The Science of Stamping

It’s hard to believe that I only got my first pedicure about five or six years ago, because it feels like I’ve been obsessed with nails and nail polish and nail art for a lot longer than that. (By the way, pedicures are EVIL, because once you get one, unpedicured feet start looking like the worst things in the world, even though they seemed perfectly fine before.) I wasn’t so much about the manicures, not because I didn’t like to do them, but because it seemed wasteful to spend so much money on something that wasn’t as difficult (feet are just gnarly and difficult to reach) and was actually a great activity for stress-relief.

So, once I started doing my own manicures (I call them manicures, but I never did any of the important stuff like cleaning, filing or cuticle removal, I just cut my nails and painted them), I started building up a collection of polishes. Now, I’m cheap, so rather than investing in two bottles of expensive polish, I would get ten smaller bottles of less high-profile brands, just so I would have more colours to experiment with. I was also, of course, always on the lookout for sales, and the nails section would be the first place I’d waltz off to everytime I entered a health and beauty store. Soon enough, I needed a proper, strong bag to hold my possessions:


Then, as I started getting more regular with painting my nails, I started watching YouTube and Instagram videos of people who did nail art and got really, really interested. Nail art has progressed massively since I first got into it. Back then, it was mostly just dotting tools and chevron strips, which would result in designs like this:

But then stamping came into the picture, and boy, oh boy, was it game-changing. Stamping is amazing. There’s a whole science to it, and like all science, it requires plenty of experimentation and trial and error to sort out the kinks and get it right. Honestly, bless YouTube and the nail art community for all the enlightenment they provide to budding stampers, because without all those tutorial videos, I would be nowhere.

I thought I’d elaborate on nail stamping a bit here, mostly because I find it so fascinating, and I figured a few others who haven’t been exposed to it yet might too. This is all the junk I get out before I get started:


This is my experimental setup, consisting of my nail polishes, remover, cotton swabs and my stamping kit, with stampers, scrapers, stamping plates and stamping polishes. Most of these things I bought very cheaply off various online stores, and they’ve been very worthwhile purchases.

These are the steps I follow:

1. Paint my nails. I use a base coat first to protect my nails from stains, then apply a maximum of two coats of polish. The good polishes are opaque on the first coat itself. Any more than two, and the nails take exponentially longer to dry, which means there’s a higher chance of them getting smudged or smooshed. (Hot tip: paint your nails during the day. I have had several nice coats of polish ruined by bedsheet imprints because of painting them an hour before bedtime.) For this post, I used Dabbler from Sally Hansen’s Xtreme Wear collection.


2. Wait. This is the hardest part for me, because I’m always in a rush to move on to the more fun stamping stuff. But the base needs to dry fully so the stamping doesn’t smush it, so this is a good time for me to just put on a show on Netflix and while away some time. When I have the time, I wait a whole day before I stamp, but a couple of hours should usually be enough. (This is also the time when I feel the irresistible need to stick my hand in bags, operate delicate things and basically do everything but sit still.)

3. Time to stamp! For this, I need a stamping plate, a stamper, a scraper, stamping polish and latex. I use the mechanical pencil-like thing to pick up the cotton swabs doused in remover so I don’t have to get my hands on them and risk getting the polish off.


Stamping polish is thicker than regular polish, so it applies opaquely and picks up designs well. A stamping plate and stamper work in the same way regular ink stampers and moulds do. I paint over my chosen design with the stamping polish, scrape off the excess, pick up the print on my stamper, and stamp it onto my nail. I paint a latex coat around my nails so I can peel off the excess paint after I’m done. (Big thanks to my cousin for helping film these videos!)

Then it’s lather, rinse, repeat for the other nails, a top coat over everything, and voila, all done! (Not pictured: the mess after the process is completed and the 374 times something or the other goes wrong.)