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Competing in the international nail arena

"What if I fall?" "Oh, but my darling....what If you fly?"

"I hate trophies" said no one ever. Come on, who doesn't want a little reminder of their talent? Accolades are good for the soul, a healthy reimbursement for hard work and effort. But trophies aren't the only reason to enter a nail competition, I personally cherish the life long friends I've made, the experience and growth I've enjoyed far more than any trophy count.

So you've decided to take the leap and enter a nail competition? First off, you should take into account all the different aspects of planning an event of this scale. The people behind the scenes that put in countless hours of often thankless work. The event planners, the competition directors, the nail judges, the assistants and number crunchers, the sponsors. Without the support of the entire industry these opportunities would not be available to us. We are very fortunate to be given the challenge, to be given an arena to test our skills, and grow as nail professionals.

Dot your i's and cross your t's, and don't forget to factor in registration and cost. Enter within plenty of time, get your dates right and prioritise your schedule. Event facilitators do not take pity on the unorganised. Once registered you will receive confirmation via email, FOLLOW THIS UP if not received. In other words - take responsibility for your entry, now more than ever entries are rolling in from all over the world, and while organisers do their very best, it doesn't hurt to follow up and double check that entries are secured.

Actually, it is listed in the rules that competitors are responsible for their entries. You really must read all rules and understand competition protocol. This leaves organisers more time to run a streamlined event. Please do your part and read rules and regulations thoroughly. Also, there are on line forums you can now be involved in. My personal advice is; if your unsure... ASK. Ask event organisers, ask a judge, Google the rules and research competitions. I didn't know this when I started out, I competed blind and I really would have appreciated if someone had taken me aside and showed me the ropes. That's one thing technology has gifted my future peers- the power to look into things, to educate themselves before leaping in. Go forth, research, learn and take in all the information you can. There is simply no excuse to not be prepared.

Enter as many categories as you can.

A: It's cost effective.

B: You could end up winning more than you bargained for, take the chance especially if your still a novice.

C: Don't waste your chance to take out over all 'Winner of Winners'.

You are only entered as 'novice' until you move up to 'open'. As a novice you get the chance to take out many comps. My advice to new comers is to go hard, you never get that chance again.

Make sure you enter the correct division.

Never competed before? Then you enter in 'Novice'.

Placed in any nail competition, not first place though- then you are 'Open'.

If you have won a first place in a nail competition- ( must be technical category ) you are now placed in 'Masters'.

These rules apply for most international nail competitions, some are open to all divisions, but check with event organisers first, failing to do so may end in disqualification.

At risk of sounding like a broken record I cannot stress enough for any competitor to read and understand all of the rules. Go over it and then get a competent friend to go over it with you, sometimes you read the rules so many times you become blind to the obvious. The rules are plentiful - as you can imagine every aspect has to be spelled out and noted down to keep the event as fair as possible, and to protect organisers and competitors alike. Every year something comes up, every year a competitor will be deducted points or be disqualified for not adhering to the rules; DONT LET THAT BE YOU. The judges, past competitors and event organisers are there to help, it doesn't matter how silly a question may sound, ask. And ask again if the answer isn't completely understandable.


This is another area you have control over. Don't waste your chance to compete on beautiful hands that are going to help your marks overall. Note: no actual points are given for amazing hands or nail beds, but I suspect the overall look and balance of a set of nail enhancements comes across more pronounced on a well picked model. There are sections where points are awarded for overall look and wow factor and models hands and nails may play a part in this. I personally think it showcases the competitors professionalism. But don't think for a minute it's going to give an average set of nails a better chance of winning, or a less than perfect model would stop a perfectly executed set of enhancements winning, but I still recommend putting thought into hand models. Don't spend all your time and money (blood, sweat and tears) and then turn up with a model who has short stumpy nail beds or bitten red eponychiums. This is personal preference and every judge or competitor has a different take on this. If you feel having your best friend as a model would relax you, letting you create better work to be judged, then make that call. Food for thought.

Note - If a model has a prior condition on her hands, do tell a floor judge prior to starting the competition so that it can be noted down for the judges to take into consideration. Even the best hand models can have an accident the day before an event. If a cut finger is not noted down prior to your categories commencement it may cause lower scores depending where the cut or lesion, burn etc is placed.

Also, real advice here guys, choose a model you can trust, many times I've seen competitors in tears waiting for their model to show, whilst random expo-goers are being dragged from the audience to sit in. This is never ideal, working on a strangers hands with no prior prep work or manicuring can be deflating. But you could also rock the situation and show off your cool calm professionalism and still take top marks! Never let a situation phase you, own it and move on.

Look after your models. It's hard work sitting for many hours, being manhandled through the judging process. Make sure they have been to the rest room prior to comp starting. Remember, no one can leave the comp floor for ANY reason. All bags and personal items are generally kept to the side of the competition area, out of the way so floor judges can get around tables safely. Ideally personal bags should be placed under seats. Product bags and cases are often moved to the back of the comp floor during the event to save space, this is your responsibility. It's rude and shows lack of respect to have bags and bits and bobs all over the place, and believe me I've seen it. Organisers aren't babysitters, and they shouldn't have to remind techs to keep things tidy- so as soon as your table is set up, put everything neatly into bags or cases and put it in the designated area. Once time has been called YOU MAY NOT GO BACK INTO BAG. Make sure everything you need is on that table- if your glue or forms are in your bag- too bad, there are absolutely no exceptions for any rules. This makes it fair for everyone. It can seem harsh at times, but if one competitor is given leniency the integrity of the whole competition is at stake.

Table setup, floor protocol.

While we are discussing table setup, let's go over a few things. This is one of the most important aspects to competing, imagine the horror of forgetting your favourite acrylic brush, or your monomer. It happens. Go over and over your products and equipment and re-read instructions. Each competition and category has a different set of rules, so never make assumptions. Actually make this your new mantra during comp time "NEVER MAKE ASSUMPTIONS, EVER."

Prepare for the worst, hope for the best. Once you have your list of products, equipment and accessories (remember you are often required to supply all electrical supplies, extension cords, adapters , lamps etc) have cords tagged and checked for safety. As a rule, one electrical outlet is allowed to each competitor.

All product needs to be in labeled containers. If not clearly labeled they will be confiscated. The last few years I've seen a few things removed from tables due to the fact that the labelling is in another language. If judges cannot translate the packaging we have no way of knowing if that little pottle is hard gel, soft gel or some kind of kryptonite. Bear this in mind. Also, and this seems like a no brainer, but I will mention everything; make sure your work and supplies are compliant to current health and safety laws. Use disinfected implements, put rubbish into a plastic bag taped to table....'clean up in aisle 5!'

During competitions we are representing the nail industry and want to uphold our professionalism in every aspect. Make smart decisions.

The judging process.

The judges don't get paid. The judges are not biased in any way. Judging is blind- meaning they judge in a closed forum, often a special booth with windows for models to place hands into. The model wears a numbered sticker or wrist band for identification. The judge enters that number on the score sheet and proceeds with judging. Note - this is why you are asked to have model remove any jewellery or cover any distinguishing marks (tattoos, scars etc). It's a good idea to bring band-aides or tape for this reason.

The exception to this rule is the fantasy/ runway competitions, but the judges assigned to this category still have no idea who created which look. (They are locked in a clandestine underground dungeon during briefing and competition time) actually they secure themselves into the judges booth and sip copious amounts of caffeine whilst double checking numbers..... And doing inappropriate things with M&M's and stationary- true story. During scoring they still only identify model by the number on their hands.

A one to ten judging system is used. One, being below average, ten the top mark given.

1 Unacceptable

2 Needs a lot of improvement

3 Below average skill level

4-5 Average skill level

6-7 Above average skill level

8 Very good, on way to a winning technique

9 Virtually flawless, excellent skill level

10 Flawless in every detail.

This is to be used as a guide only, each comp has a slightly differing layout of these rules, but generally a 4-5 denotes an average salon style standard, 6-7 better than average style set 8-10 outstanding competition style, and below 4 needing to improve, that's how I judge anyway, it keeps my scores consistent and fair, all details are taken into account evening out in a good comparison between all entries.

Judges must leave their emotions at the door, in life I love to look after the underdog, but on a judging level this wouldn't be fair to the all. Black and white, foolproof scoring systems are in place for this very reason.

One judge never judges every aspect of a set of nails. Each judge is given a few aspects to judge, this keeps the scoring fair and if a judge scores slightly lower or higher it doesn't effect the overall scoring, it becomes irrelevant. It allows the judge to concentrate on smaller aspects of the nail rather than the whole.

For example- when judging a sculpted pink and white comp (generally a one hand competition) there may be three judges (or more or less).

Judge 1 may score 'convex/concave', 'lateral side extension' and 'sidewalls, and c-curve'.

Judge 2 May judge 'apex', 'nail shape' and 'smile line', leaving judge 3 to score 'length', 'form fit' and 'free edge thickness'. You get the idea, this makes the judging very fair. This should also reinforce why each and every aspect of your nail should be perfect. Each aspect gives you the chance to earn up to 10 points. Take free edge thickness for example, if you have done your homework you will know that the judges are looking for the thickness of a business card. On ALL ten nails. That same thickness should be constant from lateral sidewall, ALL the way across the free edge to the other lateral side wall. On ALL ten nails. Why am I being so pedantic you may well ask? This one area of a competition nail is worth ten points. Make it perfect, make it count. Some times a models hand is thrust through the window still covered in dust. Rookie mistake that could cost precious points, for the time it takes to run a brush under free edge and clean off any debris.

Consistency is a really big thing to remember, all ten nails must be balanced.. Judges are using lamps and rulers. Are your apex's placed in the same area on all ten nails? Smile lines consistent? Measure if your unsure, remember shadowing and work accordingly. Note - If a tie occurs, the head judges score will determine the final result.

I wish I could convey to you how much effort goes on behind the scenes, every decision must be thoroughly thought out. Event directors are planning months in advance, and get very little sleep the week of the competition, in fact they are answering questions all year round. Every judge has a different approach, but that all leads to a fair outcome, as one judge scores all apex's, therefore all apex's have been judged on the same scale. Judges will pow-wow between themselves if an unusual situation should present itself, that pow-wow will continue until all judges agree on a fair solution, like a jury. These nail professionals are passionate about the nail industry and are giving back, often past competitors themselves, they understand what is at stake.

The competition floor

This is where it all happens. I love the ambiance and the excitement that flows through the air, cameras clicking, as models chat and tables are organised. I love watching the audience too, as a competitor you often fall into a trance-like state and almost forget the buzz of the crowd. This tunnel vision can be a good thing when contending against others, don't let the bright lights and chit chat distract you. Head down, bum up.

Nervousness breeds uneasiness, uneasiness gives birth to fear. Calm down cupcake, make like a thirty year old single woman and .......settle.

We all know that moment; your chest tightens suddenly in a moment that stops time, your heart in a vice, the drums of your inner ears almost beating a death march, arm hairs standing on end as if terrified meerkats.

A little nervous energy before a competition is good, it gets the adrenaline racing and pumps you up. But for some of us those nervous flutters turn to anxiety. We've all experienced the shakes, but when it happens when one is competing it can halter you chances of producing the work you're really capable of. Pay attention to your breathing. A classic way to reduce tension and nerves is to simply channel your breath. When you feel nervousness arising, tune into your breathing.

Place one hand on your chest and the other on your upper stomach. Try to take deep breaths that direct your breathing towards your diaphragm. If you are doing diaphragmatic breathing, the hand on your stomach will rise and the hand on your chest will remain relatively still.

Try to spend three or four seconds inhaling, and seven to six seconds exhaling. Focus on the rhythm and sensation of breathing to take your mind off your anxiety. Have some water and mints on hand for a dry mouth. Be prepared, if your confident your organised you have less to worry about. Stretching is another way to alleviate stress, it's a great distraction, it makes you feel good and helps muscles and back relax during comp time. Eat an apple or some almonds prior to comp, you don't want to over do it and feel lethargic or stodgy, but you need fuel to keep your energy levels up.

Play down the pressure to win. Stop dwelling on any negative outcomes, or over analysing. Your here to do what your capable of...focus on what your good at and the things you can change. Distracting your self before the comp starts can help too, your mind has trouble feeling two emotions at once, so if your humming your favourite song (anything by Prince is my recommendation - just saying) and bopping away to yourself, it's harder for those negative worries to sneak in. Compete against yourself, focus only on your own performance. You don't have control over other competitors, so zone into your own task at hand. You've put in the hard yards, now it's time to get out of your head and just enjoy the ride.

You could try the 'imagine everyone's naked' trick here too! - at your own peril- Ed.

Take into account time allocated, this goes super fast when you are on the floor, it's a good idea to have a timer on your desk. Many competitors map out a time-schedule that they keep in their heads eg: Ten minutes natural nail prep, fifteen minutes to fit forms etc.

No one except model and competitor are allowed on the competition floor. Fan groups behind the velvet ropes please, with the exception of a translator for non English speaking competitors (this is in fact a requirement and up to the competitor to arrange). Translator should still remain outside of the floor area, but within close enough range to translate between competitor and floor judge if needed.

In general there is a briefing fifteen to twenty minutes prior to comp, you and your model must be seated and ready by this point. Once briefing begins you may not touch your models hands or nails until the event starts. Any contact before or after event leads to a points deduction, or disqualification. During this briefing floor judges will be scrupulously checking models hands for any pre prep work, and tables for unlabelled product containers or unnecessary equipment. Note - hand written labels are permitted. This should be in English. Forms will be checked for pre-tailoring.. Yes full rolls are unwound all the way- it's best to have an unopened sealed roll of forms) Also, tips are checked in case of pre customising/blending, again, it's best to have a new unopened tip box.

Remember floor judges hold the right to remove any competitor or model from the competition floor for breaking rules or causing mayhem of any sort. So, no mayhem! Be respectful of other competitors, be kind and if you have ANY doubts whatsoever, put up your hand and ask. The floor judges take their roles very seriously, but they are there to help. Think of them as camp mothers that only want what's best for everybody. They are the ones ready with relevant answers, they are there to calm you down and give you a smile for encouragement. But know this...their eagle eyes see all.

Once time has been called, hands must go up in the air. Floor judges (and eager audience members) will be watching like hawks, work MUST stop immediately. Failure to do so will end in disqualification. Competitors are then asked to leave the floor (take personal possessions with you, this part can take some time) and be ready to re-enter to pack up table, unless you are in the next event. Note - research the schedule, if your competitions run consequently, be organised, have products needed for both events packed and ready to go in your case. Don't leave gel machine or any other unnecessary machinery or products on table unless needed. My advice is to work clean. Everyone has their own working style, but having excess gear around isn't conducive with time management. Also to be noted, I have been involved in competitions that have had competitors leave the work stations messy, rubbish and drink bottles under tables. This is bad practice and frankly just rude. Always show respect to event organisers and the people that give up their time to ensure these events actually happen. No food on the comp floor, drinks are permitted (hold the Vodka). Often the tables are loaned by noted companies, a lot of effort has been made to give the best lighting possible and the right temperatures. I will point out here that while all efforts are made its impossible to guarantee perfect lighting and temperature, take control and make sure YOU are covered. Make use of a small led lamp, maybe bring a hot or cold pack for models hands if you feel it will help product control. It's actually a really nice idea to bring a blanket along for the models shoulders. They are sitting very still for a considerable amount of time, they often feel the cold. (A lovely mink blanket or cute throw would be a lovely gift for your model).

A bottle of Moët never hurt either.

Mobile phones and tablets are permitted on the competition floor. They may be used for timing and you may utilise social media. Hashtag the heck out of the comp, but don't let it get in the way of creating beautiful award winning enhancements. I have seen long bejewelled talons come crashing down due to social media misuse on the comp-floor. No, not really I can't back that up. But I'm sure it has happened (or will happen) so exercise caution. My advice is to employ a really good friend/colleague to get some great shots. This kind soul should know to shoot only your good side. Remember protocol is to not post to social media until completion of event.

After the competition

I know I go on about looking after your model, but a great nail model plays her part in your achievements, don't take her/him for granted. Also, make sure they are well versed in what to expect during the judging process. Often during this time models look like stunned mullets, as no one has thought to tell them what's expected of them. When prompted they should follow, one by one, in an orderly fashion when the floor judge or assistant leads them through to the judges booth. There should be seating arranged, in bigger competitions this process can be time consuming. But know that the work each competitor puts in will be respected thoroughly. The judges understand the responsibility they hold and take their role seriously.

In most cases the first model starts at judging booth one, the judge will tap her hand to indicate when to move onto the next window. The second model moves forth. The aim is that a smooth sequence of judging takes place. Occasionally a judge will call back a model, by way of the number she wears on a sticker on her hand, we do try to avoid this. For this reason don't let models rush away too quickly. Time management is important, but all care is taken not to compromise scoring, so it can take some time. Keep in mind, models that leave before judging is complete may well be disqualified. Double check before you let them leave, also make sure that event photographers have taken a shot for media purposes. Scores are added at least three times, by different judges and assistants before going through to the final check. It's actually a bit of a covert operation, the importance of accuracy weighing heavily on everyone involved. A great deal of espresso coffee is required.

While rules and regulations are adhered to for very good reasons (the integrity and reputation of nail competitions as a whole) organisers do have a heart. Talk, ask questions. Sometimes things happen that are out of our control, until you ask you don't know what the outcome may be. But, if negligence is detected, if the rules don't mention a point deduction in that specific case, a warning will be given, after that a five point deduction will be taken and disqualification thereafter. Judges decisions are final.

Therefore, be as prepared as you possibly can, try your very hardest and be proud of the challenge you are taking on. If it were easy, everyone would do it. But if you have passion, drive and determination, give it a go. I know it's something you won't regret. I personally surprised myself by pushing myself out of my comfort zone. Not only reaching personal goals, but meeting new friends.

Note: Score sheets are available, I suggest you collect your score sheet at the end of the competition day. It's a great way to learn and prep for the next competition as it lets you know what your strong points are and where you could improve. Judges often add notes that may be helpful, and they often stay behind to discuss final scores with competitors after the events have ended.

Be warned... Judges are extremely tired by this point and have their minds on a well earned Sauvignon Blanc, but they will do their best to explain why scores are as they are or where you can improve next time.

Remember to avoid copyrighted logos, trademarks etc. Even though in the past the legality of recreating others work has been overlooked, it's being treated very seriously now, don't risk disqualification, or at the very least points deductions due to not thinking through your theme. Some score sheets can earn up to ten points for originality of theme, utilise every possible point you can earn by always keeping theme imaginative and unique.


So, you think your all that and a bag of chips? Stay humble. It doesn't matter how many awards adorn your mantelpiece - if you were last seen hiking up mount ego, that's how people will remember you. The novice who is leaving with no awards, was just as brave to enter, she or he also gave 100% and could be the winner of winners in a few short years with the right amount of determination.

If you don't use the magic word (thank-you) you won't get far in any industry, so don't forget your manners. On that note, we are fortunate to be in a creative role, we can wear high fashion, be a little wacky; anything goes really, but that doesn't mean we can let our professional image down. Low cut tops and cut off shorts are not a good choice for any industry event. Remember at all times this is a work related event, take pride in your look, iron your shirt and spit out that gum...

And remember 'grinners are winners..'

The categories

I have judged for a few differing competitions, each one having their own list of rules and categories. Again I stress to read the rules (all rules and especially the ones relating to the categories you are entering) with a fine tooth comb. That being said, a lot of modern competitions share many rules, this helps with transparency in the comp world and consistency, next I will go over some of the generic rules and regs for some of the most common categories to give you an idea of how things work.

Soak off gel manicure - 1/2 hour two hands.

This is a relatively new category, but one I think is here to stay for obvious reasons.

Thirty minutes to perform an immaculate gel polish on natural nails.

Models hands and fingers may be manicured prior to event.

One hand is painted a solid opaque red, the other hand traditional French (pink and white).

Products used to enhance/cover natural nails MUST be 'soak off gel' products.

If traditional polish or hard gel is used, expect instant disqualification. This is where product labels are very important, if not in English it's sometimes very hard to distinguish between a soak off gel and a hard gel. Judges do have their ways of finding out, but don't put them in that position.

Double check you have all cords and machinery. Check lamps are in working order before commencement. Check all lids and product prior to event, in some cases bring two of each gel colour (obsessive compulsive advice, but believe me it pays to be over prepared.)

Judges are looking for meticulous finish, don't get cute here, no art accents or frosted, shimmers of any kind, just picture perfect clean work. Models hands are important in this category as you are showcasing natural nails.


Often the opaque red required for certain categories is supplied by sponsors. But bring one in case, and make sure it is a classic solid red. That is RED, not pink or orange, and no trace of shimmer or glitter. Failing to comply with this rule could lead to loss of points. Probably not the time to try a new brand, stick to what you know and trust. Check all products during briefing.

Take full advantage of your opportunity to use pre manicured hands for this comp. I would be manicuring my chosen model, who has exquisite long nail beds and always brings me take away coffees, for at least a couple of months prior to competition date. Load her up with products to use at home, and write a letter to her husband/ teacher/ employer letting her off any form of domestic duties. (Give it a go, anyway.)

Be prepared to have a nail soaked off if judges are in anyway doubtful it is a soak off product. My advice is to work from a jar/ bottle that is clearly labeled containing a reputable brand.

Put your efforts into producing a clean consistent gel polish application, paying attention to the sidewalls and cuticle area, not forgetting to check under free edge for excess product or debris. Give judges an even shiny surface free of pits or scratches for optimum points. Check that nail from every angle- the line of light is important here as is consistent smile lines on your pink and white hand.

Utilise your half hour well and breath, a steady hand and positive attitude will help xxx

Liquid & Powder Acrylic Sculpture and Tips & Overlay - 1 1/4 hour each hand/section.

Great technical comp to enter as you get a two for one deal. You have the option to just do one or the other, but I suggest you push yourself and do both. You get an hour fifteen for each hand, so if you have a time map worked out timing should be fine. Those doing both sculpting and tips and overlay get a ten minute break between each hand. Generally right hand is sculptured, left hand reserved for tip and overlay. Do double check, don't copy the tech next to you- she may have it wrong.

These are traditional pink and white competitions. Cover pink is allowed. The finger and thumb of each hand is to be polished in a red cream nail polish.

Read rules clearly to see what products are allowed, often lotions and oils, water and soap bowls and polish dry products are fine to use, sometimes they are not. Generally gel sealers are not allowed in acrylic L&P comps. Adhere to rules about not customising forms or tips. And of course no white tips.

Adhesives must be removed from table during the sculpting competition, make a note to do this, making sure you 'do' have it on table for tips and overlay comp. This is your responsibility, be organised here. E-files are allowed.


[C.A.S] - curves, arches and smile lines. This is the section judges want to judge. Here you can showcase your technical knowledge and gain status as a talented technician. Your aim is to produce a picture perfect set of pink and white extensions that are not your everyday salon look nails- these nails are perfection plus- an exaggerated take on the traditional French manicure. Straight crisp lines, alabaster white free edges balanced to within a millimetre, sidewalls so straight they can't watch Brokeback Mountain without blushing, and smile lines for Africa.. What I mean to say here is PERFECTION PERSONIFIED. A lot of people ask what ratio to use for pink and whites, where to place apex and how much c-curve is desired. You decide. I would encourage you do your homework on the difference between a salon pink and white and a competition pink and white, but at the end of the day it's all about CONSISTENCY.

I'll say it one more time, the big thing to remember here is CONSISTENCY across all ten nails. Your welcome xxx

Salon Nails, 1 1/4 hour - one hand.

Another new kid on the block, this competition is all about the technicians skills as a salon professional. Can you create beautiful flattering nails for 'any' client? Straight off the bat, can you pick out the best look to suit someone's skin tone, nail-bed issues and overall hand shape?

I think this is one of the most coveted skills a nail technician can possess- the ability to see what will work on any hand. There's no one shape or shade or style to suit everyone, no one size fits all. So this comp allows you to showcase your skills as an everyday salon expert, hand stylist and the employee everyone wants to hire.

Choose from L&P (acrylic) or UV hard gel or fibreglass/silk wraps.

Make sure you have at least two systems on your table to choose from, this proves you are using the best system for the model, not the system you prefer to use. The aim here is to customise as you go, pick up the models hand, turn it over, look from all angles as if you were in a salon, and work out the look you feel will suit her best.

You will get 75 minutes to complete one hand of salon style nails. Judges will compare the un-enhanced hand to work out how you decided to create the look you have provided.

Cover pinks and neutrals may be used, but absolutely no shimmer or glitter or embellishments. This is not an art competition, judges want to see natural, wearable nails. You may use tips or forms, choose what's best for you models nails. As always no pre-blending or prepping of tips or forms. If creating smile-lines, do this freehand.

Models hands are checked thoroughly before commencement of competition, any cuts or abrasions on the hand to be enhanced will be noted down for judges.

You may use a gel topcoat or sealer, but absolutely no polish or colour of any kind is permitted.

You may use water/oil/lotions, but as always not in excess, use common sense with this rule. A little cleanup before judging can make a lot of difference, a small amount of oil is obviously aesthetically pleasing, but if judges see cuticle area flooded in oil this will detract from the work you've put in. Show off your work, don't try to filter it.

Keep desk clean and adhere to health and safety procedures. A five point deduction for any unprofessional work.


If the model in front of you has very short nail beds, and you decided on pink and whites, perhaps a cover pink to extend the nail-beds and a curved extended smile line to give the illusion of length may be best? Apex and c-curve all play a part in flattering extensions, as well as the shade of acrylic used, cool or warm, neutral or a little pink? Think hard before you begin, but once you choose your look, own it and remember consistency still comes into play, even though each nail may be treated a little differently depending on fingers and nail issues.

Keep in mind what the judges are looking for here. Think of a traditional before and after shot. If your model has attributes- use them to your advantage, if she has flaws, this is good to. It gives you the chance to show how you turn those flaws around, and create nails that downplay any imperfections and compliment her hands as a whole. I personally would imagine my model is shooting an add for an Estée Lauder skincare campaign later that afternoon. She would want perfect glossy nude nails with a subtle smile line, soft and natural but totally perfect in all angles.

Work with what you have, to create the nails any client would be happy to walk away with.

This is a salon style competition, remember at all times to work as a professional. Keep your table clean and remember health and safety regulations- floor judges will be keeping a close eye on how you work.

Breath, you've done this hundreds of times, it's what you live for. Creating real nails for real people to the best of your ability.

Choose the best length, shape, shade/tone, smile-line, apex placement and style for the hands you are assigned.

Don't forget to stop occasionally and look at the whole hand from all angles, it's easy to get caught up in the details, the overall look is what you should keep in mind whilst perfecting the details.

Stiletto nails, 2 hours - one hand.

This is one of the fun competitions, your chance to create something truly spectacular, but don't forget the technical side, judges are looking for balance, architecture and skill in creating this very specific shape.

The wow factor is important here, but points are gained mainly through CONSISTENCY and well crafted structurally sound sculpted nails.

This is a sculptured only competition.

L&P (acrylic) or UV hard gel only. (If you choose to use hard gel, don't forget your lamp and extension cord).

All work to be created during competition time, no previously crafted art allowed.

Art work may be encapsulated or added to surface of enhancements. (Any surface art must be 1/4 inch high or less).

Glitters, shimmers and coloured acrylics or gels are permitted. Paint, shipping tape rhinestones, bouillon beads etc are permitted within required measurements.

Absolutely no pre-customised art- no decals or stickers or stamping. This is your chance to show off your free hand art skills. Don't just add 'stuff'.

Gel topcoats and sealers are permitted.

E-files are permitted.

Soap and water, oils, lotions are permitted within reason.


Obviously nail architecture is a big deal in this category, but creativity is a close second. Judges need to see that you've put thought into the use of your chosen embellishments. Don't just add art for arts sake, incorporate your design seamlessly, show your skills by adding a well balanced, unique design that works with the overall look.

Length. Yes- length full stop. This one category of judging is very precise. Stiletto nails are infamous for their unabashed length. But don't just create crazy long talons with out thought of the overall look and symmetry. Take into consideration the models nail beds, and the design concept can also have bearing on the length you choose to work with. Keep the distance from the cuticle to the smile line the same as the distance from the smile one to the free edge. Judges are looking for a 50/50 ratio here, and they will use rulers. The same should be said of the overall length, cuticle to free edge should match hand to hand. Check thumb to thumb, index to index and measure for uniformity.

Also bear in mind those lateral sidewalls. Check out how your lateral extensions look from all angles, they should extend 'straight' out from natural nails lateral fold, not dragging down or ski jumping up. Form placement plays a big role here, notches in sidewalls can really let you down, make especially sure to secure that form to reduce any downward or upward structure of free edge.

As usual the underside of your nails free edge should not be forgotten, I think especially in this category as the stiletto nails underside can be so pretty. Get rid of any residue; dust, glue, oil, lipstick etc

Show off your product control, remember every aspect of your work can gain or loose points. A couple of errant air bubbles could shave valuable points off your end result. Sometimes scores are so tight this could be the difference between first and second place. Judges really want to see crisp work, sharpe definition and mastery of chosen product.

A smooth finish is important, whether you choose to buff to a high shine or use a gloss sealer, no scratches or imperfections should distract the eye, a perfect mirror finish is the desired outcome.

Take a moment to rub your finger over the cuticle area, this is what the judges will do to double check there is absolutely no ledge where product is applied.

Double check your apex/ arch consistency across all ten nails. Also the shape of free edge should be uniform and don't forget to aim for the thinness of a business card, it's too easy to create a set of stiletto's with a thicker free edge, watch this.

Colour theory can gain you ten points, so put some thought into the colours you work with, if you know the model your working with choose flattering shades for her skin tone and make sure colours compliment and work well as a whole.

Whilst there are points to be gained for complexity of design, you may wish to spend your time gaining points perfecting symmetry, workmanship and overall aesthetics; if your confident you can achieve all this in the allocated time slot then go for gold, an extra ten points can be had by demonstrating exceptional skill with a complex or groundbreaking design feature. But not at the peril of basic skill and application.

When you've finished take a minute to refocus, look at the whole hand from all angles, is the balance pleasing to the eyes, now zoom in on the details and clean up any thing you may have missed.

Phew, now take a second to give yourself an inner high five, go all out and give a fist pump, you've earned the right to look a bit daggy, this is not a comp for the faint hearted and your awesome for entering. The judges really enjoy seeing your work and appreciate what is involved in creating a worthy set of stiletto nails.

Reality nail art - 3/4 hour three nails (tips)

Another newer category reflecting changes in the modern nail salon. A chance to think on your feet and create modern coveted nail art that would be worn by fashion forward women of all ages.

Three full well nail tips are supplied by the competition organisers.

First nail tip should represent the fashion forward 25 year old.

Second tip reflects the nail style of the 25-45 year old demographic.

Third tip indicative of a more mature 45 plus age group

No 3D nail art. Flat nail art and rhinestones, stripping tape and more commercially viable embellishments are fine to use. One stroke, media paints, foils, charms any thing goes, but no 3D.

E-files and LED/UV lamps allowed.

All work to be created during competition time.

All work is displayed in the public arena after the event until event closing.

As with any nail art comp, it is an infringement to breach copyright of any trademarked logos (Disney, Universal Studios, Celebrity likeness etc). Organisers take this very seriously, it will lead to instant disqualification.


Think I.W.F - I want factor.

How not to loose points? Use your imagination and choose themes and work that is original. Don't loose points due to the fact that you have imitated a copyrighted theme. If your not sure about this, double check. Every point counts.

Designing fashion looks for the over 45 year age bracket certainly doesn't mean boring beige, in my experience this age group is some of the most fashion forward and experimental of all the groups listed. Also, they have the money to spend on customised nail art, but I digress... ( that's because I'm in this age category!)

In the same token, not all 25 year olds want glitter and coffin style tips either, we don't want you to stereo type to that extent, but a clear definition of the three groups should be obvious. It's a true talent to be able to offer apt nail art for your clientele. A talented tech gets a sense of what the client wants as soon as she/ he walks in the door. This comp is aimed at trends and high fashion that is wearable, achievable in a salon situation. Think commercially, will this feature nail be attainable in the salon in a practical time frame, and bring in the appropriate profit?

Work that is too intricate is often not practical for the technician, or wearable for the client.

Verse yourself with current trends on social media and show confidence with the art you supply. Simple yet striking, wearable looks are what the judges are looking for, don't try to throw too much on the tip, keep the look balanced and execute every detail well.

You will be given a sheet of paper illustrating the three women (fashion groups) as the competition begins, trust your gut instinct, you haven't long to plan your desired look, and you don't want to change your mind half way through, tick tick tick.

Pick a colour, or aspect of the fashion the women are wearing and own it- confidence goes a long way in this competition.

Remember......Nails are the full stop to every designer outfit.

Fantasy nail art - 1 hour to complete application.

The crowd pleaser for obvious reasons. My personal favourite, you get the chance to dream big and have fun watching your next level fantasy turn into a crazy reality.

Do a little homework, you don't want to choose a look that's been done before. My advice is to choose something you love, something that suits your unique style, something you'll have fun showing off. Stick within the theme of course, but make it 'you'.

Rules state the fantasy work is to be adhered to natural nails only. Nails can be pre-manicured, why wouldn't you? Well, maybe your model is portraying a troll, but even then you'd want to remove any overgrown cuticle and do everything you can to aid adhesion of tips. Just remember, absolutely no polish or coverings at all. Think a lot about how you will adhere your fantasy tips to these natural nails when drawing up your initial design, some of these sets are very heavy. There are many ways to get them onto the finger tips, just make sure the method you choose is super strong, how sad would it be to see your work crumble to the ground? There is nothing in the rules about how you should attach these nails, think like an architect and concentrate on strength and aesthetics. Practicality trumps all if the chance of artwork falling off is on the cards but also, put thought into the fact that if the nails are attached in such a way that it doesn't detract from the design, this will add to the overall look.

Hair, makeup and costume must be mostly done before model is seated in the competition floor, only the model and competitor may enter the competition floor, but finishing touches can be completed before end time is called. My advice is to get everything you can done prior to commencement, time goes a lot quicker than you think.

Within the time you are allocated, the nails must be assembled and added to the models natural nails, and finishing touches completed.

The rules state '10 different tips for all 10 fingers'. These tips may be interlinked, a clever bit of architecture is always admired by the judges, but there must clearly be 10 nails extending from the fingers.

All artwork, embellishments and add ons may be crafted before the competition. The time given is really for assemblage.

Think big- any art work is acceptable, (as long as it is safe). Think feathers, Swarovski, fabric, haberdashery, machinery, the list goes on and on, any accessories you see fit.

A small card to be placed at the foot of the model during judging should explain your theme and method in no more than 50 words - be careful not to accidentally disclose your identity. No photos or inclusion of your name, just a brief description of your theme and products/methods that played a part in your creative process. Keep it simple and easy to read. Whilst there is no specific area in the scoresheet for judging the description card, points can be gained if your theme is obvious so I would put some effort into your card. Every detail adds up to the end result. And of course no copyright images or characters at all.


The first thing you want to make sure of is that your theme translates well. Choose your theme well, it needs to be universally recognised, and judges and spectators should be able to instantly recognise your intentions. Does your design represent the theme well? And does that theme flow through the over all look, hair makeup, costume?

The level of difficulty is marked, this section has a high rate of quality, every aspect should showcase your skills as an artist and master of your mediums, this is your chance to show off, think big. The rules allow a huge degree of artistic licence, think outside the square to impress the judges. The graphic quality is important, the textures and 3D quality should stand out. Every detail should be perfected, don't just keep throwing accessories on, fantasy nail art is better than that, a clever design that is executed with skill is better than a hot mess. Quality control and then some. That being said, my advice is often this; when you think your finished, go back to the drawing board and keep adding details, as long as it compliments and doesn't detract from the overall look. A huge amount of the scoring in this category is based around balance, if the total look is too sparse or too busy it just won't work.

Looking at that flow again, look at the lead on from one nail to another. Do they tie in well and compliment each other, don't think of each separate nail as an island, but as a cluster of islands that marry each other to unite as a nation - cheesy I know, but an important thing to remember. It's easy to get caught up on one nail as a separate feature, then it becomes hard to incorporate into the overall theme. The aesthetic flow is crucial.

A clean finish is also required, the overall statement of the 'fantasy' is heightened by attention to the separate components, the devil is in the details, as they say.

So to recap, choose your theme wisely, then own it- no looking back. Map out the finished result, envision the outcome and keep it balanced above all else.

Also, have fun with it. This is my most important advice; I think it shines through if the theme is some thing you've chosen because you totally love it, and the fun side of this category is that there are few boundaries. Go forth and shine!

Photographic - hand in.

As per all the hand in categories, don't just turn up on the day and languidly ask the dude in the coffee shop where you should drop off your artwork. Know this before hand, and don't be late. If you have sent in your submission - follow up, don't leave delivery in the hands of the Nail Gods, or worse still, the postal system! If you don't get email confirmation that your work has been received, get in touch, trace, track and get that photo into the right hands. This is your responsibility. Then you can sleep like a baby again.

Please respect the organisers time and efforts by doing all you can to adhere to the rules. I know I sound like a broken record, but following the rules and respect go a very long way. Photograph should be submitted in portrait form only, think magazine cover. Original art work only, don't send in work that has been published or entered in past competitions. Judges will know, records are kept. Keep within the required size of '8x12'. It's your choice of photographic effect, colour, black & white, sepia.... Anything goes, but think carefully about the desired finish. Same goes with the nail art in question, your choice from mild to fantastical. Nail art can include 3.D acrylic, hand painting, encapsulation or whatever your imagination allows, keeping within the flow of your theme. Mounting is one of the things that can set your image apart. The photo should be mounted on approximately 3mm cardboard or foam-board, black is a good option in most cases. I do advise you get this done professionally if possible, for a small fee this can really add to the overall presentation of your work. This can add valuable points. It's very important to only add your name once to the back of your photo, organisers cover your name with a sticker including your competitor number for your privacy. Same goes with your step by step, just add your name once on the back of your written description, a sticker with corresponding number will cover your name. This step by step should be neat, precise and cover how you went about creating the image, media used, inspiration etc; please do not include photos that give away your identity. Many competitors create a shabby step by step as an afterthought- this could loose you up to ten points. As always be careful with copyright issues and really try to channel your inner art director for this project.


Something really major to keep in mind with your photographic entry is "Would this look really cool on a magazine cover?"

Think glossy high fashion, magazine cover- not something you'd see on a cheap tabloid. Something you could send off to Nails Mag or Scratch magazine, and be super proud doing so. Do some googling, ask your peers/ friends, get a handle on the type of thing you'd like to see on a cover. I certainly don't want to advise any one what style to offer here though, this section is aimed at seeing a diverse range of creative input, so anything goes. Keep it sharp, focused, current, eye catching. Make it an image that you don't just glance at, your eyes linger on this photo. Because it is clever, alluring, quirky, sexy, different; it tells a story. Find a way to keep the eye on your money shot.

I personally think you want to think commercially for this section. Creativity reigns as always, but if your idea is too far out of the box to be aesthetically pleasing it may be lost on judges. It may seem patronising, but the biggest piece of advice I can give is this; if your not an amazing photographer, get someone who is to take the shots. It can take dozens of shots to get one perfect image, and with out the correct exposure, balance, colour, aptitude, I'm just making up words here, I'm not a photographer...My point being, hire a professional, or enlist the help of a friend, it doesn't need to cost the earth. Contact your local school, university, students are often keen for experience, and they can use the shot for their portfolio - win/win. Collaborations are a great way to get a professional shot. Makeup artists, hair stylists, fashion designers all love to help out in projects like this if they get to use the image after completion dates.

It's all about the nails, but if the nails get lost in translation it's very hard for judges to give high marks. That being said, it takes more than a 'nice picture of cool nails' to win a competition. That's where your talent comes in to decide on the perfect combination of fashion art and nail fusion to create a glossy cover shot to wow the masses.

Confused? It's so easy to over think this section, so I also advise to trust your gut instinct- the photo you love best will stand out to you- use that one.

Mixed Media Boxed Nail Art - hand in.

All entries must be original to the competition floor. Do a little research, don't choose a theme or design that's been done to death. Sometimes in the world of nail art, a specific niche takes off, avoid this if you want to stand out from the crowd and gain points for originality. But, don't go too far in the opposite direction, you want to visually grab the eye of the beholder, they should relate to the theme or at least understand what your intentions are. And definitely no double entries, if you have showcased a design elsewhere don't expect it to go down well if you use a second hand entry.

You do have the option to hand in two entries; food for thought?

As usual, a show and tell format. This basically means the design is prepared on various sized tips, as if a set of hands minus the fingers, and displayed in a display box (no lid or case required) for the viewing pleasure of judges and spectators alike. Remember this as you map out your plans, it should be eye catching, and take the shape as a set of nails; albeit as an avant-garde concept. Make sure there is a gap between each nail, and the tip sizes represent differing nail bed sizes, this isn't just art, this is 'nail art'. Rules actually state you must show five different sized nail tips- you can expect a ten point deduction for not adhering to this rule.

Don't guess your dimensions, this category always has specific measurements, and you will be penalised if you don't stick to these rules. The norm is approximately ten inches by ten inches, and no higher than four inches. Rulers are used as art is submitted, so do your homework and stay within the boundaries.

This section is to be completed before registration, no details can be added after this point.

Check with event organisers exactly when your art piece is to be submitted, I've witnessed heartbroken competitors who have failed to get submitted within the time boundaries. Do not go to all that trouble only to be disqualified. Think of it like this; the people behind the scenes have so much going on the weekend of the event, why don't you make it easier for them by following protocol. There are so many details to tick off, if you've read the rules and come prepared this will put you in good favour with the powers that be.

On that note, a fifty word step by step is expected to accompany your work. Make this count, in my experience this is one area that often looses points for the competitor. A scrap of paper with a few messy handwritten words as an after thought is not enough. Judges also don't want to see a five thousand word essay, keep it neat and precise stating the methods and media in which you created your entry, showing photos if you wish, just no photos with yourself included- this is a giveaway as to who's work it is, making it extremely hard for judges to score without bias. This just creates more work for organisers.

Generally you are instructed to use at least three nail art mediums, i.e. Embellishments, 3.D acrylic, gel, hand painting, one stroke, air brushing etc. You will loose points for not showing that you've incorporated at least a few of these options into your piece.

No decals allowed, what would be the point of that? Every aspect you show should demonstrate your skill as a nail artist. This section of the score sheet is worth ten points so make it obvious to the judges that you've used at least three varying art mediums, I've seen amazing art loose points on this section time and time again- don't let that be you.


You are being judged ultimately on artistic ability, aesthetic value, creativity, colour content, difficulty of design and overall appearance- make each one of these points stand out- that's how you will gain points. Sometimes I've stood back and a set will jump out as the gold standard, only to place second or third, and that's possibly because they have lost points on things that they haven't considered important. Seek out what the judges are looking for and provide just that, it's not always the most commercial or the set with the most 'wow' factor that wins.....details, details, details....

And, I will say it again- NO COPYRIGHT ARTWORK. Each piece from the realms of your incredible imagination please.

Flat nail art - hand in.

Complete art onto ten tips, place in case and deliver finished art piece to event organisers at given time.

As with all nail art categories you must enter something new, as in something that hasn't been entered into any other competitions or been previously published. Also, create your art onto ten tips of various sizes to represent a set of nails. Place in a display case (no cover please) and DO NOT stick tips together as if one canvas, place them side by side but with a distinct separation between tips- the eye flows across the art work, but it still differentiates that it's tiny artwork on ten different sized tips. This is a 'nail art' competition, not an art competition. Keep display case no bigger than 10 inches by 10 inches ( 25.4 by 25.4 centimetres) and no higher than 4 inches (10.16 centimetres). Keep case at this size or just under, judges do measure and discrepancies may lead to disqualification. You may often enter two pieces into this category - so if your a night owl or insomniac, why not? Make sure to drop in your entry/entries at the stated time, generally before registrations on the first day of comps and always pick up at end of comps, or risk loosing your precious artwork. A 50 word description must be added with entry, outlying how you achieved your art, media used, theme ideas etc, make this neat but not too drawn out and don't add your identity on front so as judges can't tell who's work it is. You do get marks for this, so don't forget to include.

Back in the day, this section was purely flat art. You could choose what you wished as a painting medium and paint your scene across the nail tips or do a different image for each tip. Newer rules state that you must choose three out of these five mediums- airbrushing, embellishments- (stripping tape, rhinestones, studs etc), liquid and powder acrylic, gel, hand painting- (one stroke). Make sure three of these mediums stand out, there is a section to be marked by judges- it's best they see the differing media easily- this is a section many loose points on for some reason. It clearly states in the rules to show use of differing media, so I suggest you do. Choose to add on what suits the theme and what your talented at. If you create amazing flat 3.D acrylic work, then add some of that, if not- don't. But, it's imperative that you add 3 obvious uses of differing media so judges have the chance to give you higher marks in this section, don't just add them as an afterthought though- think about this when your in your planning stages. And- for goodness sake no stamping or decals - never, for any category for that matter... This is your chance to gain points for creativity and skill. If your unsure of a media application, ask someone in the know before you get too far ahead of yourself.

As always, work must be your own. If judges are ever I doubt that work submitted is not created by the named competitor- it is within reason for you to be required to re-create a portion of the work in question. This goes for all hand in sections. This makes it fair for all.


This is an incredible category in the fact that it showcases your artistic ability in such a focused way. The eye is drawn to the whole look, as well as the details.

I think it's important to produce something that commands attention. Something eye catching, but at closer inspection is expertly executed on every level. Colours are vivid or muted according to the look your portraying. Blending is such a skill, I love to see super fine lines and shadowing. Juxtapositions along side added textures add aesthetic dimensions. You get your chance to show just how clever your art skills are, and how each detail is refined to give a clean finished look, while retaining a good balanced flow. Countless hours are spent on these hand-ins, this category is for a particular skill set, but everyone has the chance to showcase their vision.

To recap; work is judged on 'artistic ability, aesthetic value, creativity, colour content, overall presentation and design difficulty'. So make each of these factors stand out.

So, competing in nail competitions is a super power you can be proud of, this will enrich your career and give you life long memories, new friendships and potentially well earned trophies to show off.... Go on with your bad self!

This Mysterious mani-verse.

Published by Rachel Stevens @vanitisix

Musings of a curious nail tech. Exasperatingly dramatic wordsmith, over thinker and established pen thief. Honorary questioner, and lover of simple truths. Rachel has been involved in the nail industry for over two decades now and realises this makes her sound really really old. Her mission, to expose the big questions that lie with in the mani-verse, whilst simultaneously peeling the spuds.

She will continue to buff away at the irksome surface.

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