8 mins


While clients might think the French mani is an ‘easy’ or ‘quick’ option when it comes to nail art, the precision needed to pull off this classic design can keep some non-air brush practising nail techs up at night, writes Kezia Parkins.

Dmytro Zukevych/

“I’ve been in classes where nail techs have cried because they didn’t want to do French,” says OPI educator Belinda Price. “And, I have been in salons and watched clients ask for French and either be talked out of it or told the salon doesn’t do it.

“The assumption is that French is hard, but the reality is that with a little practice, it is easy to achieve and can offer many benefits. These include increased turnover by charging for French as an add-on, as well as new clientele who seek you out because you are well known for being a master of French.”

“IT INVOLVES a very STEADY HAND and MAKING SURE the SMILE LINE IS CRISP, CLEAN, CURVED and suits the nail that you are working on.„

Common French faux pas

“A good French can be one of the hardest free-hand services to offer,” explains Catherine Jimenez, Gelish educator and home salon owner. She continues: “It involves a very steady hand and making sure the smile line is crisp, clean, curved and suits the nail that you are working on. I see a lot of smile lines that are straight across – this isn’t a flattering look. The other challenge is getting the points of the smile line to be at the same level on the sidewalls and then for the middle of the curve to be at the centre of the nail.”

Another issue can be the thickness in which the gel or polish is applied to create the French tip. If you’re not careful, the tip of your French could end up looking bulky due to excess product build-up… so not chic!

Also, the curve needs to be like a soft V and, in addition, how extreme that is depends on how long the nail plate is. The larger the nail plate, the more extreme the V; the shorter the nail plate, the softer the V will be.

The right nude

Choosing the right base colour is important to achieve the perfect French mani accessible to all skin tones, according to Julie-Anne Larivière, Salon System Expert.

“For fair skin tones I like to use a sheer pink or a creamy pink, for medium/olive skin tones, a pale taupe or a soft peach-like shade, and for dark skin tones, a rose beige or a cocoa/ mocha tone,” she adds.

“Not all products are equal,” says Price. “Some pink shades discolour, some whites yellow, stain or chip. For best results use the whole system of one brand with a matching lamp.”

Valua Vitaly/

Mattify it

“The best trick is to mattify the base with a matte top coat before applying your French,” says Gelish Educator and home salon owner Jenni Hession. “This will help to paint smooth lines and stop the gel from bleeding.”

“It also means that if you need to remove and reapply you don’t ruin the base colour,” notes Jimanez, who also likes to work over a matte top coat.

No matte top coat? No problem! Chantelle Vermont co-founder and CEO of Clawgasmic nail network mattifies the base by wiping over the base colour with cleanser or alcohol. “Removing the tacky layer of the gel polish will also help stop bleeding and will allow the liner or art brush to glide over the base easier,” she says. 

Bogdan Kovenkin/

“GEL PAINT DIFFERS from GEL POLISH as it IS THICKER and STAYS IN PLACE, whereas GEL POLISH has a TENDENCY TO RUN in order to self-level.„

The right brush

“Using a striper brush is a game changer,” says Vermont, who remembers when individual brushes were not such a thing and techs would often have to use the brush straight out of the bottle to do a French.

All of the techs featured in this article have found a friend in their liner/striper brush that has become the companion to helping them achieve their French. Many favour a length of around 11mm to achieve a deep smile line and seamless curve.

Hession likes to use a gel striper brush for creating the fine lines of the French and a square gel brush to wipe away any excess gel polish and to perfect the smile line if needed.

“I can always go back in with my mini gel striper brush if needed to make the lines more crisp,” she adds. “Never overload your brush – only very little product is needed for a French manicure.”

“If I need to do any cleaning up, I use a gel brush with a little bit of top coat on it,” says Jimanez, sharing a top tip. “This helps my brush glide over the nail plate while maintaining the crispness.” 

Importantly, look after your brushes, emphasises Price. “If you use a nail art or clean-up brush, take care of it and keep it just for French, so that no glitter or dark shades can contaminate your product.”


“If you can use ONE COAT for the FRENCH DESIGN with gel paint or polish, then you will have LESS CHANCE of the PRODUCT BULKING AT THE TIP or in other areas.„

The right product

The consistency of gel polish can sometimes make detailed or precise nail art, such as the structure of the French mani, tricky. That’s why gel paint commonly referred to as ‘art gel’ was invented.

“Using art gel is one of the other tricks I give to my nail network members struggling with French,” divulges Vermont.

Gel paint differs from gel polish as it is thicker and stays in place, whereas gel polish has a tendency to run in order to self-level. Thus, gel paint is ideal for achieving thin and crisp smile lines. It also often comes in a pot rather than a bottle and should be decanted onto a nail art palette to allow you to run a thin layer of product through the length of the brush to create long and crisp lines.

Also, gel paint can achieve a one-stroke application – this helps skirt the bulking tip issue that many techs struggle with.

Mark it out

The French tip has evolved beyond the classic white tip, so mix it up with seasonal colours.

If you are not confident with creating a clean and consistent design on all 10 fingers, then mapping out your French is a great solution.

“Using a gel striper brush, I always start with two diagonal lines,” says Hession. This will determine how deep you want your French smile line to be.

“Then I draw a horizontal line at the point where I want the bottom of the arch to be right across the two you have already painted.”

The angle of the horizontal lines will determine how dramatic the smile line will be. Closer to the side of the nail will mean a higher smile arch. Closer to the middle or crossing over will create a lower arch. 

After drawing the horizontal line, you will have an angular outline of the French design. Then use your liner to soften the smile line and fill in the gaps.

Jimanez also likes to draw a template first: “I draw one line in the centre of the nail, with 2 either side and then dots at equal lengths down the sidewall. I then draw a line from the dots on the sidewall with the ones either side of the centre and then a line across each of these. I can then soften this to create a central even smile line and then fill it in with the gel polish.”

Alex Oakenman/

Meanwhile, Vermont’s method is to start in the middle by drawing a point in the middle of the nail and dragging it down to create the smile line on one side and then she mirrors it.

“Do not apply your colour too thickly – it’s much better to build it up gradually,” adds Jimanez.

If you can use one coat for the French design with gel paint or polish, then you will have less chance of the product bulking at the tip or in other areas. Otherwise, a clean brush can be used to remove some excess. Don’t forget to flash cure in between fingers to avoid your previous artistry getting smudged.

Try out a few different techniques and follow some educators on social media to see how they map out their French manicures. There are so many ways to achieve a great result so don’t get discouraged if one doesn’t work for you.

Top it off

“I like to finish French with two coats of top coat to level off the polish,” says Jaz Moger, Salon System nail expert and owner of Paint by Jaz. Not only does this help create a seamless transition between the French design and the rest of the nail but will also smooth out the overall look.

“We teach our students to encapsulate the French manicure with a clear strengthening layer over the top, as this helps to create a smooth apex and reduces the chances of having a bulbous end to the manicure,” says Stella Cox RE:NEW Beauty educator. “This also gives strength to the main stress point in the nail, which is usually where the smile line is.”

“I use clear structure gel,” adds Jimanez. “This acts as a great surface leveller and also adds additional strength to my application.”

“ALWAYS EXPLAIN to your CLIENT that THIS DESIGN will take an EXTR A HALF AN HOUR and check if that’s okay with them.„

Manage expectations

It’s important to educate your clients on the work that goes into your art to keep them happy and returning. This also helps them book in the right treatment time and understand your prices.

“All of my clients know when they come to me it’s not going to be a quick job, especially with a French design,” notes Moger. “Always explain to your client that this design will take an extra half an hour and check if that’s okay with them. If not, then unfortunately they will have to go for a more simple design.”

“Become slick at French application and you will soon be cheering when customers ask for it, rather than shying away,” says Price.


This article appears in Professional Beauty October Issue

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Professional Beauty October Issue
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