Nail art tutorial: How to create a glitter gradient using a cotton bud

A lot of people have asked me how I do my chunky glitter gradients (for examples, see here or here or here or here or here). I’ve always done them using cotton buds (or Q-tips or cotton swabs, whatever you want to call them). The main advantages of this method, in my opinion, is that it’s pretty foolproof, you have lots of control over where you’re placing the glitter, and you don’t end up with lots of glitter base making one end of your manicure noticeably thicker than the other.

What you need:
- a chunky glitter (I’m using Peita’s Polish Zebration, a black-and-white glitter)
- a handful of cotton buds
- a base colour

1. Do your base colour. The base colour doesn’t have to be completely dry – here I have Face of Australia Show Off, a gorgeous neon coral creme that’s perfect in 3 coats, and I waited about 15 minutes before applying glitter.

 2. Swirl the brush of the chunky glitter around in the bottle so the stem picks up some glitter. Depending on how dense the glitter is, this can be fiddly.

3. Take your cotton swab and use it to swipe a few glitters off the stem. Don’t pick up too many at a time – try to avoid getting too much of the clear base on your bud.

4. Line up your glitter and where you want the glitter to go, and tap it gently on your nail. Since there’s a little bit of the clear base on the glitter, it should stick to the base colour after a few gentle pats on the nail. Repeat until you have the pattern you want.

5. Check for furries! Some bits of cotton bud will come off onto your nail – you can carefully remove these with tweezers if you want, but usually they turn clear after you add topcoat. (This doesn’t work as well with black cotton buds!) If the bud gets too fluffy, it can get hard to work with.

6. Add topcoat, and voila! Glitter gradient!

Have you tried this technique before? How do you like to do your glitter gradients?


  1. Anonymous says

    I always wondered the best method for not having a bulging tip of clear base when trying to get a decent amount on glitter. I was considering moving to standalone glitter, but now I can keep using all the polish ones I have. Thanks so much.

  2. says

    Wow excellent, and so timely! I just received yesterday some fantastic new glitters from Darling Diva (after seeing her products HERE) and now I’ll be able to use them more effectively


  1. […] Pretty Serious’ Daphne’s Party polishes were released a while ago, but I just found the product photos while clearing out my blog folder, so here they are! They’re mixes of hex glitter and dust in pretty colour schemes – Daphne’s Garden Party has pastel metallic glitter, while Daphne’s Disco Party has neon matte glitter. They’re perfect for my go-to nail art design – glitter gradients applied using a cotton bud (click for tutorial). […]

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