How to use builder gel. Everything you need to know

Recently discovered the magic of builder gels? If you’re someone who likes to have long or well-manicured nails but doesn’t have the time to go to a salon every few weeks, you might be interested in learning how to use builder gel. Builder gels are thick and sticky, perfect for creating false nails or overlays, as well as extending the length of your natural nails.

So, how easy is it to use builder gel, and what’s involved?

Let’s find out!

Here’s what we’ll cover:

What do you need to do builder gel nails?

what you will need to apply builder gel

If you want to use builder gel to do your own nails at home, here’s what you’ll need:

  • Nail file
  • Buffer
  • Cuticle pusher
  • Either a dehydrator, a gel base, or a primer/bonder
  • Builder gel and application brush (or builder gel in a bottle)
  • A UV or LED lamp
  • Tips or forms (if doing extensions)
  • Lint-free wipes
  • Isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol)
  • Gel nail polish (optional)
  • Gel topcoat

How to apply builder gel

How to apply builder gel

There are 2 main ways to apply builder gel.

One is by using a pot of gel and a nail brush like the ones used for acrylic nails.

The other is to use a builder gel in a bottle that comes with a brush and goes on like nail polish.

Let’s break down the steps for both of these methods.

How to apply builder gel with a tub and brush

Here are the steps to follow if you are using a tub of builder gel and a nail brush:

1. File and buff your nails to the desired shape and smooth out the surface.

2. Remove all the dust from your nails with a lint-free wipe soaked in rubbing alcohol.

3. Push back your cuticles (using a cuticle pusher or your fingers) and remove any excess skin.

4. Apply nail tips or forms (if you’re doing extensions)

5. Apply a thin layer of either a dehydrator, gel base, or primer/bonder to your nails and let it dry completely (this will help the product to adhere better).

6. Glide the nail brush over the surface of the gel in the pot (you only really want gel on one side of the brush)

7. Apply a thin layer of builder gel to your nails, starting from the base and moving up to the tip. Be sure to cap the free edge. Don’t cure the first thin layer, you’re just making sure that your nail plate is fully covered.

8. Apply a thicker layer of the gel and place it where you want it. You can create a little apex if you want for extra strength. Try not to dab or pat the gel, you should always be gliding and floating over the nail in a flowing motion.

9. Cure under a UV lamp for 2 minutes or an LED lamp for 30 seconds.

10. Wipe off the sticky layer with a lint-free wipe soaked in rubbing alcohol.

11. File the product down to create a smooth finish and nice clean edges

12. At this point you can either add a top coat and cure (in which case you’re finished!) Or you can do 2 coats of gel polish, (curing after each coat as you normally would) and then add a top coat and cure.

How to apply builder gel in a bottle.

A lot of people prefer to use builder gel in a bottle as it feels more familiar and is easier to control.

Here are the steps you need to follow:

1. File, buff and shape your nails to create a smooth surface.

2. Wipe off any dust with a lint-free wipe soaked in rubbing alcohol.

3. Push your cuticles back and clip them if needed.

4. Apply tips or forms (if using them).

5. Apply a thin coat of either bonder, primer, dehydrator, or gel base coat.

6. Once the base is fully dry, apply a thin coat of gel to ensure the nail is covered. No need to cure yet!

7. Go straight in with a thicker coat of gel, shaping the nail as you want.

8. Cure. 30 seconds under a LED lamp or 2 minutes under a UV lamp.

9. File and shape your gel nails to get rid of any lumps and to create clean edges.

10. Wipe off the tacky layer with a lint-free wipe soaked in alcohol.

11. Top coat and cure, then you’re done! Or, if you like you could add 2 coats of gel polish (curing each coat for either 2 minutes or 30 seconds depending on which lamp you have), then top coat and a final cure.

Tips for using builder gel

How to use builder gel

Here are a few tips and tricks for using builder gel:

Make sure your nail plate is clean and free from oils

This is super important because if your nails aren’t free from oils the gel won’t stick and you’ll get lifting.

You can either wipe them over with a lint-free wipe soaked in rubbing alcohol or spray your nails with rubbing alcohol then wipe it off.

Always remove the tacky layer

Don’t forget to remove the sticky layer after each cure, some builder gels have quite a heavy inhibition (tacky) layer, and these need to be wiped off thoroughly.

Glide the brush, don’t drag it.

You always want to be floating, gliding, or sweeping your brush when you’re using builder gels.

If the brush touches the surface of your nails you are either pushing down too hard or not using enough gel.

Never dunk your brush.

If you’re using a tub or pot of gel and a brush, don’t dunk your brush into the tub. Instead, glide the brush gently over the surface. 

This will ensure that you get the product on only one side of the brush which makes it much easier to apply.

Experiment with your brush technique

When it comes to application technique, everyone moves their brush slightly differently.

So feel free to experiment with swirls, downward strokes, and side-to-side sweeps to see which brush movements work best for you.

Mind the gap.

If you are using forms, make sure that there is no gap underneath where the foil meets your natural nail – if there is a small gap, you’ll end up trying to file down the backs of your nail extensions which is really hard to do.

Can you put gel polish over builder gel?

Yes, you can put gel polish over builder gel.

In fact, a lot of people like to do this as it means that you can change your nail color without having to remove the whole thing.

To do this, simply apply a thin layer of gel polish over the top of your builder gel and cure as normal.

But you must make sure that you remove the sticky layer before you apply your gel polish.

How to remove builder gel

How you will remove your builder gel depends on what type of product you are using.

Some can be soaked off straight away, while others need to be filed down first.

Soak-off gels can usually be removed in around 10-20 minutes, while non-soak-off gels can take up to 30 minutes to remove.

To remove builder gel nails you’ll need:

  • Pure acetone
  • Cotton balls or pads
  • Tinfoil strips or plastic nail clips
  • A strong nail file

Steps for removing builder gel

  1. Cut and/or file down as much of the fake nail as you can
  2. Soak the cotton balls in acetone
  3. Place a soaked cotton ball onto each nail and secure with a nail clip or foil strip
  4. Wait for 10 to 15 minutes then remove the cotton ball and gently scrape off any excess gel with an orangewood stick
  5. Repeat the first 4 steps if needed
  6. Buff your nails and apply cuticle oil

That’s it! I hope that this article has helped you to understand how to use builder gel. It’s really not that complicated once you get used to it.

Thanks for reading and I’ll see you next time 🙂


  • 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.