December 26, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Shannon Leather props a perfectly manicured fingernail inside a slim, silver-polished machine. Her nail gleams white under the purple tint of an ultraviolet light, and after a few seconds, the machine emits a quick flash of light.

Done.

Leather pulls out her hand and examines her nails. The white polish has been replaced by a pattern of fall-colored stripes and floating feathers: an intricate, miniature work of art that took all of about 10 seconds to complete.

“I don’t have two hours to sit here,” says Leather, a mother of two and president of Omaha-based Tat’z Nail’z. “So if there’s a day where I just don’t have time for anything I know (my nails) will always look nice.”

Leather’s company manufactures and distributes Tat’z Nail’z, a high-tech nail printer that prints photo-quality images directly onto nails. Invented in China, Tat’z allows users to scroll through 3,000 images (in 10 different colors) on a touch screen display, or upload their own images on a USB or using the machine’s HD camera. The image is printed in perfect detail onto the nail in a few seconds. It’s the simplest, and least painful, form of body art you’re likely to find.

“It’s like having a tattoo but I can change it every two weeks,’” says Buddy Sims, director of creative design at Tat’z Nail’z and a nail technician at Bella Dea Day Spa, one of three Omaha sites where Tat’z is installed. “It’s really just another form of expression,” he says. “[It] allows the client the opportunity to show who they are.”

For Shannon Leather, that means pretty and feminine with a bit of bling: Her fall-colored prints cover two nails; the rest are painted, by Sims, in gold glitter. “For me, this is like an accessory,” she says. “It’s not something permanent but it makes a statement.”

Pam Rowland, the owner of Bella Dea, says when she first began working in the industry 20 years ago, the most complicated form of body art at the salon was the tanning spray gun. Now nail techs like Sims—who was voted one of the top three nail artists by Nails Magazine—can transform simple polish into elaborate, 3D sculptures. It was abstract art, Rowland says, direct from the runway. “As fashion kind of got all-out, they wanted something to match.” Now Tat’z combines technology with those trends, Rowland says, and makes it more personal. Inspired by a bride who printed her father’s image on her nails for her wedding day, Rowland printed her late mother’s image on her nails for her son’s wedding this year. “That’s amazing,” she says, “and very special.”

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