Projects from Make: Magazine

Near-Field Fingernails

Near-Field Fingernails
Long exposure image by Sandy Macdonald

Nail art has seen some advances in the past decades, from the invention of cellulose-based polish 100 years ago, through thin plastic false nails, to the available-everywhere acrylic sculpted nails. But it was about time nails went techno.

On the security conference circuit, Baybe Doll (aka Emily Mitchell) had been getting her nail technician to embed small devices with readable data into her acrylic nails. However, the technology wasn’t available to the masses, and when it was, it was big and chunky.

NFC (near-field communication) tags are the solution; they’re tiny and they’re powered by nearby magnetic fields so they don’t need batteries. The first NFC tag I tried to put on my nail was an NXP Mifare Ultralight C NTAG213 that I bought from a supplier to retail stores (it’s the thing that makes your shopping go beep when you leave if it hasn’t been deactivated). It was huge in comparison to the ones I use now.

I started searching online for tiny NFC data tags and LED lights, and tried out a variety before settling on the NXP Mifare Classic 1K, which is only 9mm across and can store a surprising amount of data.

The main problem was how to protect the tags and LEDs from handwashing and showers whilst on your nails. Painting over them works — but it’s bumpy. Having them embedded in a sculpted nail by a nail technician is costly. This DIY method is a cheap and workable solution and, if you’re careful, can be reused.

Project Steps


Glue your nail sticker — NFC chip or LED — to your natural nail, using the sticker adhesive (if it has one) or nail glue.


Glue a false nail over the top, and paint.

Or get your nail technician to sculpt an acrylic nail over the top.

Or, DIY it — I used acrylic liquid and powder, which creates a moldable blob of plastic that you can smooth over the tag and file into shape before painting. Take care that you don’t file any of the components — if you can see them sticking out, your acrylic isn’t deep enough yet.


Program your nail sticker using NFC Tools or NFC Tasks (free apps from Google Play).

This won’t work on an iPhone, but if your phone doesn’t have NFC, Adafruit has created some Python libraries for the Raspberry Pi and BeagleBone which you can use with their PN532 breakout board.

Use It!

Use your data nails to trigger tasks on your phone or your homebrew NFC project.

Or use the LED nails to show that your NFC card is being read when you hold it near a reader.


I was intrigued by what else could be embedded in nails, so I soaked a credit card in acetone to find the chip inside. It was a very messy process, but eventually I got the chip out. Now I don’t have to remember my wallet, although if I want to protect my data from accidental reads, I’m going to have to wear a thimble!

Powered PCBs

I would like to have more technology in my nails. I’m currently working on developing some flexible PCBs that attach to your nails and are powered by a matching bracelet.


Tanya Fish

Tanya Fish makes stuff because she can’t help it. Formerly in UK schools teaching maths, physics, and shouting loudly at paperwork, she’s now a crew member at Pimoroni, making learning materials for schools and workshops, and lasering all the things.

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