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.