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Hey everyone, Emma from Manicurity here! Today I'm sharing some of my best-kept secret tips about my favorite nail art object - the wonderful dotting tool. Whether you’re just getting into nail art or you’re a nail art pro, a dotting tool is an essential utensil! Dotting tools can do *so* much more than just dots. Read on to here all the deets on dotting tools - what they are, why they’re so helpful, how to use them, and where to purchase them.

Dotting Tools 101: The Definitive Guide to Getting Dotty - How to Use Dotting Tools for Nail Art (Tips, Tutorial) by Manicurity for The Digital Dozen

First things first - what IS a dotting tool?

I think the definition of a dotting tool is pretty straight forward! A dotting tool is something that you can hold reasonably easily (i.e. a tool) that has a generally round end - typically pointed (tiny dots) or spherical (larger dots) - that makes perfectly round circles.

Here’s a photo of some ‘legit’ dotting tools - these are double sided dotting tools which have aluminum tips in a round, plastic barrel. However not all dotting tools have to be made as dotting tools - sometimes you can find something around the house that can serve double duty as a nail art item (we’ll take a look at examples of these below in the ‘where can I find dotting tools’ section).

Dotting Tools 101: The Definitive Guide to Getting Dotty - How to Use Dotting Tools for Nail Art (Tips, Tutorial) by Manicurity for The Digital Dozen

Wait a minute - why are dotting tools so essential to nail art?!

Dotting tools are incredibly helpful for freehand nail art designs! You can use them to make polka dots (obvs!), or rings (two dots stacked on each other), or as more precise drawing tools to do designs like hearts, stars, stripes, camo print, cheetah print, lace, etc.

For today's post I did some simple skittle designs using dotting tools! From pinkie to thumb I used a dotting tool to do cheetah print, randomly placed different sized dots (really gave ALL of my dotting tools a workout!), evenly gridded polka dots with a flower accent, dot and ring gradient, then staggered polka dots.

Dotting Tools 101: The Definitive Guide to Getting Dotty - How to Use Dotting Tools for Nail Art (Tips, Tutorial) by Manicurity for The Digital Dozen

Dotting Tools 101: The Definitive Guide to Getting Dotty - How to Use Dotting Tools for Nail Art (Tips, Tutorial) by Manicurity for The Digital Dozen

For even more examples of dotty nail art designs, check out our post on A Dozen...Easy Nail Art Patterns!


BONUS Uses for Dotting Tools!

Dotting tools are also handy for placing 3D accents like rhinestones or studs. You can also use them when doing nail art marbling. And sometimes I make them work double duty by using them to clean out the ‘gutter’ of my nail - that place where polish gets stuck between my nail and my skin parts if I’m being an especially messy painter!


Cool! How do I use dotting tools?

Thankfully dotting tools are incredibly easy to use! Doing dot-heavy designs can require patience and time, but I find it a very relaxing, zen process.

Dotting Tools 101: The Definitive Guide to Getting Dotty - How to Use Dotting Tools for Nail Art (Tips, Tutorial) by Manicurity for The Digital Dozen

1. Have a work surface ready; you’ll need to put little dabs of nail polish/paint all over this item. Some people use aluminum foil, cardboard, spare paper, or a plastic take out container lid. Don’t use something absorbent like paper towels.

Dotting Tools 101: The Definitive Guide to Getting Dotty - How to Use Dotting Tools for Nail Art (Tips, Tutorial) by Manicurity for The Digital Dozen
This dotting tool needs to be cleaned!

2. Start with a CLEAN dotting tool! make sure there’s no traces of polish on it before you start because if there are, it will change the color of your first dot.

Dotting Tools 101: The Definitive Guide to Getting Dotty - How to Use Dotting Tools for Nail Art (Tips, Tutorial) by Manicurity for The Digital Dozen

3. Place a bead of polish (or paint if you roll that way) onto a work surface. This is the step I find most important for successful dots!! When I place some polish from the bottle onto my work surface, I purposefully try to make it a 3D bead (blob, dibby dab, what-have-you). I find that making my blob sort of 3D and rounded helps me to get the entire surface of my dotting tool evenly covered in polish. Sometimes if you just brush some polish onto your work surface it’s hard to get the entire area of your tool covered, then you can get messy, uneven dots or even tiny bald patches in the center of your dots!

Dotting Tools 101: The Definitive Guide to Getting Dotty - How to Use Dotting Tools for Nail Art (Tips, Tutorial) by Manicurity for The Digital Dozen

4. Steadily touch the dotting tool to the surface of your nail; try to do this as perpendicular (errr straight on if you will) as possible to your nail surface so you get a more precise circle. I use a light touch; if you push down too hard and too quickly you can slip and smear the circle.

Dotting Tools 101: The Definitive Guide to Getting Dotty - How to Use Dotting Tools for Nail Art (Tips, Tutorial) by Manicurity for The Digital Dozen

5. Keep dotting until your design is done! To keep your design as neat as possible wipe the end of the dotting tool off frequently and re-blob polish from the bottle out onto your work surface very often. If your polish starts to get stringy, stop using it and do a new little dab.

BONUS TIP: Avoid quick-dry polishes! 

They dry too quickly and you'll spend more time re-blobbing than you will doing any nail artwork.

Dotting Tools 101: The Definitive Guide to Getting Dotty - How to Use Dotting Tools for Nail Art (Tips, Tutorial) by Manicurity for The Digital Dozen

6. Don't be afraid to dot OUTSIDE the lines - or rather, get dots of polish on your skin. I find this helps the pattern look much more consistent and can easily be cleaned up with acetone.

BONUS TIP: Top coat your base color!

I like to really seal in my base color before I do any nail art accents so that I can do a little touch up with acetone without erasing my background color.

!! Troubleshooting Dot-tastrophes !!

Dotting Tools 101: The Definitive Guide to Getting Dotty - How to Use Dotting Tools for Nail Art (Tips, Tutorial) by Manicurity for The Digital Dozen

If your dots have bald patches when you put the tool onto your nail, you are either too low on polish (your little blob has dried up) on your work surface OR your polish is too flat on your work surface (and the dotting tool isn’t getting covered all over). Re-blob some polish from the bottle!

Dotting Tools 101: The Definitive Guide to Getting Dotty - How to Use Dotting Tools for Nail Art (Tips, Tutorial) by Manicurity for The Digital Dozen

If you're starting to get little wispy strings all over your design (and you're not trying to do a sugar spun mani) your polish has dried too much! Re-blob some polish from the bottle onto your work space!


So…where can I FIND dotting tools?

Usually ‘official’ dotting tools come in a pack of 5 double-ended tools, meaning each utensil has a differently sized sphere on either end. The cheapest I’ve found is on eBay or Amazon [for as low as $2 USD], but you might have to wait a bit for them to travel around the world to your mailbox.

If you don’t already have an ‘official’ pack of dotting tools, don’t sweat it! Take a peek around your house and you’ll find TONS of items that will work just as well as dotting tools. Before I bought a pack of dotting tools I used bobby pins, ballpoint pens, the ends of paint brushes, the caps on pens, and toothpicks to make dots. Here's just a few examples of things to get you started!

Dotting Tools 101: The Definitive Guide to Getting Dotty - How to Use Dotting Tools for Nail Art (Tips, Tutorial) by Manicurity for The Digital Dozen
paint brush, paint brush, pin, bobby pin, ballpoint pen, flosser, orange stick, bamboo skewer, pushpin

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Share YOUR dotty nails with US!

Now that you know everything there is to know about dotting tools, go dotty! Share your nail art created with dotting tools - either with 'official' dotting tools or a creative alternative - with us. Show us your dot-tastic nail art on our Facebook page, Twitter, or Instagram!!