Water Marbling Nail Art: the truth behind the whimsy

I’ve wanted to write this post for the past month (at least) and it’s finally time to write it. In today’s beauty post I will be explaining how to do water marbling nail art and the realistic results you will get. I’ve attempted this four times and I will be sharing my experiences and what I’ve learnt on the way. So buckle up and let’s do this! (If you just want a short tutorial I will be posting a blog about my festive nails too).

After watching some videos on YouTube I thought I was ready to attempt this water marbling lark and prepared my kit: a jug of filtered water, some scotch tape, toothpicks, cotton buds, an old cup (and a shot glass), nail polish remover, a basecoat, a white polish and then a selection of colours to marble. Phew… that’s a bit of a list!


Step one: paint your nails white. Easy right? I used Barry M’s Matte White for this. It doesn’t leave a great finish but it does the job for this.


Step two: Fill your cup with filtered water. Make sure the water is “room temperature” and pretty much to the top.

Step three: Scotch tape your finger. Cover the skin surrounding the nail as tightly as possible. You’ll find out why in a minute.


Step four: (this is the tricky part) unscrew the caps of your chosen colours. Load your brush and drop the polish onto the surface of the water. Take the next colour and drop it into the centre of the polish on the surface. Repeat until you have a bulls-eye pattern on the surface. 

Step five: take a toothpick and draw a pattern in the polish by carefully dragging the toothpick through the colours.

Step six: pick your favourite pattern and place your nail onto the design with your finger bent at the second knuckle and keeping the upper part of your finger as straight as possible. Submerge your finger into the water leaving excess polish on the surface.

Step seven: blow on the surface of the water to dry the remaining polish and then remove excess polish with the toothpick (though I’ve learned something I’ll show you later) and carefully remove your finger from the water.

Step eight: remove the tape from your finger, remove any polish from your skin with a cotton bud and add a topcoat.


So my first attempt turned out pretty badly. The first nail was ok. The polish formed the rings; I drew the pattern and put my finger in. I cleaned the surface and everything was going well except there was a bubble in the polish and I took the tape off too quickly and the not so dry polish was left with a drag mark in it. I continued on the other fingers and it was an experience. Out of ten fingers only six were passable as nail polish and even they were rubbish.


On my middle finger on the right hand the first ring of the polish broke when I drew the pattern letting the internal rings mix and spread. I did the nail any way and was left with a very wishy-washy colour and the solid rings floated towards my nail and formed a really ugly smudge on the design.

Otherwise the nails were ok. The thumbnail in particular worked out well and I learned a lot. The other four nails smudged, had too much polish or touched the side of the cup and were right-offs.

The second attempt was slightly more successful. With the lessons I learned from the first experience I managed to get a full set of nails thought they were nowhere near perfect. This time I had used new polishes and didn’t dip my finger in unless I was sure the polish was going to stick. (I will go through all my points at the end of the post). Still a lot of trial and error but lessons were learned and I was confident my next attempt would be better.


My third attempt was a disaster, so much so that I couldn’t actually even attempt to put any polish on the nail. I had followed all the usual steps including using room temperature water but my apartment was so cold that the polish dried as soon as it hit the surface of the water. After many failed attempts and a lot of wasted polish I gave up.

My fourth and final attempt had pretty much worked. Every nail had a unique design and there were no real disasters. It’s still not perfect but I can now happily tell you where I went wrong and give you a few hints and tips about how to do it right. (I will should you all the picture in my festive nail blog too)

What I learned:

  • Water temperature: When you read the blogs or watch the videos they tell you “cold water won’t work as well”. It won’t work at all. I used water from a filtered kettle that had been boiled, empties and then refilled with cold water so the new water was warm to the touch. DO NOT USE HOT WATER.
  • Room temperature: Make sure the room you’re in is equally as warm. You will need ventilation while you do it as the air will be thick with the fumes of nail polish but if you don’t have the heating on and the window is open you’re not going to be able to make this work.
  • Quality of polish: Use new, fresh, good quality polishes. On my first attempt I had a couple in there that are a few years old and I tried some super cheap ones too just to experiment. The Barry Ms were pretty much fine (the foils were ok by split on the surface a little) but the OPIs and Models Own were far superior. However, you do have to work quickly as quality polishes dry quickly meaning the outer rings dry before they spread to full capacity.
  • Making the bulls-eye: You have to play around with this yourself as you get a feel for it. Make sure you drop the polish close to the surface without touching it. Aim for about half a centimetre above the surface. If you do it too high the polish will just bead up and drop to the surface. I found that if you do it too low it doesn’t spread very well.
  • Anchoring: Once you start getting used to it and you manage to make your bulls-eye large enough to touch the sides of the cup, gently pull the outside ring to touch the cup so the polish sticks and is stable. If you don’t do this it’ll more around while you draw you pattern and lower your finger.
  • Excess polish: You might find that the centre of your pattern has too much polish gathering that will ruin your design. If this happens just take a toothpick and slowly dip it into the middle and slowly twist and remove. This should collect some of the extra polish, neaten the design and make sure you don’t end up with a disaster waiting to happen.
  • Drawing your design: make sure your tool is clean and sharp. You can use a needle, an orange wood stick or, like me, toothpicks but just make sure you have some tissue to clean it off. You might find that the layers are drying too quickly. Don’t throw away all that polish and hard work, just draw the pattern from the inside of the bulls-eye going out.
  • Tools: Most of the videos will tell you to use a toothpick or orange wood stick to gather the excess polish from the water but I found that a cotton bud does the best job. Have a play and find what suits you best.
  • Water bubbles: You will get water bubbles but with practice they’ll get smaller and eventually they should disappear. If you do get them, I used a dotting tool to carefully pop them under the surface. It’ll leave a bit of a blemish but nothing too noticeable.
  • Patience: I’ve read things that say “it only takes two minutes per nail” – this is a lie. My last set took at least 60 minutes to do and I still rushed it a little. Be realistic with your timings and give yourself a couple hours for the whole task.
  • Drying: Let the polish dry for a minute before you take the tape off. Again a lot of videos and blogs say to just remove it but I know from experience that this could be the step that ruins your nail art.
  • Tidying up: I actually didn’t remove the polish from my skin with polish remover the last time. I let it dry, put a topcoat on my nails and then after a couple hours I washed my hair. The excess fell off and I didn’t risk ruining my design.
  • Don’t give up: It’s really fun. I promise. So it might take you two or three tries to get it right, so what?! Even when it went wrong I still had people asking me where I got it done, how I did it etc. Don’t let the videos put you off. You’ll need to dedicate some time to it but in the long run it will be worth it.

So there you have it. A realistic view on water marbling. I’m going to post a short post on my final attempt that has a Christmas theme so if you want to see it in more detail then check back later.

I hope it was helpful and a bit more informative and I’d love to hear about some of your attempts.

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2 thoughts on “Water Marbling Nail Art: the truth behind the whimsy

  1. suzy farrell says:

    Everyone is posting about water marbling…just makes me want to try it more.

  2. Christine says:

    Water Marbling is so fun 🙂 I really like your designs, super cute 🙂

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