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9 Nail Art Ideas That Make Short Nails Look AMAZING

It seems like every time we scroll through our Instagram or Pinterest feeds for new nail art inspo, most of the looks are shown on ultra long nails that look like they require tons of maintenance. While Kylie Jenner-esque nails may be the nail shape of choice right now, it’s definitely not a look that’s practical for everyone. (Any contact lens-wearing collegiette that’s ever tried to take out contacts at the end of the day with long nails knows what we mean—not gonna happen.) Luckily, there’s plenty of ways to achieve standout nails without growing them out. These nail art looks are flattering and lengthening on short nails, no struggle necessary.

1. Marble



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While marble nails look like they’d involve spending hours squinting over your nails trying to get the design just right, but this simple dipping method used to get the look means they’re actually one of the easiest looks for ladies with short nails to achieve.

To try this for yourself, you’ll need a small bowl of water, toothpicks, black and white or gray nail polish, and some Vaseline. Take the bowl of water and add a drop or two of each nail polish color, starting with the black or gray shade. Use the toothpick to carefully swirl the colors together to get a marbled effect. Before dipping your nails, make sure you’ve used a base coat and have coated your surrounding skin in Vaseline to avoid having a mess on your hands. Dip your nail into the mixture and voilà! After your nails dry, any excess polish on your cuticles should come right off when you remove the Vaseline.

Related: The Lazy Girl’s Guide to Getting the Perfect Manicure

2. Subtle Glitter

You’ve ombré-ed your hair before, but what about your nails? Because the color is concentrated near your cuticle, glitter ombré nails create the illusion of longer nail beds, and it’s an easy look to achieve because it doesn’t have to be precise and perfect in order to look salon-worthy.

After coating your nails in a base color and allowing it to dry completely (we love a neutral hue against colorful glitter, as shown here!), take a glitzy nail polish of your choice and coat 3/4 of your nail, starting at the cuticle. Add a second coat, but stop halfway to the top of your nail the second time around. Finish off the look with a third coat of glitter, concentrated near your cuticle, creating a gradual ombré effect. Don’t forget your top coat!

3. Mixed and Matched

What if we told you there’s a really easy way to do nail art without actually doing nail art? While painting tiny designs on small, short nails can be a struggle, adding an accent nail or two in an eclectic mix-and-match style looks just as fun as nail art, without dedicating hours to your mani. We love the look of a single glittery or metallic ring finger to compliment the rest of your nails. If you’re feeling fancy, you can even pick one accent nail for nail art and keep the rest of your digits simple—it’ll be a huge time-saver.

4. Reverse French Mani

Much like with glitter ombré nails, the reverse French mani creates the perfect half moon shape at the base of your nail, which is ideal for extending the line of nails that are on the shorter side.

Have a shaky hand? No sweat. There’s a mind-blowingly easy hack for achieving smooth lines: Remember those binder reinforcement stickers? Yeah, they’re your new nail art miracle product. After painting your nails with a base color, simply stick them at the base of the nail, placing the holes where you want your half-moon shape to go. Paint over your nails with a second color and let them dry. When you remove the stickers, you’ll have a flawless reverse French manicure look.

5. Teensy Triangles

Are you seeing a pattern here? Basically, any nail art look that creates an upward-and-outward effect on your nails is ideal for looking mega-flattering on short nails, which is what makes this minimalist triangle mani so great.

Once again, creating a bit of a sticky situation will majorly help here unless you have an insanely steady hand—cutting out teeny triangles in blue painters tape should do the trick. Paint your nails the color you want your triangle details to be, and allow them to dry. Stick down your triangles and polish your nails again with a second color. Remove the tape to reveal super smooth lines once your nails are dry. Easy enough!

6. Starry-Eyed

Your nails may be short, but they can still pack a major punch—and this galaxy look is proof. Because this look involves sponging on and layering colors in a way that’s easy and imprecise, it’s easy to DIY it on short nails and is an amazing, eye-catching look when you’re finished.

Calling all ladies with a sizable nail polish collection: this one is for you. While this tutorial uses a total of seven different polishes including glitter to top it off, you can customize it and make it your own with as few or as many hues as you want. You’ll also need a makeup sponge, a toothpick, some q-tips and nail polish remover on hand. To start, paint your nails in black. Once they’re dry, it’s time for the fun part. Take a makeup sponge and pile on silver, blue and bright purple nail polishes. Finish off the look with your “stars,” a.k.a. white dots using a toothpick and a light coat of gold or silver glitter. Clean up any polish on your cuticles with a q-tip dipped in polish remover.

7. On The Side

This sideways twist on French tips takes the look from typical to on-trend—and the sharp diagonal line is especially flattering on shorter nails. This is a look that can easily be achieved with a bit of painter’s tape and two complimentary colors of polish. We’re loving this look which incorporates rose gold metallic polish at the tip. To nail (pun completely intended) the look, use Essie’s “Penny Talk” on top of your favorite neutral polish.

8. Walk on the Wild Side

Considering ultimate #GirlBoss and J.Crew creative director Jenna Lyons once called leopard print a neutral, we’re all for finding a way to wear it on our nails. Leopard nails look like they take some professional-level nail art skills, but they’re actually surprisingly easy to create with a dotting tool—or the rounded end of a bobby pin if you don’t have one on hand. The standout pattern will make your short nails as statement-making as the next girl’s super long tips.

Start by doing your nails with a nude polish. On top, use a dotting tool to place dots in a darker tan or beige nail polish—don’t worry about making them perfectly round, either. The more imperfect they are, the better the final product will look. After letting the first layer of spots dry, use the dotting tool to outline them with smaller black spots. 

9. Simple Stripe

When all else fails, simple stripes are the way to go. While the look may seem simple at first glance, there is tons you can do with lots of thinly-sliced tape and a little creativity. Wondering why it’s perfect for short nails? Opting for simple vertically-placed stripes will elongate your nails—kind of like wearing a striped shirt in order to look taller. Don’t be afraid to mix it up either—try a different striped look on each nail as shown above for a final product that’s bold, not boring.

The short-nailed struggle doesn’t have to be real—with the right nail art techniques, your nails can be just as statement-making as your bestie’s acrylic tips. 

Caroline is the Evening/Weekend Editor and Style Editor at Her Campus, a senior public relations major at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a leather jacket enthusiast.  You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram @c_pirozzolo.