Hard Gel Overlays Explained: What You Need to Know

So, you’re interested in learning all about hard gel overlays? There are plenty of reasons why you might want to consider a gel overlay or hard gel nail extensions.

Maybe you have thin, weak nails that could use a little bit of reinforcement.

Or maybe you’re looking for a more durable manicure that will last for weeks on end.

Whatever your reasons, we’re here to give you the lowdown on everything hard gel.

In this post, I’ll explain what hard gel overlays are, who should get them, and why.

We’ll go over my best tips for how to apply and remove hard gel nails, talk about the pros and cons, and see how hard gel stacks up against an acrylic manicure.

Let’s get started!

What is a hard gel overlay?

Hard gel is the strongest type of gel for doing gel nails. A hard gel overlay is a coat of hard gel applied to the natural nail only – without extending the length.

As you can see, an overlay is different from an extension.

You can use hard gel to do either an overlay or an extension.

You can also get acrylic overlays.

If your natural nails are already long, then you don’t need an extension, so you would get an overlay.

As the name suggests, with an overlay, the gel is “laid over” your natural nails.

Then you cure under a uv light or an led light (cure time varies depending on the nail lamp), file the gel down, and shape the nails before adding a top coat.

The important thing to remember is that with an overlay, no length is added.

When it comes to strength, it doesn’t get any stronger than hard gels.

On the opposite end, the softest product on the gel scale is gel polish.

You can use gel polish or put nail art over the top of gel nails too by the way.

Builder gel is usually a soft gel. But builder gel can be either soft gel or hard, so it’s always best to check the label before you buy!

How long does a hard gel overlay last?

wall clock at 5 50 707582 edited https://nailhow.com/hard-gel-overlay/

Hard gel nails are very strong and durable.

They do tend to last a bit longer on average than acrylic nails.

If you look after your nails, a (hard) gel overlay should last you 3 to 4 weeks.

Acrylic nails usually last 2 to 3 weeks.

Hard gels are less likely to stain, yellow, or take on colors from chemicals (like hair dye for example).

So they tend to stay looking good for longer.

How to do hard gel nails at home

This kind of overlay is actually pretty easy to do.

You don’t need to mess around with monomer, so there’s no liquid to product ratio to consider.

With hard gel nails, you just take a nail brush and dip it into the gel and then apply it directly to your nail.

2 brush https://nailhow.com/hard-gel-overlay/

It’s a good idea to do a “slip layer” first.

A slip layer is when you apply a thin coat of gel to the whole nail. This ensures that you get good coverage.

You don’t need to cure the slip layer, just paint on a thicker coat of gel over the top, then cure as normal.

Here’s a great video that shows you how quick and easy it is to apply hard gel:

Tips for applying hard gel

Here are some of my best tips for applying an overlay on natural nails:

  • Don’t overwork the gel.

Swishing around the brush too much, either in the pot or during the application, creates air bubbles.

A bubble or 2 isn’t that big of a deal, but too many can cause your nails to crack or break.

When working with gels, you should glide the gel on and keep the pressure light.

Don’t worry about leveling, the product is self-leveling so it will level out on its own.

Overworked gel can also come out lumpy. This means that you or your nail technician will have to spend longer filing.

  • Don’t get gel on your cuticles or skin.
push back cuticles https://nailhow.com/hard-gel-overlay/

It’s easy, especially when you’re a beginner, to get the product on your skin.

If you do touch the skin or the cuticles while applying, make sure that you wipe it off before you cure.

You can use a cuticle pusher or an orangewood stick to get it off.

If you don’t remove the gel from your skin, your nails will lift and may come off.

  • Don’t forget to remove the sticky inhibition layer.

Once your nails are done, you’ll have a very thin coat of uncured gel on the top. This is totally normal.

Take a wipe soaked in rubbing alcohol or a nail cleanser and gently remove the sticky layer.

How to remove hard gel overlay

The first question people ask about removal is can you soak off hard gel nails?

So, can you remove hard gel with acetone? Let’s find out.

Unlike soft gels, which are soak-off gels, acetone doesn’t work on hard gel.

Wait, WHAT?

Acetone doesn’t work!

So, right now, you’re probably wondering how to remove hard gel from natural nails.

Well, the answer’s pretty simple. Your nails will need to be filed off.

electric nail file https://nailhow.com/hard-gel-overlay/

The removal of HG nails is best done by a nail professional. Because it’s far too easy to ruin your natural nails by overfilng.

If you do want to try removal at home, the best way is to use a nail drill (aka an e-file).

This is an electric nail file that speeds up the removal process significantly.

But be careful! Keep the settings low to avoid damaging the nail plate.

How to remove hard gel without a drill

If you don’t have a nail drill, you can still take your nails off at home.

It’s safer than using a drill, though it will take longer.

Here’s how to remove hard gel with a hand file.

Start with a coarse nail file (80 to 100 grit). Then switch to medium grit (100 to 180) as you get closer to the nail plate.

You may want to leave a thin coat of product on the nail to avoid causing any damage.

This is fine to do as you can either let it grow out (it won’t be too noticeable) or go ahead and apply a new set over the top.

You shouldn’t have any damage if your nails are removed properly.

Hard gel overlay vs acrylic

So how do they stack up against acrylics?

You might be surprised to learn that acrylics are often found in gels, so the two products really aren’t that different.

One key difference is in the way you apply them.

Both application techniques involve applying a bead to the nail surface.

But to make a bead, acrylics need to be mixed with a liquid monomer and then dipped in the acrylic powder.

If the acrylic powder to liquid monomer ratio is off, it causes a whole bunch of problems.

Since gel application is a one-step process (dunk and apply – no monomer needed), you are less likely to run into the problems caused by the acrylic mixture being too thick or too thin.

The thickness of the gel is another key difference.

You need a bigger brush to apply hard gels because they are quite thick.

This is especially true if you’re doing hard gel extensions.

The biggest difference though is how tightly the molecules are packed together.

Acrylic nails and soft gels are not as tightly woven, so acetone can penetrate.

This is why you can soak off acrylics but not gel extensions.

Another nice thing about not using acrylic and monomer is that you don’t have to put up with a strong smell.

This makes for a much more pleasant experience at home or in the salon.

There’s also not as much acrylic in harder gels, so if you are sensitive to acrylics, you may be better off using gel.

Final thoughts:

Gel overlays can be a great way to give your nails a bit of a boost, whether you’re looking for added strength and durability or just a nice natural look.

If you want color, you can use a gel polish or a regular nail polish on top.

These nail enhancements usually last 3-4 weeks, depending on how well you take care of them, and typically cost around $50.

Hard gel overlays don’t add length.

They are slightly more durable than acrylic, they also are less likely to irritate allergy sufferers.

Remember that if you want to create extensions, you’ll need to choose a shape and use a form or a tip.

If you don’t mind having to file them off instead of soaking, or if you have a habit of using your nails as tools, then this type of nail treatment might be the right one for you!

Just remember to remove them properly and you should be fine!


What is a hard gel overlay?

A HG overlay is a thick coat of gel that is applied over the natural nail.

It can be used to add strength and durability to weak nails. If you want to add length, you should get nail extensions instead.

How long does hard gel overlay last?

Typically, a hard gel overlay will last 3-4 weeks. However, this will vary depending on how well you take care of your nails.

How much does hard gel overlay cost?

The cost of a HG overlay will depend on the salon you go to and the type of gel they use. Expect to pay around $50.

Is gel overlay the same as hard gel?

No. A gel overlay can be done with either soft or hard gel. An overlay just means a coat of gel applied over a natural nail without adding length.

Is hard gel as strong as acrylic?

HG is a little more flexible and a little stronger than acrylic.

Does hard gel ruin your nails?

Most damage is not down to the products you use. It happens during the removal process.

If you are careful, or your nail technician is skilled, you don’t need to worry about damage to your nails.

Of course, as with any type of nail treatment, you should always give your nails a break every 3 to 6 months.

Can you use gel polish on top of hard gel?

Yes. You can use a gel polish on top of a HG overlay.

Cure it under a uv lamp for 2 minutes (or an led light for 1 minute) and remember to take off the sticky layer once it’s cured.

You can even remove and replace gel polish as much as you want!

Hard gel overlay brands

  • Morovan
  • IBD
  • Beetles
  • Saviland
  • Makartt
  • Modelones
  • Aimeili
  • Mia Secret
  • Lofuanna

you also might be interested in why won’t my gel polish stay on


  • Phoebe Meadows

    Phoebe Meadows is a self-proclaimed nail addict, always on the lookout for the latest trends and techniques. When she's not creating stunning nail designs, you can find her researching the latest nail care products or experimenting with new techniques.