The applicator brush is the most important tool in a nail tech’s arsenal. It determines the ease of applying acrylic, the number of beads needed per nail, the liquid-to-powder ratio, and more.
Therefore, finding the right brush is paramount. It makes your work easier and guarantees customer satisfaction. We’ve developed this guide to help you pick the right brush size for your next acrylic nail project.
What is the best size brush for acrylic nails?
The best nail brush size depends on several factors, especially the type of nail, your experience level, and the desired accuracy. Generally, larger brushes are ideal for larger nail plates, low-accuracy projects, and highly experienced techs chasing time.
Meanwhile, small brushes suit narrower nails, beginner nail techs, and high-accuracy projects. Most nail technicians use #12, #14, and #16 acrylic brushes.
Does Brush Size Matter for Acrylic Nails?
Yes, the brush size is very important when applying acrylic nails. There’s a common misconception among DIYers that any brush will do. Unfortunately, that’s a dangerous approach that could leave you with poorly done nails.
Worse still, you may use too much or too little product, resulting in too thin or thick acrylics. Each extreme has several disadvantages.
How Nail Brush Size Affects Acrylic Application
The following are five ways brush size affects acrylic nail application and why you should get the perfect size for each project.
The Number of Acrylic Beads
A smaller brush picks up smaller beads, while larger brushes pick up larger ones. This impacts the acrylic application process in three main ways.
First, for a medium-sized nail, you need more small or fewer large beads, directly impacting the time to complete the project.
Secondly, acrylic nails made from fewer beads are strong and more even because the product dries uniformly and faster.
On the other hand, larger beads increase the risk of extra-thick acrylics, necessitating more filing work. Finally, a larger acrylic bead is harder to control and sculpt.
Ease of Application
Smaller acrylic nail brushes give you more control. This is most noticeable during the final touches. A smaller brush picks enough powder to finish the job without too much filing. On the other hand, you must be extra cautious with larger brushes during finishing touches.
The difference in ease of use is also evident during detailing, especially at the nail edges. A smaller brush handles the edges with minimal fuss, whereas larger brushes take extra care and often require more time. The same applies when applying nail art.
Acrylic Powder-to-Monomer Ratio
You need the right liquid-to-powder ratio for the perfect acrylic nails. Unfortunately, you can only get the ratio right with the right brush size.
For example, larger brushes pick up too much liquid, requiring more powder for the perfect balance. However, only some remember this, often resulting in watery beads and weak acrylics. This is why smaller brushes are preferable for beginners until you master monomer-to-powder ratios.
Every nail technician tries to avoid skin contact as much as possible. Otherwise, the clean-up takes valuable time, reducing your hourly income. Moreover, acrylics may cause skin irritation or, worse, allergic reactions.
Unfortunately, it takes significant experience and skill to keep the product off the surrounding skin using large brushes. So, again, this makes smaller brushes preferable for beginners. They give you more control, making the product easier to keep off the skin.
Speed and Time Management
A larger brush picks up more product and covers a larger surface area in one sweep. Therefore, you can finish a nail set in several seconds. Meanwhile, smaller sizes require more rounds of product, taking more time to finish the nail set.
This is not the biggest concern for beginners learning the trade. However, it’s among the most important factors for experienced techs keen to finish as many projects as possible.
Matching Size to Function: How to Choose the Right Acrylic Brush Size
Acrylic brush sizes are measured in millimeters (mm) and range from #2 to #24, with 2mm increments from the smallest to the largest brushes.
Therefore, #2 brushes are 2mm wide, while #10 is 10mm wide. The size is measured at the widest point of the brush tip, from end to end.
Below are basic guidelines for choosing the best brush size for selected acrylic nail applications.
Size #2 – #8: Beginner Brushes
This range comprises very narrow brushes between 2-8 mm. The small brushes give you great control when applying acrylics, reducing the risk of picking up too much product or spreading the product onto the surrounding skin. They’re also perfect for detailing and nail art application. But it takes a long time to finish a full set.
Therefore #2 to #8 acrylic brushes are ideal for beginners and highly detailed work. It’s also perfect for DIYers.
Size #10 – #12: Best for Newly Certified Nail Techs
This is the perfect range for a newly certified nail tech out of school. Although many experienced pros want wider brushes to work faster, sizes #10 and #12 give newbies enough control while covering a sufficient surface area in a sweep. Most importantly, they reduce the risk of mistakes until you master the trade.
At the same time, professional nail techs turn to #10 and #12 brushes for very small nails and delicate manicures. For instance, it’s a popular size range for celebrities ready to pay more for perfect nails.
Size #14 – #16: Best for Intermediates
#14 and #16 brushes are the industry standard for artificial nails. It’s what most nail salons have and the sizes most professional nail techs use for regular work.
The brushes create larger beads than the previous sizes, allowing the nail tech to work faster. Additionally, they offer sufficient control to avoid common mistakes.
The only downside is that using #14 and #16 acrylic brushes without picking too much acrylic takes a steep learning curve. But they’re extremely comfortable and highly rewarding once you get the hang of it.
Size #18 – #24: Best Acrylic Nail Brush Size for Professionals
Only a few nail techs use #18 or higher acrylic brushes because they’re challenging to control. Control is worst when using wide flat, or square brushes. You’re likely to spread the product past the nails onto the skin.
Yet, it’s a favorite size range for experienced pros at the top of their game because they can finish a full set in under a minute. DIYers and beginners should keep off #18 or higher acrylic nail brushes.
Can I Use Larger Brushes to Pick Up Smaller Beads?
Yes, you can pick a smaller bead with a large brush. It’s a lot more difficult than using a small brush. However, you can do it with experience.
The trick is to select a round brush with a pointed tip. You can pick up very little monomer liquid if you dip only the tip. Next, wipe off the excess soaked liquid at the container’s edge and dip only the tip into the acrylic powder.
You will pick a tiny fluffy bead that you can use on narrower nails or detailing work. Consider a smaller brush if the plan fails.
Can I Use Small Brushes to Pick up Larger Beads?
Yes, you can pick larger beads with a small brush. Again, it’s more challenging than working with a large brush. But it’s possible if you don’t have large brushes nearby.
The best idea is to use a flat brush as it picks up plenty of monomer liquid. Alternatively, use a square brush. Fully dip the brush into the monomer and let the excess product drip back into the container without tapping the brush on the sides. This allows you to bring maximum liquid into the powder container.
Lower the monomer-loaded brush into the acrylic powder and rotate it to pick up the maximum powder. Then gently apply the large acrylic bead on the nail without splashing.
Are Bigger Acrylic Brushes Better?
Technically, yes. Bigger brushes are better than smaller brushes. They pick larger beads, allowing you to finish nail sets faster.
Also, a large brush stays firmer at the belly, making it easier to pull down the bead from the cuticle to the free edge without breaks. That said, smaller sizes offer more control, making them better for beginners.
Other Factors to Consider Besides Brush Size
Besides size, two other factors to consider when selecting a brush for acrylic nails are the bristle material and brush shape.
Bristles are the hairs that make the brush head. These hairs can be real (natural) or fake (synthetic). Natural bristles are derived from animals, especially hogs and badgers. Meanwhile, synthetic brushes are made of polyester, nylon, or both.
Natural bristles are the best for powder-based nail products. Also, they offer the smoothest finishes. Meanwhile, synthetic brushes are more affordable.
Acrylic brushes are available in three shapes – flat/square, oval, and round. Flat brushes are suited for picking a little monomer liquid, especially for the cuticle area. They are also great for maneuvering the edges.
The same applies to square brushes. Meanwhile, a round brush holds more monomer for the perfect liquid-to-powder ratio.
However, oval brushes are the most common as they offer the best of both worlds. They hold enough monomer, like round brushes, but offer a flatter, pointed tip, like square brushes.
Is a Flat or Round Brush Better for Acrylic Nails?
Generally, round brushes are better than flat ones for standard acrylic nail projects. They make balanced beads with the perfect moner-to-liquid ratio for even and strong nails.
Additionally, you can work faster with less risk of skin contact. On the other hand, flat brushes hold very little liquid, often resulting in too much powder, thus thinner, drier acrylics.
How to Care for Acrylic Nail Brushes
Proper brush care increases the life of the brushes, reduces operating costs, and minimizes the risk of spreading nail infections. Fortunately, it’s easy to care for acrylic nail brushes;
- Clean the brush by immersing it in brush cleaner and applying pressure to spread the hairs. Allow it to soak for 5-10 minutes if necessary.
- Do not reuse brush cleaner liquid. Instead, use a new liquid after every application and for each brush.
- Don’t wash the brush in soapy water or acetone. These substances dry out acrylic brushes. Instead, use only brush cleaner.
- After cleaning your brushes, massage them with nurture oil to moisturize the bristles.
- Store the brush wrapped in paper towels in a drawer away from airborne dust. Lay it flat, not upright or upside down.
Most nail technicians use #12, #14, and #16 acrylic nail brushes as they offer the best balance of speed and accuracy. However, everyone has unique preferences, depending on their experience level and the type of project.
Generally, beginners find smaller brushes more comfortable, while professionals prefer larger ones.