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By the time I had too many colors to swatch on the back of a business card, I was lucky to find the nail polish swatching wheel and these little beauties have been my constant companion ever since.

Now I know there are devotees of the milky white wheels, but for my purposes, the clear version is the only one that meets my criteria, as will become evident shortly.  I have also recently become aware of long rectangular versions, but the logistics of storage and the shorter tip length deter me from giving them a go. (There are also amazing DIYers who make their own types by hot-gluing nail tips to boards, tongue-depressors, popsicle sticks, etc. I salute their ingenuity and time investment.)

Soon, I found it hard to tell how many layers of polish it would take to get to bottle color. This led me to stagger my polish swatches on individual nails and I have continued to do so because it has clear advantages (pun intended) over just painting the entire nail surface.  (The clear wheels also allow you to hold sheer topcoat swatches over solid creme swatches to envision the resulting layering potential, which I find enlightening and both time- and polish-saving.)

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Above is an example of staggered swatches both over five different nail tips, so you can see the lengths of each coat,  which is exactly how I swatch each color, assuming it needs more than 3 coats to get to bottle color.  The color shown is OPI Concord Grape. The swatch with the one dot is the first coat, two dots is the 2nd coat and so on…

Below, is a totally different color, Essie Starry Starry Night, which due to its sheer nature, can take up to 5 coats to achieve opacity.

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Many colors end up only needing three coats as you can tell by the swatches shown below.

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My second epiphany came as a result of too many popped-off little swatches ending up all over my car. I figured that if I could transport the wheels IN something, maybe I would lose less swatches. So I tried a number of ideas, but the one that stuck was a soft-sided CD case.

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Now I can only speak to the size of the clear wheels I use, which have 18 clear nails and come in sets of two, with a round sticker with spots for each color name or number. They fit very snugly in the two different CD cases I’ve tried, the first a 20 CD case from Ikea and the second, a 44 CD case from the “99 cents only store.”

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By trial and error, I have found it safer to place them in every other sleeve, and only on one side of the sleeve, which both lessens the number of wheels total AND the likelihood of squashing all your hard work till it pops right off.

It is much easier to carry around a case with 5 or 10 wheels all zipped up safely than juggling even 2 or 3 loose wheels. Although I must admit, it can be fun to drop one and see all the little nails pop off and scatter on the driveway…but I digress.

The final solution I offer comes as a result of reading queries on the MUA nailboard regarding using polish remover to re-use the wheels. With all the swatches that pop off naturally, this never occurred to me, but there are even easier, more fun ways to put that used wheel into “like-new” condition.

My first suggestion is my favorite, since I know that peeling polish off my natural nail is taboo, I take every opportunity to peel it off other things, like my polish wheels. Just give the nail a bit of a twist, to break the seal, and then peel away.

The only disadvantage to this technique is that the loose swatches (and any wayward chips that stray from the swatches) tend to want to stick to your current manicure by static. They really want to stick around.  Badly.

tape 1

tape 2

The less-fun, but also less messy, more efficient, method is to use tape. Anyone who has ever tried to tape up a package for mailing knows how well tape likes to stick to polish.

tape 3

tape 4

Use this to your advantage. The tape will just as readily stick to your polish swatch and break its bond to the plastic. It also keeps the static-charged swatches neatly contained for disposal.  (Since these swatches were done without topcoat, they came off in bits and pieces. They will pop off whole with topcoat, which leads us to…)

tape 5

The only argument left to be made is whether or not to use topcoat when applying the swatch in the first place.  (I usually do.)

Pros:

  • gives deep shine to rough glitters (and to any polish with a matte finish)
  • shows exactly how polish looks on nails
  • helps dry many layers quickly
  • can be used to “wrap” the tips in order to stick better, longer (doesn’t always work- see “Cons”)

Cons:

  • makes polish more likely to pop off due to thickness and shrinkage

Whether or not you choose to use topcoat, I highly suggest giving the swatches ample time to dry/cure before attempting to place them inside a CD case- even with a fast-dry, the likelihood of denting/smudging  is still high for many hours afterward.

That’s all for now.

I hope these tips help and if you have any simple solutions, I ‘d love to hear them!

Feel free to comment or email me anytime!

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19 Comments

  1. Wow! What an awesome article! I LOVE swatching on wheels. And, like you, I prefer the clear ones so I can see what layers.

    I have noticed that some polishes pop off the plastic, and I usually handle them carefully. Some polishes are definitely worse than others.

    But have you found any way to get them to stick more permanently? I like to have permanent wheels. I’ve even thought about maybe base coats… but I dunno. (I’d def. start with the base coats that I have tried that I don’t like to actually use on myself!)

    Any ideas?

    • Thanks, MariahGem!

      To be honest, I have only found that when they DO pop off, gluing them back on with a drop of Superglue will make them as permanent as can be.
      Once I have re-attached them with glue, no amount of tape can get them off…=P

      I know what you mean, though. Perhaps the plastic is too slick?
      I suppose roughing it up with a bit of buffing might help, but then you sacrifice the smooth finish…
      I have not tried basecoats, but maybe I could give them a test-drive and report on the results.

      You’ll be the first to know when I do!
      ~Monica =]

  2. Hey Monica!
    It’s Jennifer from MUA (graciebaby28). I love your blog, very well written. I especially enjoyed the swatching wheel entry. Very impressive. I would have never come up with these things, you are genius:)

    Thanks so much for sharing your wonderful techniques, I can’t wait to read more:)

    • *blushes*
      Thanks Jennifer- I’m so glad you like it!

  3. Hey Monica!

    I love the article on swatching wheels – I still don’t have any even though I want them b/c I wasn’t exactly sure what I’d do with them! Can you offer suggestions about where to purchase them?

    A couple of the photos in your first post aren’t working for me – I’m using firefox browser if that makes a difference!

    So yay for your blog! :D
    -Jess (daydream222@MUA)

    • Hi Jess,
      Thanks for checking it out! I have the same problem with the photos, but not consistently, and I use FireFox, too.

      Maybe I have to find another way to upload them- I’ll figure it out, but thanks for letting me know it is an issue!
      When I do, I’ll let you know so you can tell me if it’s working better for you.

      I have seen the wheels I use on ebay, but I’ll have a look around to see if there are other online sources. This is something I should have checked out and put into the blog itself, so thank you, again! =P
      I get mine from a beauty supply store- they call them “nail art display wheels.”

      I’ll keep you posted,
      ~Monica

  4. Hi Monica! Glad to have a new nail blogger to read. Terrific idea with the wheels and the storage. If you like to peel off your polish that would be a good and safer method to use. I don’t do that thoug.

    • Hi Lucy,
      I wish peeling the polish off my nails didn’t peel layers of nail with it-
      that would be my preferred method of removal, by far!
      Thanks for reading!

  5. I am having trouble finding a nail wheel where I live? Any suggestions? Websites?

    Thanks, Jessica

    • If you don’t mind my asking- where do you live, Jessica?
      I am lucky to have some local beauty supply stores, but if I have an idea where you’re looking, I might be able to pinpoint a supplier nearby…=]

  6. I found this page because someone on tumblr posted a link, and I’m so glad I opened it (despite thinking I was a long way from ever buying nail wheels)! I happened to go to the mall today after reading this and I saw some nail wheels, which I’ve never seen in stores. I chose the transparent ones over the white ones and can’t wait to try the staggered swatches thing! Thanks so much for posting this! (:

  7. You should get the nail wheels that have the nail actually stuck to the wheel. You can purchase these on ebay. They have 20 nails on each wheel. I purchased 10 wheels for only $3. They are very sturdy and great quality :)

    • Thanks for the suggestion, Tiffany.

      I am not sure I understand how the wheels you’re describing differ from the ones I have shown. Can you tell me more about them? Thanks in advance!

  8. I’m really glad I found this post- I’ve been thinking about getting some nail wheels for a while but I was worried about how to take care of them, and it’s taken me weeks to find some solid information! :)
    xGretalRabbitx

  9. Thanks so much for the post. Even though I’ve been using nail wheels since October, I’ve never figured out how to properly remove the polish without breaking the whole nail off, so I can’t wait to give some of your suggestions a try. I just thought to google it today, and think your entire post is awesome!!

    One suggestion I’d share is if you want to conserve your nail wheel, you can put transparent tape on top of the nail and observe the whole effect. The tape wrinkles around the curves but you still get an accurate representation of your final look, and removal is a breeze! Also I would not try the twisting removal method unless it’s a wheel you don’t mind messing up, I’ve lost a lot of wheels to removal attempts over the months.

    • Thanks for reading, Cristina! Glad to help!

      As far as pre-coating with tape goes, I haven’t had any issue with removal using my twist-and-peel method, though I use the clear wheels with 18 nails. Perhaps there is a variation in the types of plastics used and then brittleness becomes a factor. Curious.

  10. great post thank you!!

  11. I tried all the methods of removing the polish from my swatch wheels and none of them work for me :( The plastic seems to be too sturdy or something D:

  12. very,very insightful post, thank you so much! It’s amazing that you are almost the only person who wrote and detailed and explanatory post about nail wheels, what to choose and what to do with them! I was perusing the google search results, and this was the most useful link I’ve found! Thank you so much for taking your time to explain all this!


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