Best Eyeliner for Beginners: Tips to Mastering the Beauty Essential

a woman backstage at NYFW wearing white eyeliner

 Rosdiana Ciaravolo/Getty Images

Ah, eyeliner. We love you so, but must you be so difficult? We give you all our time and patience, and yet you still rebel like an angry teen, wobbling and smudging and streaking to no end. To which we say enough. That's why we’re taking things back to the basics today and sharing 10 game-changing tips for the eyeliner inept (or just those who've never given it a chance). These are the very tips that have helped us overcome our eyeliner frustrations and greatly improved our tracing, retracing, and flicking. We even enlisted the help of two makeup artists to share their secrets to mastering eyeliner. Ahead, find top tips as well as a list of the best eyeliner for beginners to test out.

Meet the Expert

  • Melissa Murdick is a celebrity makeup artist who works with Selena Gomez. She is also the creator of The Pretty Fix, an organization that helps the transfeminine community master makeup.
  • Renée Loiz is a celebrity makeup artist and founder of Color May Vary, a Black-owned beauty guide.

Keep scrolling for 10 game-changing eyeliner tips for beginners—along with our favorite eyeliner products.

eyeliner tips for beginners
Cristina Cianci/Getty Images

Start With a Pencil

If you’re new to the eyeliner game, you might be overwhelmed by all your options. Pencil, gel, liquid, felt… The list goes on. We’ll give you our best advice: Pick a pencil. Why? Because it’s the easiest and a great starting point for eyeliner beginners. A smooth pencil glides on easily, doesn’t tug, and is more forgiving with shaky hands than liquid or gel.

"Similar to writing with a pencil, an eyeliner pencil is the easiest and most fail-proof eyeliner to use for beginners," says Loiz. "Just hold as you would a regular pencil and draw along your lash line. I’d also recommend using a non-waterproof eyeliner pencil and having Q-tips and makeup remover on hand to easily erase any mistakes."

For everyday makeup, brown or black are classic options, but if you want to branch out, choose a hue that makes your eye color pop more. "Copper for blue eyes and plum for green or brown eyes will still look natural but give you a little more oomph," says Murdick.

Layer Your Liners

Crave the inky-black, perfectly flicked look of liquid liner but lack the technique for a precise line? Line your eye with a pencil liner first, then layer the liquid on top. This intensifies your line, without requiring the skill of tracing precisely on a blank canvas (i.e., your lid). 

"While looking down in the mirror, tilt your head back, then steady your drawing arm/elbow on a flat surface," says Loiz. "Start at the outer corners of the eye and draw liner going inward and go as close to your lash line as you can. Draw the line slow and steady. Fill in any gaps between your lashes with the eyeliner to give the illusion of fuller lashes. If you have any mistakes, clean them up with a Q-tip and makeup remover."

Connect the Dashes

If your lid always seems to tug when you apply liner, you might want to try a simpler route. Namely, drawing three dashes along your eye, then connecting them.

"It's kind of like playing connect the dots," says Loiz. "Have fun with it and take your time. Practice makes perfect."

You can blend the line using an angled eyeliner brush, or simply clean up any unevenness with a cotton swab dipped in makeup remover (or lotion). 

Clench Your Toes (Yes, Really)

So you’re getting the hang of eyeliner, but your hands are still annoyingly shaky. Here’s an easy solution: Clench your toes. We learned this weird cat-eye trick from Kat Von D’s makeup artist, so you know his technique is gospel, and put it to the test. Simply put, it works. You’re welcome.

Murdick says she has another trick to help your eyeliner look flawless. "If you have shaky hands—create some stability for yourself. Do your makeup sitting at a table so you can rest your elbow on the table," she says. "If you don’t have a table handy, create what I call a ‘pinky kickstand’ by resting your pinky on your cheek as you apply the eyeliner." 

Flick Out, Then Connect

Cat-eyes are intimidating for the unschooled—we get it. Our advice to beginners is to start from the outside in. Place your eyeliner in the outer corner of your eye, draw a wing up at the same angle as your lower lid, and then trace a line along your upper lid and connect it to your wing.

Still feeling intimated by the cat-eye? Try a cat-eye guide or stamp, such as Kaja Wink Stamp Eyeliner ($29). "Guide eyeliner will be your new best friend. This is the easiest way to make a perfect cat-eye," says Loiz. You simply position the cat-eye stamp at the outside corner of your eye and press down. It stamps a perfect cat-eye. You then use the included eyeliner pin to draw along the lashes and connect the wing.

Feel like you still need a visual on perfecting the cat-eye? We've got a step-by-step tutorial for you.

Those who have hooded eyes should avoid a cat-eye as a thicker liner can make your eye shape look distorted. "Hooded eyes should always focus on keeping eyeliner thin, precise, and as close to your lash line as possible," says Murdick.

Clean Up

We’re going to let you in on a little secret: Even pros don’t trace a perfect line every time. Most makeup artists will reach for a cotton swab to perfect their lines and flicks—just dip in a bit of makeup remover (or even eye cream) to wipe away mistakes. Another industry secret? Muji Cotton Buds ($9), which are tightly wound and allow you a super-precise cleanup. Beyoncé’s makeup artist swears by them, as do many others.

Try Tightlining

Ever heard of tightlining? It’s pretty much the easiest way to wear eyeliner and will define your eyes in the subtlest way. To tightline your eyes, gently place one finger in the center of your eyelid, then lift your lid. Take an eyeliner (black is preferable) and trace a line on the area of skin below your lash line. (You’re going to look weird doing this, but we promise the result is worth it.) We recommend taking an eyeliner brush and smudging out the line so it isn’t as harsh. Then, just curl your lashes and apply mascara as usual. Your eyes will pop, we promise.

Set Your Liner

If you have oily lids or hooded eyes, you may be tempted to give up liner after seeing the streaked, smudged mess on your lid at the end of the day. Luckily, there’s a simple fix. Just take a bit of loose translucent powder on a fluffy eyeshadow brush, and apply it over your liner to set it.

Another trick is to only buy waterproof eyeliners. "Whether it’s a pencil or liquid, make sure it’s waterproof," says Murdick. "Also, don’t apply eyeliner to bare eyelids. At least put down an eye primer or do a basic eyeshadow look. This gives the liner something to grab onto and also helps absorb any of the oils on your eyelid that can cause smudging."

Go Nude

Tired eyes? Here’s the easiest remedy ever: Take a nude eyeliner pencil and lightly trace your bottom waterline. The nude will open up your eye and make you look like you got eight hours of sleep (even if you were up all night binging Netflix). "If you want to wake up your eyes, use a tone that looks like a light skin tone—so something off-white with a hint of pink or yellow to it," says Murdick. "Don't forget eye drops are your best friend when you’re tired. They help eyes look refreshed before you put on your makeup."

Stay away from white liner, which will only accentuate any redness in your eyes and give a distinctly ’60s-vibe. Great for Twiggy, not so much for you. "Pure white works, but it’s too harsh and attention-grabbing in my opinion. Using a more natural shade brightens things up without causing a distraction," says Loiz. Try Make Up Forever's Artist Color Pencil ($20), which is available in a variety of neutral shades.

Tailor Your Technique

Now that you’ve mastered all of the above, we have one last piece of advice for you: Consider tailoring your eyeliner application to your eye shape. This small adjustment might just solve all your eyeliner frustrations (e.g., wobbly lines and uneven wings).

For small eyes, Murdick says there are a few tricks to open up your eyes. "If you have small eyes, heavy liner across the eye can make them look even smaller. Stick to lining only the outer half of the eye—from the center of the eye to the outer corner. You can even make the liner a bit thicker as it gets to the outer edge to give the eyes a bit of a lift."

The Best Eyeliners for Beginners

Urban Decay 24/7 Glide-On Eye Pencil

ick Pencil
Urban Decay 24/7 Glide-On Eye Pencil $22.00

A user favorite, the Urban Decay Glide-On Eye Pencil has something for everyone. Available in 38 shades and five finishes (including mattes, glitters, metallics, satins, and shimmers), this pencil can help create any look from basic to breathtaking. The ultra-creamy formula is infused with hydrating ingredients like vitamin E, jojoba oil, and cottonseed oil. On top of that, a swipe won't budge unless you want it to.

Pixi Beauty Endless Silky Eye Pen

Connect the Dashes
Pixi Beauty Endless Silky Eye Pen $12.00

Pixi Beauty is no stranger to cult-classic beauty products (hello Glow Tonic), and these liners are no exception. A beginner's best friend, this collection comes in seven silky elevated neutrals. The waterproof formula glides on smoothly and promises not to move without the help of micellar water.

Kat Von D Tattoo Liner

Layer Your Liners
Kat Von D Tattoo Liner $23.00

Ever wonder how beauty gurus can get their lines so precise? Look no further than the Kat Von D Tattoo liner. The easy-to-apply felt tip takes the trial and error out of a pointed wing. Plus, it's flexible, so you can move in and out of the inner corners with ease.

Eyeko Skinny Liquid Eyeliner

Clench Your Toes (Yes, Really)
Eyeko Skinny Liquid Eyeliner $21.00

The skin around our eyes is sensitive, so it is important to look for products that prioritize gentle ingredients with powerful results. Enter Eyeko. These performance liners are infused with conditioning ingredients that not only improve the liner's wear but also improve the skin.

Revlon ColorStay Eyeliner Pencil

Flick Out, Then Connect
Revlon ColorStay Eyeliner Pencil $9.00

As the saying goes, "If it's not broke, don't fix it," and when it comes to cosmetics, we wholeheartedly agree. The Revlon ColorStay liner has been a staple through the years thanks to its 16-hour wear and dual-ended applicator. One side rolls up when you need a refill and the other smudges at your will.

Dior Diorshow Khol

Try Tightlining
Dior Diorshow Khol $30.00

If you are a fan of the Diorshow mascara (guilty), consider this your sign to give the liner a try. A pencil in the truest sense, this dual-sided tool is the secret to amping up your eyes. Pro Tip: The tip is sharp. Swipe on the back of your hand before getting near your eye area to avoid irritation.

Rimmel Scandal Eyes Waterproof Eyeliner

Go Nude
Rimmel Scandal Eyes Waterproof Eyeliner $4.00

At four bucks a pop, this is the perfect starter liner. Use it to experiment with new styles or to finally master that smoky wing. The sweat, water, and humidity-proof formula promises to handle the heat, but make sure you snag soon, the shades sell out quickly.

L'Oréal Paris Infallible Never Fail Eyeliner

Tailor Your Technique
L'Oréal Paris Infallible Never Fail Eyeliner $5.00

Designed with a built-in sharpener, you never have to worry about the tip going dull. The mechanical pencil-like applicator is super beginner-friendly. Try adding a tight line along the upper eyelid in the AM, and amp it up for the evening by turning over the pencil and smudging out the edges.

  • Which eyeliner is best for beginners?

    Tops among our list of the most beloved eyeliners is NYX Epic Ink Liner ($8) which offers precision that even the least-skilled among us can achieve. Plus, the price is budget-friendly.

  • Is pencil or liquid eyeliner easier?

    Liquid eyeliner can be used much more precisely than pencil, helping you to achieve near-perfect lines. That being said, it's pretty budge-proof, so mistakes are more difficult to clean up.

  • Which eyeliner type is best?

    A well-sharpened but smooth pencil will apply more easily (it won't tug and will be easier to clean than, say, gel or liquid products if you make a mistake).

  • Which goes first: eyeliner or mascara?

    Save the mascara for last. If you apply it before eyeliner, you run the risk of dragging the mascara across the lid (it's also easier to line the roots prior to mascara being applied).

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