Gradation Tutorial

I’ve been wanting to do this tutorial for a long time, but schedules and rainy weather were conspiring to make a mess of it. Unfortunately, tonight was not great either, but it’s the rainy season in Japan until about July. There’s no good sun to take photos in, and the nail polish dries really fast in this weather. I got my guy to be the nail model for a couple of photos because I couldn’t polish and take photos fast enough. The photos didn’t turn out well, but I was determined to do this tutorial tonight!

Nail gradations are very popular in Japan. Color fades out usually from the tip of the nail to the cuticle.Β  To get the look, they use something called “Gradation Liquid,” which is a sort of watery chemical solvent that fades out the polish. I have had a lot of readers contact me to get this, but I’ve never seen it outside of Japan. A bottle costs around $12 US.


If you have gradation liquid, it’s still not that easy to do a gradation. The instructions say to use a medium-toned pearly polish. Creme, glitter, etc. won’t gradate well. I decided to do a very quick n easy pink pearl French gradation. I chose a Japanese dolla-store special, but any color in a similar tone will do. Not too light, not too dark.


First, paint the polish on about 1/2 as wide as you want the gradation. I just wanted gradation tips rather than the whole nail, so I made a pretty thin stripe just over the white part of my nail.


After letting it dry for about 30 seconds to one minute (it’s hot and dry here , so polish dries pretty fast), draw under the stripe with the gradation liquid. This will sort of “melt” the polish and blur the sharpness of the tip line.


Then brush the tip with gradation liquid from towards the cuticle a few times if you want it to be more gradated. This will wash out the color more and distribute it all over the nail. I just wanted a tip this time, so I didn’t do that.

The result:


Sorry, the picture isn’t very good. It’s a nice subtle gradation and looks better in real life.Β  I’m getting tired of the rainy season, and it only officially began last Thursday.

I know most of my readers probably don’t have any access to gradation liquid, so I tried a gradation on my guy without using it. He has lovely giant thumbnails and I can’t polish and take a photo at the same time in this weather. You will need to work fast on this gradation, so have all your supplies out and ready to go.

The trick is to pick complimentary colors that will blend together well. I used Essie All Lacquered Up, an orange red creme, Essie Capri, an orange creme, and China Glaze Orange Marmalade, an orange glass fleck sparkle. They are all in the same color family and tone. Mixing lights and darks in a gradation will usually give a muddy result. Choose colors that are fairly opaque in one coat- sheer and semi-sheer will be harder to work with.


First, paint the entire nail with the lightest color. In this case, it was the CG Orange Marmalade. (Isn’t my guy a good sport for helping out?)


Then paint the second darkest color over the middle half of the nail. Work fast!


Finally, paint the darkest color on the tip.


All the layers need to be wet. Use a clear polish and stroke gently from the tip to the base of the nail, going in one direction only. Do one stroke down the center, and one on each side. Make sure the brush is loaded with enough clear polish so it won’t drag on the nail. Β  This will make the colors bleed into each other and give a nice gradation.



I’ll try to show some more examples when the weather is more favorable, but I thought I’d give you something to try over the weekend!


About nevertoomuchglitter

Nail artist. Wanderer. I'm a color-holic, in fact, it was my love of color that brought me to the nail art world. Well, that, and the fact I was too cheap to pay crazy Japanese prices for nail polish while living in Tokyo, so I had to start mixing my own. That's how NTMG began.
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26 Responses to Gradation Tutorial

  1. arkanefyre says:

    OMGness I THINK I LOVE YOU. I got my grubby little hands on the gradation liquid but haven’t a clue how to use it.

    Thank you thank you thank you!

    • nevertoomuchglitter says:

      Arkanefyre, no problem! Just let the nail polish tip set for a moment before painting on the gradation. Let me know how it turns out!

  2. pixelsandpolish says:

    Aww he was such a nice sport! And omg, WINMAX! I always get their polishes from the Daiso in my town πŸ™‚ Great tut, I’m gonna give it a try!

    • nevertoomuchglitter says:

      Pixelsandpolish- I got this from Daiso in Japan. I’ve heard of Daiso in the US and Canada (Vancouver and San Diego?) but I didn’t know they also had the nail polish too. How much does the merchandise cost there?

      • pixelsandpolish says:

        I got mine from the Daiso in Dubai for about $2, they sell a lot of Winmax glitters and other nail art accessories, a visit to the Daiso is always fun πŸ™‚

      • michii says:

        I’m a new follower for this blog but I love it! Thanks for such fabulous colors, inspiration and tips!

        And I had to comment that I have 3 Daiso locations within 30 minutes of my home (San Jose, California) and they DO carry polishes ($2). I didn’t see the gradation liquid but I’d LOVE to get my hands on some. πŸ™‚

      • nevertoomuchglitter says:

        Thanks for stopping by! Daiso doesn’t sell gradation liquid (even in Japan), I’m afraid, but they do have a lot of fun goodies! I didn’t realize there were so many Daisos in the US!

  3. Kae says:

    Thanks for the nice tutorial, I have yet to try graduation it looks very pretty. I guess what stops me from trying is I have no idea what colors to pick!

    • nevertoomuchglitter says:

      Hi Kae, Try some colors that are close in color tone- like two darks or two lights. It takes some practice but it’s worth it!

  4. Magnolia says:

    Thank you so much for the tutorial. I’ve love the look of the first one. If only I had a way of getting a hold of gradation liquid. 😦

    • nevertoomuchglitter says:

      Magnolia, a reader told me that you might be able to get it on Good luck! It’s made by a company called D-Nails.

  5. Joy says:

    Love the tutorial! Do you think you can try to franken the gradation liquid? I think it might be a combination of acetone and clear nail polish… or water?

    • nevertoomuchglitter says:

      Hi Joy, thanks! It’s not acetone or clear nail polish. It’s watery, but slightly oily, but then dries to a clean finish. I’ve tried getting the same effect with acetone, etc. but nothing is quite the same. No ingredients listed on the bottle, either.

  6. Karla says:

    Ah, so that’s how you use gradation liquid! Great tutorial!

    To everyone who doesn’t have gradation liquid: Try diluting your colour with clear polish or top coat then layer it on with a lipbrush to do a gradation nail.

  7. Alexlyndra says:

    Nice tutorial and beautiful gradiation!

  8. Violet says:

    Ah that’s how they do it! I always see clear with pink tip gradients but I couldn’t work out how on earth to do it ❀ Thanks for the good tutorial!

  9. Lucy says:

    You do have such a nice boyfriend. Did he like it? Wish the liquid was available here. You did give us a good idea what to do with regular polish. Really nice.

  10. TiNS fan says:

    Another method you can use for gradation is to use a craft sponge (like the type you use for porcelain painting with super fine texture).
    With the sponge, you can use glitter and creamy colors as well. You can layer on the colors with a sponge or paint the sponge with stripes so the colors get darker and blot it onto your nails, blotting more toward the tip of your nails.

    My favorite combo is the LA Girls French cream and TiNS 058 (gold glitter).

  11. Pingback: gradation 101 « wixology

  12. Pingback: Gradation Liquid Giveaway! « Nevertoomuchglitter’s Weblog

  13. lilynail says:

    i come in japan excatly Tokyo in march and i want to know where we can buy this product in tokyo ??

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