Nail Art 101: Week Three - Gradient vs. Ombre

We are at week three of the Nail Art 101 series. Today's post will focus on Gradient vs. Ombre. Is there a difference? Oh, yes. You want to drive a nail art connoissuer insane? Refer to an ombre as a gradient or vice versa. It literally makes us cringe. So to avoid this we will go over the difference between the two as well as various techniques to achieve both looks. 

To start, I will show you a few examples of gradients as well as an example of an ombre. This will be an easy visual tool to help you differentiate between the two. 

Gradient Nails

Traditional Gradient

 A traditional gradient usually involves two to three colors. The "gradient" effect is achieved by blending the two colors together usually using a makeup sponge. The effect can be subtle by using colors in the same family (like the picture below). Or more dramatic by using disparate colors (like the picture above).

Glitter Gradient

This technique is blingier (and in my opinion, easier) version of the traditional gradient. It calls for glitter polish to be applied using a sponge over a cream base at the tips or base of the nail to create the gradients effect. With this technique you don't have to use a sponge- you can use the bottle brush if you have a light touch. If you're not confident that you can apply the glitter with lightly enough I would recommend sticking with the sponge. 

Ombre Nails


The "ombre" effect is achieved by using all colors in the same family, using a different color on each nail. Generally you start with the darkest color on your thumb with the lightest on your pinky. Or vice versa (pinky to thumb). This technique is the easiest of the two provided you have all of the colors needed. *Tip: You can also use white polish to lighten darker colors if you do not have a specific shade. 

Gradient Techniques

Sponge Technique #1 -

There are a few ways to achieve the gradient effect. I have tried a few of them and it really comes down to finding the one that works for you. I tried my first gradient using the tutorial created by The Nailasaurus. And while her gradients are magnificent, I struggled to get mine to look as smooth and as seamless as hers. I say try it and see if it works for you.

Sponge Technique #2 -

The other method of achieving the gradient effect is this one. I recently began using this technique and it works best for me and allows me a more subtle transition between colors. 

"Spongeless Gradient" Technique -  

This technique requires only the brushes in your bottles of polish. I tried this one by accident when I ran out of makeup sponges. I have since done it a few times and it's not my favorite. I don't feel like I get as much precision as I would like. Check out this  tutorial from Rebecca Likes Nails if you're interested in trying it out. 

Other more advanced gradients techniques:

Since this series is for Nail Art beginners, I didn't want to focus too much attention on more advance gradient techniques. But you may come across these so I have provided a short list and brief description of them here:

Reciprocal Gradient:

This is a very advanced technique that requires gradient layers to go in opposite directions.  This is usually achieved using striping tape or nail vinyls.

Circular Gradient:

This gradients fades inward in a round pattern. This particular technique has become very popular over the last few months or so.

Sideways Gradient:

This one is pretty much exactly the same as the traditional gradient but is simply vertical as opposed to horizontal.


If you'd like to learn more about these I highly recommend Simply Nailogical's post regarding these advance techniques and a few more even I had never heard of or tried!

Again, I say try all the techniques and see what works for you. It took me a good long while to perfect my technique and be happy with it. You might find something that works for you that is a combination of a few techniques or a whole new one you came up with. All nail art requires a little trial and error, practice and most of all... patience! 

Be sure to check out next week's post where we will cover Freehand Basics: Polka dots, Leopard Print, Flowers...oh, my!