Note: Almond Nails is reader supported. If you make a purchase through a link on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission - at no extra cost to you. This includes links to Amazon.

How To File Down Acrylic Nails At Home – Just Like the Pros

I’m here to help you learn How to File Down your Acrylic Nails at Home.  You’ll also learn how to sculpt your Acrylics into a beautiful shape and design. In this article, I will be outlining the step-by-step process and documenting exactly what you need to do.

I will, of course, be discussing this on the assumption that you have already and recently applied Acrylics, or had them applied for you, onto your nails, and you are now at the next stage – the actual filing itself.

So without further ado, let’s get right into it.

How To File Down Acrylic Nails At Home

Once Your Acrylics Are Applied

When your Acrylics are first applied, you’re likely to have a lumpy, bumpy texture and essentially a piece of plastic on your nail.

That’s ok; applying Acrylics is hard and takes a lot of practice to perfect, especially if you are doing them on your own nails. 

If you are a beginner then this is expected, so do not worry,  I will help you to improve the appearance in due course.

I often face this challenge and I am a Nail Technician!

Alternatively, you may have applied them like a pro and they appear nice and smooth (congratulations – this is awesome!)

Regardless of the initial state that you find your Acrylics in,  I’m going to show you now how to file and sculpt your Acrylics into your new nails.

I will be doing so in the safest, most effective way that we Nail Technicians and Manicurists suggest.

Here’s a great tip: If you want to perfect your filing technique before you go ahead and begin filing on your own new Acrylics; you can always use a Fake Nail (like this).

This way you can practice as much as you like, learn the technique and get to grips with motion and the strength/feel of the file.

Sculpting with a File

I am assuming that you have a Nail File at the ready (between 140-240 grit) so that you can follow on below and get your Acrylics done right away.

If you don’t or are looking to upgrade your Nail File, then I would recommend the Malva Belle Crystal Nail File (Available on Amazon). 

Crystal Glass nail files are built to last (10 years+) and will enable you to create smooth nails without rough edges (and any chance of cracking).

This is the brand I use and swear by and it makes the whole process a lot easier and much more effective!

If you decide to go for a Standard Nail File (Emery Board), they’re usually quite sharp around the edges and they make them quite a sharp right to the edge.

I always recommend if you are using an Emery Board (or even one you’ve found around the house) that you score them first.

To do this, take a second Emery Board and file gently on the edges of the first file.

This will help to soften it.

Essentially you want to rub the second file against the first file to soften all of the edges. Make sure you get in all of the corners.

I learned this the hard way and the reason why we do this is because if you don’t when you start filing on your skin, you can accidentally slice, hurt yourself and cause damage.

This is extremely painful and may even cause bleeding. This can all be avoided by making sure that you in effect blunt the edge (and non-required) parts of your files or, you purchase a Glass Nail File (that have been designed to be sleeker, and are not sharp around the edges).

(This is another reason why I would advise you to practice on plastic fingersfirst).

Ultimately, be conscious and wary of your skin around your nails and your natural nail bed ahead of time and before you start.

Once your file is all scored and ready to go, the first thing you want to do is to find your free edges.

If you are not quite sure what free edges are, they are the part of the Acrylic that lays underneath.

So if you turn your finger a little sideways, you can then place your file right underneath:

How To File Down Acrylic Nails At Home
Filing the Free Edges (Underneath the Acrylic)

You will want to be able to file that free edge without catching your skin.

File straight up and down on one side, and then replicate on the other side.

Filing Side Free Edges
Filing Side Free Edges

This will help you determine, and help bring in those sides.

Once you have done the sides and neatened them up somewhat, you will file the Top Free Edge itself:

Filing Top Free Edge

Now some of you may be wondering, can you actually do this or is it going to cause damage to the Acrylic or natural nail?

The answer is yes you can, this is one of the benefits of working with Acrylics – you wouldn’t want to do this with your Natural Nails but you are not working with your Natural Nails here so you can afford to do this.

With Acrylics, you can actually apply quite a lot of force, and file a lot more aggressively (if you wanted but it will be uncomfortable and you have less control over the shape you are essentially filing)

To help improve the comfort when filing, I suggest that you hold the nail plate down on the nail you are filing and underneath the finger.

Hold this really steady throughout the time you file on that nail. This will also enable you to file with more force without hurting yourself or it feeling uncomfortable.

If you don’t hold the nail plate down, your finger will go back and forth in the direction that you file.  So make sure that you get a good grip.

The longer the Acrylic is, the more of a grip you are going to need to have.

The shorter the nail the less you will need have to have.

If it’s really short, then you may not have to hold so long as the finger doesn’t go back and forth too aggressively.

So, you will now need to consider the length that you would like for your Acrylics.

Acrylics tend to come quite long when first applied, and you’re probably not going to want it as long. So you will need to shorten them right up.

Now when you are filing the free edge you will notice, if you built the Acrylic properly, that the Acrylics get thicker the more you file and shorten them.

Acrylic Thick Build
Acrylic Thick Build

The reason being is because when you build it, it needs to be thinner at the bottom of the nail (near your cuticle), arching up in the middle, and towards the top of the Acrylic, it gets a little bit thinner.

As you shorten the Acrylic, you will see how thick of a build you have. You are not going to leave it like this but you definitely want to see your nail as you shorten getting thicker – this means you’re building it correctly.

Now you need to establish and decide on your length, shape, and style.

The shape you decide to go for, whether it be Square, Almond, Ballerina, Coffin, etc, are all achieved by the stroking and direction that you file in.

So for example, if you opted for my favorite Almond Nails, you would be filing more in the corners to create that rounded ‘nut shape’.

For the purpose of this article, and tutorial, let’s say you wanted to go for a Long Square Nail Shape.

This is always a good Shape to start with, especially for beginners.

Filing a Long Square Nail Shape

Now if you’re looking to square certain shapes and styles, like Stiletto, Oval, and Almond, this will follow in further articles shortly.

But, for now, I will just focus on the Long Square Shape.

Noticing how thick your Acrylic now is, you’re going to now work on squaring it up. First, use the file on the side of your nail to create a square effect.

So if you look down directly on top of your nail you can see if the nail has been filed evenly.

A common mistake I often see is that a lot of people seem to make one side a little bit fat, or that one side is straight and the other side has a little bow in it.

If you’re right-handed, it’s common that the bow is on the left-hand side and is straight on the right-hand side (when viewed from above)

If you’re left-handed, it’s common that the bow is on the right-hand side, and straight on the left-hand side.

And this makes common sense because we’re obviously favoring one side.

So what’s happening if you have a bow, is that usually the end tip is where the square wants to be but the top side is actually quite fat. You can see this by looking down onto the nail from above.

In this case, you will want to file to square the nail up by focusing on the top of the nail.

This is actually the hard part – as it’s the part of the application that closest to the cuticle and you’re close to working against your skin.

You don’t want to be anywhere near your cuticle or your skin – if the file is sitting on top of your cuticle or right against it you’re going to file it and cut the cuticles-  this is not what you want!

You’re better to be a little further away with your Acrylic Application and then consequently your filing, to prevent the possibility of damaging your cuticles and be blooded right up.

So when you’re filing on top of the nail, you want to go like this and file in this direction:

File away from your Cuticles
File away from your Cuticles

So when you file, be gentle and cautious around your cuticle.

Be sure that you do not hit or start filing away at your skin. File ever so slightly, taking an angle in your approach.

What you don’t want to do is take your file and file flat. This will take down your arch. That arch needs to be left there for strength.

So what you want to do is file on the sides of the top of the nail a little bit. You’re going to turn the finger to help you do this, and you are going to file on both sides – leaving the center.

Look down the barrel of the nail and make sure the nail looks even and thinner.

Now, file at the end of the nail, being sure to leave the arch point:

Leave the Arch Point
Leave the Arch Point

You will want to keep the arch point the highest that you can as possible and you will also start to see that the Acrylic gets thinner as you file.

Keep filing down at the sides to take the nail down further and so that you can create a nice curvature.

The more of a curve your nail has on the end, the stronger it will be. If it’s quite flat it can break a lot easier. When it’s got that curve there’s strength to it which you want to have.

As you file, maintain the arch and be sure that this is not the area that you’re hitting as you file.

As you file, you want to turn your finger and nail in all sorts of angles to ensure you get a symmetrical and even look.

Be sure to keep checking your nail every so often.

When filing you want to keep consistent to and fro motion, using the same angles so that you can keep filing in the same direction.

When you look down the barrel and your Acrylics are at the depth you want, be sure that there are no bulges.

If you have been filing and filing, and the bulge still remains, even if you are filing as straight as you can but there’s still some bowing, here is what it probably is.

This means, that on the top side of the nail, it’s too thick.

This is why this filing method, of filing away from the cuticles on top of the nail from both sides is so effective.

Whenever you see a sign of bulging or bowing on the top, bring that side right in and make it straight all over to narrow it in.

Now at this stage, you are going to want to go over the entire Acrylic to smooth it, just to finish it all off. Blend it all in.

Remember to look at your nail sideways too – you want to maintain a nice smoothness in the cuticle building up in the center near the arch and then coming down in a nice slope.

If it drops off really suddenly you may want to bring your arch down a little bit but make sure that you’re still nice and thick on the end.

If using an Emery Board, to finish and really complete the filing process and the appearance of your nails, you want to take a file with a smoother grit.

You just want to go over your nails on the sides and on the top of the nail.

If you are working with a Crystal Glass file then this will not be required as you will be creating this smoothness as you go – this is one of the reasons why I like my Malva Belle Crystal Nail File so much.

Be careful – you don’t want to hit a cuticle even with a smoother grit file because over time it’s going to cut the cuticle and cause it to break at some point.

Also consider, that a  smoother grit file is not going to shape nails, it is just going to smooth them over.

When using a finer grit Emery Board nail file, be sure to go over the whole nail and making it nice and smooth.

Now, this won’t make the nail smooth to touch it will still be bumpy to touch, but it’ll make the whole nail smoother in appearance. 

So because of this, it does still need to be finished.

Now if you opted for an Emery Board, you are going to work with one more type of nail file a buffer (like this).

You can usually get a buffer with several sides to it, with different textures and finishes.

This will make your nails quite shiny. So the smoother ones will be the last sides you want to file with, and the harsher ones the first you are going to work with.

Buffering will take your Acrylic from feeling kind of rough.

Now having used the smoothest side of the Buffer, take the next side of the buffer and start to file your Acrylics, Use the same filing technique as documented using the Crystal File/Emery Board above- staying well clear of the cuticle and filing on both sides.

You will see and feel your nails getting smoother and smoother. This is particularly useful if you’re going to put a top coat and then a nail polish over the top.

It’s not good if you’re going to put gel.  If you are using Gel, then you should not use the Buffer at all. Gel likes a bit of a rough Nail.

Now continue to work through the buffer, using the next and third sides. You’ll notice your nail starts to get really soft.

The last side of the Buffer will make it look glass-like like you are wearing a topcoat – you’ll hopefully see how shiny it is.

There you go, a nice smooth finished nail.

So when you take a final look down at the end of your nail, you want it to be quite even from one end to the other end and the thickness is the same all the way across.

You don’t want it to be wobbly or too thick.

You now just need to follow these instructions for all of your remaining nails.

Final Words

Remember, filing your nails at home is difficult, but with practice practice practice, you will soon be filing your nails like a pro.

If you want to really make this process easy, then I would recommend that you invest in a good quality Crystal Glass Nail File (it will repay you in the future as they last for years – mines still going from 2010!)

This will make a lot of the steps above redundant and you can get the look you desire on your Nails much quicker.

However, if you love working with Emery Boards, or have some lying around your home, then hopefully I have been able to document how to best work with them for the best results.

I always recommend that if your a beginner, or want to be more certain before you start working on your Acrylic nails, that you purchase a false  “dummy” finger to which you can apply an Acrylic to.

This will ensure that you know exactly what you are doing first before you take the plunge.