The Beginner’s Guide to Mastering Eyeliner

Updated 04/27/19

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. If we feel this way, we can only imagine what newbies must feel—which is why we’re taking things back to 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 own eyeliner frustrations and greatly improved our tracing, retracing, and flicking. Scary pencil of doom Eyeliner ready? Let’s get started.

Keep scrolling for 10 game-changing eyeliner tips for beginners!

Pick Pencil

Urban Decay 24/7 Glide-On Eye Pencil $20
Shop

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 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. But if you must intensify your line…

Layer Your Liners

Kat Von D Tattoo Liner $19
Shop

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). 

Connect the Dashes

Pixi Beauty Endless Silky Eye Pen $12
Shop

If your lid always seems to tug when you apply liner, leaving you a panda-eyed mess, you might want to try a simpler route. Namely, drawing three dashes along your eye, then connecting them. You can blend the line together 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)

Eyeko Skinny Liquid Eyeliner $18
Shop

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 a makeup artist (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.

Flick Out, Then Connect

Revlon ColorStay Eyeliner Pencil, $6
Shop

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. Need a visual? We've got a step-by-step tutorial for you.

Clean Up

Muji Cotton Buds $7
Shop

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 swipe away mistakes. Another industry secret? Muji Cotton Buds ($7), which are tightly wound and allow you a super-precise cleanup. Beyoncé’s makeup artist swears by them, as do many others.

Try Tightlining

Dior Diorshow Kohl $32
Shop

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 up. 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

Laura Mercier Translucent Loose Setting Powder $37
Shop

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 eye shadow brush, and apply it over your liner to set it. Say it with us: no more smudging.

Go Nude

Rimmel Scandal Eyes Waterproof Eyeliner $4
Shop

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 Netflix-bingeing, or tequila shot–taking). 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.

Tailor Your Technique

L'Oréal Paris Infallible Never Fail Eyeliner $10
Shop

Now that you’ve mastered all of the above, we have one last piece of advice to 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).

Congrats! You've taken your eyeliner game to the next level. Now go practice that technique. Want more eyeliner tips? Here are six tips especially for girls with small eyes.

Related Stories