Skip to content

Not Polish Blog

How to Apply Full Cover Nails with Gel

20 Sep 2023
How to Apply Full Cover Nails with Gel

Long-lasting, sturdy, and easy for beginners, a manicure with full cover tips is popular among manicure fans and nail techs alike. Full cover tips can both support weak nails and extend short ones, while gel is a hard-wearing and natural-looking adhesive.

While gel adhesive and nail tips are easy to use, they still can feel a bit intimidating. With so many options, it can be hard to know where to start. This blog post will help you get your footing and show you how to purchase a nail system that works for you.

Want to learn how to apply full cover nails with gel? The experts at NotPolish are here to help – let’s jump in!

What Are Nail Tips?

Nail tips are simply pieces of plastic that can both cover and extend the natural nail. They’re great for covering any imperfections in the nail bed, like divots or ridges, or for adding strength to weak or thinning nails. They’re also great for adding length, whether that’s to cover nail biting or just to add drama on a night out.

Some nail tips are designed just to add length and are placed at the edge of the natural nail. You may be familiar with this kind of tip if you’ve ever gotten acrylic nails.

Other tips can be applied at any point along the nail bed. These can be tricky to use but allow nail techs more flexibility in styling the look they want.

What Are Full-Cover Nail Tips?

Full-cover nail tips, as you might expect, don’t just add length but instead, cover the full nail plate of the natural nail as well. 

There are a lot of advantages to using full-cover tips - the apex, or highest point on the nail/enhancement, and the thinner edges are already built in. That makes these tips easier for beginners to use and cuts down on the shaping time needed.

One thing you do need to consider with full-cover tips, though, is the curve of the nail bed. Some people have fairly flat nails, while others have a more dramatic curve.

Full-cover tips come in c-curve (highly curved) and non-c-curve (less curved) options. If you’re a nail tech, it helps to have both on hand so you can better fit the client’s nails.


Nail tips, full-cover and otherwise, are made of a material called acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), also found in Lego and other toys. ABS is impact-resistant without being brittle, which makes it perfect for nails.

ABS can degrade under UV light or in the presence of weak acids like vinegar, though, so be sure to keep the gloves on while doing chores. (Or even better, put the chores off for a time you don’t have a manicure!)


False nails have been around for hundreds of years. Wealthy women in 19th-century Greece wore empty pistachio shells on their nails, creating a trend that took over the continent.

Today’s acrylic nails were developed in the middle of the 20th century. While the acrylics were durable and allowed for impressive length, the hunt was soon on for something that looked a little more natural.

Hard gel was first introduced in the early 1980s. It was chemically the same as the hard gel used today but was unwieldy to cure with the equipment available at the time. 

Developments over the '90s and '00s made gel easier to use. Soft gel, which is much easier to both set and remove, was also introduced.

What Do You Do with Full Cover Tips?

Full cover tips can do a lot more than just be fitted to your nails with gel. The possibilities are only limited by your creativity.

Nail Art

Full cover tips are a blank canvas for the wildest nail art you can imagine. Decorate them with polish, stencils, stickers, or gems. When applied with regular nail glue, the nails will stay in place for about a week.

Tips are a good way to demonstrate your nail art to clients - show them what a whole hand will look like when you get done with it!


If you do the art on the tips ahead of time, you’ll make your own set of press-on or glue-on nails. 

These can be great to keep on hand for a last-minute manicure for yourself. Or, you can spread your nail art far and wide by selling your own press-ons.

When applied with glue, the tips will stay put for about a week. The length of time with press-on tabs or other adhesives will vary.

Attach with Gel or Acrylic

This blog post is about attaching full cover tips with gel, but you can just as easily use acrylic if you prefer.

 Either technique is a great way to extend the lifespan of your full cover tips - you can get 3-4 weeks with the right care and any necessary fill appointments.

How to Apply Full Cover Nails with Gel

Applying full cover nail tips is all about preparation. Assemble your ingredients ahead of time and make sure that you’re unhurried and have enough space.

1. Pick Your Shape

When it comes to shape, there are a couple of different ways to go. Tips typically come preshaped, like square tips or coffin tips. That leaves you free to focus more on nail art than shaping.

As you get more experienced, you can create all kinds of lengths and shapes from your tips, including:

  • Square
  • Round
  • Oval
  • Squoval
  • Coffin
  • Almond
  • Stilleto.

Choose a shape that works for both your (or your client’s) hand shape and lifestyle. Long coffin and stiletto nails look great, but they may not be practical when it comes to cooking or office work.

2. Prep Your Nails

Start by using a drop of hand sanitizer to clean your hands and nails and remove any nasty germs. As a bonus, the alcohol will remove excess moisture from your nails as it evaporates.

Next, you may want to apply some sunscreen to your hands to protect yourself from the UV curing light. You can also put on nail gloves if you prefer.

Then, trim your cuticles and push them back with an orange stick or cuticle pusher. Cut your nails short - this will help keep your tips on tighter.

Now, it’s time to prep the surface of your nails. Use a fine nail file or a buffer to gently buff the surface of your nails; be sure to clean off any dust when you’re done. Then, apply a dehydrator or gel primer to your nails to remove excess moisture. 

You should also apply gel primer to the underside of your nail tips - this will help the tips adhere better to your natural nails.

3. Apply Your Nails

Place a small bead of gel adhesive on the underside of the tip where it will meet the natural nail. Less is more here - if you apply too much adhesive, it will squirt out around the nail tips and get on your cuticles and hands.

Then, line up the base of the tip with your bottom cuticle - it should be parallel but not touch. Gluing a nail tip to your cuticle can be painful!

Then, working from the cuticle to the tip, gently apply pressure to the nail. This will force out any air bubbles and help the tip to lie flat along your nail bed.

At this point, you should be able to tell if there’s too little or too much adhesive. If there’s too much, scrape it off with a nail spatula. If there’s too little, pick up the nail again, add another small drop of adhesive, and try again.

You can try this as many times as you like - the adhesive won’t cure or harden if there isn’t any UV light. This can make gel adhesive an easier option for beginners to work with.

4. Seal Your Nails

When the adhesive evenly covers your tips, and you are happy with the seal, it’s time to set the adhesive. Stick your nails under the UV light for 30-60 seconds or the recommended time given. 

Gel adhesive cures much faster than gel polish. Still, humidity and bulb strength can affect the results. Don’t be afraid to stick your nails under the lamp again if you think it’s needed.

5. Finish Your Nails

After your nails are completely cured, it’s time for the fun part. Remove any excess adhesive from your cuticles, gently buff the top layer of your tips, and clean up any dust. 

Now, you have a great canvas for regular polish, gel polish, stencils, gemstones, and more. If you plan on changing the color on your tips, lay down a layer of clear polish first. That way, you can file the polish off without damaging the nail.

Your new full cover nails with gel should last 3-4 weeks. You may have to fill in the bottom of your nails with gel after two weeks.

Tips and Tricks

  • Gel tips and adhesives are designed to work together. It’s generally better to get products from the same brand - you’ll get better results.
  • Take the time to pick out tips that properly fit the curve and shape of your nail bed. Tips typically come in 10 sizes. If the tip doesn’t fit, all the adhesive in the world won’t keep it properly attached.
  • Don’t use too much pressure when initially attaching the nail. Remember, the adhesive will stay liquid until it’s exposed to UV light, which means it will squirt out if you push too hard.
  • Have your lamp ready to go. You don’t want to have to futz with it when you have a handful of wet tips. 
  • Gel adhesive is less toxic than monomers used in acrylics, but it’s still a potentially dangerous chemical. Wash your hands before and after giving a manicure, don’t eat, drink, or smoke while giving or getting a manicure, and always work in a well-ventilated space.

How to Remove Full Cover Tips

Removing full cover tips is a bit more involved than just removing a regular polish manicure, but it isn’t too difficult, either.

Taking a tip off typically involves using a cuticle scraper or orange stick to push the tip off of the nail bed. If the gel adhesive isn’t properly dissolved, this can cause damage to the natural nail bed. Be careful and make sure to budget the proper amount of time to take off your tips correctly.

Hard vs Soft

If your tips were applied with a hard gel, you’ll have to get them off with an e-file. If you’re not a professional, that means there’s no way around going to the salon to get them removed.

If you got your tips applied with a soft gel, you have more options. It’s always best to get your tips removed by a professional, if possible, to prevent nail damage. But other removal options are available.

Acetone Removal

The quickest way to get your tips applied with soft gel off is to use acetone nail polish removal. While you can simply pour it into a bowl and soak your nails, that also dries out your skin and can be highly irritating.

The best way to remove your nails while protecting your skin is to soak a cotton ball in acetone and then attach it to your nail with aluminum foil. Yes, having ten foil wraps on your hands can be a little bulky, but your tips should pop right off after about 10-15 minutes.

Don’t Have Acetone?

If you don’t have acetone, don’t fret. You can still get your full cover tips off at home without too much fuss.

One method is to run a bowl of warm water, a little bit of dish detergent, and a teaspoon of salt. Soak your fingertips for 15-20 minutes, then use a nail scraper or orange stick to scrape your tips off.

You can also use baby oil, olive oil, or cuticle oil to remove your nail tips if you have nothing else on hand. Either apply the oil with a cotton ball or pad or rest your fingertips in a bowl of oil. Wait 15 minutes, then try to scrape the nail off; the oil method works better the newer your manicure is.


Do You Use Builder Gel as a Top Coat?

Yes, you can use builder gel both as an adhesive and as a top coat on your full cover tips. Builder gel is a special kind of gel nail polish that contains strengtheners to both thicken and lengthen nails.

Are Gel Tips Better Than Acrylics?

Gel tips are slightly less durable and have a slightly shorter lifespan than acrylic nails, but most people think they look more natural. Shorter, rounded tips with a gel can make a great everyday manicure, though you may prefer acrylics for a special occasion.

Why Do People Prefer Acrylic over Gel?

The strength of acrylics makes them great for longer styles. If you want a really dramatic nail that lasts more than a few days, acrylic is better than gel.

Gel nails are great for daily wear, though.

What’s the Difference Between Gel Tips and Overlays?

Gel overlays are used to add a bit of strength to weak nails and can help shape them somewhat, but they don’t add length. Gel tips, on the other hand, are used to add length and more dramatic shaping.

Overlays are great if your nails have been weakened by injury or if you have chips or divots in your nails. Tips are great when you’re happy with the thickness of your nails but want more length or a different style.

Where to Buy the Best Full Cover Nails

Whether for your own nails or as a tech, you want high-quality nail tips and gel adhesives that are both long-lasting and easy to work with. You also want a system that works together to give you the best results.

NotPolish has nail tips that will work for you no matter how you use them. Our tips come in different sizes and shapes - everything you need to create a stylish manicure for every client. Check out our collection today!
Prev Post
Next Post

Thanks for subscribing!

This email has been registered!

Shop the look

Choose Options

Edit Option
this is just a warning
Login Close