How do I eyeliner?
November 30, 2013 8:37 AM   Subscribe

I'm late to the makeup game and would like to get better at applying eyeliner. I am especially interested in doing the cat-eye look that's become so popular recently. Unfortunately, I have had some problems.

I frequently run into problems with my upper lid "bunching up" under the tip of my eyeliner; not being able to keep a straight line over the concave surface of my eyeball, and getting startled by the sight of the eyeliner brush coming towards me. (I've held my eyelid taut and still have the first two problems.) Because of the first two problems the line tends to run up onto my lids instead of staying put at the lash line. I've worked with liquid eyeliner and a fine-line eye marker, and have had the same problems with both.

What should I do to get better at applying eyeliner? Practice, yes, but are there any techniques I should be using?
posted by pxe2000 to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (33 answers total) 50 users marked this as a favorite
Try not drawing a line all at once, but rather tiny tiny short strokes. Check your work frequently as you go. For some reason this works better (not just eyeliner - lipstick too.)
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:43 AM on November 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

What kind of eyeliner are you using?
posted by discopolo at 8:46 AM on November 30, 2013

a trick that works for me is to lightly line the upper lid with a pencil liner, then go over it with a liquid liner. the pencil liner leaves a path for the liquid liner to stay in.
posted by cristinacristinacristina at 8:48 AM on November 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

Oh duh. Liquid. I thought I read that then went back and skimmed.

Look up liquid eyeliner tutorials. And yes, use tiny strokes. Start at the inner corner of the eyelid.

Look on Pinterest as well. I know I saw a couple of good pictorials.

And breathe and relax before you do it. And wipe off errors immediately.
posted by discopolo at 8:49 AM on November 30, 2013

I've had a lot of success using an angled eyeliner brush, and a technique of just kind of pressing the tips of the bristles into the base of my lashes instead of drawing or pulling the brush along. I urge you to watch lots of YouTube tutorials, and invest in good tools (brushes meant for the product and application you're using instead of the questionable applicators packaged with most products). And visit this Reddit sub for a wealth of knowledge. My makeup skills have leveled up quite a lot since I started lurking there.
posted by pajamazon at 8:55 AM on November 30, 2013 [10 favorites]

this hairpin tutorial using scotch tape as a template helped me a lot when I was first starting out. you'll get better at it and soon you won't even need the scotch tape!
posted by kerning at 8:59 AM on November 30, 2013 [4 favorites]

Makeup Geek has some excellent tutorials. Here's one on cat eyes.
posted by Dr. Zira at 9:01 AM on November 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

oh and I've used a lot of different applications and I've found that gel eyeliner applied with an applicator brush is more forgiving than liquid. but work with whatever you feel most comfortable with!
posted by kerning at 9:03 AM on November 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

If one of the problems is that your lid is bunching up as you're applying liner, then I think it might be worth trying some other pencils to find one that goes on more smoothly for you, or apply with a brush, as recommended above.

For pencils that go on smoothly, I think that the urban decay glide on pencils are really the best of any pencil I've ever used. They go on very smoothly and set after about 30 seconds (so just don't open your eye until you've waited 30-45 seconds).
posted by treese at 9:09 AM on November 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

To clarify, I mean that the urban decay pencils go on more smoothly for me than any other pencil or liquid eyeliner pen I've used.
posted by treese at 9:11 AM on November 30, 2013

It's taken me, oh, 10 years to figure out eyeliner. I've had the same problem of the eyelid bunching up as you, even with the beloved Urban Decay pencils and with liquid liner. What finally worked for me was Bobbi Brown gel eyeliner applied with a MAC #266 small angled brush. As others suggest, it's best to apply in little dashes rather than try to sweep it all at one go. The nice thing about gel liner is that you can apply it in layers, and it doesn't cake up or look weird. I usually do one round of dashes around my eye with a very light hand, then another round filling in the gaps and a third round to darken it. The black mauve color from Bobbi Brown is my favorite for this - if you apply one light layer it is just enough to give definition without screaming BLACK, but you can layer it up and get a really rich color. It's super flattering.

The key to using the brush and not getting scared by seeing it approach your eye is to hold it at an angle such that it's not getting in your line of sight. Also, please don't apply eye liner so close to your inner lid that the brush actually touches your eye! I use the brush above the lash line and sort of push it into the lashes if I want that really tight look. If you try to approach it from below or directly at your lash line, you're likely to scare yourself and potentially cause injury.
posted by joan_holloway at 9:18 AM on November 30, 2013 [4 favorites]

For me, it's all about the right tools.

I was never able to master liquid eyeliner as a teen until an older, wiser cool chic told me I should be using felt-tipped eyeliner pens. My favorite is L'Oreal Lineur Intense in Black Mica. It's a soft, semi-sheer black with tiny flecks of gold, which makes it look a little more forgiving than deep black liner, and you can also build it up for a darker, night-time look. The felt tip has enough stiffness to make straight lines easy, but enough give to make that perfect little flick at the end (I find brush tips too "mushy" if you know what I mean). I've been using this eyeliner for 15 years now.

When you're just getting started it might also be helpful to have a box of cosmetic cotton swabs around. I mean the kind with a flat end and a pointed end, like these. They go a long way towards fixing mistakes.

I am just getting into gel liner and I like it a lot but that L'Oreal will always be my go-to.
posted by Brittanie at 9:42 AM on November 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

One more tip: I usually start about 1/3 out from the inner corner of my eye (say, where the iris starts if you're looking straight ahead), using short-ish strokes until I get to the flick. Then I do the inner corner, connecting the line to what I've already drawn. The reason for this is I want the line at the inner corner to be nice and thing and gradually get thicker towards the center of my lash line.

Even after a decade plus of wearing liner like this daily, my biggest problem is making the flicks symmetrical. That's where the q-tips come in handy — you can erase just the flick part and redraw it as needed.

One thing to consider is that there are infinite combos of line thickness, flick length, etc. My eyes are almond shaped so liquid liner on me looks better if it's thicker in the center, above the iris, and then slightly thinner towards the flick and outer corner. In this picture, my style is more like the second from the bottom on the right.

On other women, it might look better thicker towards the outer corner (like the top left picture in the link above). You'll have to experiment to see what looks best on you.

The Beauty Department has a couple of different liquid eyeliner tutorials:
link 1
link 2
posted by Brittanie at 9:52 AM on November 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

I suggest a gel eyeliner. It is in a small glass pot and it will come with a thin brush (which you should wash often with shampoo.) Gel will paint on smooth and dry to a waterproof finish so you will need to use eye makeup remover when washing your face. (Mac and Mary Kay sell this. I prefer MK.) Paint the liner from the outside corner of the eye and then go toward the inner corner. Do it in two sections. Start the liner at the point of where you want the cat eye's highest point and paint it into the middle of the eye in a slope. Open your eye and see if that is where it shows best. If so, color in the parts of the eyelid under the line you just made. Once that is finish, line the eye just above the lashes (lash line) to finish the look. If your first line is too hidden by your lid, paint a slight line on top of the existing line until you get the desired look when you open your eye. Remember where that line's edge is and do it from that point so you don't have to do so much work the next time. Yes, practice makes perfect so by the end of the week (or maybe two) you will be doing it within two minutes. Enjoy and have fun!
posted by Yellow at 10:38 AM on November 30, 2013

Using lid primer may help.
posted by elizardbits at 10:44 AM on November 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

From personal experience {of course most of these things are up to tastes and preferences, but this worked for me}:

-stay away from liquid liners with flimsy brush tip style applicators. Often times they lack the resistance necessary to have a perfectly straight line.
-liquid liner wise, I prefer the pen ones with felt tips. They can be not as precise as other types, but if you are 'scared' of brushes, this could maybe make the whole process easier for you. {L'Oreal makes good ones.}
-for top notch precision, go for angled thin brushes {I use a Sephora brand one}, making sure the one you pick offers a bit of 'resistance' to the touch, and gel liners {I use Blacktrack from Mac, I've heard good things about Maybelline ones too}.
-pencil liners are not going to be precise enough for a GOOD cat eyeliner look. If they're really sharp, you can line the upper lid just fine, but you're going to have trouble with the flicks and getting them even {unless you're really skilled, of course}. I would not use them to achieve this look, unless just as a layering product, as suggested above, OR running an angled brush over the pencil, so that some product deposits itself on the bristles. For this to happen, the pencil will have to be really smooth and soft- most like Urban Decay for this, but my personal preference goes to Milani- much cheaper and better, imho.

Tecnique wise, relax yourself first so that you're not all shaky, steady your hand on a surface -elbow on table or pinkie on cheek- and go from the middle of the eyelid out and then from the inner corner in {'least it works for me}. For the flicks, try to follow the angle of your lower waterline and extend that line- this should make it easier, a bit more flattering and more likely you'll get an even result. Fix mistakes with pointy cotton swabs dipped into a fast drying eye make up remover {no oil based ones, they take longer to dry and leave the area moist}- also, if you clean your angled brush on the spot {or just have another one available}, you can apply some of the eyeshadow you previously applied on your lid over the line to fix very minor mistakes and make the line smoother. And practise a lot!
posted by opalshards at 10:49 AM on November 30, 2013

I can only get a decent result using an actual brush (like a separate makeup brush) and a little cake of eyeliner like this one from Laura Mercier. You put a drop of water on the cake (sort of like a watercolor palette) and pick up some color with your brush. I find this allows much better control than liquid eyeliner applicators, and is much gentler on my sensitive lid because it still goes on with a lighter touch than a pencil. You don't need to spend a lot on brushes -- I got a set of brushes of various sizes that work great from the local pharmacy for about $6.

As an aside, I learned to do this by going to the Laura Mercier counter at Bloomingdale's and asking for advice on doing a full face of makeup for an upcoming event. You can certainly also just ask for an eyeliner tutorial! You can do this at pretty much any makeup counter or at Sephora. They will try to upsell you on a TON of merchandise afterward (I think my party makeup would have cost $400 to recreate identically at home), so practice saying "That's OK, I already have [black mascara/primer/eyeshadow/brow pencil/etc] at home, I'll just take the [whichever item you really liked]" and you'll be fine.
posted by telegraph at 11:12 AM on November 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you're getting startled by the brush, I wonder if you're looking in the wrong spot. Look into your eye in the mirror rather than at the brush (sounds obvious, but isn't necessarily!)

I love Smashbox's liners. They have a pencil that's really soft (Limitless Liner I think?). I use that to kind of dot on a really small line next to my lashline, and also recently learned that you can kind of dot it in between your lashes (takes LOTS of practice) and that helps the line look like it's *on* your lashline, rather than getting that pesky tiny space there.

After that, I'll do my shadow, then put the cat eye on over that. I use either Smashbox's gel liner (it comes in a little pot) with an angled liner brush (the handle is angled, not the bristles), or if I'm in a hurry or want a heavier look, this super cheap felt tip liner. (I think Nyx?) The angled liner brush lets me rest my hand on my cheekbone to keep it super steady and helps me get the angle right on both sides.

I don't love the felt tips--they tend to not be black enough for me, or not opaque enough, so sometimes I still go over the line with the gel.

Then, to keep it staying put, I'll take a flat angled brush though a bit of eyeshadow of the same color and go over it. That helps set it. The nice thing about the gels is that they are easy to wipe off when you mess up, so set it once you've got it right.
posted by pixiecrinkle at 11:16 AM on November 30, 2013

I your eye is twitchy or wrinkly when you're trying to apply, blink several times to relax it. Over time the eye adjusts, much like habitual contact lens wearers get used to poking themselves in the eye.
posted by Phalene at 1:42 PM on November 30, 2013

Natalie Dee's video tutorial on push lining ( was a game changer for me. The technique is very subtle and easy to do (but simple to build upon for more drama). I now use a drugstore gel liner, rather than the powder shadow she uses (because I couldn't find a powder shadow that wouldn't break and get all over the place, but I digress) and it works just fine.
posted by at 2:04 PM on November 30, 2013 [4 favorites]

I've never even noticed the brush coming toward my eye, so I just went and figured out what I do look at- I do eyeliner with my eye closed, and then touch it up with it open. I'm too busy looking at what I'm doing to care about the brush.

Eyelid bunching up: you shouldn't have to apply any pressure at all when using liquid or gel eyeliner; perhaps you're trying to do too much at once? Use only the tip of the brush, tiny strokes, and refill the brush with pigment regularly. This is easier if you wipe the brush clean with a tissue before using it, then insert back into the liner to begin. For the pen, the same applies (only you don't refill of course). You want to hold any applicator or pencil almost parallel with your eyelid, so you are using the side of the tip of the applicator (I hope that makes sense).

I agree with the people above suggesting a gel eyeliner and a couple nice brushes. However, the easiest eyeliner to apply IMO is cake eyeliner. It's the best for any retro look where you want a sharp, perfect line.
posted by oneirodynia at 2:07 PM on November 30, 2013

Oh, and when using liquid liner, in my case, it really helps to tilt my whole chin up when I look into the mirror.Sometimes steadying your elbow on a flat desk or counter can help.
posted by discopolo at 2:07 PM on November 30, 2013

Lisa Eldridge is my go to make-up artist for tutorials.
posted by SarahElizaP at 2:26 PM on November 30, 2013 [4 favorites]

Wow, that Lisa Eldridge video is awesome. I love that look.
posted by Brittanie at 2:39 PM on November 30, 2013

Stila All Day Waterproof Liquid Eye Liner is the easiest eyeliner, imo. Like a marker for your eyes.
posted by troytroy at 3:46 PM on November 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Thanks so much for all your advice! I feel like I have some good starting points now.

When you say gel eyeliner, are you referring to something like this? (The product is described as "creme", but comes in a pot and is applied with a brush.)
posted by pxe2000 at 4:02 PM on November 30, 2013

This Japanese video shows a super neat trick involving a spoon that serves as a guide to creating a symmetrical flick with very little fuss (well, except procuring said spoon).
posted by cendawanita at 4:03 PM on November 30, 2013

The WnW is just okay (and you can't beat the price), but this is the one I've used and liked: The brush that comes with it isn't great, but isn't terrible either. Probably fine to play around with at first, but I prefer a flat, stiff short bristled brush. (True confessions: I found the perfect brush at an art supply store. It's called a chisel blender, very similar to this one: Hope this helps.
posted by at 4:41 PM on November 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

My problems with eyeliner are just like yours. With liquid liner, the applicator never works for me; I need to use a separate brush. Dipping my brush into the container gets it all gloppy, so I put a dollop of the liquid on the back of my hand or on a dish or palette. Brushes that I use are like this fine-tip liner brush, an angled flat brush, a "push brush" (flat brush with bristles cut straight) and a flat, fine lip brush. It just depends which liquid liner I'm using.

For cleaning up the line, I use Almay oil-free eye makeup remover pads. They're very thin, and if I fold one to a point I can create a crisp and precise edge. Almay has swabs for the same purpose, but they're expensive and too wide and rounded for the job.

For me the easiest and most lasting liner is MAC paint pots in the dark colors. It's not labeled as a liner, but it's so easy to work with and it stays all day. In the pot it's very firm. Brush back and forth to pick up and soften the gel, and it won't drag when you draw your line.

I've learned a lot on Makeup Alley. They're friendly to newcomers, and people love to answer questions. You need to create a user name and password, but you'll never be spammed. If you don't get helpful answers the first time, ask again in a different time slot. Also, the specific questions get the most answers. "Which brush for an eye wing" and "Which eyeliner for a wrinkly lash line" might be better than, "I suck at wings, please tell me how to get better at it."
posted by wryly at 6:24 PM on November 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Pulling your eyelid taught will solve all the concerns you listed at once.
posted by ravioli at 7:19 AM on December 1, 2013

Update: I got some gel eyeliner, some primer, and a slanted brush today, and I'm going to experiment with the technique from that video on The Hairpin.
posted by pxe2000 at 1:34 PM on December 1, 2013

Not bad for a first try, huh?
posted by pxe2000 at 3:07 PM on December 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

Everyone has great suggestions and I have one that I didn't see which is to use a handheld mirror flat on a table and then you look down at the mirror while keeping your head straight, as you draw your eyeliner across. I find it helps to keep the eyelid taut. As you get better at figuring out how you need to "position" your eyelids you can also experiment with a normal mirror and leaning your head back/lifting your chin for a similar effect.
posted by like_neon at 6:15 AM on December 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

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