This colour technique makes for extremely chic nail art designs—8 ideas to bookmark immediately

Serious nail art inspo

Samia Laaboudi wears a black turtleneck ribbed t-shirt from Courreges, a black shiny leather long coat, dark brown large suit pants, a neon pink shiny silk puffy handbag, outside Giambattista Valli, during Paris Fashion Week - Womenswear Fall Winter 2023 2024, on March 03, 2023 in Paris, France
(Image credit: Edward Berthelot/Getty Images)

As a beauty editor, one of my favourite things to keep tabs on are the latest nail trends and, thanks to the invention of BIAB, I’m now able to grow my nails to provide a bigger canvas for nail art. One design style that’s really stood the test of time as a popular and wearable option (and one that's all over my relevant Pinterest board) is negative space nails. 

Negative space can be incorporated into anything from minimal nail art looks to a more eye-catching design. Ahead, one of the industry’s leading manicurists has explained how this technique works as well as some of her favourite looks—plus, I’ve rounded up some of the chicest designs from social media to inspire you. 

What are negative space nails?

Essentially, negative space nails involve some areas of neutral or no colour. “Negative space is blank space around an object, so negative space nails means having empty spaces around a particular design,” explains Iram Shelton, celebrity nail artist and global ambassador for OPI. “For example, having a nude base and then a white coloured design over it with empty spaces.” 

These looks can involve all manner of nail art, but the classic French manicure would also count as a negative space design. The key to a good one? “You have to choose a base that compliments your skin tone for it to look as natural as possible,” says Iram. “I prefer my base to look sheer and to show some [of the] natural nail through.” On that note, here are eight design ideas to bookmark for your next mani appointment. 

The best negative space nails to inspire you

1. Half moons

Half-moon nails are a classic nail art design. "Some of my favourite [negative space designs] are the half -oon nails," says Iram. "They’re so easy to recreate and look so elegant."

2. Tuxedo nails

“Black and white [designs] are always great for those who don’t like a lot of colour,” says Iram. This take on tuxedo nails is a great monochromatic design featuring negative space. 

3. Ombré nails

“Ombré or gradient colours look really cool, too, so [for example] different shades of blues from light to dark on each finger leaving negative spaces in between," says Iram. We love this pale green option.

4. Swirls

“I also love abstract designs like swirls because they can look so fun, especially around summer when you add pops of colour,” says Iram. Swirls can look great in a white-and-neutral colour combination, or a mixture of colours as shown here. 

5. Check nails

Checkerboard nails are proving to be a key nail art trend at the moment and look great when one colour is paired with negative space. Another great look is varying the check pattern on each nail. 

6. Geometric

Featuring a different shaped and positioned square or rectangle on each nail, this negative space geometric design is simple yet seriously eye-catching. 

7. Animal print

Leopard print is a timeless pattern and can be incorporated into a negative space design as a chic accent, as seen here in a curved shape around the edge of the nails.

8. Triple French

There are so many different iterations of the French manicure, from pastel tips to multiple lines. This triple line design featuring different shades of peach on a neutral base is perfection.

Recreate the look

Lucy Abbersteen
Beauty Contributor

Lucy is a freelance beauty editor and contributor at Marie Claire, and has written for titles including Glamour, Refinery29, Popsugar, woman&home and more. She was previously Marie Claire’s junior beauty editor. During her career, she’s covered everything from backstage beauty at fashion week to interviews with famous faces like Drag Race royalty and Little Mix. As for her beauty ethos, she’s a big advocate for not having to spend a fortune on beauty products to get good results, and when she’s not got beauty on the brain you’ll find her reading or hanging out with dogs.