Manicure Moment: How To Create The Perfect Gradation Manicure For Any Occasion

Photo: Courtesy of Michelle Mismas for All Lacquered Up/MTV

Have you ever had one of those days where you just can’t decide on what nail color to wear? We do, ALL THE TIME. But, rather than play eeny-meeny-miney-mo with polish, we discovered a great way to wear multiple colors at once that’s both fun and ultra-chic: The Gradation Manicure. This type of mani utilizes five nail polishes from the same color family, worn in a gradient across the hand from light to dark. The bonus is that you can make it as subtle or dramatic as you desire (so it won’t look too juvenile), and the best part is that you really can’t mess it up. The key is to make sure you’re pairing colors that work together.


1. Choose a color family.
2. Compliment your skin tone by choosing warm or cool tone shades from that family. For example, mixing warm yellow based greens with cool blue-based greens won’t be as harmonious.
3. Select the lightest and darkest shade and mix and match the middle three until the range is pleasing to your eye.
4. Polish each nail a different color with the lightest color on one end and the darkest on the other.

Looking for Gradation Manicure inspiration? Check out some of our favorite color combinations below: Turquoise, taupe, pink, and orange.


Turquoise is one of the “it” colors this summer and teal will be a big hit come fall. So, in this pre-fall season, bridge the gap with a gradation between the two. Polishes used (from thumb to pinkie): OPI Ski Teal We Drop ($8); China Glaze Shower Together ($5); Sally Hansen Complete Salon Manicure Fairy Teal ($8); China Glaze Flyin’ High ($8); China Glaze For Audrey ($5).


Taupe is the new neutral! Plus, it’s work- and school-friendly. One of the hottest colors right now is Chanel’s Paradoxal hue because it features flash of purple shimmer, so we’ve incorporated the shade into this sample gradation. Polishes used (from thumb to pinkie): Chanel Paradoxal ($23); Sephora by OPI Metro Chic ($9); Color Club High Society ($4); Rescue Beauty Lounge Jane ($18); Essie Body Language ($7).


Pink is feminine, fun, and abundant in all of our nail color wardrobes. It’s such a staple that it’s become seasonless. Polishes used (from thumb to pinkie): OPI Flashbulb Fuchsia ($7); OPI La Paz-itively Hot ($8); Zoya Lo ($7); China Glaze Sugar High ($7); Zoya Barbie ($7).


Orange continues to rage on as a favorite hue for summer and it transitions so well into fall and Halloween. Starting with a sweet, soft peach working our way past tangerine and ending with a fiery red-orange these colors will pop against a faux-glow. Polishes used (from thumb to pinkie): China Glaze Peachy Keen ($7); Zoya Jancyn ($7); Nicole by OPI Fresh Squeezed ($8); Finger Paints Tangerine Tint ($5); OPI On The Same Paige ($7).

+ Would you try this look? Go ahead, treat your nails like the built-in, affordable accessories they are!


Michelle Mismas is the editor of All Lacquered Up, a fun, comprehensive blog about nail polish. To see more nail polish ideas and tips, check out and follow Michelle on Twitter @alllacqueredup!