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What Is a Digital Nail Printer?

By Tara Barnett
Updated May 16, 2024
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A digital nail printer is a device that prints designs onto nails, typically using special types of nail paint ink and false nails. This type of machine can be used to print designs too detailed or complex to be painted by hand. The method by which the printer is operated is different for different machines, but often involves placing one or more fingers into a printing space with a base coat of nail polish already applied. A digital nail printer that pre-prints designs is often not as useful to a salon as a machine that prints directly onto the client's nails.

There are many ways in which a digital nail printer can function, but most involve a camera that recognizes the nails held under the printer. When the base coat for the printing is white, the camera can easily recognize the boundaries of the nails and avoid printing crooked designs. White polish allows the colors on top to appear bright and provides a fairly neutral background. On some machines, special devices must be worn on the fingers in order to assist the machine in printing, and in all cases the fingers must be absolutely still during the printing process.

While a salon-quality digital nail printer will often be able to handle five or more nails at once, a home version may often do only one nail at a time. A digital nail printer designed for children usually works on the same principle as an advanced machine, but the quality of the printing and the accuracy of the machine may be lower. The draw of this type of machine is at least in part that it can produce professional-looking designs quickly and without much skill. For home use, this is excellent because it can be very difficult to paint one's own nails.

Ink for a digital nail printer typically comes in cartridges like a normal printer. It is not possible to replace this ink with normal printer ink. Usually, a clear top coat and finishing steps must be applied in order to protect the design.

Designs used with this type of machine typically take advantage of the detail possible when printing rather than painting the designs. The images can be extremely small, complex, or even photographic. In addition to fingernails, it is also possible to print on toenails or other slightly curved objects that can be placed in the machine. This is sometimes useful when building models or other items, but adjustments must sometimes be made in order to accommodate the shape of these items.

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Discussion Comments
By sunshined — On Oct 11, 2012

My daughter came home from a birthday party where they all used a digital nail printer to do their nails. She was so excited about this and was bound and determined to get one for herself.

I love to have my nails done too, so thought this would be a fun thing to try. The home digital nail printer we bought does work well, but it took a while before we were very good at it.

One of the important things is to make sure it is aligned properly. Otherwise your nail designs will be crooked and you will be frustrated. You also have to make sure and keep your hands very still so your designs don't look wiggly. This can be kind of hard for very young girls to do.

It also works great for toenails, and it is nice to have matching fingernails and toenails that have a special design on them that you don't see everywhere else.

By Mykol — On Oct 10, 2012

The salon where I have my nails done has more than one of these digital nail printers. I love how quickly I can get an elaborate design on my nails that would take forever to paint on. I think it's nice to have an option to have one of these at home, but I would rather pay someone else to do my nails. When I try to do them myself, I mess up every time.

By LisaLou — On Oct 09, 2012

I never could get my digital nail art printer to work right. I finally gave up and ended up taking it back because it wasn't working right. The unit I had seemed to be very cheaply made and was overpriced for what I paid for it. It was over $200, and at the time, I thought I would save myself some money from going to the salon.

I figured the stress and frustration wasn't worth it. When I want a special design on my nails, I will pay to have it done professionally and relax while my nails are being done.

By SarahSon — On Oct 08, 2012

We bought a Barbie digital nail printer for my daughter for her birthday. She was pretty excited about this gift, but it does take some planning to get set up. We had to install the software and make sure we were following the directions correctly.

I was hoping it was something she take out of the box and use right away, but there was more to it than that. Once we finally got it figured out, I must say that I have had as much fun with it as she has.

There are so many different nail designs you can choose from and I haven't had to worry about painting the same design over and over again. It also gives a more professional look than trying to do it yourself.

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