The Difference Between Acrylic, Hard Gel and Shellac Nails


Hey, Bella’s! Since I’ve been practicing and playing around with Acrylic. I wanted to do a blog post on the differences between Acrylic, Hard Gel, and Shellac.

In the nail world, it’s getting a bit overwhelming for me, and I’m sure for other new techs out there can relate. There’s so many different products, brands, and non-stop new stuff entering the market. So, I did some research and asked professional nail techs to help me out with this blog post. They all treat your nails differently, and so let me share with you what I’ve learned.

Hard Gel and Acrylic

Hard Gel and Acrylic have a few things in common:
♥ Hard Gel and Acrylic are both artificial nails, in other words, fake nails!

♥ They belong in the same Acrylic familia – under subfamilies such as acrylate and methacrylate.

♥ They are applied to the natural nail and can be used to extend the length and do different shapes.

♥ Can be built either thin or thick, whatever your client prefers.

♥ Can be used just for overlays.

♥ They can be mixed together, and be used for nail art.

♥ They look the same. If applied correctly.

Hard Gel

♥ Hard Gel comes in a thick or thin goopy consistency. like syrup.

♥ It’s a 2 part system but it’s mixed into the same container.

♥ It’s applied with a gel brush that has a Taklon (stiff brush) and is cured (dried) under a LED/UV lamp.

♥ When working with gel, make sure you avoid bright lights above you or even sunlight going through the window towards the product because it will harden, which will be a total waste! So be very careful.

♥ It sticks to everything.

♥ The type of acrylic it contains is called Acrylates.

♥ The only way to remove it is by filing it off.


♥ Acrylic comes in a powder (polymer) and liquid (monomer) form.

♥ It’s a 2 part system, but different than with the gel, it’s in separate containers. When the powder and liquid are mixed together it becomes Acrylic which looks like a bead.

♥ It cures while you work with it, so you need to be quick when applying it, so no need for a LED/UV LAMP.

♥ It has a strong odor to it so make sure you have some ventilation system installed in the salon or have a window open

♥ The type of Acrylic it contains is called Methacrylates.

♥ To remove it you can soak it in acetone for 20 mins.

Hard Gel vs Acrylic

Here is a table of the differences between Hard Gel and those long acrylic nails:

Hard Gel
Is prep work the same way?
Do they apply the same way?
Is the package the same?
No. The package is made to prevent any light shining on them.
No. The liquid comes in a bottle and the powder in a container.
Are they flexible?
Yes, even though you can only file them off when having them removed.
No. It's trickier to work with and has more of a solid/hard surface when dried.
Are they easy to file and shape?
Yes. Minimum filing is required.
No. Lots of heavy-handed filing and buffing.
How do they look and feel?
Strong, lightweight and natural. When it's cured, it has a shiny gloss to it.
Heavy and thick depending on how much you layer on. When it's dry, it has a matte finish. That's why you'll need to apply a top coat.
Do they have a strong odour?
No. But just because you can't smell it doesn't mean there are no fumes in the room.
Harsh fumes from the liquid. You can smell it right away.
Is it easy to remove?
No. It needs to be filed off.
Yes. It can be soaked off in acetone.
Are they easy to repair?
No. You'll need to go back to the salon and have a professional fix it.
According to other sites, you can get away with it by applying some nail glue.
How are they cured?
Under a LED/UV lamp.
By air.
Are they the same price?
The products are expensive as you'll need a lamp to cure your nails/
The cost varies depending on the brand you purchase from and where you live.
Do they use the same brush?
No. It needs to be more of a stiff brush.
No. It has to be a Kolinsky sable hair acrylic brush.
How long do they last?
2-3 weeks
2-3 weeks
At the end, do they look the same?

What is Hard Gel and Soft Gel?

So, there are two types of Gel – Hard Gel and Soft Gel:
♥ Hard Gel is called “Hard” because its strong enough to build a nail extension (as you have read all about it above).

♥Soft Gel you can’t build a nail extension. It’s too liquidy and not thick or strong enough to hold the extension. It’s only used to be painted on the Natural nail, Hard Gel nails or on Acrylic nails. But, just like the Acrylic, it can be soaked off in acetone for 15 mins.

Shellac Nails and Gel Polish Nails

Sooo, Shellac nails and Gel Polish nails? This is where it all gets really really confusing with clients. “Shellac” is very well known as a Gel manicure because that term has been used in salons for a long time, but we live in a world where there’s always new products coming into the market that have been improved and are better than the other brands. So, different companies have brought in a product called gel polish.

You may think they both are the same but they contain different ingredients.

The difference between the two is Shellac contains part normal nail polish and part gel mixed together (therefore its semi-permanent polish), while gel polish contains just gel (so it’s a semi-permanent gel).

What are Shellac nails?

♥ Shellac has a thinner consistency to it than Gel Polish. It can only be cured under a UV Lamp or the CND LED lamp.

♥ The process of applying it is the same as nail varnish but it needs to cure under a Lamp in between layers. For example base coat – cure – colour – cure – colour – cure – top coat – cure – done.

♥ It lasts up to 2 weeks (14 days)

What is a Shellac Manicure?

A Shellac Manicure is Shellac painted only on the natural nails. So, the technician will do your dry cuticle work, shape it neatly, and paint on the natural nail.​

What is Gel Polish?

♥ Gel polishes are The Gel Bottle, Gelish, Madam Glam, Gel II and so on. These brands all have gel in them.

♥ They have a thick consistency, so applying it’s a bit tricky as your layers need to be thin. It’s the same process of apply shellac except it can be cured under any LED/UV lamp (depending on the manufacturer’s instructions of course).

♥ It lasts up to 2 -3 weeks.

♥ Each company brand has a slight difference in using the products, so always read the instructions on how to apply it and what’s the best LED/UV lamp for them.

Shellac vs Gel Polish

Here is a table of the differences between Shellac vs Gel Polish:

Gel Polish
What are they?
Contains part regular nail polish and part gel mixed together (therefore, it is a semi-permanent polish).
Contains just gel (so it's a semi-permanent gel)
Is the application process the same?
Sort of, the only thing different is that you don't buff the nail.
The nail needs to have no trace of oils and dead skin on the natural nails; otherwise it will lift.
How do they look and feel?
Glossy finish and natural.
Glossy finish and natural.
How are they removed?
Apply pure acetone on a cotton pad, place it on the nail and wrap the foil around your fingers.
Buff off the shine and apply pure acetone on a cotton pad, place it on the nail and wrap the foil around your fingers.
How long do they last?
2 weeks.
2 or 3 weeks.
Do you have to wait for them to dry?
No. It's cured under a UV/ CND LED lamp.
No. It's cured under a UV/ LED lamp.
Do they cost the same?
No. Shellac nails cost around $23 to $28 but it is more expensive to buy the product.
No. About $23 to #28
How do they look like?
It comes in a bottle.
It comes in a bottle.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Acrylic, Hard Gel and Shellac

So, now you know the difference between Acrylic, Hard Gel, and Shellac. Here are the advantages and disadvantages of each of them.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Acrylic


♥ Easy Removal.

♥ Create beautiful designs.

♥ It’s suitable for anyone that has brittle and weak nails.

♥ Its a great way for someone to prevent them from biting their nails.

♥ It lasts up to 2-3 weeks.

♥ If one of your nails break you can sort of repair it at home with nail glue

♥ You will always have pretty nails on.

♥ Perfect for special occasions like weddings.

♥ It’s strong


♥ If it’s not removed properly, it can damage your natural nails.

♥ If you accidentally bang your nail, it can damage your natural nail.

♥ If not looked after properly with regular infill appointments it can start to lift and water or dirt can get trapped and cause a fungal or bacterial infection.

♥ Someone can easily get an allergic reaction because of strong chemicals that arein the liquid.

♥ Has strong odour.

♥ Difficult to master.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Hard Gel


♥ You don’t need to wait for it to dry.

♥ Create beautiful designs.

♥ You can hide your natural nail imperfections.

♥ It can extend the length of the nail.

♥It’s flexible.

♥Low odour.

♥ Perfect for someone that has sensitive nails.

♥ Self-levelling.

♥ Easier to master than acrylic.

♥ Looks natural.


♥ Heat spike from the LED/UV Lamp.

♥ Go for infills every 2 – 3 weeks.

♥ Difficult to remove.

♥More expensive.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Shellac or Gel Polish nails


♥ No waiting around for it to get fully dry.

♥ Stronger nails.

♥Hide imperfections that the nail may have.

♥ It helps your nails grow.

♥ It lasts up to 2 – 3 weeks if you look after them.

♥Can add glitter or art to them.

♥ Always have beautiful nails.


♥ You will need to go to a salon to have it removed and colour redoing every 2 weeks.

♥ It may chip if you bang your nails onto something.

♥ If not removed properly it can damage your natural nail.


So, there you have it! All you need to know about Acrylic, Hard Gel, Gel Polish, and Shellac. I hope this didn’t confuse you all toomuch and helped you have a basic understanding of what each product is and what they’re meant to do. And regardless which you pick, always remember to learn how to make your nails stronger. It would be useless decorating them if they were brittle! If you have reached all the way to the end of this blog, thank you so much for reading. Stay tuned for more topics where we share nail memes funny people will definitely find amusing!

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