MY EXACT GEL MANICURE PROCESS: FILLS, BUILDER GEL, E-FILES & MORE!
I’ve been doing this process on my nails for the past almost two years and it has been EVERYTHING. It keeps my nails strong, I never have to soak my nails in acetone, my nails can finally grow without breaking, and I can use all of my favorite gel colors AND regular polish colors in my collection. I’m going to tell you exactly how I do this so you can do it at home too!!
First off: What is a “fill”?
There are so many terms used in the nail universe that essentially mean the same thing! In my case, I equate a “fill” with just doing a gel manicure. The fill process is now a part of my prep process and then I go right into re-doing my gel nails! Basically, a fill is just filling in the grown out area of your nails with new product to create a new manicure. Let’s get into how it’s done!
WATCH MY FULL DEMONSTRATION OF THIS PROCESS IN MY GEL MANICURE 2.0 MASTERCLASS : E-FILE REMOVAL, PREP & BUILDER GEL APPLICATION COURSE!
Before we get too far, I want to touch on SAFETY!
This is by far the topic I’m most passionate about with DIY nails. Let me tell you a little known secret about using an e-file and gel polish:
The e-file & gel manicures are NOT bad for your nails. Using the products improperly is what can actually harm your nails.
I get SO many messages every day from people who say they’ve filed their nails too much that they’re in pain now, or their gel polish is peeling off after a few days and leaving their nails weak, but they’ve never spent the time to educate themselves on how to safely and properly execute these processes 🤦🏻♀️
I always try to be nice and understanding when this happens, but I cannot stress how important it is to do the work before you even do your first manicure. I can’t help you if you won’t help yourself!! So please read this, get the courses, and message me if you continue to have issues. This is the exact reason I created my courses, they contain everything you need to know in long format, follow along videos, and they’re loaded with information to prepare you for a safe manicure! I will talk through which courses go along with each section of the fill process as we go!
THE KEY TO THIS PROCESS: Builder Gel 🤝 E-File
Using builder gel for your manicure means you can build an apex on your nail. The apex is basically just the stress area of your nail, so builder gel allows you to “build” up your apex, which gives your nails some extra dimension, tons of strength and also protects your natural nail from the e-file so you don’t need to worry about it touching your natural nail.
If your gel manicure is too thin or you’re not using builder gel, you might not be able to use an e-file or e-file off as much.
POV: YOU HAVE A BUILDER GEL MANICURE ON
So let’s say you currently have a builder gel manicure on with an apex built. Your nails have grown out a little bit, they’re getting longer and stronger, but you’re ready to change up your color or want to fill in the grown out area.
STEP 1: E-FILE REMOVAL
Like I said before, using an e-file to remove my previous gel manicure is now just a part of my prep process!
The goal with this step is to remove the top coat layer, any nail designs, and gel colors. I also like to remove the top layers of my builder gel base coat. Since I have an apex built, my goal is to use the e-file to essentially remove it, and “de-bulk” my nails. Because I want to build a new apex with my new manicure, so I need to remove this current one!
I stop e-filing once I have leveled out my base coat. It’s super important to leave a thin layer of base coat on your nails here because:
- We don’t want to touch the e-file bit to your natural nail
- The leftover builder gel actually helps the next manicure adhere better
- The leftover builder gel keeps your nails strong
*** part of this process is leaving a thin layer of gel on your nails at all times. As long as it’s not lifting (this is possible with proper application), you can essentially repeat this process and keep a thin layer on your nails at all times and never fully remove it with acetone.
I also suggest quitting while you’re ahead at this step, and switch to a hand file to smooth things down more if you need to. You’ll have more control & you’re less likely to take off too many layers as you get closer to your natural nail!
STEP 2: MANICURE PREP
This next step is so important because without proper prep, your gel manicure will lift or chip or peel which pretty much throws a wrench in this process and prevents it from working.
My favorite order of operations is:
E-file cuticle prep
File & buff nail surface (the goal is to have a level surface from the e-file removal, while still keeping a thin layer of gel on your nails)
STEP 3: BUILDER GEL APPLICATION
Now that your nails are all prepped, they’re ready for the gel application!
Applying builder gel is a little more advanced than just a regular gel polish, but the benefits are incredible and make the extra effort so worth it.
BENEFITS OF BUILDER GEL:
- I always use & recommend Kokoist products! They are pure Japanese gel that is super high quality, formulated without harmful ingredients and solvents, and they have amazing longevity
- Read more about pure gel vs. hybrid gel here & why I do not recommend using hybrid gel for this process
- You can build an apex and do this entire process!
- If applied correctly, your manicure will last 2-3 weeks, which means you’re not manicuring them as often, which means they have the ability to grow and be protected from the elements, leading to overall stronger nails!
I’ve said this a million times, but now is the part of the process where you build an apex! My favorite builder gel is the Kokoist x Nail Thoughts Builder base gels! They are a 3-in-1 product which means they’re a base coat, a builder gel, and a color all in one!! It makes your manicures go by sooo much faster and it’s nice that you can do an entire manicure with just this product + a top coat if you wanted to!
Ive also been LOVING the new Kokoist Platinum Filler Base — it has a thicker viscosity and is slower at self leveling, which I think is great for beginners!
Note: if you are not using this specific builder gel, you might need a separate base coat. Please refer to the manufacturer’s site to confirm!
To correctly apply your builder gel, you need to paint a slip layer (do not cure it), add a bead of polish on top of it, and let it self level / use your brush to get the apex into place. It’s important to also cure one nail at a time.
A note on gel allergies:
I have gotten a bunch of questions about gel allergies recently from people who have developed them from doing their own nails. These allergies make it nearly impossible to use gel polish because it causes skin issues that are painful, and the only way to heal it is to cease gel use.
Allergies are avoidable*! They are caused by low quality products containing allergens paired with improper application such as curing gel on your skin or leaving under cured product on your nails.
This is why educating yourself on how to safely execute a gel manicure (vs just trying it out and seeing how it goes) and investing in high quality products is SO IMPORTANT! Please do yourself a favor and get a few kokoist products instead of spending the same amount on a bunch of low quality products from Amazon. You will thank yourself!
*I am obviously not a doctor! Please talk to your doctor to determine if you have an allergy to gel and how to heal this. Allergies are avoidable for some people but other people may be more susceptible to them.
Once your builder gel application is complete, you can either add a gel color, or a design, or chrome, or just a top coat!!
STEP 4: REPEAT THIS PROCESS FOREVER :)
Once you’re ready to redo your nails, you can just go back to step 1 and repeat!! It’s really that simple. It’s been such a game changer for my nails and I absolutely love it!!!
I sourced a few FAQ’s about this process:
Q: How do I avoid getting too much polish on the sides of my nails?
- Watch my application course :)
- Don’t use too much polish on your brush, start out with less and add more if needed
- Use a striper brush to touch up
- Cure each nail one at a time
- Book a Private Masterclass with me if you still need additional help!
Q: What if you don’t like the color? How easy is it to change?
A: This is one of the reasons why I love this process so much! If you don’t like your color, first off you could just wipe it off before you cure and pick a new color. That’s the beauty of gel! But also if you just want to switch it up after a little bit, you can efile off the color without de-bulking your apex, just smooth out your surface, and then reapply a new color!
I actually do this all the time since I change my color / designs so much.
Q: How frequently do you do a fill? How often do you fully remove?
A: I personally do a fill whenever my nails have grown out too much for my liking. This is the beauty of DIY nails, you can decide when you’re ready to re-do, without having to wait for an appointment! I just like to have my nails done frequently because I film content so much, but if I weren’t filming content or if I take a filming break, I can go 2-3 weeks without redoing them! It’s really up to your personal preference.
I rarely ever fully remove my gel because I HATE soaking my nails in acetone. It makes my nails feel really weak and brittle and bendy after it’s done and I just prefer to not. You technically never need to do this if you don’t want to **as long as your application is perfect, which it will be with watching my course and practice**, but you could do it every few months if you really want to.
Q: How do you refill when you’re using a tinted base and using a different color tinted base?
A: I don’t personally find this to be too big of an issue. Once you remove the bulk of your apex, I find that the hand file & buffing process actually removes a lot of the color from the previous manicure! Plus the bases are tinted enough that it will likely cover up what ever color is underneath. If you’re really worried about this, here’s a solution you could try:
- Paint one coat of clear builder base and cure
- Do a slip layer & build an apex with your tinted base like your normally would
This will allow you to file off all of your tinted base while still having a layer of clear on your nail surface!
Q: Do I need to build an apex even if my nails are short?
A: YES!! Maybe you do one manicure, let your nails grow a little and then build one on the second manicure if your nails are super short. The apex really helps give your nails strength and gives them a really nice plump look that helps the color pop, and I think it just overall makes your nails not look flat!! But most importantly, as I’ve said throughout this entire post, the apex really helps protect your natural nail when you’re using the e-file which makes this process work. It’s really like a lifecycle / a full circle process to make this work and the apex is a big part of it.
I really hope you had a bunch of lightbulbs go off and understand this process better after reading this post! It’s truly such a game changer with my nails and helpful me keep them strong enough to grow out, but it’s SO important to educate yourself on how to do it. If your builder gel application needs improvement, your e-file process might not be safe, and you might cause some damage. Everything really goes together hand in hand and nothing works without everything working!