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3D augmented reality nails: The future of nail styling?

By Rebecca Hitchon | 24 January 2022 | Feature

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The newest technical innovation to impact the nail world is likely to astound – mainly because it doesn’t physically exist. We’re talking about the augmented reality (AR) manicure: technology that superimposes a hyperrealist, digital image onto a user’s real-world view of their nail.

Augmented reality artist, Piper ZY, created an AR ‘manicure city’ that went viral on social media and has seen a spike in interest of both augmented reality and nail art. “I enjoyed making the City Nail as I got a lot of comments from people who do not typically pay attention to nail art,” she tells Scratch.

“It opened up a lot of discussions about women in technology, men in nail art and those roles in general, and I think people realised that the tech of the future is going to be glamorous.”

Courtesy of @piper.kj

The nail look was part of a ‘100 Days of Making Augmented Reality Art’ challenge that the artist is taking part in, and Piper reveals that she will work on the City Nail and versions of it going forward because she finds the concept so fun.

She explains that the first steps of creating the design were considering how to utilise the limited space afforded by the nail plate and choosing which objects were necessary to make the nail appear like a city.

“I knew if the building sizes varied and there was at least one moving element, it would look realistic enough to evoke a tiny city. The process of getting it to work correctly involved a lot of trial and error because the technology is meant mostly for larger items,” she says.

The artist then had to find a way to recognise and track the nail with a camera, in order to add an effect that would work once the camera pointed at the nail.

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Always interested in design, Piper started adding computer-generated elements to her outfits in 2015. But testing the boundaries of this technology is what has taken her down the path of creating AR manicures. “I wanted to push the limits of how small something could be that was originally extremely large, so I started making miniature items – including nails,” she reveals.

“I love the fact that with AR the limits of gravity and scale are totally shattered, and we can build directly from our imagination, outside of what is practical or possible to wear.”

Although we don’t need to worry about augmented reality nail looks replacing real-life manicures (Piper happily admits that she is not a nail expert and trusts techs with her L&P enhancements), she is excited by the rapidly evolving possibilities for AR technology.

“Every week, I see something totally new that was not possible or executed by anyone until now, and methods for creating miniature designs in augmented reality are improving across platforms,” she says.

Courtesy of @piper.kj

She is inspired by Metaverse Nails, the company behind tracking for augmented reality technology who have launched AR hologram nails. And Piper’s AR manicures mark the nail industry’s latest move into the increasingly talked about metaverse, a virtual-reality space where users can interact with a computer-generated environment.

From NFTs to virtual, game-like experiences, beauty brands are tapping into the opportunities provided by the metaverse – Piper is even designing a collection of wearable items for the virtual world.

“It is such a wonderful time where artists’ unique skills are needed in every area of constructing the metaverse. Creators innovating with new and futuristic ideas will help shape what is possible for this technology, and especially in nail art that is so precise and difficult to get right in AR,” she says.

Follow Piper ZY on Instagram and TikTok.