Maximize Your Mani Regardless of Length

In this day and age, nail art has taken on a whole new life. Gone are the days of just simple, dotted flowers—the evolution of nail products and the genius of today’s nail techs have created a new world when it comes to nail designs. Whether it’s two-inch long stiletto tips with 3D applieques or hand-painted landscapes á la Van Gogh himself, there is truly no limit when it comes to nail art in 2024.

But, for many, the length of the nail remains a roadblock in the journey towards achieving the mani of one’s dreams. In the most simple sense, the longer the nail, the more surface area for a more extravagant design to come to life, which leaves many individuals who don’t love a long nail feeling stuck when it comes to elevating their styles. Not to fret, though—we reached out to some industry experts who gave us the rundown on how to maximize your nail design potential even on short nails.

Featured Experts

  • Sigourney Nuñez is a Sally Hansen global partner
  • Julianna Dahbura is a nail expert and founder of Deco Beauty
  • Alison Martinez is a V Pure educator and nail expert

Designs for Short Nails: How to Reach Your Nail Art Dreams

“While long nails give us a sense of elegance, there’s no denying the benefit of short nails,” explains Sally Hansen global partner Sigourney Nuñez. “They are super manageable, clean and chic.” Nuñez not only loves a short nail for their practicality and understated chicness, she also emphasizes the ability for short nails to feature some fierce designs. “When it comes to nail art, it’s inclusive of all lengths including shorties,” she says. “People with short nails can absolutely achieve cute nail art especially with stickers if you’re not sure about painting,” adds nail expert and founder of Deco Beauty, Julianna Dahbura. So, what designs are best for short nails? Scroll on for some major inspo.

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Gem Stickers on Sheer Nails

This is one of Dahbura’s favorite nail art designs for short nails that is super accessible for those who don’t feel confident in their painting abilities. After applying a base coat of clear polish or a sheer shade like OPI’s Bare My Soul ($12), Dahbura explains that you can simply apply some gem stickers—like her brand’s JEWELS Sheet ($12)— which features small, sticky gems that are the perfect replacement for rhinestones that require gluing. Because of their small size, you can “go in heavy with the gems” or just add a few here and there to easily elevate your look, Dahbura says.

Image via Julia Dahbura and @decobeauty, @livdoesnails_ on Instagram

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Centered Stickers

Another easy, sticker-based look that Dahbura loves when it comes to short nail designs is the idea of putting one sticker on the center of each nail. “This one looks really cute with bows” she explains. Using stickers from Deco Beauty’s COQUETTE Set ($12) on each nail, you can easily add some ballet-core realness to your short mani. Pro tip: “Choose sheer and skin-tone colors for short nails to blur the line between where your nail and skin meet and avoid contrasting colors like white or black which can make your nails seem smaller in appearance,” Dahbura adds.

Image via @bugnails on Instagram

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The Skittle Mani

“One of the easiest ways to make short nails pop is to play with color like with a skittle manicure,” Nuñez begins, “This means wearing a different shade on each nail. To take that trend up a notch, give it a monochromatic spin and wear a variety of the same color in different tints and tones—think a light pink to a baby pink to a hot pink. The subtle gradient will really make those shorties stand out. For example you can pair Sally Hansen Miracle Gel in Pink an Outfit ($13), Party of Hue ($13) and Brewberry ($13) together for that monochromatic, Skittle effect.”

Zolga_F/Getty Images. Image Used for Illustrative Purposes Only.

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Negative Space

“A little peekaboo of the natural nail underneath a design like something geometric can really make a cool and trendy finish on short nails—think a diagonal french tip or half moon,” Nuñez says. “For creating more intricate, hand-painted designs, consider investing in nail brushes of different sizes, like Le Mini Macacron’s Le Liner Brush ($10).

Image via @bugnails on Instagram

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Line Work

“For something a little bit more intricate, a linear and striped look that goes from the cuticle to the free edge will give the optical illusion of elongating the length of your nail bed,” Nuñez explains.

marigo20/Getty Images. Image Used for Illustrative Purposes Only.

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A Simple French Mani

“A simple Frenchie is such a cute accent to a square or oval short manicure,” says V Pure educator and nail expert Alison Martinez. If you’re looking for something more funky, try experimenting with different colors other than just white. (Chrome, anyone?)

Dariia Chernenko/Getty Images. Image Used for Illustrative Purposes Only.

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Minimalist Glitter

Another cool and exciting way to dress up short nails is with a minimalist coat of glitter polish. If you’re someone who likes to keep their short nail designs simple, a light coat of a gold or silver glitter polish will keep nails looking natural but also allow them to catch the light, and eyes, in a bold way.

Image via @bugnails on Instagram

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Textured Stickers and Pearls

With the rise of the coquette aesthetic, pearls are no longer a outdated accessory. If you want to experiment with textures on your short nails, try adding pearl or beaded appliqués for a fun and sensorial twist.

Courtney Rhodes/Getty Images. Image Used for Illustrative Purposes Only.

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Playful Dots and Lines

If you’re someone who isn’t as skilled in the hand-painting nail designs area, lines and dots are two of the easiest creations to make yourself, and combining them can lead to short nail designs that are eccentric, geometric and easy to do yourself.

Anna Efetova/Getty Images. Image Used for Illustrative Purposes Only.

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Ombré Glitter or Gold Flakes

Another chic and elegant way to dress up a neutral manicure is to add glitter or gold-flake appliqués only from the mid-nail to the tip, creating a dynamic design that makes it looks like the sparkling accessories are cascading down the nails in real time.

Anna Efetova/Getty Images. Image Used for Illustrative Purposes Only.

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Chrome Nails

One trending nail design that looks great regardless of how much surface area you’re working with is chrome nails. Whether you want to take your nude or white nails to the next level or experiment with bold pinks and blues, one coat of chrome powder on top of your typical gel manicure creates an out-of-this-world shine.

Kseniya Ovchinnikova/ Getty Images. Image Used for Illustrative Purposes Only.

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Asymmetrical Accent Nails

While it may seem simple, adding asymmetry to your short nail manicure can help spice up any color combination. Instead of just doing one accent nail, chose one or two on each hand, but make them different from one another, to create a look that is subtle yet captivating.

Anna Efetova/Getty Images. Image Used for Illustrative Purposes Only.

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Half and Half Nails

Easy enough to do yourself but cool enough to catch eyes, extending a French tip further up the nail and creating a half clear, half colored look will elongate short nails and make for a playful yet simple design. For an even more exciting look, make the halfway lines asymmetrical.

Keiko Iwabuchi/Getty Images. Image Used for Illustrative Purposes Only.

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Color Blocked Nails

For an 80s pop-art inspired style that works with any array of color palettes, color blocked nail designs are a great option for short nails, as they don’t need much space but can still be intricate and interesting even on a short nail bed.

Kameleon007/Getty Images. Image Used for Illustrative Purposes Only.

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Easy Peasy Polka Dots

As a short-nail girlie myself, this is one of my favorite designs to do myself, as it comes out great every time. Whether you want to dot in many colors or just one, all you need is the bulbed tip of a bobby pin to create perfect circles in whatever color and quantity you chose.

Dariia Chernenko/Getty Images. Image Used for Illustrative Purposes Only.

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Solid Color Ombré

If sparkles and glitter aren’t your thing, you can also try out ombré nails on shorter nail beds with solid colors too. All you need is a small sponge to help blend between colors and voila!

SimoneN/Getty Images. Image Used for Illustrative Purposes Only

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Inverse French

Another design that works great on a smaller amount of space is an inverse French manicure. Whether you want to stick to neutral shades or experiment with brighter colors, painting a crescent shape right below the cuticle as opposed to on the tip of the nail makes for super cool short nail style.

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Itty Bitty Hearts

Whether it’s Valentine’s Day or not, adding some teeny tiny hearts to your short nails is a great way to add a romantic, chic flair to a lowkey style. With either heart stickers or a manual brush, adding hearts up by your cuticle adds a fun flair to your mani and helps elongate the rest of the nail bed.

Iryna Veklich/Getty Images. Image Used for Illustrative Purposes Only.

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If you’re not confident in your ability to draw a straight line on your nails like me, playing with squiggly lines is a great option. It looks great whether you’re using one color or several, and it gives 80s bowling-alley carpet chic in the best way.

Anastasiia Yanishevska/Getty Images. Image Used for Illustrative Purposes Only.

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Accent Flowers

Whether you’re skilled with a brush and able to create detailed bouquets or want to opt for the bobby-pin method to create cute, circular petals, adding a flower on a nail or two is a great way to bring spring vibes to your short nails.

SimoneN/Getty Images. Images Used for Illustrative Purposes Only.

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