Haven’t tried (or even heard of) tightlining yet? You’re not alone. Tightlining is the art of lining your upper waterline—the area inside the lash line. It’s a little illusion, if you will, that makeup artists have loved for years (they even call it “invisible eyeliner”), and it's so easy to do at home.
For starters, it makes your lash bed appear bolder, giving the appearance of thicker lashes while bringing out the natural shape of your eye. We'll show you the best waterproof eyeliners and a simple trick to keep eyeliner in place. Ahead, experts share a step-by-step guide—and video tutorial from makeup artist Bob Scott—on how to tightline eyes with eyeliner.
Meet the Expert
- Nigel Stanislaus is a celebrity makeup artist and is known for his work on Australia’s Next Top Model.
- Jenna Menard is a professional makeup artist with more than 20 years of experience. She counts Kate Winslet, Kerry Washington, and Taylor Swift among clients.
- Stacy Cho is a professional makeup artist and cosmetic tattoo artist.
Learn how to tightline your eyes like a pro, ahead.
Tightline Eyes With No Smudging
Prep Your Lashes
It's a good idea to curl your lashes so you can get a better view of where your lashes grow out of your lid. Take your time, curl gently, and remember, practice makes perfect.
"Become familiar with your lashes and lids and where they meet," says Menard.
Try this trick we learned years ago from a makeup artist at Fashion Week: "dry" your waterline with a Q-tip to prep it for lining. Simply roll it over your waterline before applying the pencil line.
Then, find the right setting. “It’s always safer to sit down in front of a mirror with your elbows anchored safely on the table,” Stanislaus says. (Think: a vanity or just a desk with a makeup mirror).
There are two types of tightlining: one where you line the entire upper waterline for a deep, sensual look, and one where you carefully line in between the lashes to create the illusion of thicker and fuller individual lashes.
Choose Your Liner
It really depends on your preferences here—some makeup artists recommend a pencil liner with a sharpened tip. We like a waterproof pencil (like Benefit Cosmetics BADgal BANG! 24-Hour Waterproof Eyeliner in Pitch Black) for lining the inner rims, but regular pencils work, too, and are easier to apply. Gels are also a very popular choice for lining eyes, however, we recommend avoiding liquid liners because they can sting the eye.
Always sharpen your pencil so you have a precise, perfect line and less smudging. This also gets rid of any bacteria that might have been leftover on the pencil.
If you’re using a sharpened eyeliner pencil, Stanislaus advises blasting the tip of the pencil with some hot air from a blow dryer to melt it slightly for an easier, smoother application. Then, press the pencil against the back of your hand to round out and blunt the tip slightly before you start applying.
Pick a Color
In choosing your color, consider your complexion. Dark blacks can be harsh on blondes with fair skin. Stick to browns and taupes instead if you want to avoid a harsh look. For a bit of fun, you can use a color but choose one that flatters your skin color and eye color. To test a color, draw a thick line just under the lash line and step back. Does it make your eyes pop? Then you're good.
You can go dark and sultry with blacks, browns, burgundies, dark navies, or forest greens, or go bright with jeweled tones like emerald green, turquoise, or golds for a fun look.
Take into consideration your eye shape when choosing a liner. For example, lining the eyes in white can actually make them appear larger, which would benefit those with almond-shaped eyes.
Consider a Brush
You can also use a flat or angled eyeliner brush for applying the powder to the waterline. There are many options on Amazon, but the Pro Flat Definer ($10) gets the most positive reviews. It is flat and lines precisely and sharply. And you can use it with powders, gels or creams.
Menard and professional makeup artist Stacy Cho like to go for pigmented gel formulas applied with an ultra-thin precision makeup brush to your upper waterline. For brushes, Menard suggests the MAC 212 ($25) or the Flat Eyeliner Brush ($28) by Laura Mercier. "I suggest dipping the brush in the liner and flattening it by pressing the pigment on both sides of the brush to create a more pointed, flat top," she says. "I like using flat brushes because it helps create a foolproof straight line. You should use the very top of the flat hairs and start with a small amount of liner, then work your way up."
Apply to Your Upper and Lower Waterlines
Hold down your bottom lid and using short, swift strokes (or one long stroke, it's up to you), draw a line along your bottom rim. For the top rim, hold up your lid with your fingers and draw in the line.
Scott recommends "stamping" the eyeliner brush dipped in color along your penciled or gel liner. Work it into the line that’s in between the waterline and the lash line so you don't see any skin peeking through.
For the look of thicker individual lashes, use a color matching your mascara (black or brown) to “slowly but surely feather the liner in between the lashes,” Stanislaus says.
“If you’re looking to add some extra drama to the look, fill in the rest of the upper waterline further.” Cho says the beauty of tightlining the entire waterline is to enhance your lash line, add the appearance of weight to your lashes, and make the area appear fuller than it actually is.
If your liner smudges, clean it up with a Q-tip dipped in eye makeup remover.
Set With Powder
Making sure your waterline doesn’t smudge or wash away throughout the day is a concern. You'll want a flat or angled eyeliner brush for applying the powder to the waterline, that you can use with powders, gels, or creams. Take your eyeliner brush and dab it into a powder to seal it in, then tap it to remove any excess.
The secret to lining the inner rims of the eyes is to layer the color. You want to start with a pencil or gel liner and then apply a powder over it, effectively "stamping it" to keep it in place. This gives you a depth that you can't get with liner or powder alone.