Doable DIYs: Gradient Nails

This one’s for you, fellow manicure-lovers.

Today, we experimented with another DIY we saw on Pinterest, pinned from Glamour Magazine’s post “Nail Art Alert! How To Get Ombre Nails At Home“. Their instructions: pick two colors, paint a base coat of the lighter color, combine the two nail polish colors on a plastic sheet by swirling them with a toothpick, rub a sponge over it, and then rub the sponge onto our fingernails. 

“We can do this!” we thought. But this turned out to be a lot harder than it looked. A lot.

Our interns Amy and Daphne tried it all. They tried the swirling.

They tried putting down a white base coat first.

They sponged and sponged until they ran out of nails to try.

All they got was this:

It was sort of… lame. Disappointing. Unsuccessful. The texture was rough and the colors weren’t blending very well. Instead of creating a gradient, we created a blended pink purple.

In despair, we turned to another tutorialfrom The Beauty Department. They advised us to paint the polish onto a wet sponge instead of a plastic sheet, rub onto a piece of paper, and finally “bounce it up and down in the same spot”. Our aim isn’t so good, so adjustments had to be made.

So here’s OUR version of the tutorial, one that really will work:

beautybagg’s DIY Ombre Nails Tutorial

Your weapons:

  • 2-3 nail polishes
  • Makeup/foundation sponges — you can find a pack of these for $2 at Ulta. (The Glamour tutorial used a “big bathroom sponge”. We didn’t even know what that WAS. Makeup sponges are better because of their triangular shape and smoother texture)

The nail polishes we used. Sally Hansen Xtreme Wear #320 Fuschia Power, #340 Mint Sorbet and Ulta Blue Streak were the ones we loved most.

That’s it! No toothpicks, no white base coat, no plastic sheet. Here’s what you do:

  1. Soak your sponge in water and squeeze out most of the water until the sponge is damp. This prevents it from absorbing the polish.
  2. Pick an edge of the makeup sponge and paint the first color against it. Paint the second color above it (and then the third, if you have one). Go over each stripe two or three times making sure the color is concentrated, but not dripping and with no excess paint.
  3. Bring the sponge to your nail, press down firmly, and rub up-and-down ever so slightly on your nail. You don’t even have to be very careful or exact. The key here is the rubbing motion — none of this “bouncing”, which just makes the texture of your nail rougher. The more you rub, the more impressively the colors will blend together. You can even slap some more polish on your sponge and do another coat if you didn’t like how it turned out the first time, since the colors will layer on top of each other.
  4. Do the rest of your nails, using the same area of your sponge. You can do this over and over again, and it cuts down on mess!
  5. Clean up the area around your nails with some polish remover and show all your jealous friends.

Our results:

Amy’s blue-green nails (two coats, with touch-up)

Daphne’s fuschia and sea foam nails (one coat, with touch up)

We didn’t have to use a plastic sheet, mix anything with toothpicks, or aim anything. That’s doable in our book! Some final tips:

  • Make sure your nails are super-smooth. Get rid of that glitter polish that just won’t go away. The sponge makes the ombre effect a little spotty to begin with, so any bumps on your nail will be emphasized.
  • Paint the lighter color closer to your cuticle, bolder or darker color towards the tip. If the light color is on your tip and the dark color against your cuticle, it will make your nails look short and possibly dirty.
  • Use that artistic license and beauty sense; we know you have! Choose bright, bold colors. Go for  blues, greens, yellows, oranges, and hot pinks! You’ll have more fun, and it’ll be your own nail creation.

Good luck!

Do you have any experiences with or tips for ombre-ing nails? Please share with us in the comments!

For more info on the difference between gradient nails and ombre nails, check out this awesome post by The Swatchaholic.


  1. Eileen

    I’ve done it before. I painted my entire nail with the light colour, let it dry. Then put a strip of colour directly on the sponge and then dab on bottom of nail. Chose a different area of sponge, put second colour directly on the sponge and dab in middle section and blend. Same thing with third colour at the tip. Dab to blend. Let dry in between each colour. Then paint with top coat.

  2. V

    This doesn’t work at all. No matter how much water is on the sponge, it still just absorbs the nail polish and nothing ends up on my nail at all. I have a colourful sponge, and plain nails.

  3. Dani

    for me it worked to paint my nails the lighter color then I brushed a strip of my darker color by the cutical and quickly blend it into the other color with a damp sponge. It worked sooo much better that way!

  4. Mirta

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  5. Sanora

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