Nail art isn’t just about choosing and applying the right colors. For professionals, it also involves assessing the whole hand to determine which nail shape would best suit your client’s overall look.

Nailing the right shape can mean the difference between creating a picture-perfect manicure and leaving fingertips looking too wide or fingers too short. The nails that leave your salon are signatures of your work, and sloppy shapes are unacceptable when your work is on constant display.

Here’s a nail shape guide to help you create the best shape for any set of nails.

It’s All in the Tools

When it comes to constructing the perfect nail shape, the tools are everything. If you’re shaping the natural nail, for example, use a 240-grit file or higher to smooth and seal the nail edge and reduce peeling. If the nail has a freshly applied enhancement created with liquid and powder products, however, a 180-grit file will do the job without causing structural damage. Use a 100-grit file to shape plastic tips, file a hard gel or reshape grown-out nail enhancements. With the right tools, you’ll be able to achieve the perfect shape efficiently and safely.

In the world of nail art, there are countless shapes and designs, but this nail shape guide will focus on the foundational four that set the ground for most other shapes: round, oval, pointed and square. Let’s take a closer look at the shapes your clients are sure to ask for.

1. Round It Out

The round nail has gotten a bad rap over the years. It’s often dismissed as old-fashioned, but it can be the perfect complement to a finger with a round eponychium (cuticle). Most commonly used for short nails, the round is popular for active clients, as it creates a soft, clean look that protects against damage.

When filing the nails into a round shape, remember to keep the sidewall — the skin on the side of the nail plate — straight and intact, then file gently from side to center, blending the corners to a smooth curve from the end of the sidewall to the tip of the free edge. On either short or long nails, the round shape is a classic for a reason.

2. A Standing Oval-ation

An oval nail is perhaps the most common and universally flattering of all the nail shapes. It can offer the illusion of a thinner, longer nail bed, which translates into a classy and sleek appearance. A versatile shape, oval looks great on any nail, long or short.

Shaping the oval can be tricky, as it’s difficult to balance the curves on either side of the nail tip. For consistency, file side to center to create the transition from sidewall to tip, then clean up the angles from underneath while ensuring you do not remove any of the sidewall. By creating the perfect oval, you’re sure to make any client smile.

3. Point the Way

Said to have originated in Russia and Eastern Europe, pointed nails have become a recent trend that doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon. Professionals now know that eliminating the sidewall completely diminishes the nail’s strength, so today’s nail technicians will start the point further out on the finger than they used to.

Filing the pointed nail is similar to filing the oval, but be sure to increase the angle of the file to create the perfect point. The sharper the better.

4. Keep It Square

While the square nail is widely recognized and often requested, it’s not always the most flattering shape, as it can give the finger a blunt, thick look. To be the best nail shape guide for your customers, recommend this look for clients with thin fingers and longer nail beds. The square shape is perfect for them.

To achieve the square, begin shaping the nail with the client’s palm facing you in a high-five position to ensure the file is perpendicular to the edge of the nail. Once filed straight across, make sure the sidewalls are straight and parallel, then gently soften the corners using the file at a beveling angle. You’ll make a powerful look in no time.

No matter what shape you’re creating, a good professional knows just how to achieve a strong look and keep their clients’ nails strong and healthy. Master these basic techniques, and you’re sure to have clients coming back for even more complex designer nail shapes.