What are the different nail shapes

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One of the most important decisions you can make when getting a manicure is knowing what shape to choose. This is very important as the shape of nails can ruin or perfect any nail design. Trusting your nail technician to give you the right advice isn’t always an option, and even though a certain shape might look appealing to you, that doesn’t mean that it will look good on you.

Choosing to go with a stiletto, almond, coffin, or other shape is the building blocks for any nail design. The size of your hands and nails, the length you want your nails to be, and your nails’ condition will all influence what shape of nails you should choose. Some external factors like the type of job you do or your day-to-day activities should also be considered when choosing your nail shape.

Remember that some nail shapes are dependant on the length of your nails. Do them too short and they won’t look right. Certain nail shapes also require a lot more maintenance than others, and longer nails generally need to be filled more often than shorter nails.

nail shapes

Table of Contents


nail Square shape

Square has to be one of the most common shapes to do. Beautiful and elegant with a flat front and sharp edges, the square shape can leave almost any nail looking amazing. In my experience, I find that wide nails tend to look even wider with this shape, especially when done on very short nails. It is not my favourite shape to do when doing nails that are a bit wider than the average nail, or when the nail bed is shorter.  

Square looks amazing on smaller nails or on smaller nails that have longer nail beds. Square nails also look great when done long, so if you have a wider nail bed, you might get away with square nails when wearing them longer. When worn as longer nails square can give the illusion of a slimmer nail as you can shape the sides straight and file the edges sharp making the nail look slim and sleek.

Square is a great shape for someone who is busy and has kids but who still want to look fabulous. It’s not overly sharp and has the easiest correction if filing is needed seeing that it is a simple “box” shape. 

To achieve a perfectly square shape, keep your file at a 90-degree angle when filing the sides and the front of the nail. You want the sides of the nails to be parallel with one another. Never file the edges of the nails as this will cause them to become rounded. Also, be very careful when filing the sides of the nail, always keep an eye on where the natural nail starts. It is easy to file too much when filing the sides of the nail. This might seem like a good idea when someone has wide nails, but it will look very strange when viewed from the side. Not only that, but it will also weaken the overall structure of the nail.


Nail Shape Squoval

Squoval or squared oval is another straightforward nail shape. When doing this shape you can be faced with the same dilemma as when doing the square shape. The difference is that instead of sharp edges squoval has rounded edges. This can cause an already wide nail to look even wider. If you choose between square or squoval, square will be the better shape in terms of making a nail look slimmer. 

The squoval shape is not sharp at all and is a definite good choice ware looking for a shape that is easy to manage and maintain. It does look better when done on longer nails, but if you have the right type of nail bed you can pull it off even with a shorter look. Squoval is also a more natural look as natural nails tend to be more rounded than sharp.

To achieve the squoval shape, file the sides of the nail as normal, then place your file flat underneath the nail and file. As you file from side to side start to bring your file up so that it is flat against the tip of the nail at a 90-degree angle. This will round the edges of the nail while keeping the tip flat. You can refine the edges of the nail with your file but this method is the fastest way I’ve found to create rounded edges.


NAil Shape Round

Round is a more vintage shape. Some people still do it but most will lean towards an oval shape. Like with the squoval and square shapes, the round shape must be done on the right type of nail. It tends to make nails look wider so if you have extremely wide nails this shape is not for you. 

However, this is the simplest type of nail shape and is great if you’re just starting with getting your nails done. The round shape takes the least amount of maintenance, as other shapes tend to become rounded after a time and need to be reshaped, round generally keeps its’ shape.

The round shape has a very minimal look so if you want your nails to look more natural this might be the shape for you. Looking at your nail bed shape might be a good indication if you should go with a rounded shape. If your nails grow out rounded it might suit your hands better than a shape like the square shape. A good way to determine the shape of your nail is to look at your nail bed (the pink part underneath the nail) where the free edge of the nail starts. The shape of the pink part of your nail will generally give you an idea of your nail shape once they grow out.

To achieve a rounded nail shape, simply place your file flat underneath the nail. You will do the same as will the squoval shape, but instead of bringing your file up and flattening the front of the nail, you will keep the nail flat underneath the nail and keep filing. You will be amazed when you see how the edges of the nail start rounding out on their own. After this, you can turn the hand around to get a better front view and refine the shape even more.


Nail Shape Oval

Oval is a definite favourite. It combines the roundness of a natural round nail with the straight edges of the square. This shape is not as sharp as an almond shape but it can be tapered a bit to bring the nail inward to give that oval look. 

This is a very elegant and minimal shape. It is a great shape if you want something more natural but still want your nails to appear slimmer. This shape looks great with some length but many people can wear it with shorter nails. Just remember to create that tapered look of an oval shape, you need a bit of length, otherwise, it will just be round. If your nails are a bit on the wider side you should consider opting for a longer set, but this option is better than going for a rounded nail.

Oval is a comfortable shape to work with and feels natural so doing your everyday tasks shouldn’t be too much of a problem. Things like typing and picking up objects off the floor is also easier with this shape.

To achieve this shape you file the edges of the nail and bring them in a little tapered. Place your file flat underneath the nail. Keep filing underneath the nail to cause the edges to become rounded. You want the sides of the nail to be tapered, but the front to be rounded. After you are done, turn the hand around to get a better front view and refine the shape even more.


Nail Shape Almond

Almond is a definite classy shape for your nails. This shape is a little more daring when you want to make a statement but still be comfortable with your nails. Almond-shaped nails have tapered sides that form an almond nut shape (hence the name) but is not sharp at the end. It is more rounded than sharp. So if you want something a little edgier, but you’re not ready to go for the stiletto shape, this is the shape for you.

Almond is a great shape for most types of nails. This shape however is dependent on length. Trying to do this shape with shorter nails will not look good, so try doing this when your nails have reached some length.

The almond shape is very elegant and will leave you with enough space to get some nail art done. If you have wider nails opting for even longer nails will be a great idea when deciding on this shape. It is a very simple shape that is easy to work with but has that elegant twist that any woman needs.

To achieve this shape you will go through the same process as when creating an oval-shaped nail, except the nail should be tapered quite a bit. You want sharper nails that are rounded at the front, not pointy like stiletto nails. I like to start by cutting the edges of the nail with a nail clipper, then filing the nail inward using this cut piece as a stencil. If you are afraid of filing the nails skew at one side, simply count the number of times you file each side, this way the nail will be symmetrical every time. Remember that the sharpest part of the nail should align with the middle of your cuticle area.

Tapered Square

Tapered Square nail shape

A lot of people confuse this shape for coffin nails. Tapered square nails are usually done on shorter nails, even though it can be done on longer sets as well. Where coffin nails are tapered sharply inward with only a small piece of a flat edge at the front, the tapered square shape is only tapered ever so slightly, breaking the square shape but not going in as sharply as coffin nails.

This is a great shape when you have a slightly larger nail bed but still want short nails that look good. This shape has been the saving grace for many sets of nails that I’ve done. This shape gives the illusion of slimmer nails and transforms the nail from bulky to elegant and feminine. 

I prefer doing a tapered square for shorter nails but when done on longer nails it can also look good. Just be careful to not file away too much of the sides of the nail or you will change the shape from a tapered square to a stiletto shape.

You can achieve this shape by clipping off the edges of the nail with a nail clipper and using those cut edges as a stencil of how far you should file into the nail. Keep the tip of the nail flat and the edges sharp for the perfect tapered look.


Coffin nail shape

Coffin nails are similar to the tapered square shape, except it is tapered quite a bit. This shape is dependant on longer nails, so will not look as good on shorter nails. The coffin is one of my favourite shapes because it does magic for ones’ hands. I have seen multiple times how clients’ large nails are transformed into slim and elegant looking sets.

This shape can make any nail look slim and a nail bed appear longer than it is. This is a very classy shape and the length of the nail holds many possibilities for nail art and trendy designs.

To achieve the perfect coffin nail cut the edges of the nail with a nail clipper. Then, put your file next to the cut edge at a 90-degree angle and file the side until your file reaches the end of your sidewall. Keep the tip of the nail flat and never file the edges of the nail round. To make sure that the nail is filed symmetrical you can count the number of times you file each side. Turn the hand around to view it from the front to make sure the nail is filed correctly and that it is centred.


Stiletto nail shape

Stiletto nails are the edgiest and daring of nail shapes. This shape has to be done on longer nails otherwise you will be left with something called the “mountain peak” shape.  

Stiletto nails are generally one of the hardest shapes to work with as it has to be done on a longer nail, and when done correctly, stiletto nails are extremely sharp. I would not recommend this shape to a stay-at-home mom who does their housework or someone with an extremely active lifestyle. Stiletto nails need a lot of maintenance and upkeep. Seeing that it is done on long nails, you will have to go for an in-fill of the product more often than you would when having shorter nails.

To achieve the perfect stiletto shape, you will act similarly as you would when filing a coffin shape. Cut the edges of the nail using a nail clipper, you can cut the edges deeper, but I always leave a bit of space between the edges so that there is room for error. File the edges until you achieve the triangular shape. The sides of the nail have to be straight and not bent at all. Never round the tip of the nail. File the edges until they come together at the top. Turn the hand around to view it from the front to refine the shape.


No matter what type of nail you have you can pull off almost any shape when it is worn correctly. Length is a very big factor in determining how a shape will look so keep that in mind when booking your next manicure session.

If you want to make filing easier on yourself many tips are already shaped accordingly so you can just shorten and perfect the shape:

Want to find out what nail shapes fits your personality? Do this fun quiz.

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