How to: Zebra Nails

A few weeks ago I finally got around to using my Sally Hansen zebra nail strips. (You can kind of see them in one of my photos where I’m holding the sample of Twirl perfume, and you can tell I had just put them on because the ends are a bit ragged). Anyway, I had more trouble applying the zebra nail strips than usual, and the removal was even worse. It was more difficult than removing glitter polish and in the end my nails were left looking a bit shabby for a few days. While I still like nail strips, I decided to figure out how to do zebra stripes myself and spare the trouble and expense. Another added bonus is that you can use any colors you want with this method, rather than just black and white.

First of all, you can definitely just use Konad stamping to do zebra stripes, and maybe I’ll do a tutorial on that one of these days because they would come out looking more uniform and professional. This however is for people who don’t have Konad or want to try a more freehand approach.

You’ll need:

  • A nail polish for the base color
  • A different nail polish for the stripes
  • An orange stick, toothpick, or some tiny brush
  • Something to put drops of polish on, like a piece of plastic (palette)
  • Nail polish remover for cleaning up mistakes

As an artist, I appreciate the value of a good reference picture. You can google images of zebra nail decals, or other tutorials, or even a picture of a zebra itself if you like. I just pulled out one of my leftover nail decals so I would have something to look at when I draw my pattern.

Next paint your nails in your base color. I used white (Snow White by Zoya), but you can pick whatever color combinations you’d like. It’s important to make sure that your base coat isn’t streaky, though, so use two coats if needed. If the background is thin and streaky the overall look will seem messy. I decided to just do an accent nail on each hand, so I painted those nails white and did the others in the bright pink (Sally Hansen) I would be using for the stripes.One coat of white polishTwo coats of white polish

Now take your piece of plastic or whatever you’ve chosen to put your polish on. I use the plastic things [that Zoya sends out with orders] that have color samples on them. The middle is flat, so you can put your drops of polish right on it. It doesn’t matter what you use, just make sure it’s something that won’t be ruined by nail polish or absorb it. Take the brush from the bottle of your stripe color and dab two or three drops of polish onto your palette when you’re ready to start. Don’t put out more than a few drops of polish at a time, it will just dry out while you’re working and waste it.

For the striping, you can use a tiny nail brush, a toothpick, the pointed end of an orange stick, a small paintbrush, or whatever. If you use some sort of makeup brush, make sure you write on it “NAILPOLISH ONLY” and never use it for makeup again. I like to use an orange stick because you can make the lines really thin, but you have to be careful that you’re not scraping the polish right back off as you go. You may even have to touch up some spots, but it’s easier to get a thin line than a brush is (unless you have a nail brush specifically for thin lines).

Start at the bottom of your nail and press very lightly, painting a thin stripe about halfway, to 3/4ths of the way across your nail. Don’t make it perfectly straight, and try to vary the width a little without making it too wobbly. To make the classic zebra stripe look, you will want to taper each line at the end. To do this, just lift your brush or toothpick slightly as you get to the end. For your next line, move up a little and start from the other side of your nail, and do the same thing. Look at your reference while you work and alternate your lines, always making sure that they aren’t totally straight or too thick. In some places, do two lines on the same side, or a line that branches in two. Cover the whole nail with lines and don’t worry about touch ups until it’s dry. Repeat this on all of the nails you want to zebra stripe. While you’re working, your polish might start to dry as you’re using it. If you find yourself with little strings at the end of your line, try to press them lightly onto the nail as they will help the ends of the lines look wispy. When you’re finished and the nails have dried, carefully touch up any spots where the polish looks ‘scraped’.

Be careful of using a topcoat with this, as you may end up dragging the line color and making a smeary mess. If you decide you really need a topcoat, make sure the stripes are totally dry, and apply your topcoat in as few swipes as possible. Try to ‘float’ the brush over the nail, touching it to your nail as lightly as you can rather than pressing down. Personally, I would just skip the topcoat if you can, rather than mess up all of your hard work. Once you’re finished, you can clean up any polish mistakes on your skin with remover. And that’s it, zebra nails! Do a full manicure or just an accent nail, you can even stripe your toes. 🙂 If you try this tutorial please leave a comment and link a picture! I’d love to see what you guys come up with.

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4 thoughts on “How to: Zebra Nails

    • Aw, thanks so much! Do you think it made sense the way I explained it? Suggestions are always welcomed. I might try to do some more tutorials if people like this. /hug

      • It totally made sense; but few of us have your artistic ability (well, few of us being ME, lol). I really think you should definitely do more tutorials…you explain things really thoroughly and you take folks through the easiest path while pointing out possible pitfalls…wow, go alliteration. 😀 *hugs*

  1. Thank you!! And this one really didn’t take too much artistic ability at all, I was pretty surprised it came out as well as it did, lol. It looks better in person than in the pics. I really appreciate your comments! 🙂

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