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Water Marbling 101 — Mastering This DIY Nail Art Technique

If you’re always looking for fun ways to create custom nail art, you may have heard the term “water marbling,” one of the most buzzed-about techniques among lacquer hoarders, DIY manicurists, and beauty junkies alike. But what exactly is water marbling? Well, it’s a technique that involves making intricate patterns on the top surface of a container filled with water (using nothing but nail lacquers to create these designs) and then superimposing these creations onto nails.

Many a YouTube video exists demonstrating a variety of water marble designs — from floral motifs to clover patterns, flame designs, swirly shapes, and more — but most can seem rather overwhelming for novices who need to first practice the technique before masterminding more complex designs. This post, then, caters to those of you who are curious about the technique and want a very basic explanation of how it works so that you can practice inside the comfort of your home.

So let’s start the Water Marble Nail Art 101 lesson!



  • Two coats of white nail polish to use as the base color (you can technically use any color, but for this tutorial, we used white)
  • Toothpicks
  • A plastic cup or bowl filled with filtered or bottled water at room temperature
  • Scotch tape
  • An assortment of bright nail polishes that are new enough to not have hardened or thickened
  • A clear top coat polish
  • Q-tips and nail polish remover
  • Paper towels (for mess control)


  • First, apply a base coat to nails
  • Next, apply two coats of your favorite white polish. For this design, I chose Orly’s Au Champagne nail polish.
  • Once your nails are dry, prepare your workspace. I’d suggest covering a flat table or desk surface with paper towels (in case any water or polish spills), fill a plastic cup with filtered water, prop a roll of Scotch tape and a handful of toothpicks on the surface, and get out all the nail polish color you wish to use.
  • In order to move quickly once the process starts, unscrew the tops of the nail polish bottles and keep them open throughout the process. For my first attempt, I used Zoya America (a fiery red), Zoya Pippa (a canary yellow), Zoya Tallulah (an electric blue), Zoya Vanessa (a deep aubergine), and Zoya Reece (a metallic bubblegum pink).
  • Prep your nails by tearing off a piece of clear tape and pressing it directly underneath your fingernail. Then apply two more strips of tape to the sides of the nails, curving the top of the tape to cover the area behind the tip of your fingernails. Repeat the process until all your nails are properly taped. Note: it’s not necessary to tape your nails in order to complete the process — it’s simply a precautionary measure that protects the skin on your fingers from becoming stained by the nail polish you’ll be using. If, however, some polish does happen to wind up on your fingers, simply use a cotton ball or swap and nail polish remover to clean up.
  • To start, choose one of the nail polish colors and, positioning a brush loaded with color above the center of the water cup, allow a drop of lacquer to fall onto the surface. Once it does, it will disperse rather rapidly. Next, choose a different polish color and repeat the process, letting a drop fall in the middle of the circle previously created and watching as it disperses. Continue this process until you’ve created a number of concentric circles on the water’s surface.
  • Next, grab a toothpick and gently twirl and swirl the colors around to create the desired pattern. For beginners like myself, I’d recommend a simple swirly, tie-dye style pattern.
  • Next, take one of your pre-taped fingers and dip it into the water so that the nail is facing down and positioned above the exact part of the design that you’d like to see duplicated on your nail.
  • Allow the finger to linger in the water for several seconds and then, using another toothpick, scrape off any excess color (atop the water’s surface, the polishes develop this film-like consistency so that, if you simply move the toothpick around in the water, the film will adhere to its sides.
  • Next, remove your finger from the water. Wait a few seconds, then apply a clear top coat (such as the  Seche Vite Fast Dry Top Coat). Remove the tape from your fingernail and clean up the edges using a Q-tip and some nail polish remover.
  • Repeat the marbling process for each nail until you’ve got a finished manicure (as you become more comfortable, you can try doing two nails at a time, but start with one).


Here’s how my nail design looked when complete:



For a visual breakdown of the water marbling process, make sure to check our tutorial video (embedded above, at top) here or on our YouTube channel.

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