DIY nail decals

Featuring the Zerg emblem from my Starcraft nail set!

I’m gonna admit, I am not a Starcraft player. I know the names of the 3 races, that Kerrigan is a badass, and that’s about it. But Brian’s friend, Kierstin, is a fan of not just Starcraft, but most things Blizzard. When she asked how I did my manicures so she could prepare her own for Blizzcon, I thought I’d help a sister out. Of course, being me, I am a couple months late. I’m sorry Kierstin! But here’s some help for next year! Or Tuesday, if you wanna feel fabulous for no particular reason.

STEP 1: Gather your utensils


First, you’ll need the following:

  • clear nail polish
  • tape
  • scissors
  • a thin paintbrush
  • tweezers
  • a pin
  • paper
  • parchment paper (or a plastic sandwich bag)
  • tape measure (or a ruler)
  • nail polish
  • nail polish remover

STEP 2: Test your polish colors


This step is to make sure your design colors will stand out against your base color. It may seem like an unimportant step, but trust me, it’s heartbreaking when you work hard on your decal, you stick it to you nail and you can hardly see it.

Take a small section of your parchment (or plastic bag), and paint a coat of your intended base nail color. After it has dried, take the color(s) you’re using for your design and test it on your base. Looks can be deceiving! Let it dry before you judge if it’s usable or not, since some polishes dry darker.

* Tip: If it’s too dark, don’t despair. You can test a swatch of white on your base color, then paint your design color over the white. White polish helps colors to pop.

STEP 3: Measure your nail


Take your tape measure and measure your nail both length-wise and width-wise.

STEP 4: Draw out your design


On your paper, draw out a box the size of your nail. Draw your design within the box, leaving a slight margin between the drawing and the box edge.

You don’t need to be overly detailed with this step. This is just an outline for you to trace.

Or, if you’d prefer, you could also print out an image to trace. Just make sure it fits the dimensions of your nail.

STEP 5: Place parchment paper over your design

And tape it down so that it doesn’t shift as you work.

STEP 6: Paint a coat of clear nail polish over your design


Make the coat slightly wider than your box, leaving room for any edge tearing that may occur when you peel it off the parchment.

Optional: After it dries, apply additional coats. This adds strength to your decal and reduces the chances of it tearing. The trade off, however, is that the more coats you add, the thicker your decal will be, making the edges raised and more noticeable. Usually I stick to 2 coats.

STEP 7: Paint your design base


Like with all paintings, you should start with a base. Flesh out the basic shape of your design before you get into detailing. If in step 3 you decided that your design would benefit from a white base, shape it in white.

* Tip: If you find that your paintbrush hairs are getting away from you or if it isn’t stiff enough, dip it in some clear polish first. Let it dry and then your brush will be sturdy enough to handle the finer edges.

STEP 8: Detail


After the base dries, I usually paint another coat so the color is truer to the bottle and so the nail color won’t show through.

Continue painting the finer details of your design. I take the cap of the nail polish remover and fill it with a small amount. I use this as my paintbrush cleaner when I want to switch colors.

I also like to use a section of my parchment to create a paint palette. I take small drops of polish and mix them together with my paint brush. You only need small drops because the polish gets tacky fairly quickly.

* Tip: If you make a mistake and go past your design outline, all is not lost. Just paint your nail color over the mistake. It won’t blend flawlessly, but it should cover it enough to make it less obvious. You can see I made a mistake on the left side spikes.

STEP 9: Let it dry

Take a break and go do something else. Do laundry. Go for a run. Launch a Zerg rush on your enemies. Google “zerg rush”. (No, seriously, go google it!)

It’s important that you let your decal dry completely. If you try to pull it up before it’s dry, it will stretch and distort your design. Sometimes I paint my decals a day in advance and let it dry overnight.

However, don’t leave your decal for more than a few days. Nail polish gets brittle after a certain point. I’ve left decals for over a week and when I tried to lift them off the paper they cracked.

STEP 10: Gently peel your decal off your paper


Using a pin, you can lift the edges of your decal. Once you have enough to grip, you can either use tweezers or your fingers to slowly pull the rest up.

STEP 11: Trim the edges

Trim the excess clear polish off, getting as close to your design as possible.

STEP 12: Paint your nail your base color

Or, if you’ve already painted on a base color, paint a top coat. Let it dry slightly, to the point where you can touch it, but you still make a dent in it.

STEP 13: Place your decal on your nail


The reason why you want a tacky base coat is so that it will hold your decal in place in this step. Otherwise, if your nail is dry, your decal will slide right off. Gently push your decal against your nail, smoothing it down to prevent any air bubbles.

STEP 14: Paint a top coat over your decal

Back in step 4 I said to leave a margin between your design and the edges of your box. The reason was because you need some room for the top coat to attach to your base coat.

Think of it this way. If you have a rectangle of paper and you want to tape it to a surface, you’d cut a piece of tape slightly larger than the rectangle, right? If you cut it the exact size as the rectangle, the adhesive won’t touch your surface and therefore your paper won’t stick. The top coat is your adhesive and it needs to be in contact with your nail surface to hold your decal down.

Take note, you should work quickly to get your top coat spread over the whole decal. If you used 2 or less coats on your decal, the edges exposed to air will disintegrate if left too long.


Remember how in step 2 I mentioned it was important it was to test your colors? This is why. You can see this decal in the above photo thanks to the bright light of my bathroom, but in any other lighting it was too dark. I learned from my mistake and had to redo the decal for the cover photo on a lighter base color. So unless you want your hard work to go to waste, test your colors first!

Lastly, let your nail dry and you’re done!

* Tip: If you’re impatient like me, get a container of ice water and after your nail polish has dried slightly, place your nails in the water. The cold will help it dry faster. BUT BE WARNED! Do not put your nails in the water immediately after you’ve painted them because it will likely cause bubbling.

STEP 14: Take pictures of your gorgeous manicure!

And link it to me so I can see your masterpieces. =)

Hopefully this walkthrough makes sense and helps. If anything needs clarification, don’t be afraid to ask.