How to Use Eyeliner Like a Pro

Updated 04/14/19
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Probably everyone who has ever worn eyeliner looks back at photos their first year or two (or ten) and grimaces. It's nobody's fault, really. Eyeliners are versatile, but notoriously difficult, and learning how to apply them can be befuddling. Instead of just wax-based pencil liners, you now can choose from a range of types, including gels and liquids. This is great, and means you can find one for your particular taste—but it also means figuring out how to use each one can be overwhelming. No need to panic, though.

It's easy enough to learn how to apply eyeliner, because there are plenty of tricks that can help you. For example: If you use a pencil, set the line with eyeshadow, because penciled lines tend to melt and won't stay put all day.

Liquid Liner

To apply liquid eyeliner, line the eye from the inside of the lashes outwards, in one big sweep. If that's hard for you, you can 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. If even that's difficult for you, make a line at the outside of your eye, at the inner corner, and in the middle; then simply connect each of the lines

Another liquid liner 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.

How To: The Basic "I'm Off to Work" Eye

When you want your eyes to pop without looking overly done, you need to apply with a light hand. The basic eye is all about appearing natural as possible, 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 starting at the inside of the eye with a pencil, or an eyeliner brush dipped in a dark eyeshadow. For a more dramatic look, make the line towards the outside of your lashes 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 line 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, where your eyelashes end. If you're using a pencil, smudge the line with your finger so it looks more natural.

The Smoky Eye

There might be 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, and 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, not away from it. 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 your standard shadow for a smoky eye.

    Lining the inside of the eye, called "tightlining," is usually done with a smoky eye. It's trendy, but controversial. Some experts claim lining the water line of the eye can introduce bacteria, while others believe it can make eyes appear smaller and beady. Often, the makeup washes away with your tears and won't stay put. However, if you sharpen your pencil before you apply you'll avoid bacteria, and when done appropriately your eyes won't disappear into your face. The best liner for tightlining is Urban Decay's 24/7 Glide-On Eye Pencil, $22.

     To make eyes appear wider, tightline the inner rims of eyes with a beige or white pencil.

    The Bold, Dramatic Eye

    Bold eyes are a dramatic choice, typically reserved 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.

    The Cat Eye

    Sexy cat eyes are a cool look for night, and the key to this look is to apply a thin line to the inside rims of the lids. Make sure to sharpen the pencil before and after lining, though, because you get styes if you don't.

    • 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 and outward at the outer corner of eye, following the angle of your lower lid. Wait a second before blinking, and let the liner dry for a few minutes before touching.
    • Hold down the lower lid and apply liner only to the outer half of the rim. Fade out the line as you approach the tear duct.
    • To make eyes appear wider, trace the inner rims of eyes with a beige or white pencil.

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

      A Few More Tricks

      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. If you're aiming for a more get a casual, "I slept in my makeup last night" look with your smudge, apply a pencil line only to the bottom lashes and then smudge it with your finger. 

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