Hard Gel, Soft Gel, Gel Polish, Builder Gel – What’s the Difference?

Hard Gel, Soft Gel, Gel Polish, Builder Gel – What’s the Difference?

When it comes to gel nail polish, there are a few different types to consider. Not all gel polishes are made the same, some have different functions to others. Choosing the type of gel polish to use for your manicure will depend on your needs.

So, what is it gel polish and which type should you use?

What is Gel Polish?

Gel nail polish is a special type of nail polish that doesn't dry in the air like its traditional counterparts and instead requires curing with a UV light. This process hardens and fixes the polish in place, meaning it doesn't smudge and is much harder to chip. As a result, gel manicures last longer than regular manicures meaning you can get up to three weeks of wear.

UV Nail Lamp

It's made up of an acrylic monomer - which, put simply, is chemical term for a group of identical molecules that can be bonded. This is the reason gel cures and sets under UV light, producing that lovely hard, shiny manicure we're all after.

There are different types of gel nail manicures available and the most common are builder gel nails, hard gel and soft gel. Choosing which type of manicure to go for should be based on what you want from you nail finish. It's not a case of certain gels being better than others, rather that certain gels have different functions.

What is Builder Gel Polish?

Gel builder nails are exactly what they sound like. They're the result of a special type of gel polish designed to protect the natural nail to assist growth.

Builder Gel

Builder gel nails are a great way to strengthen your nails because they create an extra hard, durable layer over the nail plate, which protects it. This can lead to stronger, longer natural nails as the durable coating helps prevent nail breakage.

A builder gel manicure is wonderful because it can be used as a strong base to help protect nails and it looks great. Alternatively, because the polish is available in a range of colours, it can be used as a polish in its own right.

The range of Cally Builder Gel features several neutral shades that work well as a base, a backdrop for nail art or a standalone colour. Because the range doesn't have any overpowering colours, you can easily use gel colours from the rest of our range without the base being visible.

The builder gel strengthens the nails by covering the nail plate, which reinforces any weak areas. If your nails are prone to breaking and flaking, builder gel nails will help with that. The gel fills in any cracks on the nail, then bonds to it as it's cured. This fortifies the nail plate and makes breakages less likely. 

With a reinforced nail plate, your nails are much more likely to grow through longer and stronger. The builder gel should prevent any breakages, so when it's time to refresh your manicure, your nails should be much longer. After a few months of treating yourself to builder gel manicures should allow you to grow strong, healthy natural nails.

What is Hard Gel Polish?

Hard gel polish is another type of builder gel. It can be sculpted and shaped to artificially lengthen your nail. It's not the same as regular gel polish (which is much softer) as regular gel doesn't cure hard enough to extend nails.

Because hard gel polish is a type of builder gel, it too can be used alongside other gel polishes. Most forms of hard gel polish are hypoallergenic, which is a huge bonus for those with sensitive skin. Acrylic nail extensions can achieve a similar look, but contain more allergens, which is why hard gel is so popular.

Another issue with acrylics is they can cause more damage to your natural nails than gel manicures. Hard gel is more flexible and durable than acrylics. Acrylics use more solvents in their formula, which can be drying to the natural nail, causing it to weaken. This can mean when the acrylic extensions are removed, the health of the nail is worse than before the manicure.

With hard gel, the application is different, and it allows the nail to be better nourished and protected. Gel is flexible, which increases their resilience. Acrylic nails are rigid, which means any movement can damage the nail plate by creating small cracks and chips.

Hard gel nail polish doesn't just extend or protect your nail - it can be used in nail art too. Thanks to its sculpting properties, hard gel can create raised texture in any shape you can imagine. To create a manicure that wows, consider some 3D flowers or hearts. Check out Instagram for some amazing inspiration.

What is Soft Gel Polish?

When people talk about using gel polish, it's most likely they're talking about soft gel. Soft gel polish is the polish most people think of when they want a gel manicure. It's the traditional gel polish that is cured with UV light and can be soaked off.

Soft gel isn't strong enough to build nail extensions or be used as a builder gel. While it does offer some protection for your nails compared to regular nail polish, it's not as hard as builder gel or hard gel.

Regular gel polish is the type of gel that provides the most variety. There are hundreds of shades of gel polish available. You can even buy glitter gel polish in clear or coloured formulas, as well as shimmer topcoats for something different. 

Soft gel is very versatile and favoured by manicurists when it comes to nail art. With the right tools, you can even do nail art at home. You'll always get an even, high gloss, durable finish when you choose a gel manicure.

Which Type of Gel Should You Use?

Now you know the difference between all the types of gel nail polish, you just need to decide which is best for you. Are you after some ultra-glam long nails? If so, hard builder gel might be exactly what you need. It'll extend the nail without damaging it and regular soft gel can be painted on top.

If your natural nails are weak and short, but you want to track the progress of their growth, builder gel is a great option. It'll harden your nails without adding length, so you can watch them grow with their newfound strength.

Soft gel works with any gel manicure, either on its own, on top of builder gel nails or hard gel extensions. This means you can't go wrong with a soft gel nail polish.


Any type of gel manicure can strengthen your nails. Where other types of manicure can be damaging to the nail plate, gel cures hard, but with added flexibility. 

When you want a beautiful manicure that'll help your nails grow, it's a good idea to go for a builder gel nail polish. This can either be a thicker, harder coating on your natural nail, or hard gel designed to be sculpted into extensions.

Soft gel has some strengthening properties, but if your aim is specifically to grow your nails then builder gel is best. Gel builder nails can be used alongside soft gel nail polish. This means you can have whatever colour or nail art you wish.

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