Hard Gel vs Builder Gel. Which one is better for you?

Hard gel vs builder gel https://nailhow.com/hard-gel-vs-builder-gel/

Are you confused about gel nails? Wanna know the difference between hard gel vs builder gel?

There are so many gel nail terms flying about. Hard gel, soft gel, builder gel, poly gel, gel polish, the list is endless!

It’s no wonder we’re all confused!

So in this post, we’re gonna demystify gel nails.

We’ll explain all about the different kinds of gel and how they stack up against each other.

So you can choose the best gel for your nails.

In a hurry?

Here’s the short answer that explains the key difference between hard gel vs builder gel:

The main difference between hard gel and builder gel is that hard gel can not be soaked off using acetone. Hard gel has to be filed off because acetone can’t penetrate it. Builder gels are soft and can be removed by soaking.

Hard gel vs soft gel

Both soft and hard gels are fluid gels that harden into plastics.

The main difference between hard gel and soft gel is this.

Hard gel can not be soaked off in acetone. Soft gel can.

So, why can’t acetone remove hard gels?

Well, the molecules in hard gels are more tightly compacted, so the acetone solvent can’t penetrate them as easily.

Soft gels have molecules that are spaced further apart, so a solvent (like acetone) can penetrate them and break the nails down.

So, soft gel extensions can be easily removed using acetone and hard gels have to be filed off.

Is soft gel or hard gel better for extensions?

Soft gel extensions are totally fine, as long as you don’t go too long with them.

If you like super long nail extensions, then a hard gel is going to be better for you.

Soft gels manicures are lighter and more natural-looking. Many people also find soft gel nails more comfortable to wear than hard gels or acrylics.

You need to apply hard gels in much thicker coats, which can make them look bulky.

Hard gel vs acrylic

Hard gels are more similar to acrylic nails than soft gels.

In fact, there isn’t a huge difference between hard gel and acrylic nails.

Most gel nails are made using acrylic components, which is why some people who are allergic to acrylic nails, still get the same reactions when they switch to gel.

Hard gel nails and acrylic nails feel very similar.

Hard gel is a bit more flexible than acrylic, which means that hard gel nails are less likely to crack.

Other key differences between hard and soft gels

Another key difference between hard gel and a soft gel manicure is the price.

Hard gel services in a nail salon are cheaper. The difference could be anywhere between 20-50%.

Hard gel products are also usually cheaper to buy.

You also need a bigger brush to apply hard gels since the coats go on thicker.

You might use a brush in, say, a size, 9 for hard gels, but use a size 4 or a 6 for soft gels.

Products you need to do hard gel nails:

  • Dehydrator
  • Primer/bonder
  • Base gel
  • Sculpting gel (aka hard builder gel)
  • Brush on top coat

For a soft gel nail system, you don’t need a primer or a dehydrator.

Here’s what you need to do a soft gel overlay:

  • Gel base
  • (soft) builder gel
  • potted colors (or gel polish)
  • brush on topcoat

Soft gel overlays are a little less thick, runnier, and easier to move around.

Most hard gel systems don’t have colors. This means that you are going to be limited to clear, pink, or white if using hard gel.

If you love hard gels and really want color, Light Elegance does offer colored hard gels.

Is hard gel bad for your nails?

A major downside of hard gel nails is that they are way more damaging than soft gel overlays.

This is mostly due to the fact that they have to be filed off completely.

You need to be very careful when removing hard gel nails so as not to ruin the natural nails.

It’s always best to visit a salon to get hard gel nails removed professionaly.

How to remove hard gel

how to remove hard gel https://nailhow.com/hard-gel-vs-builder-gel/

To remove hard gel nails you’ll need a nail clipper and a nail drill with a safety bit.

Here are the steps for removing hard gel nails:

  • Clip off the free edges with nail clippers
  • Use a coarse safety bit on your nail drill to remove the color (start at the cuticle and work your way up)
  • Apply a little more pressure and remove the tip so you can see how thick the product layer is.
  • Gently remove the gel from the rest of the nail using a light feathering motion.
  • Switch to a cross-cut medium diamond bit.
  • On a low speed, go around the edges and clean up any last bits of gel residue.
  • Wipe the nails clean or wash your hands.

Hard gel vs polygel

The main difference between hard gel and polygel is that polygel is not self-leveling.

Polygel is more like putty than a gel. It stays exactly where you place it.

Polygel is also stronger and lighter than hard gel.

What is polygel made of?

Polygel is actually a brand name for a type of acrygel (an acrylic/gel hybrid).

So polygel is made from a blend of both acrylic and gel.

There is also no tacky layer with polygel.

Does polygel damage your nails?

With proper application and removal, polygel should not cause damage to your natural nails.

You should always take a break from false nails every 3 to 6 months to keep your natural nails in the best possible condition.

Polygel vs acrylic

hard gel vs acrylic https://nailhow.com/hard-gel-vs-builder-gel/

A lot of people prefer acrylics over polygel because acrylic nails last longer than polygel nails.

Well-cared-for Polygel nails typically last 3 weeks.

Polygel nails are just as strong as acrylics, but they are lighter, more flexible, and less prone to breaking.

Polygel vs dip powder

Like other acrylic nails, dip powder nails may last a little longer than polygel nails.

Polygel nails are also more flexible and therefore less likely to chip and break.

How to remove polygel

how to remove polygel https://nailhow.com/hard-gel-vs-builder-gel/

You remove polygel by first filing off any excess product with either a hand file or an e-file (aka nail drill).

Then you soak the nails in acetone.

The best way to do this is to use nail pads and nail clips.

If you have a polygel kit, then you should already have everything you need to remove polygel nails.

Hard gel vs dip

So, how do hard gel nails compare to dip powder?

Let’s find out!

Obviously, the method of application between hard gel nails and dip powder nails is very different.

Dip powder nails are done by dipping your nails into a pot of acrylic powder or sprinkling it on.

Whereas hard gel nails are painted on and sculpted with a nail brush.

The removal process is a lot easier with dip powder nails.

As we’ve learned, hard gel is the only type of nail extension or overlay that can not be soaked off using acetone.

Dip vs acrylic

The main difference between dip nails and acrylic nails is the way you apply them.

Dip nails are, as the name suggests, created by dipping your nails into acrylic powder.

Acrylic nails are applied using an acrylic nail art brush like these.

Another key difference is how long they last. Dip nails last longer (up to 4 weeks) while acrylics last around 3 weeks on average.

The chemicals used are also a bit different. Acrylic nails use monomer, while dip nails use resin.

Acrylic nailsalso take longer to do and require more skill.

Pros and cons of dip nails

Here are the pros for dip nails:

  • Fast and easy to apply
  • Strong but also flexible which means fewer breaks
  • Fast-drying without the need for a UV or LED lamp
  • Odor-free
  • comfortable to wear
  • long-lasting

Here are the cons of dip nails:

  • It’s unsanitary to use dip powder in a salon
  • Removal is time-consuming
  • Dip powders are expensive


Is builder gel the same as hard gel?

No, builder gel is not the same as a hard gel. Builder gel is a soak-off gel, but hard gel can not be soaked off.

Is builder in a bottle hard gel?

No, builder in a bottle (biab) gels are soft gels that are designed to be soaked off using acetone. Hard gel needs to be filed off.

Does hard gel ruin your nails?

Hard gel is the most damaging type of gel for natural nails. This is because it must be filed off and can’t be soaked off.

How long do you cure builder gel?

You should cure builder gel for 3 minutes under a UV lamp or for 60 seconds under an LED lamp.

Final thoughts

In conclusion, both hard gel nails and builder gel are great products for creating a long-lasting nail extension or overlay.

However, there are some key differences between the two that you should be aware of before deciding which one is right for you.

Hard gel is more durable than builder gel, but it can’t be soaked off with acetone. It also causes more damage to your natural nails.

If you are doing your own nails at home, I suggest using builder gel in a bottle. It’s the easiest product to master and you can remove it without any fancy tools.

So, the main takeaway with hard gel vs builder gel is that hard gels are harder to remove, you need a drill and you have to be very careful.

I hope you found this hard gel vs builder gel article helpful.

Thanks for reading!

Check out our best polygel nail kits article here.


  • 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.