In this article we will be discussing the huge range of nail art rhinestones that are available to purchase, to enhance and uplift your nail art. The popularity of adding rhinestones to nails has grown over the last decade or so, with the introduction of new and innovative shapes, colours and types of crystal embellishments. With such a vast range of nail art rhinestones to choose from, it can be tricky to find the perfect one’s for you. But don’t worry, we’re here to give you an in-depth guide to crystals for nail art.

Understanding Rhinestones: A Quick Dive

Rhinestone is the term given to a small round stone made from crystal or glass, cut with angled facets to reflect the light and offer sparkle. The history of rhinestones is a fascinating concept, and shows how we came from glass mining, to the sparkly gems we know and love today. The basic characteristics of the nail art rhinestones we are all familiar with are:

  • Flat foil backing – rhinestones for nail art tend to have a smooth flat backing made of silver foil. This allows the rhinestone to be applied with glue to the fingernail securely.
  • Round shape – The classic and earliest form of rhinestone began as a simple round stone, and this is still the most popular shape for nail art today.
  • Faceted – Rhinestones are faceted, which means the glass is cut at different angles to create tiny flat surfaces. These surfaces reflect the light at different angles which gives the stone its sparkle. The more facets a rhinestone has, the more shiny and sparkly it is.

But of course, nail art embellishments come in all different types, not just the flat back rhinestone.

Types of Rhinestones for Nail Art


The classic round rhinestone is available in sizes from ss2 (1.4mm) all the way up to ss48 (11mm) but for nail art the most commonly used sizes are ss3 (1.5mm) to ss10 (3mm). These smaller sizes are great for creating a detailed design, they are more likely to stay stuck to the nail and a smaller stone will help to fill gaps and curve round edges. However, some people like to use a single large size like 4mm or 5mm as a statement crystal, and place smaller ones around it. Read more about rhinestone sizes and what they are used for.


Wherever you find crystals, rhinestones and gems you will come across the terms Crystal Clear and Crystal AB, essentially describing the colour of the rhinestone.

Clear crystal, sometimes referred to as diamante, crystal clear or just simply as clear, is a totally colourless, see-through crystal that sits on a mirror foil base. This mirror base is therefore reflected through the clear stone, giving the effect of a diamond.

AB crystal, whose real name is Aurora Borealis, named after the magical effect of the Northern Lights, is a multicoloured stone offering all the colours of the rainbow. Crystal AB, often known as simply AB, reflects the colours that surround it, so you would use against pale colours for pinks, purples and golds to shine through. Or use on a darker background to see greens, yellows and blues.


When it comes to choosing the perfect crystal colour for your project, the options are vast, and it becomes even more overwhelming when you think of colour combinations too – Mix and match? Contrast or compliment? Bright and bold or neutral and chic? The possibilities are endless!

  • Clear and AB – The two most popular colours for nail art, and the most widely available in shapes too. Go for one of these colours if you want a simple manicure that goes well with whatever colour you’re wearing.
  • Standard Colour – Standard colours make up the majority of the range, these are crystals that are just one colour throughout and have no effect or coating over the top. If you’re looking for a simple block colour in a variety of shades, go for one of these. Examples of standard colours are Light Siam (red), Fuchsia (pink), Citrine (yellow), Sapphire (blue) and Peridot (green). These are great for adding a splash of colour to your nail art.
  • AB Colour – These are the standard colours as above, but with the AB coating over the top, giving the standard colour a rainbow effect finish.
  • Metallic coating – metallics such as rose gold, aurum (bright gold) and chrome are really on trend at the moment especially in the nail art and beauty industry. The solid metallic finish has a different kind of effect – it shines with bright flashes of light, rather than a twinkle like the standard colours. They are great for steampunk, rocky or edgy designs.
  • Multi-tone – are just that – two (or sometimes three) tones of colour coming through. For example, Preciosa Volcano shines purple, red and blue. Two-tone, sometimes referred to as multi-tone, crystals have the magical quality of appearing to change colour at certain angles. So with movement comes the effect of lots of different colours.
  • Neon – Neon rhinestones are as bright and bold as the name suggests and some even glow in the dark! Neon crystals are perfect for creating eye catching designs within nail art, and are a timeless trend for the summer and festival season.
  • Shimmer – These Swarovski rhinestones are similar to AB colours, in that they shimmer in the light with shades of a similar tone. Nail artists love them as they add texture and depth the to design.
  • Opal – Opal finished rhinestones are a popular choice for subtle manicures, they offer a more delicate but pretty sparkle and are often used in vintage style designs.


Using crystal shapes within nail art has become a massive trend recently and there a multitude of ways you can incorporate them into your design. The availability of rhinestone shapes for nail art has grown hugely since the Zodiac brand was introduced to the UK and with Swarovski reducing their supply, other brands like Preciosa have started to expand their range too. There is a myriad of shapes to choose from, all offering different qualities and styles:

  • Geometric – If you want to create a geometric or art deco inspired design you will want to use straight edged shapes such as Square, Diamond, Rhombus, Baguette or Kite. These work really well together as they offer symmetry and a perfect neat finish.
  • Floral/Natural – Shapes with a curved edge such as Leaf, Flame, Paisley, Peardrop, Navette or Raindrop are great for creating natural, floral or art nouveau style design. You can apply these shapes together in one design to create an entirely new image, or use individually for a more subtle look.

Novelty/Seasonal – Shapes that are themed or novelty such the Heart, Star, Butterfly, Bow Tie, Snowflake or skull are great making a feature or standout nail within the set. These types of shapes are often used in the run up to an event or celebration for example Valentine’s Day, Christmas or Halloween. Outline them with caviar beads to really make them sing.


Pearls are often thought about as jewellery making components, but in their flatback form they are gorgeous little embellishments for nail art. Flatback pearls for nail art are great for combining with rhinestones to create a chic and sophisticated look. They are often used for bridal nails or to create Christmas themed designs.


In comparison to dainty, delicate pearls, pointy back rhinestones which are also known as 3D gems or crystal chatons, are popular for creating statement nail art. The addition of multiple large 3D rhinestones is called the ‘rockery’ or ‘cluster’ effect. It allows you to get creative with different shapes and brings a sense of texture to the nail. Pointy back rhinestones look fabulous when outlined with smaller flatback crystals or caviar beads.

Materials Matter: Exploring Rhinestone Materials

Rhinestones are highly polished, machine cut glass stones used in the DIY sector for embellishment, jewellery making, fashion, costume design, nail art and beauty. In our Ultimate Guide to Rhinestones, we explore materials in more detail.

The most famous rhinestone maker is Swarovski. Although the exact manufacturing process is not known, Swarovski crystals are made from quartz sand and other natural minerals. Historically the crystals were made with 32% lead, but after a change in the manufacturing process in 2012, they are now listed as lead-free. Other cheaper rhinestone brands may make their stones from a lower quality material, such as resin, acrylic or plastic, which are cheap and cheerful but don’t offer the same high shine as Swarovski, Preciosa or Zodiac – the latter being a popular alternative to Swarovski.

Resin and plastic alternatives tend to be favoured by dancers and costume makers who need to use a large volume of rhinestones to cover a costume or dress. They get their sparkle form the sheer number of stones, rather than the high quality material. Whereas nail artists like to use a small amount of rhinestones made from a top quality glass or crystal.

Quality Check: Genuine vs. Imitation

Genuine Swarovski and Preciosa crystals will always have their logo on the wholesale packaging, however, to recognize them when they have been removed from their original packaging there are some tips and tricks the expert eye can see:

  • Check the foil backing - Swarovski’s non hotfix backing is completely smooth and has a slight gold tinge to it, whereas Preciosa is more grey/silver in colour and Zodiac’s backing is more of a yellow gold. Cheaper brands tend to have a very thin looking silver layer that can be easily scratched off.
  • Swarovski have a recognizable star shape cut into the facets of the stone. When you compare a 2088 Xirius stone to a Preciosa Maxima for example, you can clearly see the star pattern. Zodiac also has this star pattern.
  • Another good tip for spotting Swarovski and Preciosa among the crowd is to check for scratches, chips or any irregularity. Swarovski and Preciosa crystals will not have any – unless they have been dropped or extremely roughly handled.
  • Have a good look at the holes cut into the sew on stones, Swarovski, Preciosa and Zodiac have a really neat, smooth finish with no chipping to the crystal itself.
  • When it comes to pearls, the Swarovski pearlescent coating is very durable, smooth and scratch resistant.
  • Swarovski crystals tend to have a good weight to them, it’s estimated they have approximately 32% lead oxide, compared to just 12% to 28% lead oxide in other glass crystals which makes them heavier by comparison. So, if you feel your crystals are lighter than expected, they are probably not Swarovski.

Application Techniques: Tips for Perfect Nail Embellishment

To apply rhinestones to your nail art, you need to be using Non Hotfix crystals, which can be glued on using nail glue. Hotfix or iron on rhinestones are not suitable for nail art as they need to be applied using heat from an iron or heat fixing tool.

There are endless possibilities when it comes to rhinestone application methods and techniques for nail art. The most important thing to remember is to use good quality tools and adhesives. There’s no point in spending time and effort creating beautiful designs, just for the rhinestones to fall off because you’ve not applied them correctly. Here’s our recommended tools and glue:

  • Crystal Katana pick up tool – a professional tool for picking up and placing rhinestones in seconds.
  • Crystal Fix nail glue – the number one glue for bonding rhinestones to nails.
  • Storage pots – the most efficient way to keep your embellishments neat and tidy. A must have in any nail artists’ kit.
  • Sorting tray – a fantastic little tool for keeping your rhinestones shiny side up when working on a set of nails.
  • Nail tip holder – A handy tool to have whilst working on a design, or for photographing your creation.

When it comes to design and pattern ideas, that’s something you’ll need to figure out on your own – the trend is always changing and evolving, and there are other factors too; ideas will be based on what mood you’re in, what event you want the nails for, the season, your budget and so on. But you can never go wrong with the basics – popular rhinestone styles are: Lines, scattered, full nail, and recognizable icons such as heart, skull, flowers etc.

Check out our ultimate guide on how to apply rhinestones to nails for a handy step by step guide on how to apply glue, rhinestones and other embellishments. In the meantime, here are some tips for the perfect rhinestone manicure:

  • Make sure you are using the correct tools for the job, such as a rhinestone pick up tool, nail glue, dotting tool, files and buffers and rhinestone storage.
  • Explore different application options for example how to apply crystal pixie dust to your nail.
  • Always prep the nail first using a file, shaper, buffer and base coat before applying your gel polish and rhinestones.
  • When adding rhinestone embellishments to your nail art, use only a small amount of Crystal Fix glue to avoid excess and seepage. It is a thick consistency so you don’t need a lot.
  • Invest in high quality branded crystals such as Swarovski, Preciosa or Zodiac to achieve and perfectly polished finish.
  • Experiment with different colours to find your perfect match.

Choosing the Right Rhinestones for Your Nail Art Project

It can be difficult choosing the right rhinestones for your nail art project, as there is so much choice out there. Take some time to consider colour, shape and size options (as discussed above), you could even try purchasing some mixed packs of crystals which include lots of variety so you can get creative and see all the options first. You should also consider your budget. High end crystal brands like Swarovski have a price tag to match, whereas Zodiac is a great quality alternative at a low cost. Preciosa is somewhere in the middle of the two.

Care and Maintenance

Keeping your rhinestone-adorned nails in tip top condition takes some work. It is important to care for your nails like you would a piece of jewellery; essentially you do have fine pieces of jewellery on the end of your fingers! Avoid doing much manual labour which can risk scratches to the crystals and in some cases make them ping off altogether. Wear gloves when washing up or using harmful chemicals. To keep the rhinestones looking as sparkly as the day they were made, gently polish them with a damp cloth to remove any grease or dirt.


To recap, let’s go over the wide range of rhinestones available for nail art:

  • Swarovski, Preciosa and Zodiac all produce flatback rhinestones suitable for nail art.
  • Choose between sizes from 1.5mm up to 4mm for the most commonly used rhinestones.
  • They are available in the classic round shape as well as other popular shapes such as heart, kite, raindrop, pearshape, navette, square and many others.
  • Clear and AB are the two most popular colours.
  • But don’t forget the dozens of colour options, from metallic finishes, opal and pearl effects, rainbow colours, neon and multi-tone.
  • Explore other types of rhinestone embellishments such as pearls, and pointy backs for a more unique look.

We encourage our readers to get creative with nail art, and whether you’re a pro beauty technician, a nail art enthusiast or a beginner just starting to learn the trade, we always love to see what you come up with!

Nail art & beauty

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