Beginner Nail Artist’s Handbook, Edition 1: Nail Polish ~ Polish Essentials you can find for under $12!

Good morning, everybody! Today, in place of traditional Products of the Week, I’m bringing you the first edition of a new series: Beginner Nail Artist’s Handbook. These posts will be dedicated to helping new nail artists get started with their nail art, from showing you how to build up a collection for an inexpensive amount of money to teaching you simple designs to the start with. They will be a little longer than usual, because I want to make sure you have a wealthy amount of details and info to refer to when picking out your tools/polish. Also, this post is not sponsored by any of the polishes I’m mentioning. Today, I’ll be showing you how you can build up a collection of basic polishes for under $12! Yes, it can be done. ☺ So, let’s get started!

The first polish you will NEED in your collection as a beginner nail artist is a white. Everyone needs a white polish when going off on a nail art adventure. They’re are great as bases to brighten up colors, use for nail art details, bases for nail art, and more! For these types of posts, I’m going to select polishes that are inexpensive that I highly recommend, polishes that are inexpensive and highly recommended by others, and/or polishes that are similar to the highly recommended ones. So, the two most inexpensive and highly recommended whites are “White On” by Sally Hansen (Hard as Nails Xtreme Wear) and “Snow Me White” by Sinful Colors.

My all-time favorite white that I think deserves more attention is “Snow Me White” by Sinful Colors. Generally, Sinful Colors polishes have thicker formulas, and that’s perfect because this white is a one-coater 95% off the time. It dries pretty quickly and makes everything you put over it so bright and lovely. Sinful Colors is usually only $1.99 or $2.99 in stores (all the polishes in this post will be drugstore-priced) and sometimes online, so this is great.

Purchase “Snow Me White” on HERE

“White On” by Sally Hansen Hard as Nails Xtreme Wear is another inexpensive white polish. I’ve heard mixed reviews about this one–one coat, two coats, not so good formula, good formula, etc.–but it is a good white polish to start with when you need an inexpensive white. This one is only $2.46 or $3.19 in stores and possibly online. It seems like this polish’s performance varies from person-to-person, so if you need a nice white that doesn’t cost a fortune and can’t find “Snow Me White”, this one will likely be just the one you need.

Purchase “White On” on HERE

What goes real well with white? Black! The two blacks I’ve got for you are “Black Out” by Sally Hansen (Hard as Nails Xtreme Wear) and “Black Creme” by wet n wild.

Believe it or not, blacks don’t always have great formulas, but “Black Creme” does. It can be completely opaque in one coat and has really smooth, creamy pigment (true to the name). This polish is only $1.20 or *drum roll* $0.99 is stores and sometimes online!! Awesome!

Purchase “Black Creme” on HERE

“Black Out” by Sally Hansen is another good black. I’m not certain if it could be a one-coater because most everyone seems to apply it with two, but that’s still pretty acceptable for a black polish. This one is $2.46 in stores and possibly online.

Purchase “Black Out” on HERE

The next essential is a red polish. A substitute for red polish (and black) is acrylic paint, but that can be harder to find than drugstore nail polish. The two I have here are “Pucker Up” by Sally Hansen (Hard as Nails Xtreme Wear) and “Red Red” by wet n wild.

“Red Red” was the first true red polish I ever purchased for my nail art and it served me well. I figured I’d get an inexpensive one because it wasn’t often that I’d paint my nails entirely red and I hadn’t begun using acrylic paint yet. This one is only $1.20 or $0.99. You can get this red completely opaque in one coat and it has a nice formula. wet n wild is a favorite of mine because the awesome formulas always surprise me because of the super-affordable prices.

Purchase “Red Red” on HERE

“Pucker Up” is very similar to “Red Red” and is a one-to-two coat cream. This one is usually $2.49 in stores and sometimes online. This one is really vibrant and has nice pigment. If you prefer this one, go for it!

Purchase “Pucker Up” on HERE

Another primary color is coming your way! Blue nail polish is a great thing to have as well. I am including the three primary colors because you can mix the polishes for other colors you may need/want, but you can keep your polish shopping within your budget. The two I have for you are “Endless Blue” by Sinful Colors and “Putting On Airs” by wet n wild.

You’ll notice right away that these two are extremely different tones and shades from each other. “Endless Blue” is a vibrant and bright royal blue with lots of cerulean undertones and “Putting on Airs” is a bright pale sky blue. I put these two in here so you can see that different blue(s) that you may want. “Endless Blue” can be completely opaque in one coat, depending on application, and is really in-your-face when you look at it. It has a pretty good consistency–almost jelly-like, but it’s not a jelly polish. This one is just $1.99 in stores and possibly online, a great bargain for the pretty color!

Purchase “Endless Blue” on HERE

“Putting On Airs” is really nice in two coats and has great pigmentation. I don’t think it could be a one-coater, but with a thicker coat and some good application, go for it! This one is a great year-round lacquer and mixes well with other colors. This one is just $1.20 or $0.99, again, with an impressive formula for such a low price.

Purchase “Putting On Airs” on HERE

Next up–you guessed it–is yellow. Yellow may not always be super practical for a manicure, but it is necessary for your building color palette and emoji nails. ☺ So for these drugstore-priced yellows, I have “Mellow Yellow” by Sally Hansen (Hard as Nails Xtreme Wear) and “Yolo Yellow” by Sinful Colors.

“Mellow Yellow” is a sunny yellow that I’m thinking couldn’t really be a one-coater–Sally Hansen always recommends two coats for their Xtreme Wear anyway.  It has really pretty pigment and lovely color! This one, again, is $2.46 in stores and possibly online. Very pretty!

Purchase “Mellow Yellow” on HERE

“Yolo Yellow” gets really high praise from a lot of nail artists. With a great formula and really lovely color, it’s a great yellow, not only in general, but also because it’s inexpensive. This one, again, is only $1.99 and can be found in most retail stores and online.

Purchase “Yolo Yellow” on HERE

So, our cart now rounds out to about $8, more or less. Awesome! We can add one more thing you’ll definitely need for your nail art: a top coat. Now, this budget will not factor in for a base coat with one of the top coat options, but it will if you absolutely want it. Although it’s not highly recommended because of how different their components are, a top coat can function as a base coat. You can decide what’s best for you and your nails. 🙂 Anyway, the two top coats I have here are “Clearly Quick” by Sally Hansen (Insta Dri) and “Clear Coat” by Sinful Colors.

I had been trying lots of top coats to find one I liked, and then I found “Clearly Quick”–fabulous! This one is $4.97 and is awesome. It has a nice wide brush and dries pretty quickly. Highly recommend this one!

Purchase “Clearly Quick” on HERE

“Clear Coat” by Sinful Colors is a top coat I always see in retailers and drugstores. The only reason I’ve never picked it up is because it is not fast-drying; other than matte top coats, I have never wanted to use regular-speed top coats. Now, it’s not necessary for a top coat to be fast drying, but if you’re impatient about waiting for polish to dry, it’s probably a good idea. However, if you don’t mind waiting a few extra minutes, this top coat is a great and more inexpensive option. It’s only $1.99 as usual! Also, the reason I chose this one and not the quick-dry one that Sinful Colors does offer is because I have yet to see that one heavily populated in stores.

Purchase “Clear Coat” on HERE

Okay–just in case your budget does factor in for a base coat, I want you to have some options. The two I’ve got here are “Basecoat” by Sinful Colors and “Double Duty” by Sally Hansen.

I have seen “Basecoat” being used before and it is, as usual, at a spectacular price point. It has a foggier formula because, like most base coats, it smooths over your nail for the polish that goes on top. It’s not exactly a ridge-filling base coat by any means, but it will help to even out your nail plate. Only $1.99!

Purchase “Basecoat” on HERE

Finally, “Double Duty” by Sally Hansen is a great thing to include in this handbook. I could have included this in the top coat section, but I wanted to show you those two options. Like I said, two-in-ones like this aren’t highly recommended, however, this is a great way to get started if you’re on a budget. This is a strengthening base and top coat which is good and it’s at a decent price point. I saw that it’s $3.97 in Target, but some other sites say it’s priced at around $4-$8.

Purchase “Double Duty” on HERE

And that’s it for this very first Beginner Nail Artist’s Handbook! I hope you enjoyed–this post took a few days to put together because I wanted to make sure you had all the details you’d need when building up your basic nail polish collection. 🙂 Let me know down in the comments if you had a favorite item from this edition and what you’d like to see in future editions of the Beginner Nail Artist’s Handbook. Your feedback is always appreciated!

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– Cali, host of threesixtynails

Cali G.

I'm a nail artist, positivity/wellness enthusiast, and perpetual creative. I've been sharing nails and good vibes here in my corner of the Internet since 2017. Follow me @threesixtynails on social and check the Contact page if you want to get in touch. Have a polished rest of your day! ✨


  1. You really did your homework! A new nail artist would be able to take this list on a shopping trip and be ready to create any design they could imagine!

    1. threesixtynailshost

      Thank you so much, Lynne! I agree–these types of posts are always helpful. I’m glad you enjoyed it! 🙂

  2. Hey, sis. This is fabnaturalnails from IG. Great job on this post. Very detailed and I like how you provided links to everything. Thumbs up.

    1. threesixtynailshost

      Hi, @fabnaturalnails! Thank you so much–I’m glad you liked it! There will more of these types of posts soon! ☺

  3. Thanks for always providing such EXCELLENT information on these products!!! Great job!!!

    1. threesixtynailshost

      Of course, Joe! It’s such a pleasure sharing details about polish/nail art with my readers! Thank you! ☺

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