Can You Use Acrylic Paint On Nails?

Can you use acrylic paint on nails? Stick around to find out

Acrylic paint is very popular because it sticks readily to all surface materials, including wood, leather, glass, plastic, fabric, etc. In addition, it comes in many colors, which you can dilute or mix to create different color shades and art effects.

The versatility of acrylic paint has raised a lot of curiosity, especially in the beauty industry. Nail technicians and beauty DIYers alike want to experiment with products outside the conventional nail varnishes.

And they all look at acrylic paint. But, Can You Use Acrylic Paint On Nails?

You can use acrylic paint on natural nails and fake nails made of plastic or acrylic.

It is an excellent product for creating nail art and has been a favorite among nail technicians for a long time.

In addition, you can use acrylic paint in place of regular nail polish, but only as a temporary solution.

Nevertheless, applying acrylic paint on nails is not as simple as applying regular nail polish. And the reason is that most acrylic paint formulas are thick.

Therefore, they don’t go on smoothly or thinly as preferred for nails. Moreover, you must always apply a base coat on the nails before putting on the acrylic paint. Otherwise, your nails will retain traces of the paint’s color.

In this article, I’ll discuss every detail you must understand when using acrylic paint on nails.

I’ll talk about selecting the correct products and the proper procedure for applying them to nails. But first, let’s find out a little more about acrylic paint.

What Is Acrylic Paint?

Acrylic paint is a decorative and protective coating developed in Germany in 1934. It is a coating created by combining an acrylic resin and color pigment, then suspending them in an acrylic polymer solution.

The product created possesses the qualities of watercolor and oil paints with the extra advantage of being soluble in water.

To understand the nature of acrylic paint in-depth, you must first know all its components and what they add to its general features. So, here’s a breakdown of  Acrylic Paint Ingredients.

  • Pigments are the ingredients that give acrylic paint its color. Paint manufacturers primarily acquired them from natural sources; however, synthetic versions are made in factories today.

The concentration of pigment in acrylic paint directly affects its coverage ability. The higher the concentration, the more opaque the paint and, therefore, the better the coverage.

A high pigment concentration also gives the paint a thicker consistency.

You may think that pigment is all you need to color a surface. However, pigment particles need a bit of help to stick to surfaces.

  • Binders/resins are the components that ensure the pigment particles remain on the surface after painting. They bond with the pigments, creating a colored film on the surface. 

The quality of the binders used to make surface coatings directly affects their durability and protective strength. The higher the quality, the longer the finish will last. 

In the case of acrylic paint, paintmakers use acrylic polymers as binders. Acrylic polymers are some of the highest-quality resins; therefore, they ensure the durability of acrylic paint finishes.

Now, both pigment and resin are solid components. Therefore, they require a medium that will make it easy to transfer them from the paint container to the surface.

  • The vehicle/Base is the liquid ingredient that carries the pigments and binders until painting time. Manufacturers use water as the vehicle in acrylic paint, thus making acrylic paints water-based.

When you apply the paint onto a substrate, the water will slowly evaporate, leaving a solid polymer film behind. This dry film is a mixture of pigments and binders, and it’s the finish we see after painting.

Types and Grades of Acrylic Paint

Even though acrylic paints have similar ingredients in their formula, they still come in several types and grades.

The types of acrylics differ by thickness, while the grades differ by quality. Let’s have an in-depth look at each of them to understand better.

Types of Acrylic Paint

There are four main types of acrylic paint; Heavy-bodied paints, soft-bodied paints, fluid acrylics, and acrylic inks.

  • Heavy-bodied acrylic paints are thick, with a texture similar to soft butter. They are ideal if you want to paint on coarse surfaces like rough canvas or stone.

In addition, their heavy consistency makes it easy to create peaks and maintain brushstrokes, especially when using the impasto technique.

This acrylic paint type is ideal for painters who like the heavy consistency similar to oil paint but want a quicker drying time.

  • Soft-bodied Acrylic Paints have a thinner consistency closely resembling that of yogurt. They have a smoother texture and self-level better than heavy body types.

These paint types are ideal for coloring techniques that require continuous brush movements. Moreover, their self-leveling ability allows them to flow freely and smoothen brush marks.

  • Fluid Acrylic Paints have a thickness similar to double cream, and they come packed in bottles. They are ideal for brushing, spraying, and achieving a staining effect on your pieces.
  • Acrylic inks are the runniest, with a consistency like that of water.

They contain fine pigment particles, allowing you to apply them with all painting mediums – paintbrushes, airbrushes, paint pens, etc. In addition, they have a more intense color and dry into a glossy finish.

Grades of Acrylic Paint

  • Professional-Grade Acrylic Paints have the highest quality pigments and binders in their formulas, making them the highest-quality acrylics on the market.

They have vibrant colors that do not fade or peel off quickly, giving them an edge over the other acrylics.

Professional-grade acrylics are the most expensive because of the high-quality ingredients used. However, their prices vary slightly by brand.

  • Artist-Grade Acrylic Paints also use the best quality ingredients available. However, manufacturers use more binder than pigment to make them cheaper than the professional-grade variety.

The higher binder concentration gives these acrylics more sheen, but it does not make the finish look any less professional.

  • Student-Grade Acrylic paints use lower-quality ingredients, making them the lowest-quality acrylics on the market.

They also have a higher concentration of binders, and manufacturers use fillers and mediums to give them more body.

These extra ingredients make student-grade acrylics more usable, but they affect opacity and saturation.

For instance, you may notice that some paints require several coats to achieve full opacity, while others become chalky when dry.

Student-grade acrylic paints are the cheapest; hence, they are ideal for beginners. However, even professional artists can use them while teaching or working with a tight budget.

Is It Safe to Use Acrylic Paint On Nails?

Using acrylic paint on nails is safe, but only if you use non-toxic varieties. We use our hands to do everything, including eating or touching things we put inside our bodies.

Therefore, it is only logical that the products we apply on our nails be harmless, just in case we ingest them accidentally.

Now, I know you are wondering, Isn’t acrylic paint water-based? And aren’t all water-based products non-toxic? So, let me elaborate.

Acrylic paints are indeed water-based. However, some paint manufacturers use heavy metals such as Cadmium, Lead, Cobalt, Manganese, and copper as pigments in their acrylic products.

And, as we know, heavy metals are harmful to humans when ingested. 

When heavy metals build up in the body, they cause severe damage to internal organs like the heart, liver, kidneys, and lungs.

They slowly deter normal organ functions, eventually leading to organ failure, which could be fatal.

Let’s take Cadmium as an example. It is a heavy metal sometimes used as a colorant in red-tone paints.

Aside from being a heavy metal, Cadmium is also classified as a carcinogen, meaning prolonged exposure can cause various forms of cancer.

So, acrylic paint with Cadmium in its formula is harmful to human health.

Now, how do you differentiate between toxic and non-toxic acrylic paints? 

It is as easy as reading the product’s label before purchasing it. Manufacturers who use only safe ingredients in their paint formulas label their products as “non-toxic” or “food-safe.”

These labels indicate that the products are safe to use on the body or around food prep areas.

If there is no clear indication of the product’s toxicity, you can read the ingredient list to figure it out. Look out for all the heavy metals that I have mentioned above.

If any of them is present, do not use the paint on your nails. You can also do a little research on any other paint ingredients that you don’t know to see whether they are safe or not.

Pros and Cons Of Using Acrylic Paint On Nails

Let’s start with the advantages of acrylic paints on nails.


  • You can create any color with acrylic paint if you have three primary colors – red, blue, and yellow. You can mix them however you want to create different shades of each or entirely new colors.
  • Generally, acrylic paint dries quickly. However, it dries a little slower than regular nail polish because of its water base.

The water takes longer than nail polish solvents to evaporate, giving you more time to work on nail art.

  • Acrylic paint is much cheaper than nail polish. Therefore it is the ideal alternative for nail polish when working with a tight budget.


  • Acrylic paint will stain your nails if you do not apply a base coat first.
  • You require a lot of acetone to remove dried acrylic paint from nails. This solvent is safe to use on nails, but too much of it will make the nails brittle.
  • The opacity of acrylic paint is excellent for crafting. However, this feature also makes the paint streaky if you apply them to nails.
  • Acrylic paint won’t last as long as regular nail polish unless you protect it with clear nail polish.
  • Some acrylic paints contain heavy metals that can cause fatalities in high concentrations.

Will Acrylic Paint Leave Stains If Applied On Your Nails?

Yes! Acrylic paint will stain your nails, especially if you use it frequently. Here’s how it happens.

When acrylic paint stays on the nail bed for too long, the pigment particles leech into the nail. As a result, your nail will retain traces of the paint’s color even after you remove the paint.

So, if you use acrylic paint frequently or allow it to stay on the nail for too long, the stains will be more intense. Moreover, they will be harder to remove because they acquire some “permanence.”

On the bright side, you do not always have to deal with stains after applying acrylic paint to your nails. You can prevent the after-effects by applying a base coat on your nails before applying the acrylic paint. 

For those who don’t know, a base coat is a clear coating you put on your nails before applying nail polish.

It forms a barrier between your nail and the acrylic paint, thus preventing the paint pigments from leeching into your nails.

But what if the damage’s already done? How do you remove acrylic paint stains on nails?

You can remove fresh acrylic paint stains from nails with regular nail polish remover. Nail polish removers contain acetone, a potent paint solvent widely used for paint removal. 

However, if the stains have built up over time, you will need a more potent solvent to restore your nail color.

In this case, I recommend using diluted hydrogen peroxide, a mild household bleaching agent. Here’s how to use it to remove acrylic paint stains from nails.

  1. Mix three tablespoons of Hydrogen Peroxide with ½ cup warm water in a small bowl.
  2. Soak your nails for two minutes, then gently scrub the nail surface with a soft, clean toothbrush. 
  3. Afterward, rinse your hands thoroughly, apply some lotion to moisturize, and you’re good to go.


  • If the stains do not come off on the first try, do not worry. You can repeat the steps twice a week until you notice the color fading.
  • DO NOT repeat the process many times in one day to rush the results. Soaking your nails in Hydrogen peroxide frequently will make your nails weak and brittle.

Can You Use Acrylic Paint For Nail Art On Fake Nails?

Yes! Using acrylic paint, you can create nail art on fake nails, such as acrylic or plastic press-on nails.

This idea is possible because acrylic paint can bond to a wide range of materials, including the materials used to make fake nails.

Many nail technicians who specialize in nail art prefer using acrylic paint because it is easier to work with than regular nail polish.

It is easy to spread, and its thickness allows you to create intricate designs without the paint flowing everywhere. 

In addition, acrylic paint dries faster than nail polish, which is ideal if the nail art consists of fine lines. The quick dry time won’t allow any room for the fine lines in the art to smudge and ruin the design.

Nevertheless, the features above do not mean that you will never make mistakes while using acrylic paint on nails. It is possible to mess up art designs or paint outside the nail bed by accident.

On the bright side, acrylic paint is water-based. Therefore, such mistakes are easy to clean up with water, provided you get to them while they are still fresh.

Clean-up aside, nail technicians love using acrylic paint for nail art because of its versatility. It does not restrict you to a single type of nail art, allowing you to achieve different nail aesthetics with just one product.

For instance, you can apply the paint using a brush to create delicate lines and curves. You can also use a sponge to create gradient designs or the stamping nail art technique to create print-like patterns.

Whichever method you prefer, you must ensure that you prepare the fake nails accordingly to make the art last. 

If you have fake plastic nails:

  • Use acetone or a nail buffer to remove the nail’s sheen before applying the acrylic paint. This way, the nail surface will be a little “rough,” allowing the paint to adhere.

Afterward, seal the paint with regular clear polish to make the art last long.

If you have acrylic nails:

  • Apply the acrylic paint directly on the nail. There’s no need to buff because acrylic nails have a slightly textured surface; therefore, the paint will adhere readily.

Afterward, seal the art with clear nail polish to make it last.

How Long Will Acrylic Paint Last On Nails?

The life span of acrylic paint on nails will depend on whether or not you seal it with clear nail polish.

Unsealed acrylic paint can remain on the nail for up to 24 hours, provided you do not touch water for that duration.

On the other hand, sealed acrylic paint can last between three days and two weeks, depending on the quality of the clear polish.

Standard clear polish can go up to three or four days without chipping. This means the acrylic paint will only remain protected for those few days.

On the other hand, long-wearing clear nail polishes can protect the paint for up to 2 weeks, allowing you to enjoy your art for longer.

Can I Mix Acrylic Paint With Regular Nail Polish?

Because of their different formulations, you cannot mix acrylic paint with regular nail polish.

Manufacturers use entirely different ingredients to make them; therefore, their chemical structures won’t blend. Let me elaborate.

Regular nail polish is a lacquer designed to decorate and protect the nail bed.

Its formula includes an organic polymer and several other components, such as plasticizers, thickening agents, adhesive polymers, UV stabilizers, and pigments.

Together, all these ingredients form the colorful, quick-drying nail coatings we love.

On the other hand, acrylic paint is a standard craft formula containing only pigment, a binder, and a vehicle. You may find acrylics with a few additives that improve flow and longevity.

However, they only contain one or two extra ingredients on top of the standard ingredients.

Now, if you try and combine these two formulas, they won’t blend. Instead, the regular nail polish will clump up and form little lumps in the acrylic paint.

The polish will have texture, a feature most people don’t like in nail polish. And if you try to use this mixture on your nails, the results will be far from perfect.

Nevertheless, you can use acrylic paint on top of dried nail polish to create nail art. However, if you must mix the products, ensure that you only combine the same kind of products.

This means only mixing acrylic paint with another acrylic paint or nail polish with another regular nail polish.

How to Apply Acrylic Paint to Nails

Follow the steps below to apply acrylic paint to nails.

Things You’ll Need:

  • Acrylic paint(s)
  • Base Coat
  • Clear nail polish
  • remover or acetone
  • Q-tips
  • Cotton balls
  • Nail clippers
  • Nail file

Step 1: Preparation

  1. Find a well-lit room with a stable surface like a desk to put all your supplies. Ensure that the space is also well-ventilated to keep off fumes from the base coat and clear nail polish.
  2. Next, Lay down a clean rag or some paper towels on the table to catch any acrylic paint that may spill.
  3. Soak a cotton ball with some nail polish remover or acetone, then swipe it along the nail bed to remove old nail polish.

Even if you don’t have nail polish, you should still wipe the nail with polish remover to remove natural oils and other dirt.

Step 2: Apply the Base Coat

The base coat is necessary here because it prevents acrylic paint from staining your nails. 

  1. Roll the bottle of base coat between your palms to warm it a little and re-mix its ingredients. Avoid shaking the bottle, or else bubbles will form in the base coat.
  2. Apply a thin coat of the base coat on the nail. You don’t have to apply it perfectly, because it will be under the paint. However, try not to apply it too shabbily, or you risk getting your nails stained.
  3. Allow the coat to dry properly before proceeding.

Step 3: Apply the Acrylic paint

  1. Pour a few drops of acrylic paint into a palette or a small container. You only need a few drops of acrylic paint because painting nails doesn’t require much product.
  2. Dip a small brush in some water and use it to swirl the acrylic paint. This action will thin the paint, but not too much to make it runny.
  3. Pick up a little thinned paint and then position the brush at the bottom of the nail bed. Ensure you place the brush right in the center, just above the cuticle.

Apply the paint in lengthy strokes until you cover the whole nail bed.

  • If you accidentally paint outside the nail bed, dip a q-tip in some water and use it to remove the paint before it dries.

   4. Allow the acrylic paint to dry, then apply the clear nail polish to seal and protect it. If you want the acrylic paint to be temporary, you can skip the clear nail polish.

Here’s How to Apply Acrylic Paint On Nails:

How to Remove Acrylic Paint From Nails

The products you use to remove acrylic paint from nails depend on the dryness of the paint. If the paint’s still wet, you can quickly remove it with warm water.

However, if the paint has already dried, you will need nail polish remover to get the job done. Here’s how to do it.

  • Soak a cotton ball in with some nail polish remover, then put it against the painted nail.
  • Press down the cotton and let it sit until the acrylic paint softens.
  • Afterward, wipe off as much paint as possible, then fold the cotton to reveal a clean surface. Keep wiping the nail until all the paint comes off.
  • Repeat for all nails, then wash your hands to remove traces of the polish remover.


Acrylic paint is best known for its vibrant colors that can make anything stand out. It is also widely used for all kinds of projects because it sticks readily to all surface materials.

This wide range of uses has made it a must-have for many painters and raised curiosities in other industries.

Nail technicians are taking a keen interest in acrylic paint. They want to showcase their skills in unique, vibrant colors, but is that even possible?

Can You Use Acrylic Paint On Nails?

You can use acrylic paint on nails, provided you apply a base coat before applying the paint. In addition, you must only use non-toxic acrylics to be safe if you accidentally ingest some paint.

Always avoid acrylics with toxic heavy metals such as Cadmium, Nickel, Or Cobalt.

If you forgot to start with a base coat and your nails got stained, use some acetone to remove the stains.

If the stains won’t come out, soak your nails in diluted hydrogen peroxide for a few minutes to try and remove the color.

If you want acrylic paint to last long on nails, always apply clear nail polish over it. Remember, the paint will only last long if you apply a long-wearing clear polish.

If you use the standard type, your acrylic paint will only last two or three days.

Thank you for reading this article, and I hope you now understand everything about using acrylic paint on nails. Please contact me in the comments if you need more details on anything.