Types of Nail Files – Tips for Choosing the Best File for Your Nails

When you’re out shopping, looking for the perfect nail file to use when giving yourself and your friends manicures and pedicures, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by all of the options and types of nail files out there. What does the packaging mean by “grit” or “abrasive”? Don’t stress out or think that you’re surrounded by angry, begging nail files: I’m here to help you out.

There are so many types of nail files you can find out on the market, and they all range in price and durability.  I have put together this helpful list of different styles of nail files.

Types of nail files

nail file typs

    • Emery Boards:

      These are what most of us picture when we hear the words “nail file,” and they’re the most common type out there. They are the most basic design, dual-sided tools with two different grits on each side, and they’re incredibly effective. I’m sure, if you’re like me, you have one or two of these babies laying around. They are perfectly acceptable to use, and they’re honestly so easy to find in any shop.




  • Glass/Crystal Nail Files:

    These are made up of crystals or glass and they have a fine grit. These are great for refining and shaping nails, and also cleaning up edges and smoothing bumps on the surface of your nails. Glass files can be quite expensive, but you’ll at least know that what you’re paying for is something that is safe, has many uses, and is durable.

  • Ceramic Nail Files:

    Ceramic nail files are best for soft or weak nails. They are incredibly gentle on natural nails and they help seal the edges of the nail as you file. There have been times when a ceramic nail file would have come in handy for me, so why not find one that you can buy (at a semi-decent price) and keep it around for days when you find that your nails are brittle and weak?

  • Buffing Blocks:

    These are the rectangles that you can find in stores that have different sides to them – they are the essential for a home manicure. Each side has different grits, so they each have their own purpose: shaping, removing ridges, smoothing, and shining.

  • Electric Nail Files:

    Electric nail files are exactly how they sound, they’re nail files that are powered using electricity. Often, these will mainly be used by nail technicians or people who are really good at doing nails. They make filing nails or fixing broken nails easy and quick, like superpower quick. Electric files can seem really intimidating at first and they take a practice in order to be really good at using it and doing a great job.

  • Metal Nail Files:

    these are stainless steel nail files and they are the worst kind of nail file to use on your nails. Instead of helping you file your nails down nicely and safely, they actually encourage breakage and peeling. Stay away from metal files as much as you possibly can, please do not put your poor nails through the trauma that metal files create.

The grit of a file is determined by the grains of abrasive in a one-inch square: the lower the grit value, the coarser the file. Files can be made up of different types of abrasives, these include:

Types of Abrasives for nail files

  • Silicon carbide: one of the hardest known substances. This abrasive has the ability to file deeper and faster than any other abrasive and it also leaves behind a black dust on your nails during use.
  • Aluminum oxide: commonly found in nature, it is actually the only abrasive that can be dyed different colors. This abrasive is has the same grit and pressure of silicon carbide, but is less likely to leave behind bits of the product or shred your natural nails.
  • Garnet: most commonly used on wood files, it is incredibly long-lasting and inexpensive.
  • Silicon carbide with zinc sterate coating (“zebra”): this abrasive is covered in lubricant that prevents the grit from becoming clogged with dust. You’ll know if your nail file is made of this abrasive because it feels smoother than the other abrasives in the same grit.
  • Compressed aluminum oxide: this abrasive is found only in 180 and 220 grits only, it is best used for shaping and smoothing natural nails. The most common file made of this abrasive is the “filing stone” which is waterproof and can be used like a pumice stone to remove cuticles and hangnails.

Types of backings:

  • Paper: Used mostly on wood garnet files. Paper backings are incredibly inexpensive, but they are not waterproof (as I’m sure you could’ve guessed).
  • Waterproof Paper: Basically like paper backed files expect that these ones can be immersed in water or chemicals and won’t fall apart. The paper is infused with oil resin to create the waterproof property.
  • Mylar: A polyester film. These files are washable and subitizable, which makes them incredibly durable and long-lasting. A downside to this type of backing is that it can be rather expensive in comparison with the paper backings.
  • Cloth: This is the most flexible of all backings and it is also one of the more expensive ones. The cloth helps create a less aggressive cutting action, you’ll find these most commonly on buffers.

Types of Cores:

  • Wood: Inexpensive and rigid. Wood cores are mostly used with garnet abrasives.
  • Plastic: Much more flexible than wood and usually has a foam cushion imbedded in it. The best kind of plastic core to buy is one that is neither incredibly rigid that it won’t give or too flexible that it bends super easily when used.
  • Foam: These are mostly found in buffing blocks and cushioned files. They are waterproof and firm which allows the file to contour to the nail and allowing you to file on more than one contact point. They require more pressure to file.

I have mentioned a few times in this article the importance of grit when looking for a nail file to use when you want to paint your nails. This is because there are grits that are safe to use on natural nails and there are grits that should not be used anywhere near your natural nails. Which grits are which? Here is a guide to the grit of a nail file that you should definitely look at before buying a nail file:

Guide to Nail File Grit

Grit For natural nails

You want to use a fine-grit cushion file, which is gentle yet effective on your nails. The grits that are safe to use on your natural nails are:

  • 180 grit which are best for extensions of medium thickness and to shape the free edge of toenails. These are considered medium files. This is actually the minimum grit that is deemed acceptable for natural nails.
  • 240-600 grit which are best for removing small bumps, ridges, discolorations, and shaping the free edge of natural nails. These are considered fine files.

Anything that is lower than 180 is deemed unsafe to use on your natural nails because it can actually cause a lot of damage. To prevent breakage or peeling of your nails stay FAR AWAY from all types of nail files that are less than 180.

Grit For acrylic or artificial nails





If you’re looking for types of nail files to work with to do acrylic or any artificial nails you’ll want to use a file that has a lower grit number – meaning it’ll be much coarser than the ones for natural nails. The grits that are best are:

  • 80-100 grit which are best for acrylic nails.
  • 80 grit can be used on acrylic nails, but even then, it can still be a tad bit too coarse.
  • 100 grit can only be used on artificial nails because it is one of the rougher grits you can buy for a nail file.
Grit For buffing/shining nails

All of the types of nail files listed above are best for actually filing down your nails, if you actually want to finish off your nails with some shining of buffing you’ll want to use a file with a grit of:

  • 600-2400 which are best for buffing and shining all types of nails. These are called ultrafine files.

I know how intimidating it can be when you go into a beauty shop with the hopes of purchasing the best manicure and pedicure products for your spa night. The choices are abundant and all seem to call out to you. After reading this article on types of nail files and all the accessories, I hope that you find it so much easier to go into the store and find the perfect match for you and your nails.

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Types of Nail Files – Tips for Choosing the Best File for Your Nails
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Types of Nail Files – Tips for Choosing the Best File for Your Nails
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There are so many types of nail files you can find out on the market, and they all range in price and durability. Discover and learn about all these types of nail files PLUS tips to choose the perfect nail file to use for your manicure and pedicures
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