From decals to wraps: We tested geeky options for your nails

It’s only natural that fans who have fallen in love with geek fashion want pretty manicures to match. Some have been customizing their own fandom-inspired nail art for years. 

But not all of us are artistically savvy enough to pull it off. 

Some mainstream companies are starting to notice the rising demand, releasing pop-culture inspired cosmetics collections that include nail polishes and other items. The most creative options, though, are found among a growing number of independent companies and sellers on Etsy. These entrepreneurs understand that fans want more than just a nail polish color inspired by their favorite movie, video game, or comic book. Many fans want help creating the fantastic nail art they see others wearing online. 

As someone who needs a help making her nails geeky, I decided to explore the variety of nail decals and wraps currently on the market. I have never attempted either of these options before, so I was able to approach them as a complete beginner to test everything from their ease of use to how long they last.

Nail decals and wraps are terms sometimes used interchangeably. For this piece, decals refer to smaller stickers that don’t cover your entire nail, while a wrap refers to a product that does cover your entire nail with an image or pattern. I also made sure to use the same top coat throughout my test: Sally Hansen mega shine extended wear top coat. This way no product would have an advantage over another for how long they lasted when it came to top coat used. I wanted to test each product for a week—a reasonable amount of time to want to have nicely decorated nails.

Here is what I found during my investigation.

Nail Decals

I decided to test two decals from the two places that had the greatest variety: Fandom Cosmetics and Etsy. Fandom Cosmetics sells decals inspired by a large selection of fandoms. You receive a package of 10 decals and can choose from three different colors: gold, black, and silver. I purchased a set of Stargate decals in gold and a set of Harry Potter decals in silver that cost $10 total. They arrived in a bubble wrap lined envelope that contained a smaller white envelope with the decals inside but without any instructions. The online description for each says the following:

“Frustrated with nail art attempts that just never turn out the way you want them? We have the solution! These gorgeous, easy to apply nail decals are a great way to show off your geek. These are vinyl nail decals that easily stick to your nail and can be reapplied and adjusted as necessary. When you’re done, just simply cover with topcoat for a smooth finish and maximum duration!” 

Lisa Granshaw

Lisa Granshaw

Happily the decals were as easy to use as described. You peel them right off the paper and apply them to your nail, then use the top coat. However if you want to put a decal on each finger you might run into trouble if you have smaller nails like me. While the decals fit perfectly on my thumbnails, they tended to be a bit too big for my other nails no matter how I put them on, whether the design was facing out or in.

Lisa Granshaw

Lisa Granshaw

Lisa Granshaw

Three days after I put them on, the Harry Potter nail decal began to break. After a week, I lost a few lines on that decal, but the Stargate one stayed perfect. They were both easy to remove but they did leave an outline where the decal was on my nail polish.

Lisa Granshaw

From Etsy, the first decals I tried were from GuavaJellie. For $4 I was supposed to receive 25 Super Mario 8-bit decals but I actually received more. They arrived in a small white envelope that contained a small plastic bag with the decals and a business card. There were no directions in the package, but like Fandom Cosmetics they were available online.

Lisa Granshaw

These decals were different from Fandom Cosmetics in that they were not like stickers that could be peeled off. Instead they were waterslide decals. Following the directions, I cut out each decal I wanted to use and then individually put them in water. After about 15 seconds, they slid off their paper as it was said they would. Then I applied them to my unpainted nails. My first attempt did not go smoothly as the decal folded in on itself easily, but I was successful on the second try. Applying the decals to the rest of my nails was easy. Once they were all on, I applied the clear coat as instructed. All of these decals fit my nails well, with none falling off the edges at all. They were cute, colorful, and could easily be seen by someone else to be Super Mario from a distance.

Lisa Granshaw

Lisa Granshaw

Unfortunately none of the decals lasted a full week. By the second day, two of the decals had fallen off and the rest were starting to peel. By the end of the week, they had all peeled off.

I received the same result regarding longevity with the second set of decals I tried from Etsy. I ordered Star Wars decals from NailSpin for $8. For the price I was supposed to receive 15 decals, but I also received one extra Stormtrooper decal and two sample decals of different designs. They arrived in a small manila envelope that contained the decals and a set of instructions that were longer and more involved than any previous sets of instructions. 

Lisa Granshaw

Following the directions, I prepared my nails and cut out the decal designs. It was nice that these decals came in different sizes to accommodate the different sizes of your nails. For example there was a slightly larger image that would look better on your thumb, with progressively smaller images that you could use on your other nails. Like the other Etsy set, I had no problem with these images fitting. The instructions were very helpful to have on paper since these waterslide decals were a little more complicated to use. The decals are to be placed facedown in water for 10 to 15 seconds. Then they are supposed to slide off the back paper and be ready to stick on your nail once you dab off the excess water.

The instructions state that tweezers come in handy—and they are right! My first three attempts even with the tweezers failed as the decals were difficult to position on my nails without developing a crease or fold. Even though the directions say to have a clear coat on your nails dry thoroughly before placing the decals on them, I found it easier to get the decals to stay in place if the clear coat was still a little wet. Once they were on, I applied two to three layers of top coat as instructed.

Lisa Granshaw

By the third day, almost all of the decals were peeled off even with reapplying the top coat every two to three days as recommended. They were all gone well before a week was reached.

Nail Wraps

For nail wraps, there were once again two places with the best variety: Espionage Cosmetics and Etsy. I tried two wraps from each similar to what did for the decals. I tried a set of wraps from Espionage Cosmetics first, since they are perhaps the most well-known for expanding the amount of nerdy nail art on the market. I bought their Harlequin wraps and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle wraps at a discount during a convention I attended. Usually the wraps cost $10 each but they only cost me a total of $19.71 in the end. I received a small nail file and a card of instructions with my purchase. Directions were also included on the back of each package and there is a nail wrap tutorial on YouTube that shows how the wraps work. You receive 14 nail wraps in a package.

Lisa Granshaw

I had high-expectations for Espionage due to their reputation, but even as a beginner I was surprised it took me a little over an hour to apply the wraps. Once you peel off the plastic layer, you peel the wrap off the backing and apply to your nail following the directions. There is excess sticker hanging off each which they say to fold down and trim by filing under your nail. You then secure it by pressing down the tip and applying a top coat, though they say the top coat is optional.

These wraps also come in different sizes to accommodate your nails which was very helpful given my small nail size. While the excess wrap hanging off my nail was easy to remove, some of the wraps were also too wide and covered my cuticles. I had to trim the sides as well, which in this first attempt led to some miscalculations of just how much to trim making the edges not all seal properly. The wraps would clearly work very well on bigger, longer nails but for mine it was more difficult.

Lisa Granshaw

As a result, the wraps, which are supposed to last about two to three weeks with a top coat, began to peel off for me by the second day. By the fourth day, five nails had peeled off and by the end of the week only three remained.

Instead of trying the second set of wraps from Espionage right away, I decided to move on and see if the Etsy products were any easier to apply or longer lasting. The first set I tried were Doctor Who wraps from geekcraftfactorium. For $6.69 I received a sheet of 18 wraps in a white envelope with paper instructions that you can also find on the product listing.

Lisa Granshaw

I used a very light nail polish as the base for these wraps, per the instructions. These also came in varying sizes which was helpful as I cut each out for my nails. Unlike Espionage, these wraps required water like the Etsy decals. I soaked the individual decals in warm water for the recommended 30 to 60 seconds. I discovered though that when I removed them and patted them dry before peeling off the paper as recommended, the color from the design came almost entirely off.

After two tries I discovered that it actually worked better to keep the decal in for only 20 seconds and use tweezers when removing them from the water. While some color still came off, for the most part the designs stayed with this shortened soak time. Filing the excess wrap from the top of each finger worked well but cutting any excess on the sides was difficult once they were on, so it’s a good idea to not leave much that needs trimming in that area. These wraps began to peel off about four days later and were all gone by the end of the week. 

Lisa Granshaw

The second set of Etsy wraps I tried were a Sailor Moon-inspired set from Oosha Wraps. For a total of $7.99 I received one set of 15 wraps attached to a sheet of instructions that also can be found online. These wraps came in varying sizes as well, which was helpful. The instructions were long and detailed, but easy to follow. These once again had to be dipped in water in order to use them. Once my nails were prepared, I dipped the wraps in water for the recommended five to eight seconds, slid them off the backing paper, and placed the decal on my recently applied top coat. I had no trouble putting these on, though the largest size was not quite wide enough to actually cover my thumbnail. These wraps seemed like they would be better for use not covering every nail but used selectively in a manicure. These wraps were supposed to last up to a week. For me they had all peeled off by the fifth day, not quite lasting to the end of my test week.

Lisa Granshaw

The Sailor Moon wraps seemed easier to put on, perhaps because I had now worked with wraps a few times and was getting the hang of exactly how to apply them. I decided to revisit the much-talked-about Espionage Cosmetics and try the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle nail wraps I had purchased.

Lisa Granshaw

This second time around the wraps were easier to put on and took me about a half hour. I asked for some additional help cutting the edges this time—especially on my right hand. I am right handed and not that skilled with scissors in my left. This helped me get the wraps the right size to seal properly on my nails. The directions for these were the same as the other ones.

By the second day the wraps were a little worn but otherwise were staying on great. They lasted well for a whole week with only some slight wear on the tips. 

Lisa Granshaw

At this point I decided to try the additional items that came with the turtle nails: the glue and googly eyes! The eyes worked perfectly for hiding the wearing tips and were easy to add with the quickly drying glue. I was hoping the eyes would stay for about a day as it seemed like a great addition to wear to a convention. Luckily they lasted a full eight hours before one of the eyes began to fall off. 

Lisa Granshaw

They did not last a full two weeks before peeling, so I decided to remove them. They came off easily and the remaining sticky residue on my nails was easily removed with water.

Verdict

The biggest obstacle to making your nails geeky with decals and wraps is probably experience, especially when it comes to the waterslide options. It may take you a few times before you truly get the hang of it. Once you do, the products will last close to week. If you have small nails like me, it adds an extra challenge, but some places are recognizing this and making changes. For example, in its last Kickstarter campaign, Espionage Cosmetics said that it would be creating smaller sizes in the future. If you have smaller nails, all of these options can be trimmed, but it’s extra work. And, if you make a mistake, it could impact how long the decal or wrap lasts.

For length of time, the Espionage Cosmetics wraps and the Fandom Cosmetics decals lasted the longest. If you’re looking for something to wear for a week or longer, these are your best bets. If you just want something for a day or two for a convention or event, all of these proved to last pretty well for at least 24 hours. Even if some fall off or peeled though, I discovered I could do some damage control and find polish colors that matched well enough to paint the empty nails so the look could still work.

As for price, on Etsy you get more for your money. However, for the more expensive price of Fandom Cosmetics and Espionage Cosmetics, they will most likely last longer.

Overall, there are a lot of options out there to make your nails geek chic, but be prepared to invest some time if you’re new to either decals or wraps. You won’t go broke with any of the options, but it might take you a little bit of testing to find out what works best for you. 

Photo by Lisa Granshaw

Lisa Granshaw

Lisa Granshaw

Lisa Granshaw reports on pop culture and geek fashion and is the founder of GeekFold. You can find her work on Syfy, Boing Boing, and Geek and Sundry.