Acrylic Overlay vs. Acrylic Full Set: What’s The Difference?

Acrylic nails are a great way to elevate your nail’s overall appearance and aesthetic. It can be applied on your natural nails as an overlay or nail tip extension.

Whichever your preference, both are popular methods of lengthening, strengthening nails, and adding luxury to your appearance.

Wondering what makes these two methods different? Keep reading to find out; this way, you can make an informed decision when you next visit a nail salon.

What are Acrylic Overlay Nails?

An acrylic overlay nail is an artificial nail made from a mixture of liquid monomer and finely grounded acrylic polymer powder.

The mixture is applied to your nails, and when exposed to the air, they harden and create a protective layer over your natural nails. No nail extensions are used.

Additionally, it can be applied to both long and short nails, making them look glossy and stronger. It is unique because it provides an extra layer of protection to make your nails less prone to breakages or splits.

So whether you have weak, brittle nails or have trouble growing out your natural nails, an acrylic nail overlay is ideal for you.

It works best for people who want long-lasting results outside of gel nails. You can also freestyle with different shapes, lengths, or aesthetic nail art.

What are Acrylic Overlays Used For? 

Apart from adding extra flair and improving the appearance of your nails, acrylic overlays can be used for other different purposes. These include:

  • They can strengthen weak nails or protect them from everyday wear and tears.
  • Can be used to add length and shape to short or damaged natural nails
  • For a nail-biter, an acrylic overlay can help cover chips or crack.

Types and Shapes of Acrylic Overlays 

Acrylic overlay nail manicure differs in terms of thickness and ingredient. The most common type of acrylic overlay is made from monomer liquid and polymer acrylic powder. This acrylic overlay is applied using a brush and then cured using ultraviolet (UV) light or a UV lamp.

Acrylic overlays can also be in the form of gel overlays, hard builder gel overlays, or powder. Gel overlay nails are thicker than liquid-based acrylics and require longer curing time.

While powder-based acrylics are the thickest type of acrylic overlay. They can be used for sculpting nails. For shapes, there is no limit to how you can shape an acrylic over a nail manicure. You can have them in:

Oval-Shaped Nails

The oval shape is the most popular type of acrylic overlay. It provides a more natural look and can be filed into various shapes.

Square-Shaped Nails

Though less common than oval nails, squared-shaped nails still have a more polished look.

Almond-Shaped Nails

Similar to oval nails, almond-shaped nails have a slightly pointed shape. 

Pros and Cons of Acrylic Overlay

Before deciding to book your acrylic application with your nail technicians, you should know a few pros and cons. 

Pros of Acrylic Overlays

  • Reinforces Natural Nails for Them Grow: Acrylic overlays help reinforce and allow your nails to grow. It will also prevent them from chipping or breaking easily if applied correctly. 
  • Provides Protection: The acrylic provides a strong coat on top of your nails to protect them from harmful elements.
  • Durability: Acrylic Overlay nails are durable and can last up to 6-8 weeks, so you don’t have to worry about changing them often. However, you may need to fill in every two weeks to cover the gap created by growth, depending on how your nails grow. This is also important to keep your natural nails healthy.
  • Can Function as a Base for other Nail Products: Applying acrylics over your natural nails creates a nice base for applying other products like gel polish, regular nail polish, or dip powder. 
  • It Gives Room for Your Nails to be Shaped: We all long to file our nails into our desired shape. However, it will not be possible if your nails are brittle. But with an acrylic layer over your nails, you can easily file them into any shape you want.
  • Cost: Applying acrylic powder and liquid to your nail bed is affordable. The application process can easily be done in a good nail salon without having to rob the bank.

Cons of Acrylic Overlays

  • Nail Damage: Acrylic overlay nails can damage your real nails if not properly applied. Likewise, using too many harsh chemicals or improper removal.
  • Not Suitable for pregnant women: Applying acrylic nails involves using chemicals and fumes, so it’s best that pregnant women avoid them.
  • Exposure to Dermatitis: When acrylic comes in contact with your skin, it’s likely to expose them to allergic reactions and dermatitis. 

What is Acrylic Full Set?

An acrylic full-set is also known as a nail extension. It is a mix of the same acrylic powder and liquid monomer combined into a blob of dough, applied to your nails with a brush, and left to air dry.

When you get a full set, it can be done by gluing preformed plastic on top of your nail tips or using nail forms to achieve a more natural look.

Each acrylic is then sculptured as desired and painted with polish. But your nail technician should file your nails short before applying a new set of nails.

This will give it a cleaner and smoother finish. It is ideal for those looking to change their nails’ shape or wants more length.

What is the Difference Between Acrylic and a Full Set? 

Acrylic nails are composed of polymer powder and liquid monomers. When the two ingredients are mixed, they create a thick consistency molded to your nail to create a thick, durable coating over your natural nail.

Acrylics are a long-lasting, durable alternative to the traditional manicure. It is ideal for those who want long nails but have trouble growing them.

On the other hand, with a full set, you are creating a new set of nails. This can be done by gluing fake nails on your natural nail plate and painting acrylic over the whole nail.

You can use a liquid form of acrylic and a powder form. You dip your brush in the liquid (monomer) and then the powder (polymer).

Then you form a bead on the tip of your brush and place the product on your nail to form your preferred shape. After this is done once, a fill-in is required every two to three weeks.

Pros and Cons of Acrylic Full Set  

Looking to get an acrylic full set for your nails? Here are some benefits and drawbacks you should be aware of.

Pros of Acrylic Full Set

  • Popularity: Acrylics full sets are very popular as many nail salons offer this service and have a lot of experience in the application process and removal process. So you don’t have to search hard to find someone skilled in this type of artificial nail.
  • Aesthetics: They are more beautiful than natural nails and can be filed to your desired shape and length, not to mention the abundant possibilities of decoration.
  • Durability: The biggest benefit of acrylic full-set nails is their durability. It is so strong, and you are left with less worry of cracks, breaks, and lifting because it’s resilient.
  • Suitable for Weak Nails: Acrylic sets are suitable for brittle and weak nails. Also, if you have a bad habit of chewing your nails, get a full acrylic set, as they are very hard to chew off.
  • Cost: They are cheaper than their counterparts.

Cons of Acrylic Full Set

  • Unnatural Appearance: Acrylics can look unnatural and fake if applied incorrectly.
  • Difficult to Remove: A full set can be difficult to remove without damaging the nail plate. Also, when the nail is damaged, it is a breeding ground for fungus and bacteria. 
  • High Maintenance: Full sets requires a lot of upkeep. This means that you may have to pay for costly refills every few weeks or suffer the growing out period of your damaged natural nails after removal.
  • Odor: Acrylic full-set nails emits a powerful smell during the application process because of the chemicals involved. Plus, some people may have an allergy or react negatively to the strong chemicals and formation of fumes.

Acrylic Overlay vs. Acrylic Full Set: In-Depth Comparison 

Let’s dive into the key differences between acrylic overlay and full-set acrylic nails.

1. Application 

The steps for applying acrylic overlay on natural nails include:

  • Start by cleaning and trimming your nails with nail clippers. Then, use a nail file to shape them into the desired shape and buff them to create a smooth surface. Also, carefully push back your cuticles.
  • Next, apply a thin coat of acrylic powder to your nails, then allow the nails dry by curing them under LED light. This will help the acrylic overlay adhere better to your nails.
  • Next, dip your nail brush into the monomer liquid and the powder to pick an acrylic bead. This acrylic is applied directly on your nails and slowly spreads to cover your nails.
  • After applying the overlay, use an e-file to smooth out the acrylic top. Then, apply a top coat of gel polishes or nail polish to your nails for an extra shine.

 While for the acrylic full set

  • Prep your nails by gently pushing back your cuticles and using a buffing block to remove the shine on your nails.
  • Next, choose the light plastic tips that fit your nails smugly. Using your nail glue, apply the tip to your nails and hold for 10 seconds to make sure it sticks.
  • Then use a nail tip cutter or scissors to cut to your desired length and file accordingly.
  • Next, dip the brush into the acrylic mix and apply a small ball of acrylic to the bottom of the nail (near the cuticle) down to the tip. Allow to air dry or cure under UV light.
  • Then, use a coarse nail file to your preferred shape and length.
  • Finally, paint using your nail polish and add a top coat to seal in the acrylic.

2. Cost 

Concerning cost, acrylic overlay nails are cheaper than full-set acrylics. This is because overlays don’t require tips or nail forms. Also, less harsh chemicals are needed, especially if your natural nails are short.

A basic acrylic overlay costs $25-$60, while more complex designs can cost up to $100. The cost of an acrylic overlay varies depending on your location, the type of nail salon, the nail artist’s expertise, and the type of design you choose.

You must also consider the cost of extras because they can quickly add up. Most salons charge $5 per nail design.

On the other hand, an average acrylic full-set nail can start at $25 and go up to $70, depending on the nail salon. For a set of short nails, salons may charge between $10 to $30. While for a set of long nails, between $30 to $50.

3. Durability 

Acrylic overlays are super strong and long-lasting. They can last for 2-3 weeks but may require a fill-in every 2-3 weeks to cover the gap at the back of the nails where your nails grow.

However, they tend to be prone to cracks since they resemble glass. Regardless, they last longer than regular gel nail extensions. To make them last longer, you must take care of them or use long-lasting nail polish and a top coat.

While a full set of nails can last anywhere from six to eight weeks. But you’ll have to head to the salon every two to three weeks to fill in the growth.

Pro-tip: to make your acrylic nails last longer, you can get a gel overlay manicure on top of your acrylics to keep your polish vibrant.

Regardless, Taking care of your nails and avoiding activities that can easily damage them is important.

4. Maintenance 

Of the two methods, an acrylic full set is a higher maintenance nail than acrylic overlay nails. However, both must be adequately taken care of.

To care for your full set/acrylic overlay, choose the right nail length that suits your lifestyle and avoid using your nails as a tool. Also, wear waterproof gloves when working to keep the dry and chip free.

Plus, moisturize your nail with oil to keep your surrounding skin healthy. Follow good personal hygiene to reduce the chances of fungal infections or bacteria. Also, ensure to schedule appointments to get them filled regularly.

Most importantly, in the case of any damage like chipping, breaking, or splitting, do not attempt to repair it yourself; instead, go to your nail technician immediately. 

5. Removal

Removing the acrylic overlay is a simple process. It involves the following steps:

  • Firstly, soak a cotton pad in acetone.
  • Then, hold the cotton ball on your overlay nail for a few minutes to break down the acrylic.
  • Finally, use a nail file to scrape away the remaining acrylic gently.
  • Ensure to moisturize your nails after removing the acrylic overlay to help prevent damage.

On the other hand, removing a full set of acrylic is a long process. Once you decide to get rid of your acrylic nail, be prepared for some nail-soaking time in acetone.

This is because acrylics are incredibly strong when adhered to and can get stuck tightly to your nails. So it takes twenty minutes to forty-five minutes to soften them with acetone before they’re pulled out.

6. Safety/Toxicity

An acrylic full set provides more coverage than an overlay, but it can damage your natural nails more.

For instance, if you bump your nail hard enough when wearing tips, the product is more likely to lift from the back and rip the top layer of your nail with it.

Likewise, an acrylic overlay can discolor your nails if not properly removed. Also, you must be careful not to damage your nail bed when scraping away the acrylic.

This makes acrylic overlay nails difficult and sensitive to remove without a professional’s help.


Both acrylic overlay and acrylic full set are great ways of creating artificial nails that are strong and visually appealing. The above explanations should answer your questions if you’ve been confused about the two processes. So, depending on your desire and budget, choose the style that fits your preference.

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