Fun With Dotting Tools: A Tutorial

Hello gentle readers.

Damn it all, anyway. This was supposed to post on Friday. What the hell did I do? Okay, this is friday's post, posted Thursday night. Gah! I am such an idiot, sometimes!

Fingers requested a dotting tutorial and I have finally gotten to doing and photographing one. I am sorry that it took me so long to get to this. But I am glad to do it, it was actually kind of fun.

Okay, so... Dotting. It is easy. Fun. Dotting is one of the few nail art forms I think that I can do with any degree of success so I do it. A lot. As I said, dotting is easy and it is fast, if you don't have a ton of time to do nail art, dots can gussy up your tips in short order.

You only need a few things to do dotting:

A dotting tool, of course. You can find sets and individual tools for not a lot of money at beauty supply stores and online. If you can't afford them, can't find them locally or order them, you can make dotting tools out of simple objects around your home. A pencil with an eraser and a straight pin with the round glass heads; run the pin into the eraser and you have a dotting tool. If you have pins with different size heads, you have different sizeed dotting tools! You can also use a straightened bobby pin with the rubber tip left on, again, if you have different sizes, you have different size4ed dotting tools. Toothpicks, wood skewers with points... Heck, even old metal knitting needles would work; different sizes would form different size dots. Just be sure to test them in a little polish and acetone or remover, first to be sure that they will be safe to use. Use your imagination.

Polish. Choose a bunch of colours that all work together and please your eye. I like to go whole hog and use a base colour and at least five or six dot colours. But do what works for you. Use two or three or a dozen... Play with it and make it what makes you happy. Play with finishes, textures, light and dark.

A little thingy of acetone or remover for cleanup and cleaning your dotting tool as you work.. I use my acetone bottle cap, one I salvaged from an empty bottle, it is the perfect size for cleanup and so on, and your cleanup brush.

You will also need a palette of some kind on which to plop your polish puddles. I use pieces of hair foils that I knock into quarters and stack in huge stacks in a plastic bag for soaking off glitter. You can also use a folded piece of paper, a paper plate, a polish safe artist's palette. Again, use your imagination and work with what you have.

The colours I used for this tutorial were: Sinful Colors Beautiful Girl (base), Hazard, Greek Isles, Fly Away,Verbena and Snow Me White as well as China Glaze Lemon Fizz. 

Some of the things you need. Sorry about the yellow. It was late afternoon and the light was golden and I need to learn how to white balance my camera. If it can be dome with that old carthorse. 

Plop some polish in a small puddle out of the bottle onto your palette.  Use about a brush or two full, at a time. Don't put out too much, as the polish starts to dry in a short time and will get gummy. If that happens, you will need to put out fresh polish. Dotting is easiest and cleanest with fresh, fluid polish so don't try to stretch gummy, drying polish. Get out some more. 

Start by picking up a little polish on the rounded part of your dotting tool and set it down squarely on the tip and lift up. Don't use too much pressure, but do use enough to deposit the colour. As you lift the tool, the polish will mound slightly. This is normal. If it peaks, clots, makes a string, it is too gloopy, get out some fresh polish. This part takes a little practice to get the feel for it. But you will pick it up very quickly. 

Start with the first colour you want to use and lay down some dots. You should be able to make two or three dots before you have to reload your tool. Depending on the size of the nail, how much coverage you want and so forth, the number of dots will vary. Do this by eye, don't count. Unless you are just really anal, like that. I just go by eye, myself. 

Move on to the next colour and repeat. As you dot, you might find the polish on your tool getting a little sticky. Wipe it off on your paper towel, swirl it in acetone to clean it off, then dry it and dip back into the polish. I do this about every three reloads or so. Again, just go by feel. If the polish is starting to goop, the dots are getting too big, the polish is stringy, clean off and reload. And maybe get out some fresh polish. 

Add more colours. Vary the number of dots and placement from colour to colour. Allow the dots to overlap one another a bit, let the size vary naturally, as well. Don't worry too much if dots of the same colour are close together, in the mass of colour, it doesn't really matter. Unless, again, you are really anal about that kind of thing. Then just place your colour to best please your own eye. This is your nail art, do it to make you happy.

Keep going until you have used all of your colours and you have the dot coverage that you want. You can cover the whole nail, leaving some base or none showing, just do tips, or the bottom curve or half the nail... Use your imagination and go with whatever feels right and looks good to you. Once you have enough dots and are happy with the way it looks, grab your cleanup brush and do cleanup, if needed (I rarely need to, but I do, on occasion). Let the dots dry for a minute or two to help prevent streaking or running and apply your top coat. The dots, which were somewhat domed will likely flatten out and be smooth. But not always. Depends on the thickness of the polish and if you build dot on dot. Let your nails dry and there you have it. Crazy dots. Now, wasn't that easy? I told you so. 

This is a design I did off the cuff on a gradient fail practice nail. As you can see, you can stack different sizes and colours to make different designs. Some of the tiny white dots are too big... This is what happens when you let the polish build up on the dotting tool too much. These dots stayed rounded, after top coat because they were stacked up and thicker.

So, there you have it. A dotting tutorial. I hope that this was helpful. If you have any questions, don't hesitate to shoot me a comment and I will get back to you and answer it, if I can.

Thank you so much for popping in. Have a great Friday and may your polish never bubble.

The dotting tools used in this post were sent to me for review. A long time ago. 


  1. I have always wanted to try this. Now seems a perfect, and I mean PERFECT time, as I am laid up, or down rather, with tendinitis in my ankle which refuses to heal. Or heel, as it were. ;) Bad pun, but who cares? My point is, (oh, I did the pun thing again) I' am going to finally do this. I have pins and toothpicks and baby pins and the pins with the glass balls. I have a keepsake issue where it comes to my mother, so since 1990, I have little boxes, tin, what have you of stuff. Just stuff. If anyone requires some white pearl buttons, I'm your girl.

    Erica, once again, I love your blog and each and every post!

  2. Great tutorial! I will try this out soon!

  3. This is awesome tutorial! Thanks :)

  4. fun fun! Will give this a whirl maybe this weekend. :D Thanks for taking the time to break it down. it sure helps me. (NEWBIE) 

  5. I'm so bad at doting lol!! I always find my nail polish is too thin unless I use the komac ones but they don't ave the nicest colors!!

  6. I love all your dotting. The second one is really pretty with the gradient background!! ^.^

  7. Oh, thank you. That was a practice fail. lol But the dots on top helped. :D

  8. Hmmm... I just regular polishes. Sinful Colors polishes work well for dotting, I use them a lot but any brand works, for me. I don't know what to say. I wouldn't dot with Konad Special, it is so thick and gloopy, I'd probably end up with strings everywhere and it would never dry. lol Different things work for different people. :D 

    Dotting just takes a little practice. It is easy, once you get a feel for it. :)

  9. Yay! :D When you do, hit me up in comments and drop me a link? :D

  10. You are so welcome. I enjoyed doing it. :D

  11. Thank you. :)

  12. Thank you and you are most welcome. :)

  13. Thank you. I hope that you do. :D

  14. So, how'd it go? Please shoot me a link? 

  15. I have the tools, I just need the nerve to try again!  I really appreciate this and I will try and dedicate the post to you!

  16. You can do it! If you have a nail wheel, practice a little on that, before you commit to your nails. :D I can't wait to see your beautiful dots, when you are ready to go for it. :D

  17. I love both of these designs! I just got my first set of dotting tools fairly recently. and I've been needing inspiration to use them. I'm adding both of these to my to-do list (and my nail board on Pinterest).

  18. Thank you. :) Dotting is really easy and you will be able to come up with some great designs. :D

  19. Brilliant, thank you so much! Mine always ended up in total failures, will have a go using your method this week.

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