Top Tips On How To File Your Nails

It’s important to file and shape your nails correctly to keep them in the best possible condition and prevent them from snapping, snagging, or breaking.

Whether you’re using files to shape builder gels,  sculpt nail enhancements or to keep your natural nails in shape, we break down the best tools and techniques to keep your nails looking and feeling fresh. 

how to file your nails

Table of Contents:

The best way to file your nails

Which nail file should I use?

Why should I use nail oil?

How to file your nails step by step

How to shape your nails 







The best way to file your nails

Filing keeps nails strong, healthy, and to the desired shape. However, if you opt for regular manicures or clip your nails to trim them, you may be unsure as to exactly how to file them.  

Incorrectly filing your nails can cause them to crack, peel, or break, so it’s important to learn the best techniques and invest in the best tools to prevent this from happening.

To speed up the process of filing your nails into the perfect shape, fingernail clippers offer a quicker alternative to shortening the nails than using an emery board or glass file.

Which nail file should I use?

how to file your nails

With so many different nail file types available, it’s essential to choose the grit level and file style that won’t damage your nails. 

Remember, the lower the number of the nail file, the more coarse and abrasive its grit will be. If your nail file features two numbers, this usually indicates that one side of the file is a different grit to the other.

As a general rule, any nail file with a number lower than 180 is meant for the basic shaping of acrylic nails or nail enhancements. These files are coarse and highly abrasive, so they would be too severe for shaping your natural nails. Acrylic, builder gels, and hard gels usually require files with a grit level of 150 or 180.

A nail file with a grit of 180 to 240 would be more appropriate for natural nails, with a much less coarse grit perfect for shaping natural nails without damage or for finishing off enhancements.

Here are our top tips on what different types of nail file grits are used for:

  1. An 80/80 grit file is the coarsest available on the market and is best used for removing product from the nail’s surface. Take care not to over-file when removing products this way, to prevent damage to the natural nail. Adjust pressure accordingly here, taking care when removing fine products and applying more pressure when removing acrylics.
  2. 100 grit files are used to bring down the length of natural nails and to file down acrylics.
  3. A more multi-purpose file, a 150 grit can be used to blend tips onto the surface of natural nails, remove any product that may be lifting prematurely and to file the surface of the nail to help shape the nail bed.
  4. Perfect for shaping the free edge of a natural nail, a 180 grit file also has a number of other purposes. Choose 180 grit for contouring the entire nail, or for prepping the nails surface to increase adhesion before applying nail product.
  5. A 240 grit file is the finest and least corrosive available and is perfect for prepping nails before the application of UV gel polish. This grit type is also great for gently shaping natural nails.

Glass and crystal files are also great for natural nails. They’re gentle enough for the everyday shaping of your nails and are a popular file for daily use. After use, these files can also be cleaned in a dishwasher, so they’re super hygienic. 

Why are Glass nail files so good?

Glass files promote stronger, natural nails and offer a smooth finish, sealing the keratin layers and minimising any chipping. 

Unlike emery boards, glass files offer long-lasting reliability as their grit is more resilient to daily wear. Fancy to look at, where metal files can sometimes corrode, glass files stay looking pristine and are easy to clean and maintain.

Perfect for filing both natural and artificial nails, just remember to dip yours in water occasionally when filing artificial nails to reduce the friction on the gel or acrylic.

Why should I use cuticle and nail oil?

Ideal for repairing frayed nails and preventing future breakages, nail oil adds a much-needed moisture boost to dry nails, whereas cuticle oil helps to get your cuticles prepped and softened ahead of your next manicure.

How to file your nails step by step

  1. Start by washing your hands to remove any residue.
  2. Choose a soft grit nail file perfectly suited to your natural nails (180 to 240 grit is best)
  3. Choose your preferred nail shape. The most basic shapes are oval, square, and almond. 
  4. Next, trim your nails down. Avoid cutting too much off for square nails, as this style requires some length for it to work. For oval-shaped nails, trim considering the oval shape. For almond-shaped nails, trim more off the sides of your nails than the tip.
  5. Hold your file parallel with the side of your nail and work it from the side of your nail into the centre in a fluid motion. Make sure you do this in one direction to prevent your nail from becoming jagged. Don’t file your nail back and forth, as this can cause peeling and breakage.
  6. Once you’ve filed the sides of your nails, work towards the tip, holding the file flat against the nail tip. When filing from the side of your nail to the centre, hold the file at a right angle  to your nail’s tip to prevent it from weakening. 
  7. Finish your filing by holding your file parallel to the other side of your nail. Move the file from its position at the nail’s tip to the opposite side from which you began. This keeps the filing in one direction throughout and prevents weakening.
  8. Remove any nail filings still attached by placing the file’s tip underneath your nail and flicking it upwards.
  9. Finish with a buffer to give your nails a natural shine, then apply moisturiser or cuticle oil to finish. 

File once or twice a week or as necessary for best results.

How to shape your nails 

The shape of your nail is genetic and usually determined by the shape of your cuticle and nail bed.

The easiest shape to work with is your natural shape. If you want to try a new style, you should seek the advice of a professional nail technician.

Here are some of the best nail shapes and tips on how to achieve them:

how to file your nails

How to file your nails a square shape

Flat across the top with sharp, straight corners, square nails are a great choice for short nails that are naturally square. Trim, then file straight across the nail’s tip in one direction to achieve this classic shape.

How to file your nails an oval shape

Oval nails help make your fingers look more feminine, slender, and elongated. They’re also less likely to break when shaped this way. Trim your nails with clippers into an oval shape, then file the tip so it’s symmetrically rounded. 

How to file your nails a squoval shape

Squoval, or squared, oval nails are similar to square, but their edges are more rounded than pointed. Trim your nails as you would for square, then round off your edges with your nail file to create a soft, oval shape for perfect squoval nails.

How to file your nails an almond shape

Almond nails have tapered sides and a rounded peak to resemble the shape of an almond. To shape these nails, start by trimming down the sides, then smoothing out the tip with a file to mimic that almond shape.

How to file your nails a coffin/ballerina shape

So-called because the tip resembles the shape of a coffin, this nail type narrows the further the nail is from the nail bed, and the tip is shaped blunt and square. It’s also known as the ballerina, as it resembles the square toe of a ballerina’s shoe.

How to file your nails a stiletto/pointed shape

Stiletto nails are shaped similarly to almond nails, although they have a much more prominent, sharp point to the tip. This style is more suitable for longer nails.


Correctly filing your nails helps to keep them strong and healthy, but it’s important to choose the right level of grit, so as not to damage your nail’s surface.

Regular use of cuticle and nail oil can help add moisture to your nails and keep your cuticles in peak condition, ahead of your manicure appointments.

When filing your nails, choose a desired shape that works easily with your natural nail type and remember to always file in the same direction, to prevent your nails from weakening, cracking and splitting.

Follow our steps to achieve great, strong nails every time! But, if you’re keen to try out a new shape or style and are unsure how to achieve it, always consult your professional manicurist to see if the shape will work for your nails.

Shop nail files at Nail Polish Direct

Now you’ve chosen your nail shape and the type of file required to achieve it, you’ll find nail files perfect for both natural nails and enhancements amongst our selection at Nail Polish Direct. Available in various styles and grits, these files make it easier than ever for you to achieve healthy and flawless nails. 

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