How to Use Eyeliner Like a Pro

Find Out How to Apply Eyeliner for Your Best Looks

Woman applying makeup
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Eyeliners and how to apply them can be befuddling. Instead of just pencil liners, you now can choose from a range of types, including gels and liquids. Then, figuring out how to use each one can be overwhelming. But no need to panic. By the end of this article you should know not only how to apply eyeliner, but how to do a cat eye, a smoky eye and a basic eye for daytime. You'll learn also about the many types of eyeliners and which ones are better than others.

The Different Types of Liner

You can use an eyeliner pencil, a liquid liner, or an eyeliner brush dipped into a deep shadow to line eyes. If you use a pencil, set the line with eyeshadow because penciled lines tend to melt and won't stay put all day.

How to Apply Liquid Eyeliner

To apply liquid eyeliner, line the eye from the inside of the lashes outward in one big sweep. You can also line the eye from the middle of the lash line outward, then finish the line from the inner corner of the eye to the middle.

Another liquid eyeliner trick requires a steady hand and will make eyes appear wider.

  • Start with a completely bare eye.
  • On the upper lashes, dot the liquid liner into the spaces between the lashes, wiggling the liner into the lashes. The result is not supposed to be a line. It's supposed to look as if the lashes themselves are super thick at the root.
  • Apply mascara.
  • Compare eye to other naked eye.

    The Basic "I'm Off to Work or the Weekend" Eye

    This is the perfect work or weekend look for women who want their eyes to pop without looking overly done.

    The key to the basic eye is to apply with a light hand. The basic eye is all about appearing natural, so consider a deep brown (versus black) eyeliner if you have light hair.

    • Holding the skin of your upper lid taut, trace the upper lashes from the inside of the eye with a pencil, or an eyeliner brush dipped in a dark eyeshadow. For a more dramatic look, make the outside line a bit thicker than the inside and extend it just beyond the lash line.
    • Once the line is set, trace over it with a liquid liner. Hand unsteady? Keep your elbow on a table. (You can skip this step, but it will hold the eyeliner longer if you include it).
    • Set liner with an eyeshadow.
    • Apply eyeshadow or an eye pencil to lower lashes. Apply a deep-hued eyeshadow or pencil along the bottom lashes from the outside in. Unless you have wide-set eyes, don't line the entire lower lid. Instead, stop halfway across. If you're using a pencil, smudge the line with your finger so it looks more natural.

    The Smoky Eye

    Perhaps there is no longer-running eye makeup trend than the smoky eye, which is in no danger of going out of style. The key here is to blend well. Also, make sure to keep all other makeup light or you risk looking overdone. You don't want the rest of your makeup to compete with your eyes.

    • Holding the skin of your upper lid taut, apply eyeliner from the inside corner of the eye outward. Draw strokes into the lash line. The middle of the line should be a bit thicker than the edges.
    • Use a cotton swap to "smudge" the liner.
    • Dab an eyeshadow brush into a deep-hued eyeshadow and apply over the eyeliner to set the line (blow on the brush first to remove any excess shadow). Layering liner with a shadow is the secret to a perfect smoky eye.
    • Blend shadow well, then follow with eyeshadow.

    The Bold, Dramatic Eye

    Bold eyes are a dramatic choice for evening. Try eyeliner shades other than deep black for a super cool look. You can use either a liquid liner or try the makeup artist's trick and use an angled eyeshadow brush dipped in a deep-hued eyeshadow. Skip the pencil for this look.

    • Holding the skin of your upper lid taut, apply the liquid liner from the middle of the eye to the outside corner of the eye.
    • Draw a second line from the inside corner of your eye, letting the two lines meet. The outer edge of the line should be thicker than the inside. If you have close-set eyes, avoid taking the line all the way to the inside corner.

      Should You Line the Inside of Your Eye?

      Lining the inside of the eye, called "tightlining" is very trendy and controversial. Some experts claim lining the water line of the eye can introduce bacteria while others believe it can make eyes appear smaller and even "beady." One big problem is the makeup washes away with your tears and won't stay put. But done correctly, you can avoid any problem with bacteria (sharpen your pencil before you apply) and your eyes won't disappear into your face. Using waterproof makeup also helps.

      The look can be gorgeous. Get my application tips in Tightlining: How to Help Eyeliner on the Inner Rim Stay Put.

      The Cat Eye

      Forget the advice you may have read in the past never to line the inside rims of eyes because it makes eyes look tiny. Sexy cat eyes are a cool look for night. The key to this look is to apply a thin line to the inside rims of the lids. Make sure to sharpen the pencil after lining.

      • Holding the skin of your upper lid taut, dot liquid liner along the upper lash line as close to the eye as possible. Apply line from corner to corner of eye, extending the line upward at the outer corner of eye. Let liner dry for a few minutes before touching.
      • Hold down the lower lid and apply liner only to the outer three quarters of the rim. Fade out the line as you approach the tear duct.

      For a softer version of this look, use an eyeshadow brush and sweep a taupe or brown color on the lower lash line.

      Eyeshadow Secrets Only the Pros Know

      To make eyes appear wider, trace the inner rims of eyes with a beige pencil (white is too harsh) or highlight the inner corner of the eyes with a light shimmer powder.

      Throw out the cheapie applicators that come with your makeup. Investing in a good set of makeup brushes is key to a flawless face. Find great eyeshadow brushes at Sephora, MAC department counters and Trish McEvoy counters. Target sells wonderful, inexpensive brushes by Sonia Kashuk.

      To get a casual, smudgie "I slept in my makeup last night" look that everyone's after at the moment, apply a pencil line only to the bottom lashes and then smudge it with your finger.

      Now on to the Rest of Your Face

      Now that you know how to apply your eye makeup, find out how to apply the rest of your makeup. Makeup done well can make eyes pop, it can plump up a wrinkled face and play down a large nose. It can even out teenage acne and play down under-eye circles. In How to Apply Makeup, you'll learn what order it should be applied in.

      More Fun Eyeliner Tips

      To warm up an extra waxy pencil, rub it between your fingers for a few seconds. For an extra smudgy effect, hold the pencil tip over a lighter or candle flame for a few seconds. Let it cool 30 seconds before applying.