Polka Dot Nails
Polka Dot Nails

It struck me before writing this article that I don’t actually know where polka dots come from.

I remember the first polka-dotted item I owned, which was a skinny, black, silk scarf with white polka dots, which, in 2004, doubled as trendy neckwear AND as a belt. So versatile. But obviously, polka dots go back way beyond 2004. According to this truly great article at The Hairpin, they go back to the 19th century and have been taken up by style icons as varied as Minnie Mouse, Bob Dylan, and Marvel superhero Polka-Dot Man (idk).

To me, polka dots signify femininity in its most refined and “ladylike” iteration. That’s not always my style — whatever I do, I mostly revert back to tomboy — but some days, you just want to feel like a classy lady. In the same way, you might put on some pearls; you can do this manicure and venture out into the world with your nose in the air and the knowledge that no one is going to question you today because you’re far too important for that.

Polka Dot Nail Art Step By Step

The best thing is: that this manicure only requires four things and, once you have got the hang of the technique, it should only take you 30 minutes.

You will need:

  • A base coat.
  • A dark-colored base color. I used navy OPI shade so deep that it almost looks black. Deep purple, burgundy, and green would also look dope.
  • A white nail-art pen. I use one from Barry M, but Models Own and Sally Hansen also offer good versions. A topcoat.

You can *just* see the navy blue around the rim of the bottle here.

Prep your nails as you want. My routine is always to file, clean underneath, push back my cuticles, wash my hands, and then run a cotton pad soaked in nail polish remover over my nails. I promise your manicure will last longer as a result!

If you are using dark colors, especially blue, red, or pink tones, it’s a really good idea to use a base coat to stop your nails from staining. I used OPI Nail Envy in the original formula because it makes my normally weak and sad nails grow much stronger, and I followed that with two coats of navy blue.

Polka dot nail art
Polka dot nail art.

Before we get started on the fancy bit, grab your nail-art pen and a scrap piece of paper. You may have to push the nib down on the paper a few times to get the polish flowing. Wipe off any excess that comes out, and practice making your dots. We want them to be as teeny-tiny as possible, so go easy!

polka dot nail designs

Now let’s get started on the polka dots. The key to making this manicure look good is getting an even pattern. Start by making a line down the center of your nail. I leave about a millimeter in between each dot, as you can see below.

how to make polka dots with nail polish

Next, add a line of dots on either side, again leaving a millimeter or so in between. Note how these lines are staggered in comparison to the first line. If you joined the dots, you would make a diamond shape.

polka dot nail art step by step

Following that same pattern, fill in the rest of the nail. Some dots might end up placed right at the edge of your nail, which is fine. Pop them on — they will make the pattern look full and finished.

Polka Dot Nails

When it comes to adding your topcoat, be aware that the polish in nail art pens can be quite easy to smudge. The way to combat this is to make sure your brush is well loaded with polish and then apply the brush so gently that you’re almost floating it above the surface of your nails. That should stop your design from dragging or smudging. It really helps to have your hand on a flat surface for this part!

  • What beauty stuff makes you feel like a fancy lady?
  • Do you ever wear polka dots, or are they too Minnie Mouse for you?
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