afraid to get playful. Experiment with air-brushed designs and sculpture gel. For bold, edgier looks, it's always best to visit a salon where fresh, experimental looks are done frequently. Unless, of course, you have a talented nail tech you trust who's open to trying something completely out of the box. Being prepared with photos of the look you'd like to achieve will help whoever is helping you with your nail see your vision and bring it to life.

If lipstick nails appeal to you, we can imagine that this isn't your first rodeo when it comes to artificial nails. I also bet that you're not the type of person who shies away from wearing her nails long and bold. Just be aware that the pointed tips make these nails a bit accident-prone. Exercise caution when working with delicate objects or around kids.

Help these nails stay looking fresh by making sure your cuticles are well moisturized. Keep cuticle oil nearby and try to moisturize your cuticles after washing your hands since this is when the skin is most likely to dry out. Be extra cautious about doing this during the dry winter as well. Keeping your cuticles well moisturized will promote healthier, stronger nail growth.

Level 10: flare — bold and kitschy fun

Flare-shaped nails are the newest trend in nail shape for the fashionably bold and unafraid. These nails are the only nail shape in which the tips are wider than the base of the nail. There's no subtlety or discretion when it comes to these nails, so don't even bother getting them if you're not ready to own them. Flare nails inherently have a kitschy vibe to them and boldly rebel against the standard idea that nail tips need to be tapered.

Through mass media, the distinction between low culture and high culture has become blurred, and flare nails echo this idea. The line between trashy and classy grows blurrier than ever, and that leaves a lot of room for playfulness and experimentation. Flare nails look best when they are playfully decorated in a maximalist fashion. Because of this, don't go light when it comes to decorating with rhinestones, gems, or charms. These nails will draw looks of admiration or complete disdain. Remember to don't let the haters disturb your inner peace. Chances are that if you are drawn to this shocking nail shape, you're someone who isn't afraid of "freaking out the squares" anyway.

For a brand-new, bold nail shape like this, it's probably best to visit a nail salon that's more fun and experimental. Choose a salon where the nail techs have done this style before; you'll want to work with someone experienced in this non-traditional look who won't judge you for going for it.