Marbled Nail Polish Mugs {6 Things I Wish I Had Known}

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Newsflash: Not all craft projects go wonderfully.  Marbled nail polish mugs are one of them (though I did eventually get there after a few tries).  To help yours goes a lot more smoothly than mine, I’ll show you the tutorial and detail my mistakes so you don’t have to make those same mistakes on your own project.

Marbled or Watercolor Nail Polish Mugs


  • Coffee mugs (other ceramic or glass items also work)
  • Nail polish
  • Toothpicks
  • Large, disposable plastic container that you don’t mind getting messy
  • Paper towel
  • Nail polish remover (hopefully you won’t need it, but just in case)

Materials for Marbled Nail Polish Mugs

How to Make Marbled Nail Polish Mugs

First, fill your container with hot water.  The nail polish dries very fast on the water, so the hotter the better.

Pour your nail polish into the water.  Hold the nail polish bottle close to the water, otherwise the drops will fall to the bottom instead of resting on the surface.  Instead of doing drops, I did swirly lines of nail polish, covering the whole surface of the water with gaps in between the lines like this:

Pouring Nail Polish for Watercolor Mugs

Nail Polish Mugs: Nail Polish on Water

Once the nail polish is on the water, you’ll need to work quickly or the polish will dry.  Take a toothpick and swirl the nail polish so it covers most of the water.

Swirling Nail Polish for Mugs

Marbled Nail Polish Mugs-Nail Polish on Water

Quickly dip your mug into the polish.  Try not to get any on the place where the drinker would put their mouth.  Let it sit for a few seconds so the nail polish can cling to the mug.  Take your mug out of the water.

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Turn your mugs upside down on a paper towel to dry.

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I decided to use nail polish remover to take off the nail polish on the bottom of the mugs, but that was just personal preference.

Nail Polish Remover for Bottom of Mugs

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Ta da!

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Marbled Nail Polish Mugs

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(Note: Handwash only.  The polish is likely to chip in the dishwasher.)

How Not To Make Marbled Nail Polish Mugs

The beautiful thing about this project is if you do happen to make mistakes you can use a little nail polish remover and it comes right off.  Take it from someone who experienced that a time (or six).

Mistake #1: Not having all supplies at the ready

Make sure you have a set plan for where your supplies and your mugs will be.  All the tutorials I used for examples said that you’d have to work quickly, but as humans often do, I thought I knew better.  It can’t dry that quickly.  Oh, the folly of (wo)man.  I figured I’d just grab supplies as I go.  On my first try the nail polish dried in the water and didn’t adhere to the mug.  Have your supplies within reach.

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(Note: If your nail polish dries, it will make a film on the water.  This can easily be removed by swirling a toothpick in the water and collecting the film so you’re ready for your next try.)

Mistake #2: Using quick-dry nail polish

Again, another instance of the folly of (wo)man.  I read on one tutorial that you shouldn’t use quick-dry polish and again I thought: I have such beautiful quick-dry colors.  It can’t dry that quickly.  *Sigh*  Friends, don’t use quick-dry nail polish.

Mistake #3: Only using a fraction of the surface of the water

I poured my nail polish in and I swirled….but not enough.  On one of my tries, the nail polish only covered half of the water’s surface.  When I dipped my mug in bottom-first, Only the bottom of the mug had that beautiful nail polish-swirl.  Not very conducive for visibility.  Spread your nail polish out so it covers the whole surface of the water.

Mistake #4: Leaving thick globs on polish on the water

Goopy, goopy, goopy.  Make sure you spread and swirl your nail polish with a toothpick, otherwise you get this gloppy mess:

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Don’t leave thick spots of polish on the water.

Mistake #5: Assuming I have to dip the mug in bottom-first

That just seemed to make sense to me that you would lower your mug into the water straight down.  Maybe it’s the Type A personality in me?  You can get just as beautiful of an effect if you lower your mug down tilted or even only on one side.  (If you do happen to lower it straight down you can tilt the mug in the water to try to “catch” some of the polish.)  Vary your dipping methods.

Mistake #6: Not using a big enough container

This mistake I never got a chance to remedy because I didn’t have a bigger disposable container.  After doing both mugs and remedying all of the above mistakes, they turned out beautifully, but I wish the marbling would have gone just a little bit higher.  My theory is that I was limited by my container size.  If I had more surface area, there would have been more polish to cover the mug.  Use a large, disposable container.


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Update: I made this as gifts for my mom and mother-in-law.  After about a year of heavy use, the nail polish on my mother-in-law’s mug has started to fade.  To remedy this, try adding a coat of Dishwasher Safe Mod Podge to seal your mugs.  

Hopefully you learn from my mistakes and are able to create beautiful marbled nail polish mugs on the first try (or maybe the second…).  I’ll leave you with this quote:

Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes.  Art is knowing which ones to keep.  -Scott Adams

To see some mug projects that went a little more smoothly, check out Sharpie Mugs {Transferring a Design} and DIY Sharpie Mugs {Using Dollar Tree Mugs}.

For more DIY mug ideas and patterns (including the secret to making glitter mugs dishwasher safe), check out 10-Minute Mugs.

10-Minute Mugs | Tips, Tricks, and Designs to Make Beautiful Mugs in a Flash | 7 Unique Mug Tutorials | Plus 18 Mugs Patterns

12 Responses to “Marbled Nail Polish Mugs {6 Things I Wish I Had Known}

  • Thank god for the how not to part of the post. I did this (well tried) and it ended up horribly so glad to see your post. But how do you stop it from chipping?
    Agatha recently posted…THE ECOCHIC DESIGN AWARD FINALISTS 2015/16My Profile

    • Oh good! I’m so glad this helped you. That was my hope in writing this. I totally understand your frustration…I was at that same point until I finally got it. As far as chipping goes, to be honest I haven’t washed them yet. I ended up giving them away as gifts. I would just make sure to handwash instead of putting them in the dishwasher.

  • That makes a lot of sense. I tried to do the marble effect once with my nails and it turned into a big mess so I just gave up. I think a few of these tips would have been useful then. I really like the way these turned out.

    Monika recently posted…Love.Want.Need: Emma Winston JewelryMy Profile

    • Thank you. I think you’re right…the same concept applies to marbled nails as well. I was glad I finally figured out what worked best and I hope if your try it (on your nails or on a mug) that it works for you, too!

  • simply amazing, I had already tried before but had failed, just finding your tips helped and now gave me right here, thanks for sharing!

  • Shayna
    1 year ago

    I found that using nail polish with gel had a much better effect than regular polish

    • That’s good to know. I have never tried nail polish with gel for these mugs. Thanks for the tip!

  • Niccole
    1 year ago

    You don’t have to use a plastic container. We used a glass mixing bowl, and just wiped it out with nail polish remover, then ran it through the dish washer.

  • Niccole
    1 year ago

    also, awesome tips- I found them very useful.

  • *sigh* Ok. So I just tried this, and I turned out bad lol… I listened to you tips and using a bottle of a brand I’m not familiar with when I tried to spread the nail polish, it started to dry and become filmy… Therefore it became chunky and I had to try and spread it out….
    Idk what to do mow ahaha lol start over again?

    • The nice thing about making these mugs is that you can easily start over. Take some nail polish remover and remove the old polish (unless you want to just use a new mug). Make sure your water is warm, work quickly so the polish doesn’t dry, and make sure your nail polish isn’t quick dry polish. Other than that, trial and error is the best way to get it right. I had to try at least 6 times to get mine to work. I know it’s frustrating, but it’s worth it when you get it to work, so keep at it. Good luck!