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How do you alternate 3 colors on nails?

Nail art using three alternating colors can create a fun and stylish look. When done correctly, the colors will transition seamlessly for a professional manicure. With some planning and technique, anyone can learn to alternate three nail polish colors on their own nails at home.

Determine the Color Scheme

The first step is choosing three coordinating nail polish colors. Some popular color combination ideas include:

  • Red, white and blue for a patriotic look
  • Pink, nude and white for a feminine style
  • Black, gray and white for an edgy vibe
  • Pastels like mint, lavender and baby blue for a soft look

When selecting three polish colors, make sure they are tones that complement each other. Having one light, one medium and one dark shade works well. Testing them next to each other on a white surface first can help visualize the color flow.

Plan the Color Order

Once you have your three polish colors, decide the order you want them to alternate. Some options include:

  • Paint nails 1, 3 and 5 with color A. Use color B on nails 2 and 4. Then use color C on nails 6, 8 and 10.
  • Start with color A on nails 1-3, use color B on nails 4-6, and finish with color C on nails 7-10.
  • Do an even distribution, with 2 nails of color A, then 2 nails of color B, then 2 nails of color C. Repeat the pattern on the other hand.

Sketch out a map of which colors will go on each nail before starting. This makes the application process smoother.

Prep Nails

Prepping the nails properly helps the polish adhere and last longer:

  1. File each nail into the desired shape. Squared or rounded tips work best.
  2. Gently push back and trim any cuticles.
  3. Use a nail buffer to shine the nails.
  4. Wash hands with soap and water and dry thoroughly.
  5. Apply a very thin layer of clear base coat. Let it dry.

Apply Color Coats

Follow these tips when painting on the three polish colors:

  • Work on one hand at a time for easier application.
  • Apply thin coats and let each layer dry between colors.
  • Use painter’s tape around the skin to reduce tidy up.
  • Follow the color order map created earlier.
  • Add a top coat after the last color to seal.

Clean Up Skin

Once the polish is dry, use a small brush dipped in nail polish remover to gently wipe away any polish on the skin. Q-tips can also help tidy up the edges.

Finish and Maintain

Add a final layer of top coat over the dry nails to add shine and protection. Reapply every 2-3 days to keep the manicure looking freshly painted. Use cuticle oil daily to condition the nails and skin.

Troubleshooting Tips

Here are some solutions for common problems when alternating three nail polish colors:

Issue Solution
Chipping Use thin coats of polish and let each layer dry completely before adding the next color.
Pill balls Avoid shaking polish bottles. Roll them between palms to mix instead.
Flood cuticles Outline the nail with polish first, then fill it in to avoid getting it on skin.
Over-saturation Wipe the brush on the bottle neck to remove excess before each stroke.
Polishing pulling off Use a dehydrator and primer before base coat for better adhesion.

3-Color Design Inspiration

Three color nail art allows for endless design options. Some ideas include:

  • Linear: Paint three straight lines across each nail in the color order.
  • Geometric: Create geometric shapes like triangles or trapezoids with tape.
  • Gradient: Transition from dark to light colors starting at the cuticle down to the tip.
  • Houndstooth: Use a nail art brush to make tiny houndstooth checks in two colors with a third as background.
  • Striping Tape: Layer striping tape between colors to divide sections.
  • Freehand: Get creative with freehand brush strokes in each shade.

The options are endless! Allow your creativity to shine through in the design.


Alternating three nail polish colors is an easy way to spice up your manicure. Select coordinating shades, map out the color order, properly prep nails, neatly apply polish, clean up edges, and finish with top coat. Troubleshoot issues as needed. Experiment with fun designs in three colors. With some practice, you’ll be able to achieve stunning salon-worthy nails at home.