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Negative Space Nail Art Ideas That Will Impress Your Instagram Feed

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Photo by Laurennailedit/Instagram

For a manicure that’s original, low-maintenance, and entirely on-trend, look no further than negative space nails. The easy-to-achieve style is an ideal option for anyone looking to move past a single-color manicure, but isn't an experienced nail artist just yet. By leaving some of the natural nail exposed, these nail art styles rely on color block designs, funky dots, sparkly accents, and cheeky decals to create standout looks without the extra effort. While there are plenty of complex styles that you can take to your nail artist It’s much easier than it seems — you can even turn to the reliable French mani. All you have to do is add an unexpected twist, like mixed colors, ombré hues, or graphic lines.

Below, we've highlighted 20 nail art ideas that show off just how versatile this longstanding nail art trend can be. We've also got nail polish recs and tips so you can DIY each of these looks yourself. Get ready to impress!

1. Leopard Love

Leopard print is a classic go-to style, no matter the season, and that certainly extends to nail art. All you need is some brown and black polishes to create the spots. After applying your base, cover part of the nail with a tan polish, then use a dotting pen, paint leopard spots on two thirds of the nail. You can add a stripe by using a different colored polish to add something extra like the one seen here (Pretty Woman NYC Let's Avocuddle would look similar). Then finish with a super shiny top coat. The best thing is, since your negative space is at the base of the nail, it’ll still look good, even when your nails start growing out!

2. Tuxedo Triangles

Want a fairly easy design that will still wow the crowd? Try these black and white triangles that sit in the center of the nail. Use tape to create the angular line, paint one side in COLOR CLUB Where's The Soiree, then the other in COLOR CLUB French Tip, and you’ll have black-tie talons in no time.

IPSY tip: Remove the tape when your nail polish is still wet–it'll be harder to remove if you wait for your nail polish to dry first. 

3. Not-So-Basic Black

These wavy black edges might take only seconds to paint, but they pack a punch. Use a matte finish, like NAILS INC. Westminster Bridge Top Coat, to amplify the level of chic-ness. 

4. Mixed Bag

Can’t make up your mind between all the cool nail art out there, or just a maximalist at heart? No one’s making you commit to just one design, so go wild with a bunch of them! Take inspiration from this set that has everything from rubber duckies and cow print to fruit prints like cherries and lemons. Hey, if it’s good enough for Blake Lively, it’s good enough for us!

5. Fiery Blues

Somebody call up Guy Fieri, because his signature flame fashion is showing up in nail art! This design brings us right back to the ‘90s, but they look incredible on nails in 2021. While you can always go for traditional red and orange flames, there’s something extra cool about the blue. Use two contrasting tones for a split-flame look, like SUNDAYS No.40 on one side and NAILS INC Soul Surfing Plant Power Vegan Nail Polish on the other. Hot!

6. Neon Zebra

Whether it’s leopard, cheetah, or in this case, zebra, animal print is always a nail art winner — especially if you use interesting colors. This negative space design is created by doing an almost maximized French tip, or leaving a larger area for your half moon to be exposed at the base of the nail. (Of course, it also depends on how long your claws are.) Either way, a unique color combination of stripes will ensure that this look is killer. 

7. Highlighter Tips

These neon tips allow you to experiment with multiple nail shades at one time. Talk about optimizing your polish collection! Using a set like COLOR CLUB 7 Piece Day Glow Kit, all you have to do to create this look is paint the tip of your nails and a thin side of your nail bed. Gorg!

8. Holo-Celestial

This celestial-themed manicure proves you can easily create a professional-looking negative space manicure with just a few tricks, like holographic nail polish, rhinestones, and nail gems! Use a polish Like COLOR CLUB What's Your Sign and it’ll look absolutely heavenly. 

9. Glitter Grass

If you’re dreaming of a day spent at the park, laying in the grass and having a picnic, but are stuck at your desk doing work, you can at least play out your fantasy on your nails. This adorable grass and daisy-inspired look gets a boost of glam by adding sparkle to the grass. Just a little bit of glitter, such as COLOR CLUB Plan to Travel Gel, changes up the whole vibe. 

10. Jaded—In a Good Way

Crystal and quartz-themed nails can look extra fierce when they’re set against a negative space. To get this jade-inspired design, paint your nails using the marble nails effect, but with a green like COLOR CLUB Jardin Green

11. Caramel Ombré

If neutrals are your thing, you’ll love this design that uses a variety of brown shades for an ombré inspired design that’s anything but basic. Make your nail painting easy by picking up a ready-to-go collection like NAILS INC Keep It Tonal 4-Piece Ombre Nail Polish Set.

12. Neon Pills

This design slightly resembles pills, and is a super simple look that can be done with pretty much any nail polish (though we prefer a glowing neon like this), this. Stick to a solo shade or use a few different colors for a color blocking effect. 

13. Simple Daisies

This is another great example of an easy-breezy negative space design that makes a huge splash. These tiny, delicate daisies are easy to paint, and you can customize your own version by using any color combinations you wish. 

14. Drippy Graphics

If you’re looking for a little bit of a challenge, do a negative space design that incorporates two fun techniques: graphic lines and drippy nails. Use a white nail striper to draw on grid art, then top off your tips with drips in a few different pastel nail polishes. It almost reminds us of ice cream! 

15. French Switch

Want a simple negative space nail style that’ll still wow everyone around you? This alternating French tip design is unique and modern and can be used with any type of polish you want. One great choice is DECO MIAMI in Champagne Mami, you’ll be able to create a stunning look that’s subtle yet eye-catching and most importantly is easy to DIY.

16. Simple & Chic

There’s a lot we can do to help a manicure stay looking fresh longer (*ahem* add a new layer of top coat every few days). Eventually, though, you’ll start to see growth at the base of the nail bed. With this simple negative space nail art, you can avoid that issue entirely. Start by securing a small piece of tape horizontally along the bottom half of each nail. Then, paint the top section of the nail as usual. We love how well Helios in Beach Barbie contrasts the naked nail. Once you've applied a few coats, remove the tape and polish things off with a top coat of your choice. 

17. Holographic Shine

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Is that you, Zenon? We might not all be living it up in outer space like our favorite girl of the 21st century, but who says our manicure can't suggest otherwise? Here’s a negative space nail idea that doesn’t require much in the way of expert manicure skills. Paint a few nails normally using a holographic hue from PRETTY WOMAN Holographic Set and allow it to dry. On your remaining bare nails, add complementary nail decals of your choice and finish everything off with a top coat.

18. Glamorous Gold

This luxurious, shimmering negative nail art design is a testament to the notion that sometimes, less is more. To DIY this look, we’ll first apply a base coat to the entire nail bed. Then apply a nude nail polish all over. Once two coats have been applied and dried, using a light hand, add a smattering of gold flecks to the nail. Then finish with a top coat. To add some three-dimensionality to this nail design, glue gold nail gems or gold foil on top of the accent polish.

19. Flower Power

These negative space nails might look complicated, but it’s just like an impressionist painting: look closely and it all comes down to a collection of tiny dots. Start this manicure off by creating a full set of nude nails (base coat and a couple of coats of polish). To create the floral nail art, use a coordinating set of colors like COLOR CLUB Falling for You Kit. Using a super fine brush, begin to create light, small dots in the flower formation of your choice.

IPSY tip: Make sure to allow each flower design to dry before painting any overlapping sections otherwise the colors will bleed.

20. Seeing Stars

Here’s a cute, youthful negative space manicure that makes the most out of a negative space manicure by contrasting a nude nail with bright, vibrant stars. Begin by applying a base coat and a nude nail polish color that matches your skin tone. Once all that has dried, apply star-shaped nail decals on top, or go in with a star-shaped stencil. Simply apply the stencil on top of your dried base coat, then brush your nail polish on top, removing the stencil to reveal a fresh, clean star shape. For the steady-handed among us, you can also use a nail art brush and coordinating polishes of your choice to create your own star design.

Pick up an IPSY Glam Bag to discover new nail polish brands to create your own gorgeous nail art. All you have to do is take our Beauty Quiz to get things started. If you’re already part of the fun, don’t forget to refer your friends to earn points, which you can use toward products. Check us out on Instagram and Twitter @IPSY for more tips.

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About the author
Marie Lodi
Marie Lodi
Marie Lodi is an LA-based writer and co-host of Fishnet Flix podcast. She was previously the Senior Beauty Editor at HelloGiggles. Her bylines have appeared in The Cut, PAPER, Fashionista, Allure, Glamour, Buzzfeed News, and more.
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Article Last Updated December 10, 2021 12:00 AM