Difference Between Soft Gel & Plastic Full Coverage Tips | Solving The Controversy Once & For All!

Let’s talk about full coverage tips.

Is there a difference between soft gel tips and ABS plastic tips?

Yes, there is… BUT is that difference significant to actually make a difference in our application of them unto the natural nails.

In today’s video I will be giving you 5 ways soft gel and ABS plastic full coverage tips are different.

Before diving in, allow me to give you a bit of context about how I remember the popularity of full coverage tips coming about…

So in early 2017 there was an innovative gel nail system really making noise. It was Apres Soft Gel Extension system. I can remember a celebrity manicurist to the likes of Ariana Grande’s, debuting this new system. And the debut was a hit. Short snippets of Apres application videos on Instagram were going viral, and I think at one point the majority of us nail techs were skeptical… like super skeptical. Is this really a big deal? Is it worth all this press? Does it last? Is it too easy? Can it make us any money?

As a soft gel nail specialist, I was super intrigued because doing soft gel extensions with tips or paper forms can be a bit challenging. But I was having great success in the salon doing these, that, I definitely wanted to try this new concept of applying full coverage tips using soft gel.

I was also super excited about the words “soft gel” becoming more mainstream.

You see, at that time in 2017, very few people were committing to using soft gel (soak-off) only, to perform all of their services. You always heard… I do gel polish, hard gel, acrylic, etc… Many techs didn’t know that they could actually use soak-off gel only, for all of their services. They were stocking up on all to get things accomplished.

But thanks to this channel, the word is getting out, and more and more of you are wanting to specialize and master your nail services using soft gel only… and I am thrilled! Because I did, and had great success… and I believe that you can also!

Now when I say that a gel is a soft gel. I mean that it is a soak-off gel, not hard gel which cannot be soaked off.

With that general characteristic of gels both, ABS plastic and Soft Gel Full Coverage Tips are soak-off and can technically be referenced as soft gel. 

HOWEVER, the bigger distinction when a company categorizes their full coverage tips as “soft gel”, is that they are actually, and supposedly, creating the tips out of gel. Often the same resin material that they use to create their gel products, is usually the adhesion gel you use to adhere the soft gel tip onto the natural nail.

Well, I hope you enjoyed this bit of context as to how these full coverage tips came about and the dilemma between plastic vs gel tips.

I go into much more detail about this topic in a previous video, click the card at the corner to learn more.

Now, here are 5 key differences between plastic and soft gel tips:

Difference #1 

Full Coverage Tips labeled “Soft Gel” tend to be applied all the way at the cuticle, and slightly tucked underneath the eponychium. While plastic full coverage tips should be applied about 2 mm away from the cuticle area, and then blended to the natural nail and overlaid. With this being said, when you apply soft gel full cover tips, you can immediately move on to your nail art or color, or however else you’re finishing that set of nails.

Difference #2 

Soft gel full coverage tips tend to require a dehydrator, bonder, and base gel before adhering to the natural nail. This one is particularly strange to me because soft gel adheres very well to the natural nail without the use of pH balancer or primer, so the fact that it is actually the companies calling their tips soft gel, that are the one using these 2 dehydrating agents that cause a bit more wear and tear on the natural nail, is… quite interesting. And so, on the other hand companies who sell ABS plastic tips hardly ever require or even recommend you over stress the natural nail with a separate dehydrator or primer, and therefore you can just move on to base gel application.

Difference #3

Soft Gel tips companies typically recommend you soak-off every time for a new set. Companies offering plastic full coverage tips do not. So for instance, if you apply a new set of soft gel tips, they can last a very long time (4-6 weeks). After which time, the entire set of nails will have to be removed via a soak-off and then of course you would re-apply. If you apply a set of plastic tips they will also last just as long, but most companies will tell you that they can indeed be filled or re-balanced. Of course if the set is over 3 weeks old you will have to use your expertise to decide if your clients need a new set. I personally in the salon preferred to rebalance the extension until the client grew enough of their natural nail for us to ditch them. But if your goal is to give clients a new set of nails each time with stunning art, and extreme shapes and lengths, then soft gel tips soak-offs, may work out better for you and your business.

Difference #4

Full Coverage plastic tips, although offered in different shapes and length size, usually only come in a flatter shape. While Soft Gel tips offer natural and sculpted options, and more often than not even the natural shape tends to be too sculpted leaving a hole lot of space underneath to fill in w/ gel. So if you need a bit of a visual of what that will look like, just imagine the full cover tip not fitting flat on your nail, and rather the curvature of the tip creating a canopy or little cave. If you were adhering those nails with glue, it will almost be impossible to adhere the tips onto the nails w/o applying too much pressure.

On the other hand ABS plastic, which is the plastic typically sourced for these types of full coverage tips is intended to be bend-able, which means that even if the tip is a bit flatter, and the natural nail much curvier, you could actually roll a c-curve into the tip to fit more appropriately.

So again, I want to reiterate that soft gel full coverage tips are more quick, more of a stick-them-on and go kind of thing, where ABS plastic tips require adjusting and overlaying to the natural nail. With plastic full coverage tips you must adjust them to the natural nail a bit more, blend them and overlay them. Yes you can press them up to the cuticle area like the soft gel kind too, but they will wear a bit longer, and decrease in the possibility of them popping off if you overlay them with another coat of gel.

Difference #5 

ABS full coverage plastic tips usually come pre-etched, meaning that you do not need to roughen up the back of the tip before applying. Soft gel tips require that you etch or roughen up the back area of the tip, in order for it not to pop off from the adhesion gel.

The ABS plastic tip is etched, or roughened up already so all you would do is scrub it with 90% alcohol to ensure proper adhesion. Now I do still hear tech sayings they experience “popping off”, and I will just say that to reduce the possibility of this happening, you want to make sure you are not using acetone to wipe off the pre-etched area or you would be making that area too smooth, as acetone dissolves plastic, and also ensure that you are giving that entire set of nails a full cure! … and that you’re not just applying the full coverage tips with a flash cure. Cure for at least 30 secs in a full power unit.

So here are your 5 differences one more time…

#1 Application method is different. Plastic tips you apply 2 mm away from the cuticle area, blend and overlay. Gel tips you press-on and adhere with gel and you are ready to proceed to whatever finish you intend for those tips.

#2 Soft gel tip systems require a dehydrator, bonder, and a soft gel to adhere. Plastic tips simply require a soft gel.

#3 Gel tips typically require a complete soak-off for removal, plastic tips can be filled.

#4 Plastic tips are usually just offered in a natural flat size that can be molded to the natural nail, while gel tips come in a natural or sculpted natural fitting

#5 Plastic tips usually are pre-etched, and soft gel tips you usually have to etch the back of them yourself.

Alright! So there are definitely some differences and hence perhaps, this is why there is such an effort to make such a distinction between full cover tips and categorize them as either ABS plastic or soft gel tips.

Keep in mind however, that gel or any type of enhancement on your nails is a form of plastic in the end. Acrylic, hard gel, and soft gel all give an end result of a plastic. So it wouldn’t really make sense to knock the ABS plastic tips as just “plastic” tips, as everything including gel is a form of plastic.

But… maybe there is some distinction to be made by rather calling the tips plastic or resin. Especially if the resin comes from natural sources like trees! That would definitely be a distinction worth outlining. i.e ABS plastic full coverage tips are made from synthetic ingredients vs. soft gel tips being made from natural resin… 

Such a talking point for a chemist or a plastic specialist… lol.

Either way, thanks for joining me today, I hope these key differences help you and your business!

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Have a merry start to your week. I’ll see you in the next one. Bye for now.


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3 thoughts on “Difference Between Soft Gel & Plastic Full Coverage Tips | Solving The Controversy Once & For All!”

  1. I have a specific need for 00 size thumb nails. I have been doing my nails all my adult life with nail glue, not gel, not acrylic. I used to find 00 nails in full ABS glue on nails.

    It seems I am only seeing the size 00’s in gel soft nails lately. Because I need to specifically seek out size 00 nails for my thumbs, and I am only finding them lately in gel style nails not ABS style nails…I am wondering if I can use them with glue?

    I do realize they may pop off after a bit (most of the glue ons either pop off or start to flip up by the cuticle after a few days) but as long as they last a few days.
    Or do you feel this is not possible? with the gel or soft gel nails? Thank you in advance.

    1. Fabiola Saucedo-Padilla

      Hi Tess,

      I am wondering if you can stick a sticky tab under to fill in the void under the tip and then, add a dot of glue on top of the sticky tab for long wear. This is a suggestion since we don’t regularly use tips ourselves. Let me know how it goes!

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