What is Freehand Nail Art?

B. Miller

Freehand nail art is the act of painting an image onto a fingernail or toenail, using a nail polish brush or nail polish pen. This differs from airbrushed nail art, where a stencil is placed over the nail and the nail polish is airbrushed over top of the stencil, leaving a perfectly airbrushed image behind. Freehand nail art typically takes more skill than airbrushed nail art, simply because it requires the person painting the nail art to be able to create a recognizable image freehand.

Artificial fingernails with freehand nail art.
Artificial fingernails with freehand nail art.

Freehand nail art might make use of only one color in the image; for instance, if one is drawing a heart or a star. It may also make use of a number of different colors if the image is more complex. Flowers are quite popular, and these often use different colors for the stem and leaves. Seasonal items, such as pumpkins, holiday images, or summer themed images such as fireworks are also very common, and these generally use a few different colors in the image as well. It is important to contrast the colors in the image with the painted color of the nail, so the images stand out and can be noticed.

Freehand nail art is created using nail polish and a nail polish brush.
Freehand nail art is created using nail polish and a nail polish brush.

Nail polish pens are commonly used to create freehand nail art because they allow the user to be more precise. It can be difficult to create smooth lines on a tiny image just using a nail polish brush, and nail polish pens are available in hundreds of different colors. It will take a few extra minutes on a manicure or pedicure to create freehand art; generally, it will be necessary for a nail technician to do it, because it can be difficult to use one's non-dominant hand to draw a picture on the opposite fingernail.

Some nail technicians specialize in creating and applying freehand nail art designs.
Some nail technicians specialize in creating and applying freehand nail art designs.

Some people choose to put a freehand nail art image on each nail, while others may only select one or two nails for the image. This is especially common on the toes; it may only be possible to put the image on the largest toe, because the other nails will be too small. Keep in mind that freehand nail art is not the only option for adding images to the fingernails and toenails. Airbrushing, as mentioned above, is a fast and easy way to add images to the nails, and different colors can be used; in addition, nail stickers or decals are an easy way to add a picture to the nail oneself, because it does not require any skill.

Freehand nail art should be applied to clean, neat nails.
Freehand nail art should be applied to clean, neat nails.

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Discussion Comments


Freehand nail art is so pretty. I'm no professional though, so when I started out, I was doing very basic things like hearts, polka dots and smiley faces.

As I kept practicing and got better, I began to experiment with more difficult designs. Thankfully, there is so much information and examples online of freehand art, I always had something to look at. Most of the art I do now, I still replicate from ones that have already been done. It's much easier that way and it gives me a good idea about proportions and colors.

If you want to do it, you can read up on different techniques and good brushes to use. Just be patient and give yourself time, you will get better. I think it took me more than a year to do a design that was just perfect.


Airbrushing can be expensive, it's not something I would want to have done every month. But doing your own nail art, using stickers or drawing freehand is not expensive to do and I think that it's a really fun hobby. Even if it's not perfect, I prefer to do it myself, using my own imagination and talent.

A lot of beauty stores and also online stores sell supplies for freehand nail art. So you are not just stuck with nail polish. You can also use different brushes, you don't have to use the one that comes with the polish. I personally use a slim eyeliner brush to make more detailed designs. But you can also get professional nail brushes and pens if you want.

I suggest that you pick up some essential supplies, some fun colors, maybe a few pens and glitter and just have fun with it. The limits are endless with nail art, you can make as many different designs as you can think of!


I have developed an interest in nail art because I enjoy reading beauty blogs and have been seeing the most beautifully colored nails and so many different kinds of nail art displayed. I had never realized before how beautiful and stylish nail art can be. It doesn't look awkward or stand out too much when it is painted on natural nails either.

I have tried doing freehand nail art on my own and it did not turn out as good as I expected. Freehand is actually very hard! It's not hard to paint, but nail polish brushes are quite wide and not very appropriate for drawing small things. I also have very small hands and nails which makes the job even harder. I'm having a nail technician do my nail art now for that reason.

I would like to try the pens though, it will probably be easier to use and maybe I can do my own art.

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