CND™ PLEXIGEL Shaper & Builder: What’s the difference?

8th Apr 2024

Fee wallace shaper vs builder gel

As a Global Team CND™ Education Ambassador, the most common questions I hear about CND™’s PLEXIGEL brush in a bottle nail enhancement system are:

•What is the difference between PLEXIGEL Shaper and PLEXIGEL Builder?

•When should I use Shaper rather than Builder or vice versa?

•Why are there two different types of gel in the system?

•Can I not just do everything I need with either Shaper or Builder? 

I am confident that when we know the key features and benefits of each of the products, you will be using BOTH Shaper AND Builder, often within the same nail enhancement service. In this blog I’ll be sharing how and when I use both products, and why I find both to be completely essential. Whether you are already experienced with this system, or are checking it out for the first time, I hope you will find this blog helpful and interesting. For the in-depth knowledge required to really master the system, I recommend taking part in CND™ PLEXIGEL education provided online and in person by Sweet Squared’s awesome team of CND™ Education Ambassadors. Find out more HERE.

Before we dive into the differences, let us first consider the universal features of the system as a whole. When using CND™ PLEXIGEL, Shaper or Builder, what can we expect?

•Superior adhesion for lift-proof nail services.

•Straightforward to use with brush in a bottle application.

•Natural nail preparation (CND™ P.R.E.P.) and PLEXIGEL Bonder are the same.

•Enhancement Rebalance procedure is the same.

Plexigel Shaper application

What do we use CND™ PLEXIGEL Shaper for?

Shaper comes only in clear and has a lighter feel compared to Builder, it also has a less thick viscosity. These factors make it perfect as an overlay gel. Worn under CND™ Shellac™, PLEXIGEL Shaper extends the longevity of the service providing a harder wearing manicure that stands up to much more than Shellac™ alone ever can. Shaper is easy to apply to the natural nail, easy for the client to wear, and you can maintain your clients nail service every 2-4 weeks for ongoing manicure perfection. Another key feature of Shaper is that, compared to Builder, it has a cool and comfortable cure, which makes it ideal as a base layer applied first, under PLEXIGEL Builder enhancements.

Cool and comfortable cure? - Learn more about this in our TIPS AND TRICKS blog, which will be live on the 29th April

Fee 5 colour builder gels

What do we use PLEXIGEL Builder for?

CND™ PLEXIGEL Builder has the toughness and durability required to create beautiful medium to long length nail enhancements that last. PLEXIGEL Builder not only comes in clear, but in a beautiful range of colour Builders, ideal for natural looking nude to soft pink nail enhancements. When we want to add length, plus strength and toughness, PLEXIGEL Builder is ideal. Sometimes I may use PLEXIGEL Builder as an overlay, without extending length, but in general, PLEXIGEL Shaper is the best choice for this. Two exceptions would be, a) if the client loves the colour so wants one of the PLEXIGEL COLOR BUILDERS as an overlay, or b) on a client with extremely thin and damaged nails who need a bit more protection for their overlay. For those clients I’d do a thin layer of Shaper followed by a thin layer of Builder.


•Use CND™ PLEXIGEL SHAPER for natural nail overlays.

•Create length and structure with CND™ PLEXIGEL BUILDER.

•PLEXIGEL SHAPER is used under CND™ Shellac™ to extend the service.

•Use PLEXIGEL SHAPER as a base layer under CND™ PLEXIGEL BUILDER Enhancements.

•CND™ PLEXIGEL COLOUR BUILDER creates beautiful single colour or natural french nail enhancements.

Plexigel Bonder application

How do we begin a CND™ PLEXIGEL service?

Whether creating an overlay or enhancements with extended length, our PLEXIGEL service always begins with CND™ PREP. This systematic method of nail preparation ensures we get excellent adhesion and the best from the product. CND™ recommends a DRY PREP in most cases when using CND™ PLEXIGEL, which means no water or Cuticle Remover solution as part of the process. Personally, I do still use CND™ Cuticle Away as part of my PREP, but only when absolutely necessary. If the client has a large build-up of non-living cuticle tissue, or thick, dry, callused skin around the nail (the outcome of picking and biting) then CND™ Cuticle Away is an excellent help to soften this excess, allowing us to gently lift and loosen non-living tissue from the nail plate. Remember to always neutralise Cuticle Away at the sink with soap and water. I give my client a little scrubbing brush and instruct them to scrub scrub scrub before thoroughly drying the nail and surrounding skin with a clean dry towel. After cuticle work is complete, it’s time to remove shine from the nail plate. For this CND™ recommends a 240 grit padded file, but you can also use a 180 padded buffer with a light touch such as the CND™ Boomerang Buffer. To shape and tidy the free edge of the natural nail, you cannot beat a thin, wooden cored 240/240 file. The final stage of PREP is to SCRUB the nail plate surface with CND™ ScrubFresh on a lint free pad. Not just a little wipe, this step needs thorough scrubbing to ensure that oil, moisture and contaminants are removed from the nail plate surface, as well as deep into the lateral folds of skin around the nail plate. It is also important to wipe along and under the extension edge of the natural nail as oil and dust love to lurk there and will seep back onto the surface, preventing optimal adhesion.


After performing CND™ PREP, the next step is to apply PLEXIGEL BONDER. For smooth application, CND™ recommends that we roll the bottle between our palms to blend the solvent, as opposed to vigorously shaking. Apply a thin layer of PLEXIGEL BONDER to the nail, sealing the extension edge, and ensuring a tiny free margin between the product and the folds of skin around the nail plate. Cure PLEXIGEL BONDER for ten seconds using button (1) in the CND™ LED Lamp. Next, apply a thin, even layer of PLEXIGEL SHAPER to the nail. Remember, you can utilise the ‘flash cure’ technique using button (1) as required, to lock the gel in place as you go. Finish with a full cure of this layer using button (2B). Now we can apply a 2nd layer of PLEXIGEL SHAPER to perfect the shape. If you take a look at the nails from a side view, it will be easy to spot which areas may need a little more SHAPER to create a gentle apex. The balance and beauty of the finished manicure is greatly enhanced when we create an apex, even on a shorter natural nail overlay. When applying this second layer, we might use the ‘gravity pull’ technique, where we turn the client’s hand over to allow gravity to ‘pull’ the gel into a gentle apexed shape. Cure the second layer of PLEXIGEL SHAPER using button (2B) in the CND™ LED Lamp. Now we are ready to decorate. At this stage we can add two cured layers of CND™ Shellac™ colour and top coat, or, finish with PLEXIGEL Protector Top Coat if the client wants to wear a clear natural coating only.

Fee creating the perfect natural-looking builder gel enhancement

What looks can we create with CND™ PLEXIGEL BUILDER?

One of my favourite, most natural looks, is created with CND™ PLEXIGEL Builders. This nail look, the procedure and combination of products, is by far what I do most often on real life clients. I find that creating an enhancement that looks so exactly like a natural nail is by far the best solution for most clients, who will be wearing a CND™ Shellac shade on top




This gorgeous, hyper realistic nail look begins with CND™ PREP, a CND™ Future Form, followed by a thin layer of PLEXIGEL Bonder on the natural nail cured in the CND™ LED Lamp using button (1), the base coat setting. This setting gives us ten seconds of pulsed light, which is precisely what we need to cure CND™ PLEXIGEL Bonder. After curing Bonder we apply a thin layer of PLEXIGEL Shaper to the natural nail, and we cure in the CND™ LED Lamp using button (2B), the gel setting. This setting is calibrated specifically to give us the right output of energy to cure a layer of any CND™ gel.

“I almost always apply a layer of CND™ PLEXIGEL Shaper to the natural nail prior to sculpting length and structure with CND™ PLEXIGEL Builder.”

Expect increased client comfort and better adhesion when using this technique. This is great, but you may be wondering, do you have to apply Shaper first? The answer is no, the Shaper layer is optional. 

Cnd plexigel builder gel and nail art

After (optionally) applying and curing the PLEXIGEL Shaper layer, it’s time to create the extension edge of the enhancement. PLEXIGEL BUILDER in PORCELINE is a perfect dupe for natural nail free edge colouration. It’s incredible how much it looks like a natural nail. Before this gel was added to the PLEXIGEL range, I always had to custom blend a free edge colour to look properly natural. PORCELINE solved that problem for me once and for all. After curing the PORCELINE BUILDER I like to use PLEXIGEL BUILDER in CLEAR to create the rest of the nail. The result will be a natural looking nail enhancement, perfect to decorate with simple CND™ Shellac Colour or nail art.

“Using PORCELINE to create the extension edge of the nail enhancement will make it look like a natural nail, even when the client is wearing a dark colour on top.”

Another very popular look, is to create a single colour nail enhancement using one of the CND™ PLEXIGEL Color Builders. As before we begin the service with CND™ PREP, fit a CND™ Future Form or tip if you prefer, then apply and cure PLEXIGEL BONDER. Proceeding with the optional thin layer of PLEXIGEL SHAPER is almost always the right choice in my opinion, as it will give us confidence to apply slightly ticker layers of gel later in the application (such as when building the apex of the nail enhancement) knowing that the client is unlikely to feel anything even resembling discomfort during curing.

Plexigel spiced taffy builder gel

The most popular PLEXIGEL COLOR BUILDER is SOFT BLUSH. And sure, it looks great on everyone, I do love it… HOWEVER, don’t miss out on the other shades in the range. OATMILK is a really beautiful milky pink. It’s not a creamy white as the name (and bottle wrap) suggest. It’s gorgeous and natural looking on the fairest skin, and superb for creating an extension edge as an alternative to PORCELINE. SPICED TAFFY is a very pretty warm pink with a touch more yellow. Natural looking for warmer skin tones but also stunning on cooler, or neutral skin tones. I love to use MILKY MAUVE, not only as a natural option for dark or very warm skin tones, but also as a base for nail designs. As the darkest of the collection, it works beautifully under my favourite CND™ Over The Top Effect, Off The Chain. Apply and cure CND™ NO WIPE+ Top Coat to the finished MILKY MAUVE enhancement, then using a clean dense sponge, chrome up the Off The Chain powder for a gorgeous, sophisticated look. Check out a video of this look:

Whichever PLEXIGEL COLOR BUILDER you choose for your single colour nail enhancement service, your clients are sure to be thrilled with the look, the longevity and the tough durability provided by the CND™ PLEXIGEL System.

In my next blog we will be taking a look step by step at some of the incredible nail art looks we can create using CND™ PLEXIGEL. If you like encasing or encapsulating glitter and embellishments into nail enhancements, PLEXIGEL CLEAR BUILDER is a superb medium for this technique. Hope to see you back on the blog!

encapsulated art in plexigel builder gel

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