There are so many top coats out there that we lacquerheads are rather spoilt for choice. There are the big brand names and also indie brand top coats - what to do? What top coat is best for what mani? Which one should you buy?
I am going to answer some of those questions here by taking a look at the pros and cons of the top coats that I've tried in the categories of dry time, smearage and wear time.
My current favourite top coats are KBShimmer Clearly On Top and Glisten & Glow HK Girl. For another in-depth top coat comparison and review, see this post on Top Coat It.
Cult Nails Wicked Fast (buy it here)
Dry time: A+. Wicked Fast dries, well, wickedly fast!
Smearage: as long as there is enough top coat on the brush and you 'float' the brush over your nail art without dragging it through, you shouldn't get any smudging with this top coat!
Wear time: great - better than China Glaze Fast Forward.
Notes: this top coat doesn't cause any cracking so I feel comfortable using this over three or more coats of polish. One downside is that the polish gets quite thick and gluggy after you use more than half of the bottle; at this point, the top coat can cause some shrinkage at the tip of the nail on a many-coat manicure if the tips aren't wrapped enough.
KBShimmer Clearly On Top (buy it here)
Dry time: A+
Smearage: as long as you float the brush over your nail art and don't drag down too hard, you shouldn't get any smearing.
Wear time: great.
Notes: I really love how this top coat has a flat brush, I find that it allows for a nice thin coat of top coat if you're just finishing off a creme or shimmer polish. The polish does get thick and somewhat stringy after you've used more than 2/3-3/4 of the bottle.
Glisten & Glow HK Girl (buy it here)
Dry time: A+
Smearage: as with KBShimmer Clearly On Top, as long as you float the brush over your nail art and don't drag down too hard, you shouldn't get any smearing.
Wear time: great.
Notes: this top coat is a lot like the KBShimmer top coat, but with a different brush. I do find that you get a few small bubbles in the polish when you lift the brush out of the product, so be careful otherwise you'll get little dots of imperfection on your manicure (they aren't big enough that you'll feel them when you run your finger over your nail, but over a creme they're noticeable to the naked eye!)
I will update when I've used enough of my bottle to see when it gets thick.
OPI Top Coat
Dry time: average. This one's not a quick dry top coat.
Smearage: while there is some smearing, your nail art will be pretty safe with this top coat if you allow the art to dry for a bit first.
Wear time: very good. This top coat really holds your mani together.
Notes: this was my very first top coat and, as with the majority of OPI's products, it's very good. Great formula, and your mani will last for ages!
OPI Drip Dry (a supplement for OPI Top Coat for a quicker dry time)
I use OPI Drip Dry over the OPI Top Coat so that my mani will dry faster. The Drip Dry moisturises your cuticles and the skin around your nail while hardening the nail polish so you can get everything done quickly.
I have had issues with bubbling when I use this product.
China Glaze Fast Forward Top Coat
Dry time: A+. This top coat dries beautifully fast and loses that sticky just-dried feeling quickly as well.
Smearage: this one will smear your nail art very badly, even after 10+ minutes of waiting.
Wear time: average, but it depends on the nail polish you use. Usually chips quickly.
Notes: If you have more than three coats of polish on, this top coat can cause the polish to crack along the sides. I've also found that this top coat can cause polish to peel at the cuticle area.
Sally Hansen Insta-Dri
Dry time: good. This top coat dries quickly but the sticky feeling remains for a while (when I talk about sticky feeling, I mean the resistance when you drag two nails against each other or drag your nails along glass).
Smearage: little to no smearing.
Wear time: good.
Notes: I noticed that this top coat acquires bumps and scratches very easily, even though it appears to be dry. If you're wearing more than two coats of polish, this top coat can cause little cracks in the polish to appear.