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Best nail designs of 2021: Manicurist-approved nail design tips

Including affordable tips and tricks to achieve picture-perfect nails.
Woman with trendy manicure design holding a coffee mug
These designs are surprisingly easy — and affordable. Getty Images

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If last year taught us anything, it's that we can do many things at home. From hair upgrades to the holidays, everything is possible to do either in the comfort of our own four walls or over video calls. While at-home hair dyes might be an easy feat for most, other beauty ventures we often leave to the professionals, such as manicures, might not be.

Though we tried at-home manicure systems and an at-home pedicure system last year, we wondered how we can achieve fancy or more intricate nail designs on our own if we aren't able to get to the salon. We reached out to celebrity nail artists across the country to find out about the nail designs everyone is wearing and how to achieve them at home.

But first, what's trending?

Trending nail designs in 2021

This year, all the signs are pointing toward minimalism. From our clothing to our living spaces, we're learning that sometimes the more simple things are, the better — and that applies to our nails, too.

"This year, I see a lot of colors, but in harmony! For example, when creating a design, [creating] color combos using a warm green against a contrasting darker green, then throwing in a complementary color that would tie it all together, perhaps a sky or light blue," celebrity nail artist Sarah Chue told us.

Complementary colors in harmony are a trend for this spring. Courtesy Sarah Chue

On the other hand, the more we stay at home, the more we might be tempted to go bold.

"I'm seeing a wide array of fun random nail art! People are working home more and also getting a bit more daring with colors, where if you were in office you might not rock that neon yellow, but in a Zoom meeting you can hide them pretty well," celebrity manicurist Erica Marton said. "Pre-Covid, it was all about the lips — anything went, from bright red to black! Now it's all about the eyes and nails!"

Whether you want to try out a new style or simply need some inspiration for your nails, we asked the experts for everything you'll need. Read on to find out how you can achieve the nail designs of your dreams at home, regardless of your skill level.

Manicurist-approved nail design tips

Solid Colors: Kiss Gel Fantasy False Nails

Prefer to skip the polish and get in on the trends without spending too much time or money giving yourself a mani? False nails might be your best bet.

"Kiss Nail products have a huge variety of full coverage nail tips and lots of nail art sets and you can mix match however you choose," Los Angeles-based nail artist Carla Kay told Shop TODAY. "These nails also come in different nail sizes and shapes."

Elle, a celebrity nail artist whose clients include Jennifer Lopez, Chrissy Teigen and Blake Lively, told us that there are hundreds of options to choose from when it comes to Kiss. "Easily pressed on and removed," she said. "15 minutes or less for a manicure that lasts long with out sitting hours to achieve."

Intricate Designs: Sally Hansen Salon Effects Real Nail Polish Strips

Marton, who is based in Florida and New York City, says these strips from Sally Hansen can save anyone looking to create intricate designs, and she's used them several times herself. She says her colleague loves ColorStreet, a company that also creates nail polish strips in several designs and colors.

Animal Print: Zoya Leopard Spots Topper

Want to go bold with an animal print? You won't need any fancy tools to make it happen. This lacquer can be layered over solid colors to create a print-like effect that crackles on its own.

"Probably one of my favorites at the moment is Zoya's Leopard Spots Topper; it's so cool and too easy!" Marton said. "[It's] perfect for [an] at-home animal print."

Gem Nails: Kememo Dual-Ended Rhinestone Picker Dotting Pen

"Foil accents and rhinestones are on trend for 2021," Marton told us. "I really feel everyone is letting their hair down a bit, so to speak, and just trying to express their beauty in fun ways; we all know we all need a bit of fun!"

These dual-ended pens can pick up gemstones and other beads with ease and come in a set of two; they're also Amazon's choice for jewel pencils.

Foil Designs: AIFAIFA Metallic Nail Foils Transfer

Marton also says foil accents are on trend for this year and recommends this set that features 10 different designs. They are not only easy to apply, but can be used for up to 40 different sets of nails.

French Manicures: Orly Half-Moon Guides

Prefer to keep it basic? You can create your own French manicure at home with ease with these sticker guides. Marton says they can make it easy to apply colors other than white on the tips of your nails, which is another popular nail art trend we're seeing this year.

Dotted Nails: Diamond L'Elegance Toothpicks

"We've definitely been noticing a lot of simplicity in nail design lately. We love using a vibrant, fun color for tiny dots, hearts or flowers on a nude or clear polished nail," Lauren Dunne, founder and CEO of Varnish Lane, told us. "A toothpick is a great way to achieve these small dots or designs and it's something that most people already have at home. If you're looking for a slightly larger dot, you can also use the tips of the open side of a bobby pin."

Dotted Nails: Goliton Nail Art Dotting Pen

Prefer to have a more stable grip when creating nail art designs? These dotting pens might be worth considering. "You could purchase a dotting tool on Amazon for a few bucks," Chue said. "You just dip the dotter onto the color of your choice and press down onto the nail, and there you will have a perfect circled dot."

Line Art: Orly Long Detailer Brush

If you're looking to create actual works of art on your nails, using a brush specifically designed for the process can help you create a more intricate design without breaking the bank or resorting to stickers.

"With other designs, such as free-handing a French [manicure], creating shapes, lines, just about anything, a great basic tool would be a short haired brush called a detailer," Chue said. "It's also great to get into small details, hence its name."

Color Coat: essie Nail Polish

Chue says mixing greens, such as Essie's "Off Tropic" and "Mojito Madness" are one way to tap into complementary colors in nail art. These green shades are the perfect mix for welcoming in spring, but you can also switch it up with different blues and other options on the color wheel.

Top Coat: Seche Vive Gel Effect Top Coat

Kay called out this top coat as one of her favorites. It delivers intense shine and a durable, gel-like finish.

Top Coat: INM Out The Door Super Fast Dry Top Coat

Kay also noted that she is a fan of this top coat from INM. It can prolong the life of an at-home manicure or act alone as a clear coat for a little bit of shine.

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