How to Apply Eyeliner Pencil Like a Pro, Even If You're a Beginner

a model at fashion week

Rosdiana Ciaravolo / Getty Images

There are a lot of eyeliners on the market, and all offer something a little different—gel, pencil, powder, liquid. The choices are so vast that it can be difficult to settle on one. Of course, there is always the classic: pencil eyeliners, which are less expensive and easier to use than liquid liners, but they are not as long-lasting. And yet, with a few simple tips and tricks, you can learn how to apply pencil eyeliner like a makeup professional for eyes that pop.

There's a lot to take into consideration—color, for instance, can determine just how much your eyes "pop" once lined. And the application isn't as simple as swiping it on. There's a technique (and lots of tricks) that can make applying pencil liner a cinch. We rounded up tips on all of the above—plus ideas for rocking a colored eyeliner or a smoky eye—here.

Keep reading for our how-to guide for applying pencil eyeliner (plus, a few products we love, for good measure).

01 of 10

Try a Brown Pencil

While you may be accustomed to black eye pencils, they can sometimes look a little harsh on fair skin. If you find that's the case, or simply want a more natural look, use a brown pencil to create a more subtle, "no-makeup" look. 

If you have dark hair, you can try a trick from makeup artist Mally Roncal. She suggests lining your upper lash line with black eyeliner and your lower line with brown for a soft, yet sexy eye makeup look.

02 of 10

Warm Up Your Waxy Eye Pencil

woman applying eyeliner

Lena Clara / Getty Images

There's nothing worse on your lids than an eye pencil that won't glide on smoothly because it's too cold or waxy. This can hinder your ability to expertly put on eyeliner pencils, causing the lines you try to create to look chunky and splotchy. The trick to avoiding this is to warm it up.

There are three easy ways you can do this:

  1. Rub the tip on your hand until it softens.
  2. Roll the point between the tips of your fingers.
  3. Heat the end quickly by holding it in a flame for a very quick second. Then let it cool down for another couple of seconds before applying it to your lids.

Next time you buy a pencil, keep in mind that anything labeled "creamy" or "kohl" will go on smoother. Typically, these will not need to be warmed up.

03 of 10

Start with a Dash

Do you struggle with creating a straight line? According to makeup artist Laura Mercier, the secret to knowing how to apply an eyeliner pencil and creating the perfect line on the upper and lower lashes is to begin with a few dashes.

  1. Pull the skin taut at its outer corner.
  2. Slowly draw a series of dashes with the eyeliner, starting from the inner corner and working your way out.
  3. At the halfway point of the line, angle your pencil so you're now drawing with the side of it. This will create a thicker line.
  4. Connect the dots—or in this case, dashes.
04 of 10

Line and Smudge Your Lower Lash Line

model backstage

Rosdiana Ciaravolo / Getty Images

To add a casual, "I didn't spend extra time on my makeup" look: eyeliner smudging. This technique can play up your eyes in the most subtle of ways.

  1. Use a pencil eyeliner to line your eyes, using the tricks above.
  2. Carefully smudge the line using your fingertip. 
  3. If you want a little more definition, go ahead and give the line a thin, second coat with your liquid liner.
05 of 10

Rim the Inside of Your Eyes

A model is seen backstage at the Francesca Liberatore fashion show during the Milan Women's Fashion Week on September 25, 2020

Rosdiana Ciaravolo / Contributor / Getty Images


Lining your waterline can be super sexy, especially for a night out. The technique istightlining, and there's a trick to getting it to last.

  1. Use a waterproof pencil and make sure to sharpen it to a point. This not only adds control but will also remove any germs that might have been on the pencil.
  2. Gently pull your upper lid up and line the top inside rim first from the inside corner of the eye out.
  3. Follow with the bottom waterline.

If you have small eyes, consider using a beige pencil to line the inside rim to make the eyes pop as dark colors can make eyes appear smaller. Using beige will also create the illusion of a good night's sleep.

06 of 10

Fix Mistakes with Cotton Swabs

Even the pros make mistakes from time to time, and eyeliner can be a tricky one to clean up after a slight blunder.​

If you mess up a penciled line, dip a cotton swab in a bit of eye cream or moisturizer. Dot it over the messy spot to make it easier to wipe away. You can also use the swab to smudge the line and make the mistake look deliberately smoky. We like Ulta Beauty's Dual Tipped Cotton Applicators for their pointed ends for precise cleaning.

07 of 10

Create a Smoky Eye

Philosophy Di Lorenzo Serafini - Backstage: Milan Fashion Week Autumn/Winter 2019/20

Bella Hadtd/Rosdiana Ciaravolo/Getty Images  

Smoky eyes are sexy, and they're easier than you may think. The secret is to use a kohl pencil, and the fatter the better.

  1. Warm up the kohl pencil by rubbing it on the back of your hand.
  2. Dot it along the upper and then the lower lashes using the dash technique.
  3. Dab a cotton swab with a little moisturizer or eye cream into it, then smudge your line of kohl dots with it.
  4. Finish with a sweep of dark shadow (try some browns, deep purples, or blues) to the lid.
08 of 10

Set Your Line with Eyeshadow

model backstage with eyeliner

Rosdiana Ciaravolo / Contributor / Getty Images

One of the biggest problems with penciled eyeliner is that it looks great in the morning, but tends to melt away by the end of the day. You can prevent that by setting your line with eyeshadow, using it as sort of a primer.

Simply dip a small, angled eyeshadow brush into a dark shadow and run it along your lid, right against your lashes. Then, all you have to do is trace over the eyeshadow line with your liner.

09 of 10

Don't Be Afraid of Color

Ruth Negga
Jeffrey Mayer/WireImage

You can also have a lot of fun with colorful eye makeup, and that goes beyond eyeshadow. Use colored eyeliner pencils to brighten up and enhance your eye color:

  • Purples and maroons make green eyes glow.
  • Navy blue and purple enhance blue eyes.
  • Green and golds brighten up brown eyes. 
  • Gray and bronze play up earthy tones in hazel eyes.
10 of 10

Make Your Eyes Appear Larger

model backstage with eyeliner

Rosdiana Ciaravolo / Contributor / Getty Images

There are several tricks you can use to make your eyes appear larger than they are, and one of those involves eyeliner.

If you completely cover both the top and bottom lash lines with liner, you're going to close the eye, making it look smaller. To prevent that, only apply your liner halfway, to the middle of your eye, on both the top and bottom.

  • How do you apply pencil eyeliner smoothly?

    The best way to smoothly apply is to slightly pull your eyelid so that it's taught, and then apply using small dashes (from the inner corner, outward). The result will be a smooth, clean line.

  • Is pencil eyeliner better for beginners?

    While liquid eyeliner can create more bold lines, it's also pretty hard to remove (making pencil the better choice for those who might make mistakes). Just be sure it's sharpened well for more precise application.

  • Should eyeliner go on top or bottom?

    Eyeliner on the top will help open the eye up and is a pretty standard application. Applying on the lower, inner lash-line is a bold look, too, albeit admittedly controversial (using a non-sharped liner can introduce bacteria into the eye).

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