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30 Nail Designs That Will Look Amazing on Your Shorter Nails

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@paintboxnails / Instagram

Obsessed with nail art? Babe, you’ve come to the right place. From Russian manicures, to graphic nail art designs, to modern French manicures, half-moon manis, and 3D nail art, the latest nail trends very much reflect our inner selves—which is anything but ordinary. What we love about nail art is how personal it can be. It’s like an instant snapshot of your mood. That’s why when it comes to nails, we’re all about showing them off. Sure, a set of long nails can be beyond stunning, but why should they snag all the attention?

The truth is, you don’t need a lot of nail real estate to flaunt fun nail art ideas that deserve their own art show exhibit. “People who play stringed instruments, police, military, healthcare workers, rock climbers—there’s room for everybody in this nail circus, and when someone tells me their nails are ‘not long enough’ for art, I’m almost offended,” says Shani Evans, a nail technician based in New York City. “Negative space, abstract design, dramatic metallics, glitter and chrome, and bright colors are all perfect for shorties.”

So whether you’re a nail-biter who’s struggling to grow them long, taking a break from long nails, or just prefer yours short and sweet, we’re here to prove that you can still rock a short mani and pull off eye-catching nail art. Here are 16 of the most awesome short nail designs from some of our favorite nail artists.

About the Experts:

Shani Evans is a nail technician based in New York City.
Rachel Apfel Glass, founder of GLOSSLAB, which has locations all across the country.

1. Moody Stripes

A closeup photo of a model's hand with a mix of red on black nail polish on a wooden background
@nailsbyshani / Instagram

This mix of red on black nail polish is a total mood. Worried about making your lines super straight? Evans has some advice: “When I first started painting my own nails, my lines were mad wobbly, too. A way to practice painting straight lines on your nail is to draw two tiny dots, then paint a line connecting them. That helps train the hand-eye coordination to make it straight.”

2. Geometric Shapes

@nailsbyshani / Instagram

Painting perfect geometric shapes can take years of practice to nail, so save this look for a seasoned pro (we promise it’ll be worth the wait—you’ll love the look on your shorter nails). We’re obsessed with how this contrast of black and white makes both shades pop. 

3. Tonal Crescent Moon

@nailsbyshani / Instagram

We’ve spotted dressed-up cuticles all over IG and we’re 100 percent here for it. The best part? You don’t have to worry about chips or cracks ruining your lines. This matte-black curve laid over a glossy black base is perfect for any occasion.

4. Punchy Polka Dots

@nailsbyshani / Instagram

Nail trends may come and go, but polka-dots have a place at the top of our nail art-list forever. Need an easy hack? “My first dotting tools for polka-dots were a toothpick (for small dots) and the head of a bobby pin (for larger dots),” says Evans.

5. Dash of Gold

@nailsbyshani / Instagram

If your nails are super short like these, a dash of glitter polish over a nude base is all you need to take them from simple to stunning.

6. Multicolor Glitter

@nailsbyshani / Instagram

Speaking of glitter, swipe your stripes vertically from your tips to your cuticles for a party-ready look.

7. Black French Tip

@nailsbyshani / Instagram

Whoever said that you need long nails to flaunt a trendy French mani obviously overlooked how chic they look on shorter nails. Use a deep shade like this brooding black polish to give your French mani a darker makeover.

8. Checkers and Swerves

@glosslab / Instagram

“Mixing a fun color such as this bright green and a clear, white, or any light color, is the best way to get a pop of color that isn't too overpowering,” says Rachel Apfel Glass, founder of GLOSSLAB

9. Baby Flowers

@glosslab / Instagram

“Floral patterns give off that perfect mix between fun and sophistication. This is great for short nails as nudes and pastels actually help to make your nails look longer, giving them a more natural look,” says Glass. Give this cute floral design a go by playing with different sizes and shapes of flowers or press-ons.

10. Indie Nails

@glosslab / Instagram

“A different design or pattern on every nail is great for short nails. Instead of focusing on the length of the nail, people focus on what pattern you chose,” says Glass. Play with smiley faces in different color combinations, or use your favorite emojis as inspiration.

11. Double Pink French

@glosslab / Instagram

Pink nails are forever on-trend. Pair them with a matte French tip and you’ve got a simple nail design that looks super complex. “I love light pinks, as they look great on any nail length. It's subtle and clean. My go-to is GLOSSLAB Polish in OG Everyday,” Glass recommends.

12. Thin Lines

@glosslab / Instagram

“This look can give off the illusion that your nails look longer than they actually are, and a simple line is so quick and easy to recreate on all nail lengths,” says Glass, who recommends playing with contrasting colors.

13. The Accent Nail

@glosslab / Instagram

“Dark navy is one of my favorite fall colors, and I love having one nail on each hand with a fun accent pattern. It’s perfect for that subtle pop and bringing a slight out-of-the-box look to life!” says Glass.

14. Holographic Hues

@oliveandjune / Instagram

These psychedelic nails are so fun. The best part? They’re nail stickers! Snag a pair and customize them or play with different color combinations (they’re specially made for short, round nails): E.L.F. X OLIVE & JUNE White Diamond Holographic Press-Ons.

15. National Pride Nails

@jinsoon / Instagram

This gorgeous split-design set was made to celebrate Ukrainian pride, and we just found it so inspiring. Rock your own flag colors just like this and celebrate your heritage with pride.

16. Negative Space Nails

@jinsoonchoi / Instagram

Negative-space manis are everywhere and we’re all about them. Showing off a clean space between your designs is a surefire way to draw attention to your masterful nail art while making your nails look longer. To create this look, get creative with curves and swirls surrounding your nail bed.

17. Checkered Flowers

Flowers always look good on short nails, why not elevate them further? We love this pastel and checkered look paired with tiny dotted flowers. Sure, it looks fit for spring but trust us when we say it will look trendy no matter the season.

18. Pale Green & Crystals

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A post shared by ナナ (@nana_nanail)

Remember when Cassie from Euphoria sported her clear rhinestone nails? Since then, variations of the trend can be found all over your Instagram feed. The best part is that rhinestones never discriminate; no matter your nail size, they will always sparkle!

19. Blue Squiggles

Could nail art be any easier? This is a great look to try for yourself at home. All you need is some detailing nail brushes to make the smooth squiggles flow along your nail bed.

20. Subtle Aura Nails

We keep seeing aura nails everywhere but they’re always on long acrylic nails. Luckily, we finally found an example of this ombre-blended trend on shorties. They look fabulous and give the illusion of length.

21. Pistachio Nails

Pistachio-colored nails with a little ‘Matisse-esque’ off-white squiggle as an accent is a look we would love to see all short nails rocking some time. CHILLHOUSE even sells a press-on set that feels similar. But rest assured, you can get the same look on your short nails with a little patience, and the right tools.

22. Metallic Micro French

Micro-French nails are definitely not just for long nails! In fact, we think this minimalist nail trend looks better on shorter nail lengths. French nails also look great when grown out (yay for less upkeep!), so if your goal is to grow your nails while maintaining a manicure for a couple weeks time, then this is the ideal design.

23. Bejeweled Rainbow Nails

Best believe we’ll be sporting these bejeweled, Taylor Swift-inspired nails this year. I’m thinking a holiday party is the perfect time to rock them. Your nail tech might love or hate you for asking for this design, but just assure them the end result will be worth it!

24. Multicolored Smile Nails

Smileys are another nail design that knows no lengths. No matter the size of your nails, you can always fit a hand-painted happy face, or a decal smiley. The question is, what colors will you choose?

25. Gold-Toned Wavelength

We love this retro summer-inspired, earth-toned manicure (and we’re sure we’ve seen matching roller skates with this design somewhere within the depths of the internet)! This design will actually add length to your nails with the two tones complementing each other. Don’t love the colors? Pick your own!

26. Mini Florals

Get out a tiny toothpick or a dotting tool, because this design will take you just a few minutes to create. Finish with a top coat and you’re ready to go. It’s a simple yet elegant design that will have everyone complimenting you.

27. Colored French

French-tip nails are having such a moment. From micro-tips to inverted styles—the possibilities are simply endless. Colored french manicures were extremely popular last year and still are. Choose your favorite color and watch your short nails look better than ever before.

28. Dotted Manicure

We call this a ‘dotticure.’ It may take a lot of time and patience, but if you’re dedicated to the nail game, you know how much joy this look will give you. Uncap your polishes and get your dotting tools handy.

29. Sweet Cherries

Don’t be afraid to choose more intricate nail art just because you have short nails. It’s still going to look amazing. You can create a bunch of cherries if you’re worried this design won’t fit. It’s trendy and gives the perfect pop of color. Keep this one in your back pocket for Valentine’s Day!

30. Rainbow French

Of course we had to throw one more French manicure idea in this list. @thehandedit is such a great creator to follow for tutorials because she has short nails! Her creativity knows no bounds and she never lets her nail size get in the way. This rainbow Frenchie reminds us of a friendship bracelet you would make at summer camp—it’s simply perfect.

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About the author
Runa Rhattacharya
Runa Bhattacharya
Runa is an NYC-based writer and Registered Nurse with over 8 years of experience covering beauty and wellness. She’s worked for publications like SELF, Cosmopolitan, and more. She’s passionate about beauty, science, and two careers that she loves!
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Article Last Updated December 15, 2022 12:00 AM