16 Multicolor Nail Ideas to Inspire Your Next Manicure

By Ingrid Fetell Lee
Taylor Swift's multicolored manicure

A few months ago, a friend forwarded me one of Taylor Swift’s instagram posts. In it, her hands are splayed out across a pair of floral-embellished overalls, showing her nails in an array of sparkly colors. Multicolored manicures were headed for a resurgence.

As it turns out, T Swift’s manicure had a hidden meaning: each nail’s color reflected an album and an era in her career:

  • Green: Debut/Self-Titled
  • Gold: Fearless (Taylor’s Version)
  • Purple: Speak Now (Taylor’s Version)
  • Red: Red (Taylor’s Version)
  • Light Blue: 1989 (Taylor’s Version)
  • Black: Reputation
  • Pink: Lover
  • Grey/Silver: folklore
  • Tan: evermore
  • Aqua: Midnights

I love secret codes, so of course this appealed to me. What seemed to many observers as a silly, girlish aesthetic choice was actually deeply symbolic.

The Meaning of a Multicolor Manicure

But let’s also talk about the girlishness of the multicolored mani. 2023 was described by many as the the Year of the Girl. It was the year of Barbie and bows, girl dinner and girl math. But rather than being seen as a playful form of femininity, some critics viewed it as a failure of feminism. In the Cut, Isabel Christo interprets girl culture as an indictment of adult womanhood. She writes, “the fervid enthusiasm of grown women to participate in the veneration of girlhood raises a slightly unsettling question: What is it, exactly, that’s so uninviting about being an adult woman?”

Embracing girlish pleasures

On one hand, the question borders on the facetious. No writer covering woman’s issues in the year of Dobbs could possibly type such a string of words unironically. At the same time, as commenters pointed out, it’s also a false binary. There’s nothing about the embrace of girlish pleasure that necessarily implies something wrong with adult womanhood. Men are allowed boyish pleasures all the time, from rough-and-tumble sports to playing pranks on each other, and no one suggests that it’s because being an adult man is somehow unfulfilling. Men are free to be boys whenever they feel like it, without judgment. But when a woman wants the freedom of being a girl, it’s juvenile, frivolous, inappropriate.

For a woman to embrace the girlish pleasure of the colorful mani, it’s almost as if she is shirking her responsibilities. The responsibility to appeal to the male gaze as a sex object (red nails would be the obvious choice here) or to be the endlessly available mom/drudge (bare nails, which don’t show the chips from all the cleaning). Or even her responsibility to set an example by being the has-it-all-together career woman, with short beige nails that say, “I could tell you the ROI on the KPIs in my sleep.” A multicolor mani isn’t for anyone except the woman herself, and to do any such thing as a woman is heresy.

The colorful manicure, then, is not just an aesthetic choice, but a political one.

Women can’t avoid being judged by our appearance. This is doubly true for Black women, who have a long tradition of manicures as self-care, and of choosing more vibrant styles. In the New Yorker, Natalie Meade writes about the documentary short “See You Next Time,” by Crystal Kaiza, which explores the joy and intimacy of the manicure through the collaboration between a Black patron and her Chinese manicurist. Glitter, crystals, and color are all part of the delight.

Yet at the same time, she observes that nail color has traditionally carried stereotypes of race and socioeconomic status:

Modest “French manicures and pastel colors signal white, middle-class, heteronormative beauty,” Lindsay Pieper, a sports-management professor at the University of Lynchburg, wrote in a 2015 essay about [Olympic gold medalist Florence] Griffith-Joyner. On the other hand, nail art with shimmering details, bold colors, and texture is associated with poor women of color.

These stereotypes linger even as vibrant nail art has been appropriated by white women across the socioeconomic spectrum. We might choose a multicolored manicure because it looks like fun, but in so doing, we’re also making a statement. An adult woman with polychromatic nails is always flouting something.

Multicolor Manicure: Fun or Frivolous?

The last time I chose to write about manicured nails, I received complaints about the frivolity of the subject matter, which on this blog, is like one of those woven fingertraps that sucks you in deeper the more you try to pull yourself out. Here we stand for the right to small pleasures. To judge such things as trivial only proves the necessity of me talking about them more often.

I also received a complaint that this topic was exclusive, leaving out my male readers, along with the suggestion that I have my husband suggest some more appropriate topics for the blog in the future. (Not kidding!) But the only reason men get left out of the manicure fun is patriarchy’s taboo against men doing anything that could be considered feminine. This is shifting (thank you Harry Styles and Tyler, the Creator) and in my view, can’t happen fast enough.

With all this in mind, let’s get to the inspiration! In this post, we’re sharing sixteen multicolor nail ideas to have some fun with. Save this post to bring with you on your next visit to the nail salon, or pick up some polish to try these ideas at home.

Where to Get Colorful Nail Polish

There are lots of places to find nail polish, but as we’ve become more aware of the toxicity of many cosmetic products, it’s a good idea to look for safer, healthier alternatives to traditional brands. Some key ingredients you want to avoid include dibutyl phthalate (DBP), toluene, triphenylphosphate (TPHP), formaldehyde, and xylene.

Fortunately, there are lots of brands with diverse color ranges that are free of most of these toxic chemicals. My favorites are:

  • Olive and June (A huge color range with an easy-to-apply system)
  • Jin Soon (Pitch perfect color choices in sleek packaging)
  • Côte (I find the smaller bottles more manageable and the polish lasts a long time)

16 Multicolor Nail Ideas


In this colorblocked manicure, each nail is painted with two contrasting colors, resulting in several eye-catching combinations of nail colors.

Multicolor nails on a spotted cup

Rainbow Manicure

These rainbow nails have become my signature after giving my 2018 TED talk and getting so many comments on having each nail painted a different bright color. I typically do cool colors on the left hand and warm ones on the right, though sometimes I like to mix it up.

Jungle-Inspired Nails
Image: Melissa Gayle via @thehangedit

Jungle-Inspired Nails

This is one of my favorite nail designs ever, featuring a different jungle animal or plant on each nail. Though not exactly a beginner manicure, the tiny dots, stripes, and other details in each image add texture and personality.

Neon checkerboard designs on long nails | Multicolor Nail Ideas
Image: @lolo.nailedit via ILNP


Each of these individual checkerboard nails are made up of two different colors. Alternating colors of checkerboards across the hand creates an even bolder look.

Multicolored dots on nails

Confetti Style

Be ready to celebrate at any time with these multicolor confetti nails. The abundance of tiny dots creates an opportunity for lots of color. If your hands aren’t so steady, you can use a confetti nail polish (this one is fan favorite!) to get the same effect in no time.

Nails with colorful squiggles
Image: @julyninetysix

Colorful Squiggles

Organic squiggles create a different shape on each nail in this multicolor manicure, tied together by the bright color palette.

Nails with neon striped tips | Multicolor Nail Ideas
Image: @overglowedit via Hello Bombshell

Neon French Tips

The classic French tip manicure is completely reinvented with the neon colors used in this version. I love the extra oomph that comes from the double tip with contrasting colors.

Nude nails with a single colored dot on each nail
Image: @namoro0327 via The Zoe Report

Mismatched Dots

Each dot is a different size, color, and in a new position in this minimalistic manicure, creating a sense of surprise atop the neutral nail polish base.

Manicure with colorful dots and gemstones
Image: @chizuru___enoi

Colored Gemstones

Bring some sparkle to your day with this colored gemstone manicure. Stick-on gemstones are alternated with painted multicolor dots and sparkles, creating a fun, glittery effect.

Manicure with multicolored retro daisies | Multicolor Nail Ideas
Image: @nyahnailartist

Multicolored Daisies

These cute daisies are painted in a retro color scheme that could easily be replicated with other colors of your choice. The organic forms feel very playful.

Swirled color manicure | Multicolor Nail Ideas
Image: @paragonnails via Who What Wear

Abstract Curves

The swirling shapes on these nails are made from boldly contrasting nail polish colors.

Smiley faces in pastel colors on nude nails
Image: @nailditbylauren via Days Inspired

Smiley Faces

Go beyond simple multicolor polka dots by adding a little smiley face to each one. In fact, this manicure is guaranteed to spread smiles wherever you go.

Multicolored different designs on nails include an eye, flower, moon, stars, and heart
Image: @kesangthenailartist via Fab Mood

Mix and Match Patterns

If you can’t choose just one nail design, mix and match to create a unique combination of patterns and images. These nails still feel cohesive because the nail polish colors have similar saturation levels.

nails with an airbrushed gradient | Multicolor Nail Ideas
Image: @polished_yogi via Cirque Colors

Gradient Rainbow

These gradient nails are an alternative version of a rainbow manicure. In addition, the colors are blended together in a way that gradually moves through the rainbow.

Nails with fruit slices at the base | Multicolor Nail Ideas
Image: @nail_unistella

Fruit Slices

This manicure plays with the curved half-moon shape of the nails by transforming each one into a slice of fruit. Since fruit is naturally so colorful, this is a clever way to bring a summery feeling to any season.

Nails with two thin lines of a different color at the top of each nail
Image: @varnishlane via Who What Wear

French Tip Outlines

Switch up your French tip manicure with these outlines that bring a pop of color to otherwise neutral nails, creating a simple but still colorful manicure.

This post features contributions from Ava BooydeGraaff.

February 2nd, 2024


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    Discussion (4 Comments)

  1. Charlene on February 3, 2024

    Thank  you for this post! While I haven’t gone to the extremes of some of these manicures, having color on my nails does bring me joy and makes me feel better about my aging hands (I’m 74). I long for a world that sets aside judging how a person looks, whether it’s about size, style, or mani/pedis. If you like it and it doesn’t harm anyone/thing, go for it. If you don’t like it, skip it and spend your energy some other place. 

  2. Elke on February 3, 2024

    Love this article and your newsletter in general! Asking your husband for “better” topics? ROFLOL Incredible! But back to the topic: I’m coloring my nails for almost 50 years and for two years now, my favorite are my sunset nails ? gold, orange, pink. Makes me happy, and I still get a little jolt of joy whenever I look at my nails. ?☀️? 

  3. Laurie on February 3, 2024

    Love this, Ingrid! Def doing to do a rainbow mani today…spring pastels in honor of the groundhog’s promise ;). (Age is no limitation in my opinion…65 going on young at heart here ?)

  4. Jean on March 21, 2024

    How sad life would be without a little bit of fun and frivolous! Thanks for this delightful post-even if it did make me a little sad that my favorite french tip manicure might make some small minded people judge me into a certain box.
    I just always thought it looked pretty!


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