BAD GIRLS ONLY: Mixing Custom Nail Colors For The Elitist Beauty Aficionado In Us All

If nothing else, the elitist gratification of saying, “Oh, this? I mixed it myself!” when someone asks you what color you’re wearing is BEYOND worth it.
Publish date:
April 22, 2013
nail polish, DIY, glitter nail polish, diy beauty, Custom

A few articles ago, I casually mentioned that before I interviewed Shirley Manson, I mixed my own shade of orange nail polish to perfectly match the color that she was wearing when I saw Garbage perform last August. WELL, I don’t know if the color that she was wearing during our interview was the same one she wore during the Garbage show seven months ago, but what I DO know is that our nails matched perfectly. So basically, I’m an expert at mixing nail color.

It’s nothing.

And you can be an expert, too! I mean, does anyone NEED to be an expert at mixing custom nail colors? (YES) No. But even if you only have a mild grasp on what you’re doing, you’re bound to come out with an end product that you and everyone else will love. If nothing else, the elitist gratification of saying, “Oh, this? I mixed it myself!” when someone asks you what color you’re wearing is BEYOND worth it. Don’t believe me? Next time someone asks you what you’re rocking on your nails, just lie and tell them that it’s custom, mixed especially by you. Fuck it.

But by the time you’re done reading this, I trust that you’ll be confident enough to mix your own colors. After all, I actually have no idea what I’m doing -- but it’s only nail color! Everyone can do it! It’s not, like, I don’t know, balancing your checkbook. (PS does anyone actually do that? I always thought that was a myth. I just use my smartphone to check my balance online, like a normal person.)

Mixing nail color is like making soup: It is impossible to mess up. Just keep adding shit until it comes out right.

I’m going to show you how to pull of the perfect crème, shimmer, and jelly glitter polish.

Oh, and by the way, I will not, in this article or in life, refer to what I’m creating as “Frankenpolish.” Nope, bye. Etsy can go on and have that.



As we all know, crème polishes are not pastels (I always worry that people are going to get it twisted). They are pure color with no added metallic or iridescent pigments, glitter, or anything of that nature. True color. They are the best. Crème colors are the only ones I fuck with.

Don’t think I’m sitting here mixing a red and a blue to make purple. This is 2013, we have Sephora and Walgreens and everyone else that would be happy to sell you 80 shades of the same color. BUT, I am very particular, so when I want to get an exact shade that I can’t find anywhere else, here’s what I do.

First, grab whatever you use to store your nail polish. I keep mine in this Chanel tool box.

Pick a base shade, a color that is close to that one you are trying to achieve, and then use other colors to pull it in whatever direction you want the color to go.

See that orange from American Apparel in the middle labeled NEON? Well, it just wasn’t neon enough. The colors on either side are what I used to bright the neon from good to GOOD.

My biggest tips for mixing color, no matter what you’re going for, are as follows:

Use polishes with the same or similar formulas. No brainer, I know. If that means going with the same brand, great. Keep in mind that if you’re mixing different brands, it usually means that you’re combining different formulas, which might make the end result more temperamental, whether it takes longer to dry or makes it smudge or chip more easily.

Along that same line, different formulas will change the color more quickly than others. I started with the American Apparel orange, and when I added the Sally Hansen Insta-Dri polishes -- BOOM, they weren’t messing around. They are very opaque and one of the thickest polishes on the market, so they’re really going to really make a dent in your color. The Essie orange (which my camera is reading as red) is pretty middle of the road, great to use. But see that Illamasqua on the far right? I am forever obsessed with that sassy chartreuse, but the polish is pretty thin, which in turn does more to thin out your end result than it does to intensify the color.

If I’m mixing just a little polish, I may mix it on a sheet of tinfoil. If I end up mixing more than just a little, I’ll do it in a shot glass. Obviously.

WHAT a mouthful. Am I talking your ear off? Maybe I shouldn’t be writing this after five beers.


Have you noticed that it’s impossible to find a rose gold nail polish? WELL, I HAVE. And girl, I am not pleased. So let’s make one!

Here’s what I used:

The base color (v important) is that copper color from Revlon, since I think that rose gold is more similar to copper than it is to an actual gold. One of the reasons that I don’t like metallic polishes is because they’re typically thinner than crème polishes, which also doesn’t bode well for mixing.

To combat this, the first thing I did was add a couple drops of white polish to the copper, to give it some body which also makes the other colors take a little easier, I find. NEXT, add pink. I opted for this hot, juicy pink to give the most dramatic change with the least amount of added polish. Last, I threw some gold in because I assume you can’t have rose gold without some actual GOLD. Whatever.

The final product is pretty fly because it’s a nice, opaque rose gold that reflects a metallic rose gold finish when the light hits it. This paired well with this all rose everything MOMENT I was having on the night I mixed the polishes.

Mission accomplished.

The last and final: JELLY GLITTER POLISH. Or some variation of that name, just go with it.

So a jelly polish is a polish that is very sheer, made up of some variation of 75% clear coat/25% color pigment. They are almost always paired with glitter for a multidimensional polish, different than just your average glitter topcoat thrown on top of color. I’ve been wanting to bust out a polish like this on my own for SO LONG, and this article gave me the perfect excuse to give it a try. I am SO happy with the final product

These polishes are so cool and so stupidly easy to make that I want you to stop what you’re doing and try your hand at it immediately. To make mine, I just dumped about a tablespoon of the copper glitter topcoat into a shot glass and then added a couple drops of the iridescent blue polish until it had turned the clear coat sufficiently blue.

Since the polish is going to end up being more sheer than usual, you may have to rock three coats, but multiple coats is what makes this polish look so GOOD, y’all! Adding three coats of sheer polish will make the glitter look very multidimensional, like stars suspended in space (omg), by the time the color builds up to opacity.

Seriously, Etsy (no shade) will try to sell you bottles of jelly glitters until your bank account is totally in the red, but I KNOW you have that one bottle of glitter top coat hidden away, and are afraid to use because glitter is so hard to get off. Well, now you have good use for it! And Marianne showed you an easy way to remove glitter polish, so you really have no excuse.

Once you start mixing your own colors, you can more mileage out of the colors you already own, and you can start doing some mad fun nail LOOKS like these!

The opal manicure!

And the ultra masculine FLORAL manicure!

Sorry this article was eighty hours long. Is it totally redundant to write about mixing nail colors? I’m sure all of you can put two and two together and figure it out yourself, but hello, this is what I am here for. Have you mixed your own nail color before? Are you going to start? If (when) you do, let me know. Email or tweet me your end result.

Tynan and all of his bad ideas are on twitter @TynanBuck.