An Introduction to Brushes for a Nail Technician

A nail technician is an artist whether they do basic salon structure or delve into the colourful, creative world of nail art.

Hand painted Disney princes nails by Stephanie Staunton for Littlemix’s Jade Thirlwall

This means their main and most important tool of the trade is the brush. They come in all shapes and sizes, are made from animal fur or man-made materials and have specific nail products they are designed to work with, not to mention the price differences. This can be confusing and quite simply a minefield for a beginner.

So where do you start when purchasing your first set of brushes? Yes, I used plural. One size certainly does not fit all.

To begin, the best advice I can offer is to save your money and avoid well-known retail sites. They might appeal with their cheap prices, but they are usually cheap for a reason and often will hinder your progress when working with them. Stick to Professional Only websites that specialise in selling quality products, but this doesn’t mean they have to cost the earth. Strictly speaking, the more you pay the better the brush should be, however there are many reasonably priced brushes out there and most brands offer a cheaper student brush for the beginner.

Here is a simple guide to what brush is required for each system:

Liquid & Powder Brush

Brushes designed to work with L&P or acrylic, as most people call it, are mostly made with natural hair, Kolinsky and Sable. It is important to understand why brushes for use with acrylic are usually made from this hair. Kolinsky and Sable is gathered from breeds of weasel found in the cold regions of Russia & China. It is used because it has a natural thickness towards the belly of the brush which allows it to hold liquid effectively (monomer), and due to the strength and flexibility the brush returns to a point when wet. Hair has a structure known as the medulla which allows the hair to absorb moisture. This allows the brush to hold enough acrylic liquid in the bristles and releases it in a controlled manner when pressure is applied by the nail technician. Kolinsky hair is the best quality followed by Sable. The difference in quality is often reflected in the price of the brush. Taking care of your acrylic brush is extremely important. Never leave product in the brush, clean only in monomer. Avoid the use of brush cleaner as this dries the bristles out and NEVER use acetone! Store your brush flat (unless it has a lid, in that case, store with bristles facing down) and away from dust. Old monomer can contaminate the ferule of the brush and cause yellowing of the old monomer which can be transferred onto your client’s nails. Never leave your brush resting in your monomer as this will bend the bristles. The more careful you are with your brush, the easier your product application will be and the longer it will last.

Gel Brush

Gel brushes come in synthetic and natural Kolinsky Sable hair. Due to the fact that gel does not require the bristles to absorb the gel like Liquid & Powdersystems do, it is not necessary to have a natural hair brush and synthetic brushes can be easier to maintain as well as being more affordable. Gel brushes are usually short & square or slightly rounded brushes. Both types can be used for basic gel application and depends purely on the nail technician’s preference (however, square are great for creating a crisp smile line when creating a Pink and White finish.

Care of a Gel brush is different to a Liquid & Powder brush even if made of natural hair. All Gel Both brushes are cleaned in gel cleanser and kept away from UV light.  If left out in sunlight the gel in the bristles will polymerise and leave the brush un-useable. A gel brush with a lid is preferable to prevent UV damage and protect the bristles from dust contamination.

Striper/Fine Liner Brush

nail art brushes
A stripper brush used to add fine detail to these floral nails

These types of art brushes are ideal for many styles of nail art and are often used in salon work. As a nail artist, the first art techniques you will learn are fine line designs using long strokes with a striper brush.  It’s easy to learn and very effective, and you can also use these techniques when creating more complex design work to add detail or highlight. Striper brushes are made from synthetic or natural hair. Although both can be used for any medium, acrylic paint works well with natural hair and gel paints with synthetic. It is recommended to keep a separate brush for each medium as gel paints need to be cleaned with gel cleanse and acrylic paints with water.

Fine Detail Brush

A Fine Detail Brush is another nail artist staple and used with most art techniques to add highlights and fine detail. They come in many sizes and often they have only a few bristles. Sometimes, bristlesrequire trimming to get the best out of the brush.  Due to their small stature, Fine Detail brushes need to be treated carefully. Never allow paint to dry in the bristles.  If this happens and can’t be removed with water, monomer can be used to remove the paint. As with striper brushes, they are available in natural and synthetic.

One Stroke Brush

One Stroke art is very popular in salons all over the world now. To master this technique, it is important to have the correct brush, ideally one designed purely for One Stroke nail art. The bristles are usually flat or slightly angled and short. This allows the artist to create the perfect blend of colour and form apetal shape. As with the art brushes above, they are available on synthetic or natural hair and the same cleaning techniques apply.

Dotting Tool

This isn’t a brush, but definitely a very important tool for most nail artists. The dotting tool is metal and has a metal ball, usually on both ends of the handle, in two sizes. It is used to create dots, marble and add detail to designs. It can be used for gradual or same sized dots to create flowers and polka dots, it’s great for picking gems up too. It can be used with all nail art products and it a must for any beginner due to how easy it is to use. It’s cleaned in water or gel cleanser and can be disinfected if made from metal or plastic.

This list is by no means exhaustive and there are plenty more brushes available for the budding nail artist to add to their collection. If you looking to start building your collection though, these are the must-haves and a great starting point for your journey to the wonderful world of the nail industry.

nail art brushes
Carrie-Leigh Allen

Carrie-Leigh Allen

Carrie-Leigh Allen is an award winning nail artist, FE lecturer and Northwest educator for Louella Belle, sole distributors of the Iconic American nail brands; Artistic Nail Design and Famous Names. Carrie ia an award winning nail technician with 19 years experience in the industry