Negative Space Nail Designs
Beauty

13 negative space nail designs we can’t stop saving, liking and sharing

Characterised by leaving swathes of the natural nail unpainted, negative space nail designs can be minimalist or maximalist.

As a child, I only thought there were two types of manicure – the classic 90s French, worn thick and bold (and then high and skinny) and solid colour. While I knew you could paint each nail a different colour, it seemed like a bold, daring endeavour. Fast-forward many years and, thanks to social media, my nail art mind has been stretched, surprised and astounded. There are delicate nail designs, chains, hooks, rings and magnets. Some are embedded with gold leaf, others with biodegradable glitter. Shows like Euphoria bring nostalgic diamanté tropes back to the fore. We are living in a golden age of nail artists and boy, am I happy to be here. 

Recently, negative space nails have been occupying a repetitive loop in my brain. Characterised by leaving large and small swathes of the natural nail unpainted, the effect can be interpreted in any number of different ways. Some creators choose bolder designs and colours, others prefer organic shapes and singular shades. As I said, it’s all open to interpretation. 

If you’re perma-interested in elevating your manicure game, read on for the 13 designs I can’t stop thinking about. 

  1. 1.

    Minimal maximalism

    Contrasting light and dark colours with neon and vibrant shades pulled together to create a striking minimal design. Thanks to the large expanse of natural nail bed (overlayed with clear polish, only), the colours avoid clashing, instead forming joyful accents.

  2. 2.

    Rippling wave

    An undulating thread across the tips of each finger, the organic shape of this design mimics a rippling wave or slow-moving breeze. Try to keep each tip its own unique shape; they don’t need to be drastically different but, much like things found in nature, no two should be exactly the same.

  3. 3.

    Tri-tone

    Fail to prepare, prepare to – yep, you get it. Before you start with a negative space nail design, identify three colours (above we can see taupe, dark brown and cream), and alternate applying all three, two, or just one on each finger. A softer, gently smudged shape will keep the effect earthy and natural; everything we love in 2022.

  4. 4.

    Kaleidoscope

    You’ll need a steady hand and some time to kill – unless you’re using a gel manicure kit – to effect this kaleidoscope negative space nail design. The geometric shapes look uniform when positioned on the same section of each nail but randomising the placement adds a fun, energetic energy to the manicure too.

  5. 5.

    Corners

    Very almost a no-nail-polish-at-all design, the negative space on these nails forms the majority of the effect. Small, delicate corners, painted in graduating thicknesses from index to pinky create a staircase of colour. Contrasting or monochromatic colours, it’s a low-maintenance way to manicure.

  1. 6.

    Heads and tails

    An intricate-looking design, this manicure actually only contains three colours, expertly applied in semi-circles on the base and tips of each nail. The wide-central swathe allows the colours to breathe and stand out against the clear/natural undercoat of polish.  

  2. 7.

    Swirls

    A piece of art on your nails, choosing two shades in the same colour brings harmony and gentle movement to the design. Make each swirl different to the last, focusing on creating a non-uniform effect. The beauty here lies in the undulating, responsive movement of colour.

  3. 8.

    Checkerboard

    Half-colour, half-negative space, checkerboards are one of the most eye-catching nail designs, standing out in single-colours, alternating and random colour schemes. 

  4. 9.

    Squiggles

    A heady mix of colour, thicknesses and placement, this design avoids looking chaotic by focusing on four colours repeated often, with a clear base and top coat.

  5. 10.

    Outline

    An extension on the skinny French manicure, place extremely thin lines just above the cuticle and along the tip of the nail. Draw the corners of the base slightly up along the sides of each nail to create a rounded, circular effect.

  1. 11.

    Statement digits

    Not ready to give up your solid manicure yet? Singling out one or two nails to play with negative space is a great place to start. Plus, it forms a bold design of its own. 

  2. 12.

    Soft shapes

    Negative space doesn’t have to mean majority blank space, it can also refer to smaller spaces that allow a simple design to breathe. Applying a solid manicure in softly alternating shapes, working with the negative space above, along and within the colour can help to blur the line between classic and contemporary. 

  3. 13.

    A bit of everything

    Why try one negative nail design when you could try them all? A myriad of intricate, joyful designs, it feels perfect for emerging into a new season. 

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Main image: Hang Nguyen