Cartoon Nails Is The Coolest Trend Taking Over Your Feed—and It’s Easier Than It Looks

It looks like it came straight from a comic book.


Hana Hong

If you thought velvet nails were quite the illusion, wait until you see cartoon nails (also known as pop art nails). As the names suggest, these designs look like they came straight from a cartoon with an animated-like finish. 

The #popartnails hashtag has been used more than 38 million times on TikTok, and just one glance at the first results may find you thinking you’re literally watching a cartoon. Keep reading for more details on the fun, year-round style, and how to achieve the many variations of the look at home.

What are cartoon nails?

Cartoon nails provide a three-dimensional effect with a one-dimensional finish. “It’s a fun take on pop art for the nails,” Gerstein explains. “The coolest thing is that it’s on a human hand, so it gives it a different dimension—the cartoon appears to pop off the hand.”

“It’s fun seeing all the variations of this trend from bright and colorful, to festive and holiday,” says celebrity nail artist Elle Gerstein, who specializes in the vibrant trend. “I also love how versatile it is—not only with the colors, but with the nail shapes being used. I’m seeing everything from coffin and Russian almond to stiletto. The trend really allows you to put different twists on it so it doesn’t always look the same”

What products do you need to get cartoon nails?

 To achieve the look, you’ll need a striping brush, polish color of choice (for your base), and black and white nail polishes for the dimension lines. According to experts, the style works equally well with gel or regular lacquer. 

“Personally, I like it better when done with bright pops of color,” says Hannah Lee, manicurist and content creator. “If you'd like to add more dimension, you can also use a darker shade for shadowing. For example, use a darker magenta pink if you're using a hot pink for the base color.”

Gerstein recommends shades from LeChat when it comes to cartoon nail designs. The key ingredient of cartoon nails is the outline and the highlights,” she says. “Some of LeChat’s polishes come with a built-in striping brush that makes the outlining of cartoon nails easy.”

How to Do Cartoon Nails

Although cartoon nails may look complicated, the technique is actually pretty simple and doesn’t require advanced nail artistry—the secret is all in the black outline and white accents. See below for a step-by-step guide on how to achieve cartoon nails at home.

  1. Apply two coats of your base color of choice (Gerstein recommends using a brighter shade for the best effect), making sure to fully dry between each coat. 
  2. Outline the nails with black polish. 
  3. Using the white polish, add a curved exclamation point, dashes, or commas in other places to give it more dimension. This detail is what makes the artwork “pop.” 
  4. Add a top coat. “A good tip is to apply a glossy top coat before your matte top coat,” says Lee. “This will really smooth out the surface so you can get a super slick matte finish.”
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