How to Add Nail Polish in Photoshop - 1 Min Tutorial

With the technique of adding nail polish in Photoshop, I've found a creative and efficient solution to enhance the aesthetics of a photo, even when minor details were overlooked during the shoot. By following a detailed step-by-step procedure, I can now seamlessly integrate digital nail art into any image, providing endless possibilities for customization and perfection.

October 23, 2023
How to Add Nail Polish in Photoshop - 1 Min Tutorial
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When I was editing photos of my friend Imogen, I remember one thing she mentioned to me during the shoot: her regret about not having her nails done. It got me thinking, why not add nail polish digitally? This solution not only saves the day for such overlooked details but also opens up a plethora of customization options without the constraints of real-world nail art. The importance of this technique lies in its ability to enhance the aesthetics of a photo, ensuring every detail aligns with the envisioned theme or mood.

In this breakdown:

  • We'll explore how to set the foundation with a solid color layer, mimicking the base coat of nail polish.
  • Dive into the art of precision with masking, ensuring the polish stays right where it should.
  • Breathe life into the polish by extracting and applying natural highlights, giving it a glossy, realistic finish.
  • And finally, refine the look with final touches, ensuring the digital nail art seamlessly integrates with the photo.

Setting the Stage with a Solid Color Layer

Creating the Adjustment Layer:

  1. Open your image in Photoshop. At the bottom of the Layers panel, which is typically on the right side of your screen, you'll find an icon that looks like a half-filled circle. Click on it.
  2. From the dropdown, select 'Solid Color'. This will create a new layer on top of your image. A color picker box will pop up.
  3. For our example, let's say I'm choosing a vibrant red (#FF0000). But remember, the beauty of Photoshop is that you can always change this later.

Masking: The Art of Precision

Inverting the Layer Mask:

  1. Every adjustment layer comes with a white layer mask by default. We need to invert it to black. With the layer mask selected (you'll see a white border around it), press 'Ctrl + I' (or 'Cmd + I' on Mac). Your mask will turn black, hiding the red color we just picked.

Painting the Nail Polish:

  1. On the left toolbar, select the Brush tool. You can also press 'B' as a shortcut.
  2. At the top, adjust the brush size to match the width of the nail you're coloring. For our example, I'm going with a 20px brush for a close-up shot of a hand.
  3. Ensure your foreground color is set to white. If not, press 'D' to reset the colors and then 'X' to swap them, making white the foreground.
  4. Now, gently paint over the nails. As you paint, the red color will appear, revealing the nail polish effect. For our example, after painting all nails, I noticed the thumb needed a slightly larger brush, so I increased it to 25px for better coverage.

Breathing Life with Highlights

Extracting Natural Highlights:

  1. Hide the Solid Color layer by clicking on the eye icon next to it.
  2. Click on the Channels tab, usually located next to the Layers tab. Here, you'll see Red, Green, and Blue channels.
  3. For our example, the Blue Channel shows the best contrast for the nails. Right-click on it and choose 'Duplicate Channel'.
  4. With the duplicate channel selected, press 'Ctrl + L' (or 'Cmd + L' on Mac) to open the Levels adjustment. Drag the black and white sliders inwards to increase the contrast, making the nails pop more. For our example, I moved the black slider to 50 and the white slider to 210.
  5. Hold 'Ctrl' (or 'Cmd' on Mac) and click on the thumbnail of the duplicated channel. This will make a selection of the highlights.

Applying the Highlights:

  1. Return to the Layers panel and create a new layer by clicking on the 'New Layer' icon.
  2. With the selection active and the new layer selected, press 'Alt + Backspace' (or 'Option + Delete' on Mac) to fill the selection with the foreground color, which should be white.
  3. Now, right-click on this layer and choose 'Create Clipping Mask'. This ensures the highlights only appear over the nail polish.

Final Touches for Realism

Blending the Highlights:

  1. With the highlights layer still selected, go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur. A small radius, say 2px for our example, should suffice. This softens the highlights, making them blend naturally with the nail polish.
  2. Add a layer mask to this highlights layer. Using a black brush, paint out any areas where the highlights seem too strong or out of place. For our example, I reduced the brush opacity to 50% for a smoother blend.