How to Learn Acrylics….FAST.


Let me preface this article by saying that I often lurk on various salon forums. Last night, while lurking (from bed via my Evo, thanks to new forum apps), I found a thread that I’ve seen a dozen times over. “How do I get good at acrylics fast?!” In it, twenty or so women complain about how difficult it is to learn acrylics. Here are some tips on how to quickly develop your skill and not just keep, but build your clientele while learning.

1.) Invest in a practice sheet. Download one for free from here and laminate it.
2.) PRACTICE on the practice sheet. That’s what they’re for. You may be saying, “Tina, what good is it going to do for me to learn on a flat piece of paper?” Good question. You’ll learn how to manipulate your product properly. You’ll learn how much liquid your brush holds, how the product flows, and how much pressure you’ll need to use to manipulate it effectively. Do 5 practice sets a day. Yes. FIVE. Fifty nails. Every day. You can do more if you want, but no less.
3.) Use the acrylic product you plan on using on your clients. It may be tempting to buy cheap acrylic to practice with. Don’t do it. Each acrylic is very different. I recommend learning with OPI Traditional Acrylic. It doesn’t set too quickly, giving you plenty of time to manipulate the product. It holds up great on clients, doesn’t lift (if you prep properly), and doesn’t break down over time.
4.) Learn proper prep. Take a class if you have to. Proper nail prep is the key to creating long-lasting enhancements that do not lift.
5.) Get e-file certification. No ifs, ands, or buts. Do it. Hand filing is hard on your wrists and takes forever. When you’re learning acrylic, they tend to be very very thick. The e-file will become your best friend until you learn how to manipulate your product.
6.) When you’re done with the practice sheet…. move on to tips. Glue them to orange wood sticks and practice overlaying acrylic on top of them. File them, finish them, and paint them. Use them as displays. When you’ve mastered overlays, try sculpting on a form. Stick the form to the end of a polish bottle and practice away. When you’ve mastered sculpts, move on to Step 7.
7.) Skip the practice hands. That’s right. Skip them. They’re NOTHING like real hands. Real hands are hot or cold (which effects your product’s behavior). Real hands have cuticles made of tender flesh that can be cut or torn. Real hands are attached to real people. Practice hands will teach you little, if anything.
8.) Make it fun. Buy glitters, monomer dye, colored acrylic, skeleton leaves, mylar, bullion beads, tissue paper, feathers, and nail jewelry. Try putting various things under the acrylic. Keep it interesting and you won’t want to quit.
9.) Limit your exposure to textbooks and forums. Acrylics are something you need to learn on your own. Everyone has their own technique and they’re all very different. You will develop your own technique as well. Don’t frustrate yourself by overwhelming yourself with information and tutorials. If you’re going to watch tutorials, watch reputable technicians. has great resources on their professional site and YoungNails has great videos on YouTube.
10.) Work on your speed. Even after you’ve gained the confidence to start doing enhancements on clients, keep working your practice sheet and tips. Try and get your speed down.

Your times should look like this (prep/application time only):
Full set (tips w/overlay): 45 minutes to 1 hour
Full set (sculpted clear): 1 hour
Full set (sculpted p&w): 90 minutes
Rebalance: 1 hour and 15 minutes
Fill: 30 minutes to 45 minutes

I know a lot of technicians worry about how to keep their acrylic clients while they’re learning. Here are some tips to keep your clients coming back.

1.) Offer incentives. Donuts and discounts. That’s my motto. Have a fresh pot of coffee on, a box of fresh donuts, and be prepared to give a 50% discount in exchange for your client’s patience, time, and willingness to put her fingertips in your hands.
2.) Be honest. From the second the client walks in the door, let them know that you’re learning. Overestimate how much time it will take you to do their nails. Be respectful on their time.
3.) Be grateful. Thank them profusely for allowing you to practice on them. These women could go ANYWHERE, but they choose to go with you, even though you’re inexperienced. They’re helping you more than they realize by giving you the opportunity to learn skills that will increase your earning potential. Let them know how much their willingness to be experimented on means to you. Give loyal clients free pedicures on their birthdays, send thank you notes and Christmas cards. Treat them right and they’ll stick with you forever, no matter how much you suck.

If you start practicing regularly, you should have acrylic application down to a science in six weeks or less. Five sets a day, minimum, will have you ready to do speed sets in a year, max. Just keep at it, don’t get discouraged. Keep it fun and take care to not burn yourself out.
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Beauty industry survivalist, salon crisis interventionist, tactical verb-weapon specialist, and the leader of at least a hundred workplace revolutions, Tina Alberino is known as much for her extensive knowledge as for her sarcastic wit and mercilessly straightforward style. She’s the author of the book The Beauty Industry Survival Guide and the blog This Ugly Beauty Business. When she’s not writing, educating, or consulting, she can be found overthinking everything, identifying problems people didn’t know existed, and stubbornly working to change the things she cannot accept.


    • Hi there! This post is extremely old, so the links likely expired. You can find a variety of sheets by googling “acrylic nail practice sheet” or you can find the Tammy Taylor version by adding “Tammy Taylor” to that search. It looks like she now charges for a physical laminated sheet, so I don’t want to share the versions I’ve found outside of her site here since I’m not sure if she’s okay with that. Tammy is extremely nice though, so if you want her specific sheet, email her about it and she (or someone on her team) will likely respond.


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