Nail Art Tutorial: 3-D Acrylic Fish

Nail tech Michelle Stephenson of Visible Changes got her feet wet with 3-D sculpting by molding a summery fish out of acrylic. If your client wants to try a 3-D piece in any size, or you’re just looking for practice, follow along as she shows how it’s done.


  • OPI GelColor
  • OPI Axxium Builder Gel
  • OPI GelColor Top Coat
  • Acrylic paint
  • OPI Absolute Acrylic (White) and Monomer
  • Light Elegance 10 Kolinsky Brush
  • Basic detail brushes and a smaller acrylic brush
  • Nail tip
  • Orangewood stick

Making the water part of the nail:
Step one: Glue the nail tip to the orangewood stick. Very lightly buff the nail tip, this will help the Gel Polish to hold better. After buffing, apply one layer of Suzi Says Feng Shui blue, as you would a regular polish, then add a few dots of Funny Bunny white. Then use a toothpick and marble the two colors together by swirling them together. Do not do this too much though, as too much swirling will end up blending them together. Cure for 2 minutes.

Step two: Using the Axxium Builder Gel, put a thin layer down. With the tip of my brush, stipple the product on to look like water. Cure 1 minute. Take a chunk the Builder Gel and put it right in the middle of the nail. Let it sit for a second and then hold the nail upside down. Holding the nail upside down helps to pull the gel to get that “splash” effect. Hold the nail upside down under the UV light, then flip it over right side up after about 30 seconds and let it cure for 1 more minute. You may have to do the gel a few times to get your desired length.

Making the fish:
Step one: Save your form papers! I always save the paper from my form stickers; it’s great for 3-D art! Using a decent size ball of acrylic, form and build the fish’s body on the form paper.

Step two: After you’re satisfied with the basic shape of the fish, peel it off the paper (it comes off very easily). Since the other side of the fish is obviously flat at this point, start building the other side with acrylic.

Step three: After the fish has it’s shape and width just right, use a very fine buffer to smooth out the acrylic. Then add the little details of the eyes and the fins on the side.

Step four: Using the acrylic paint, apply the paint with a detail brush using the same colors as a real fish. Also use a gold metallic paint on the yellow part to help with the shimmer. Take a glitter polish with silver and very light colored glitters in it and apply just a little bit of it all over.

Step five: Apply OPI GelColor Top Coat to the fish, and cure 2 minutes on each side.

Step six: Here’s the hardest part of the whole nail, adhering the fish to the water. Use an e-file and a cone shaped bit to file the tip of the water in the same shape of the end of the fish’s tail. Filing the tip of the water into a U-shape will help to adhere the fish. Using Bondini nail glue, put a drop on the water and then hold the fish until it was stable. Apply OPI GelColor Top Coat around the tail and water, then quickly put it under the UV light to cure for a more stable hold.


Nail art by:

Michelle Stephenson
Salon: Visible Changes
Location: Central Oregon
Phone: (541) 480-8746
Instagram: @mrsstephenson13

[Courtesy of Michelle Stephenson]

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