VIDEO TUTORIAL AT THE END OF THE POST!
Tips to Conquer the Scaled Gradient Techique
Tip #1: Know your bases
Depending on what colour palette you're working with, you may need a specific base coat. Use just one thin coat of white polish if you're doing a neon or bright-coloured mani. I say only one thin coat because there's going to be so many layers of polish on your nail, so we want to try to minimize this where we can. If you're doing a darker-toned mani, choose the lightest colour in your palette as your base and apply just one thin coat.
Tip #2: Pick a compatible colour palette
You'll need to pick nail polish colours that are creme or opaque enough that each colour could layer over any other colour in your chosen palette. For example, I needed to make sure that the pale aqua could layer over the medium aqua. Generally this isn't a problem if you're working with cremes or metallics and the colours aren't too polarized (i.e., if you were working with black and white, layering white over black won't come out so good - I tried, and failed).
Tip #3: Choose your clean-up consequence carefully
I use painter's tape that you can get at your local hardware store wrapped around my finger just under my cuticle and up and around the sides/back of my finger to protect my skin while doing sponged-on gradients. After all the tape is off, I use a craft store brush and 100% acetone to clean up around the cuticles. Another option is using a peel-off glitter base coat around your nails which you'll pull off after all is done, or the DIY version with Elmer's glue. I've tried the latter, and found that the glue just got in my sponge and messed with my gradient. Perhaps I didn't let the glue dry enough, but I wasn't taking any chances - don't fuck with my gradient!
Tip #4: Don't overdo the number of gradients
Not that my nails are that long (though for me this is crazy long... thank you Bliss Kiss nail oil! But that's another story), but if you have short nails, doing three gradients per nail may end up and all blending together. I would stick to trying just two gradients in the 'scale' per nail if you have shorter nails, if when you typically do gradients the transition range between colours on each side is quite wide (this happens if you prefer to sponge up and down a lot), or if you're trying this for the time. Once you've graduated from two-scale gradient college you can move on up to three-scale.
Tip #5: Don't overdo the number of polish colours
Similar to tip #4, you don't want to make the transition between colours blend together so much that it looks like mush or the gradient transition is not clear. If I had chosen a three-colour gradient, say dark blue, aqua, then pale aqua, it would have almost certainly looked like crap. A general rule is that if you're doing a three-gradient scale like this one, stick to only two nail polish colours. If you're doing a two-gradient scale, you could use up to four colours for each gradient, depending on your nail length.
Tip #6: Take the right tools to battle
I can't count how many different make-up sponges I've tried on gradients. I've gone through a number of brands in order to find the perfect one that doesn't begin disintegrating and shedding tiny bits of sponge on my nail as I repeatedly sponge on the polish. It really sucks when that happens, because if you don't pick them out, your mani is bumpy, and if you do try and pick them out, you either fail at retrieving the sponge offspring or you ruin the surface of your mani and now it's fugly. Thus far I am most satisfied with make-up sponges I picked up at Loblaws (grocery store in Canada) of all places, and they are Joe Fresh brand which is Loblaws' home brand. Cheap and cheerful indeed.
Tip #7: Don't overdo the number of gradient layers
By this I mean, simply, try to use the least amount of sponged-on layers for each gradient. I applied three thin layers. Wait a couple minutes between sponging on one layer and the second layer. If you don't let the polish dry enough, your sponge will end up picking up the polish from your last layer and then fugliness happens.
Tip #8: Keep your quick-dry close... but don't jump the gun
As you'll see in my video below, using quick dry polish is key to this mani because it's important to make sure the nail polish is completely dry/cured before you stick on a nail vinyl or piece of tape. If you stick it on too soon, you're screwed when you go to pull the tape off and it takes your mani with it. To minimize the number of total layers in your mani though, I recommend only using a quick dry top coat between the vinyl layers and not, for example, between your base coat and your first gradient. The scaled gradient technique requires patience. I left around a half an hour between each step that requires taping even with a quick dry top coat because I wanted to be sure that I didn't ruin it. You can take that time to go surf some nail porn. Also, notice in my video that after sponging on what would be the second scale of your gradient, I apply top coat just on that exposed section of the nail rather than over the entire nail after removing the tape. You'll smooth out uneven layers at the very end when you apply a top coat over the fully finished product. I currently use Seche Vite top coat, it dries super fast, but I'm not so happy with the way it tends to cause polish shrinkage. Still on the hunt.
Another mind boggling fact for you: You don't have to use the same gradient colours in each gradient scale... whhhaaaa?! Yup, you could do a blue gradient, then a pink one, then another blue one ON THE SAME NAIL. I'll be trying this eventually, it would yield a totally different effect.
This mani served as the backdrop for a Hawaiian themed mani, but I feel this design by itself is mind boggling enough that it's best to digest it alone first before I over-spice the meal.
- Nail polish appropriate for base coat (see tip #1 above)
- Nail polishes suitable for narrow gradients (see tip #2 and #5)
- Nail vinyls of your choice, I used thick chevron vinyls, or regular tape if you want to do a straight line between gradients
- Painter's tape or scotch tape to append to nail vinyls to protect under-layers
- Tweezers to remove nail vinyls/tape (optional)
- Small dense make-up sponge, I used Joe Fresh brand cosmetic wedges
- Optional polish clean-up tools (painter's tape, peel off glitter base or glue, acetone and brush)
- Quick-dry top coat, I used Seche Vite but I'm meh about it and it's shrinkage issues
- Nail porn to surf while waiting between steps
1 MIN OR LESS VIDEO TUTORIAL:
(see also 15sec Instagram version)
Note: The blue sparkly holo wonder you see on my opposite hand is Painted Polish by Lexi's 'Buzzed on blue'.
Step by step abbreviated: How-to Triple Scaled Gradient Technique
- Apply base coat as desired.
- Apply polish base coat (see tip #1 above).
- Protect skin around nails (optional, tip #3).
- Sponge on first gradient scale at base of nail, darkest colour closest to cuticle (tip #6). Don't worry about covering middle/tip of nail. Repeat as many times as necessary, but don't go overboard (tip #7).
- Apply quick-dry top coat and let sufficiently dry (tip #8).
- Place nail vinyl (or tape) in ideal location across the nail about 1/3 up from the cuticle, and make sure that the two colours of the first gradient will be equally exposed upon removal of the tape.
- Apply painter's tape or scotch tape to base of nail vinyl to protect the first gradient.
- Sponge on second gradient scale at base of nail vinyl, darkest colour closest to the nail vinyl. Don't worry about fully covering tip of nail.
- Apply quick-dry top coat to exposed nail.
- Remove tape protecting first gradient and nail vinyl promptly, let sufficiently dry.
- Place nail vinyl (or tape) in idea location across the nail about 2/3 up from the cuticle, and make sure that the two colours of the second gradient will be equally exposed and that there is sufficient room remaining for the third gradient scale.
- Sponge on third gradient scale, darkest colour closest to nail vinyl. Ensure to cover all of the remaining tip of the nail as this is your last go at applying colour to the nail.
- Remove tape protecting second gradient and nail vinyl promptly. Remove any tape remaining around the nail.
- Apply one final layer of top coat (doesn't have to be quick dry here, your choice).
- Clean up your cuticles (tip #3).
- Go show off that mani, girl, and confuse the hell out of people.
Polishes used in this mani:
- Essie 'I'm addicted' (neon aqua creme)
- China Glaze 'At vase value' (pale aqua neon creme)
- Finger Paints 'Pop art purple' (neon magenta-purple creme)
- China Glaze 'Shocking pink (neon)' (neon light pink creme)
- Orly 'Pointe blanche' (white base coat - not pictured)