How to Use Nail Foils

By Kristen May , last updated November 6, 2011

Nail foils, which are also known as transfer foils, are easy to use to get complicated patterns onto your nails. Foils often include metallic designs, glitter and other elements that are difficult to create on your own with regular nail polish. When you want to apply nail foils, follow the instructions carefully to ensure that the foils go on smoothly and remain in place for as long as possible.


Besides the nail foils, which you can purchase at beauty stores or order online, you need a few other supplies to apply the nail foils. Nail foils usually come with an adhesive that you paint onto your nails to get the foils to stick. If yours did not come with adhesive, you will need to purchase a bottle from a nail care store or drugstore. The adhesive is clear and usually comes in a bottle that looks like nail polish. In addition, you will need one or more cotton swabs and a bottle of top coat nail polish.

Prepare Nails

Nail foils work best if they are applied to clean, smooth and dry nails. Cut your nails to the desired length and file the edges so they are smooth. Wash your hands thoroughly, push back your cuticles to make your nails as large as possible and dry your nails with a clean towel.

If you would like to have nail polish under the foils, which is most common when you are using foils on just the tips of your nails, paint your nails with one or two coats of your chosen nail polish and allow the polish to dry completely before proceeding. Do not apply a top coat yet.

Prepare Foil

Cut the nail foils to the correct size. Do this by cutting foils to the width of each of your nails and then cutting the top and bottom curves to match those of your nails. If you would like to have the foils just at the tips of your nails, follow the same procedure but cut the foils off 1/3 to 1/2 of the way down your nail. One advantage to this method is that they will still look great as your nails grow out.

Apply Foil

When you are ready to apply the foil, paint a thin, even layer of the adhesive on your nails on one hand. Wait about 30 seconds after each nail so you will have time to apply the foils. Wait until the adhesive is dry, but still tacky, before proceeding. Most types of adhesive change from a milky color to clear as they dry. Do not touch the adhesive after you apply it.

Line up the foil over your first nail with the backing facing up. Using the cotton swab, press it down in the center and rub the foil out from the center to the edges of your nail. Continue rubbing gently until the foil has completely transferred to the nail, at which point you can gently peel off the backing and move on to the next nail.

Apply a layer of top coat nail polish over each nail to seal the foil onto it and keep it from getting damaged. If you are careful and do not use your nails roughly, the foils should stay on at least a week or two.

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