The Ultimate Nail-Shaping Guide for Manicure Perfection!

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Creating the perfect manicure is every nail enthusiast’s dream. After all, gorgeous nails have become as important as beautiful makeup and gorgeous accessories these days.

And over the years, manicures have evolved. Now you can look through nail color catalogs, nail art books, and nail-shaping guides to find the right polish, nail shape, and nail art.

An infographic featuring 12 nail shapes to suit your style and personality namely round, square, oval, squoval, almond, ballerina, coffin, stiletto, flare, lipstick, arrowhead, and edge with descriptions

Putting all these together can give you a manicure you’ll love and help elevate your style.

However, you may be more used to choosing nail colors and nail art. You may find shaping your nails for a DIY manicure challenging if you’re doing it for the first time.

Or you may already have a gorgeous nail art idea in mind only to discover that it doesn’t suit your current nail shape, prompting you to think about trying a different one.

While it may seem daunting, with some guidance, you can learn how to shape your nails perfectly at home and create gorgeous nails that will serve as the perfect canvas for your next manicure.

To help you along, we’ve put together the ultimate nail-shaping guide to show you how to create the ideal nail shape you want!

Why Nail Shape Matters

You may be wondering why shaping your nails is so important. Can’t you just go with a round shape and get on with it?

While round nails are classic and gorgeous, choosing a nice shape to match your personality and choice of nail color can really make a difference. 

The same nail polish color can look completely different on different nail shapes. You can go from functional to sweet to super sexy, depending on how you clip and file your nails.

For example, bold and glossy red nail polish on a stiletto-shaped nail looks sexy and fierce. At the same time, if you apply the same gorgeous red to a chic square nail, you’ll get a more classy and professional look.

So when selecting your nail shape, consider the tone and feel you want your manicure to have. This can help you decide which shape will work for you.

Understanding the Different Nail Shapes

An infographic featuring nail shaping guide 101 with different shapes and instructions

Now that you know why nail shape matters, the next step is understanding the different popular nail shapes to find the best shape suited to you.

Nail shapes have gotten quite diverse and exciting. For this article, let’s look at the nine most popular nail shapes.

Nail Shape NameDescriptionStyle
Round
  • Straight sides
  • Curved edges
  • Mimics natural nail shape
  • Clean and minimalist
  • Classic and timeless
Square
  • Flat and straight edges
  • Square top 
  • Sharp corners
  • Fun and trendy
  • Easy to maintain
Oval 
  • Tapered or filed-down sides
  • Oval tip
  • Elegant 
  • Classic
Squoval
  • Square base shape
  • Rounded edges at the top
  • Stylish 
  • Trendy and fun
Almond
  • Tapered or filed-down sides
  • Pronounced peak 
  • Similar shape to that of an almond nut
  • Feminine
  • Sleek and sophisticated
Ballerina
  • Sleek sides
  • Long with a rounded flat edge
  • Similar to the shape of a ballet slipper
  • Feminine and sexy
  • Stylish 
  • Classic
Coffin
  • Almost similar to ballerina nails but without the round edges
  • Flat and sharp at the square edge
  • Similar to the shape of a real coffin
  • Trendy and stylish
  • Eye-catching
Stiletto
  • Tapered or filed-down sides
  • Very sharp point at the tip, similar to the sharp tip of a stiletto heel
  • Bold and sexy
  • Visually striking
Lipstick
  • Filed flat on the sides
  • Similar to the shape of a tube of lipstick, with tips cut and shaped diagonally at the ends
  • Very unique
  • Trendy and edgy

Additionally, there are a few other nail shapes, including arrowhead, edge, and flare shapes. 

Choosing Your Nail Shape

Now that you know the popular nail shapes and the different styles they suit, you have a better idea of which one you want to try for your next manicure. 

But there are still some other considerations should you keep in mind before learning how to reshape your nails.

Here are some factors to consider:

1. Hand and finger shape

One of the first things you should look at is the shape of your hands and fingers. Your proportions will help you determine which nail shape suits you best. 

Check out this simple guide to see which nail shapes go with which hand shapes.

Hand TypeDescriptionNail ShapeReason
Small handsLong palm and short fingersRound, lipstickRound-shaped nails make your fingers appear more slender. Lipstick-shaped nails make your nails appear longer and give you a chic, edgy style.
Grounded handsWide palm and short fingersOval, almondTapered nails like oval and almond-shaped help elongate shorter and wider fingers.
Piano handsSmall palm and long fingersCoffin, ballerina, stilettoEdgy nail shapes like coffin, ballerina, and squoval look best on longer fingers. Other nail shapes are suitable for piano hands, as long fingers can pull off most nail shapes.
Even handsLong palms and long fingersSquare, squovalShort, stylish nails will help long fingers look good without making them look too long.

2. Nail length

Another thing you should consider is the length of your existing nails and the length you want to achieve. 

While nail shapes like stiletto or lipstick may look pretty, round, square, or oval nails are usually easier to maintain. 

On the flip side, if you want to experiment with different nail designs, almond-, stiletto-, coffin-, lipstick-, or ballerina-shaped nails are the way to go. 

However, you will need much longer nails for these shapes. Plus, it’s usually safer to get these nail shapes using acrylic nails

Growing your nails longer to achieve these shapes may cause breakage.

3. Upkeep

Another factor you should consider is how much upkeep you are willing to give your perfectly shaped nails. 

If you don’t have time for maintenance, you should stick to simple nail shapes that are easy to care for, such as round or oval.

4. Lifestyle

Lastly, your lifestyle is a factor that is also important in determining the nail shape you choose. 

For example, if you use your hands regularly at work or during recreational activities, you may want to choose round nails that are shorter and easier to maintain.

Tools To Help You Shape Your Nails

Once you’ve taken all the factors above into consideration, the next step is to ensure you have all the tools you need.

The best way to shape your nails at home is to make sure you have the following nail care instruments:

1. Nail Clipper

Also known as nail cutters, these clippers can help you create a rough shape for your nail by trimming off the excess growth.

Once you clip these parts off and make the basic shape, you can move to filing and smoothening your edges.

2. Nail File

Your nail file is your most important tool for correctly shaping your nails. After you’ve used your nail clipper, you can use the file to sand down the edges of your nails to smoothen them, allowing you to create your chosen shape. 

A close up photo of a woman's nails getting done by a manicurist.

Make sure to always file your nail gently and follow one direction during the process. Don’t file your nails back and forth like you’re using a saw to prevent nail damage. 

Also, be sure that you are using the appropriate nail file grit. A 150- to 240-grit nail file works best for nail shaping. 

3. Nail Buffer

Lastly, you’ll need to buff your nails with a buffer. Sometimes after shaping and filing, your nails can look a bit rough, uneven, or dull. This is where nail buffers can help. 

Buffers work twofold. They’re designed to smooth out your nails’ surface and give them a little shine. 

So if you don’t want to paint your nails, buffing can make your natural nails look shiny and healthy. 

And if you do want to paint your nails, buffing helps make the surface of your nails smoother, allowing your nail polish to adhere to it better.

Nail-Shaping Guide 101

Now that you know which types of nail shapes there are and which ones are best suited to your hands and lifestyle, it’s time to use your tools to cut and file away!

Here’s an easy-to-follow guide to nail shaping at home with helpful tips and hacks for each shape. 

1. Round

A woman's beautiful fingernails with pastel multicolored nail polish
Image courtesy of @sjpolished

Round nails are classic and pretty straightforward to shape. Since they mimic your nail’s natural shape and contour, you won’t have to do much to create the shape. 

Here’s how to get round nails:

  1. Cut your nails with a curved nail clipper. 
  2. Use your nail file and follow your nail’s natural shape.
  3. File in a curved motion from the sides of the nails to the center.

These nails require little upkeep as they usually retain their shape easily, even when they grow.

2. Square

A woman's fingernails with a combination of lavender and white nail polish that has a lavender nail design on select nails

Square isn’t a natural nail shape, so it may take a little extra work to achieve it. But don’t worry; we’ll show you how to achieve a square shape for your nails easily. 

Here’s how to get square nails:

  1. Cut your nails flat on top with a straight-edge nail cutter. 
  2. Place your nail file perpendicular to your nail.
  3. File at a 90-degree angle flat on the nail to file down sharp edges.
  4. Keep the edge blunt and fashionable.

Square nails are easy to maintain when they’re short. Note that square shapes may be difficult if you want long nails, if you’re rough with your hands, or if you use your hands a lot at work. The edges and corners of square nails are its weakest points.

3. Oval

A closeup of a woman's fingernails with a combination of white and blue marble nail polish
Image courtesy of @leannehaycock_

An oval shape is more pronounced at the top than a round nail. However, it’s also less pointy than other nail shapes. 

It’s good to remember that this shape looks like an egg when filing your nails. 

Make sure to grow your nails longer as well to make shaping easier.

Here’s how to get oval nails:

  1. Using your nail cutter, clip the sides to create a bit of a peak, then soften them with a nail file.
  2. File at a diagonal angle in an upward motion on one side of the nail and down the other to create a soft oval tip.

Oval nails are relatively easy to maintain. As your nails grow longer, you just need to keep smoothening the sides to accent the oval tip.

4. Squoval

A closeup of a woman's fingernails with a combination of hot pink and nude nail polish that has silver glitter tips
Image courtesy of @nailsby__tessa

The squoval is a classic and stylish nail shape that goes with any polish. Plus, it combines the best of both worlds: the practicality of straight tips with the stylish appearance of soft curved edges.

Here’s how to get squoval nails:

  1. Cut your nails to your desired length using your nail cutter. Be sure to cut the nail flat in a straight line.
  2. Using your nail file, file the top of the nail straight across the edge.
  3. Create rounded edges by holding the nail file at a 45-degree angle and filing in a smooth rounded motion.
  4. Do the same for both edges.

Squoval nails are easy to maintain. All you need to do is file the sides to maintain the shape. And if you get tired of the flat edge, you can easily transition to pure oval or pure square.

5. Almond

A woman's fingernails with nude nail polish base that has multicolored nail tips
Image courtesy of @kuypernailart

Getting an almond-shaped nail is similar to an oval shape but with a more pronounced tip. It’s a sweet and sexy nail shape that adds length to your fingers.

Remember that the shape of the nail should resemble the shape of an almond, meaning it should have long tapered edges ending in a soft peak.

This works best with nails that are a bit longer, so grow them out a bit before shaping. Some people also use acrylic nails to achieve the ideal length. 

Once you are satisfied with your nail’s length, you can go ahead and start shaping. 

Here’s how to get almond nails:

  1. Shape your nails into an almond shape with the nail cutter.
  2. File down the edges as you would for oval nails, then mark the center of the nail to make sure you’re creating a pointier tip. Do this by filing one side first and then the other.
  3. File slowly to make both sides as even as possible.

Almond nails are gorgeous but aren’t the easiest to maintain. Because they are long and tapered, they are prone to break easily. 

6. Ballerina

close up photo of woman's ballerina nails with colorful hearts design on each nail
Image courtesy of @bysarahnailartist

Almond, ballerina, coffin, and stiletto nail shapes are similar but with distinct differences. Pay attention to the small details to get a particular shape. 

For ballerina nails, the goal is to mimic the shape of a ballet slipper, which is tapered with a squoval end.

Again, you’ll need some length to achieve this shape. You can grow your nails, but using acrylic or hard gel is usually recommended because this shape is prone to breaking.

Here’s how to get ballerina nails:

  1. Cut a flat tip with your nail cutter at the end of your nail. 
  2. Taper its edges straight out from the nail’s sidewalls.
  3. Create the rounded edges at the tip by filing in one direction and in a smooth circular motion to avoid making it sharp. 

These nails tend to look a bit wider than coffin nails because of their rounded edges.

Because these nails are long and tapered, they require a bit more maintenance, but they are definitely worth the effort.

7. Coffin

close up photo of woman's french manicure with rhinestones
Image courtesy of @minea.nails

The coffin nail is a bold statement and very similar to the ballerina shape. The only subtle difference is that its flat tip has a sharper edge. 

Here’s how to get coffin nails:

  1. Using your nail cutter, clip your nails to create the coffin shape.
  2. Use your nail file to gently smooth and file the sides of your nails.
  3. Once you’ve sufficiently smoothened the tapered sides, use your nail clippers to cut straight across the tip. This will help you create the signature square tip of a coffin nail shape. 
  4. File the newly clipped tip, making sure to maintain the sharp and crisp edges that make coffin nails stand out.

The coffin shape is an excellent choice for people who want square-shaped nails but don’t want them to appear too boxy or wide.

8. Stiletto

A woman's beautiful fingernails with a nude nail polish that has blue nail tips and a gold star nail design on select nails
Image courtesy of @nailsby_avril

A stiletto nail is gorgeous, but it’s also one of the nail shapes most prone to breakage. For this, use either acrylics or fake nails to achieve your shape.

How to get stiletto nails:

  1. Trim nails at an angle to create the pointed tip. It may help to mark the middle with a pencil to help you ensure you get an even shape.
  2. After you’ve created the base shape using the nail cutter, file the edges to remove any roughness and highlight the pronounced pointed tip. 

A stiletto nail is the boldest nail shape and stands out immediately. Fake nails or acrylics are how you can enjoy this shape without worrying about them quickly breaking.

9. Lipstick

A closeup of a woman's fingernails with a glossy and different shades of brown nail polish
Image courtesy of @marilyn_nail_art

This unique nail shape is super trendy and requires some cutting and shaping before filing.

How to get lipstick nails:

  1. Use your nail cutter to create a slanted tip that mimics that of a fresh tube of lipstick. Make sure your slanted nails are all slanting in the same direction per hand.
  2. Use your nail file to file down the edge and smoothen the slant of the tip. You can leave the point sharp or soften it slightly for a more subtle look.

This nail shape is very versatile and can look sexy or sophisticated, depending on your nail color.

Frequently Asked Questions

Which Nail Shape Is the Strongest?

The strongest nail shape is round. 

This classic nail shape is perfect for short nails or nails prone to breakage. They still look beautiful but maintain their strength, as they don’t easily crack or break.

How Often Do You Need To Shape Your Nails?

Everyone’s nails grow at a different rate, so there is no one correct answer to this question. Typically, it would help if you shaped your nails once a week. 

But if you notice them growing much faster or your nails chipping, you may need to file them. Additionally, if you use acrylics for your nail shape, you don’t have to shape them as often.

Follow This Nail-Shaping Guide To Create Nail Shapes To Love

Creating the perfect nail shape is a fabulous way to take your manicures to the next level. 

While you may not be as proficient as your nail technician on your first try, you’ll be an expert in no time if you keep practicing and following the steps in our nail-shaping guide. 

Once you get the hang of it, you’ll be able to maintain your nail shape for longer without having to go back to the salon.

So feel free to be adventurous with your next manicure. You can express yourself in many fun ways with the right nail shapes and polish colors and achieve the most beautiful mani that can make you feel totally fabulous!

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Authors

  • Michelle Alejandro

    Michelle has had a lifelong love affair with makeup. After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science and Communications /Journalism, she began an illustrious career as a writer. Michelle penned a beauty and lifestyle national newspaper column for over a decade and became the Beauty Editor for Chalk Magazine and Editor-in-Chief for Metro Weddings for over nine years, working with some of the biggest makeup artists and trusted beauty brands in the business. During this time, she also completed a course in Creative Artistic Makeup Design and worked as a freelance makeup artist, beauty editor, and writer.

  • Jasmine Moore

    Jasmine Moore, a licensed nail technician with 3 years of expertise, offers specialized services in Acrylic, Gel X, and Dip Powder applications. Trained by Lena Fam and a graduate of NexGen Nails and Beauty School, Jasmine's accolades include nominations for "Best New Nail Tech" (2021) and "Best Nail Artist" (2023). As the founder of Jazzy Belle Beauty she stays updated on the latest nail trends.

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