Bits and pieces of this have shown up in explanations for looks, and other tutorials, but I wanted to talk a little bit more in depth about how to execute dramatic liner, from choosing the shapes, to the brushes used and texture of the liner itself. All of it influences the finished product. I wrote this in one piece, but it’s SOOOO long, it makes more sense to publish it in sections. The first section just deals with different types of liner and brushes, and basic contours for a flattering lining. The next one will be cateye eyeliner winging. The last one will be on more challenging liner designs, including a double wing.
We’ll start with the general eyeliner shape. This will be REALLY influenced by the shape of your eye. Start by looking closely at the contours of it. Are your eyes spaced close together? Is there a stronger upward curve to the outer lower lashline? Are your eyes small, or deep set, or large? You’ll want to design your eyeliner around all of that.
Here’s a diagram of the eye parts we’ll refer to for basic liner. There’ll be templates for eyeliner wing designs as I explain the technique that goes into them. This is just eyeliner, as it relates to overall contouring and eye shape. I have a different post on general eyeshadow technique here(though it may be added to and revised, soon.)
If your eyes are closer together, or average spacing(the width of your eye measures the same as the space between your eyes), we’ll want to be careful to use techniques that open the eye up. Apply liner darker toward the outer corner, and consider leaving the inner corners completely bare, if you feel you have control of your liner to do a delicate falloff(When you can SEE where the liner stops, you need to smudge it more, or practice a thinner line. This just makes the contour look unnatural or uneven, and makes it difficult to match the eyes with each other). If your eyes are smaller, avoid dark liner in the inner corner, and lower waterline. A bit of smudging towards the outer corner and outer lower lashline is lovely, but use it to establish a contour, rather than “lining” fully.. If your eyes are deep-set, the appearance of a highlight color on the lid will draw them out MUCH more dramatically, than eyeliner will. Avoid thick, dark liner, and choose reflective, or pale colors for the lid. For most eye shapes(all, except for wide-set eyes), it’s flattering to apply a pearly pale highlight(Like MAC Nylon, UD Maui Wowie, Benefit Hi Beam, pearl eyeliner, etc.) to the inner corner and inner lower lashline. This can also help soften heavy liner contours, and add a natural glow to the eyes. If you have mature skin, or any uneven textures that you don’t want to accent, opt for a less shimmery highlight, or apply with a VERY fluffy brush, to diffuse the frosty finish more.
Generally, there’s three shapes of eyeliner brushes you can use. Look for the softest bristles possible, and make sure to mold the tip back into shape after cleaning brushes, so that they’ll be soft, and ready for use next time, without smudging it in any weird shapes they may have dried in.
There’s a pointed brush with a fine tip, like you see included in liquid liners. This gives you a LOT of control,but can be more difficult to work with at first. Some companies make these with a bent ferrule(the metal piece holding the bristles in) so that you can angle it easier to paint your eye. I don’t like that style of handle. It doesn’t feel like I have as much control when doing cateyes or wings. The straight handled variety is perfect for fine detailing and wings, as well as general lining. My favorite is the Sephora pointed eyeliner brush. It has a delightfully fine point that gives you a LOT of control over the product.
There’s an angled brush, where the bristles are cut into a flat, chisel-like shape. These are quite handy. It’s easy to tap in an eyeliner wing with this brush, because the angle helps it to set over the curvature of your face. The curvature also is handy using it to apply liner around the upper lashline, though it still takes practice. My favorite is ALSO the sephora angled liner brush. The bristles are shaped into a thinner wedge than the other brushes I’ve looked at, that makes it easier to precisely apply, without making the line too thick.
And there’s a flat brush, with bristles similar to the angled brush, except that there is no chisel shape cut into it. The bristles end in a flat line, and I dislike using these brushes. They’re difficult to get an even line around the curvature of your eye, though they can tap in wings as well as the angled brush. I have a few of these that have come with eyeliner kits, and I can rarely make them work well. My best advise is to look for one with the smallest head possible, so that you can edge it in in smaller segments. The one I got in a Posh brush kit is around 1/2 inch wide, and it’s too large for eyeliner wings, and too imprecise for actual lashline work. Horrid brush. So choose one with closer to 1/4 inch of a shape.
Generally, I use either an angled brush, or a point brush, for eyeliner. The pointed type gives you more control to define the thickness of wings, and curved shapes, but the angled brush can be useful as a beginner trying to plan the shape.
There’s a few general types of eyeliner-Pencil, Gel, Cream, Liquid, and Cake(I’m including pigment applied wet as cake, since it handles the same way). I have no use for pencil liner, except on the waterline. Generally it’s harder to get precise details with it, and almost all of them smudge on my lashline when worn there. Cake liners are dry cakes of pigment, or dry pigment, applied with a damp brush. Often cake, and pencil liners are recommended for techniques like Tightlining(lining both waterlines). Cake liner has the advantage of a longer shelf life, since it doesn’t dry out the way that all other liners do.. Gel and Cream handle similarly to each other. Gel is just a little thicker, Cream is a little fluffier. These are applied with a brush, are usually VERY pigmented, in my experience, these usually have the longest wear, once they’ve set. Liquid has a much runnier consistency that makes it great for opaque lines, like retro cateyes. It can be harder to control, ,and a brush is usually supplied in the container.
I have very shaky hands, after over a decade of tendinitis issues. For this reason, I always aim my brush at the actual lashes/lashline itself, rather than the lid by the lashline. Most of my liner is at the very edge of my lashes, but very rarely do I need to worry about the line applying too thick, the way I would if I was trying to precisely apply on the lid. Especially if you are practicing, this is a good way to look at it until you feel you have control over the thickness of your liner line, and the shape you desire. Small mistakes can be covered by smudging, but liner that is clunky, too thick, or not evenly applied will show through, and ruin all of your careful work blending the eyeshadow it sits over. If you have a sitting vanity, I recommend leaning forward so your elbows are braced on the table, and your thumb knuckle is braced on your face to steady it If you stand, bend forward until you can do the same, although this may cause your knees to cramp(or tempt a cat to lay on your back, as mine does.) For wings, however, you can either Sweep, or Pat them in, depending on your brush. For angled brushes, pat them in with your hand braced on your face for steadiness. To sweep one in with a pointed brush, use the side of the brush, pulling towards the center of the eye to place it, and gently fluff it outwards. For that technique, brace your face against the elbow NOT holding the brush, so the brush can be free-er to maneuver. Angling your neck upwards and leaning forward helps pull the skin taught, for better visibility. It’s the same principal behind that slack-jawed-bovine face we make applying mascara. If needed, you can pull the skin at the corner of your eye for a completely taut surface to apply. Just be warned that the direction of your pulling can change the angle of the finished line. Plus, there’s a general consensus from skincare experts that repeated tugging, rubbing, pulling on delicate skin like your eyes can stress the collagen more, and cause wrinkles. Either way, I avoid stretching the skin that much for makeup application. It can make it harder to be precise, and there’s no harm in following the preventatives,as far as skincare goes.
For “natural” makeup looks, or looks where the liner needs to act as a natural contour to make the eyes appear larger, smudging works wonderfully to prevent harsh lines, and “cakey” liner. There’s small spongey smudgers available cheaply even from drug store brands, like Sicara(2$), and even at a store like sephora it’s a $5 implement. You can also improvise. Q tips, cheap sponge applicators from drugstore palettes, narrow brush points ALL work in a pinch for smudging liner. Make sure you are aware of how long it takes your chosen liner to dry, so that you can do all of your smudging before it sets. I like to rotate the smudger each time I pick up the brush off the skin, to avoid smearing eyeliner already smudged onto a different place. I also like to work in thin layers. Especially with shimmery cream, or gel liners, applying thin layers, smudging, and applying more, can give you a tremendous amount of control over the intensity of the falloff. Liquid liners don’t smudge very well, but if you try, use an absorbent smudger, like a Q tip. Smudged liner is attractive on ALL eye shapes, since it looks much more natural than a heavily lined eye.
For dramatic looks, you may not wish to smudge. Cateyes, especially, demand a crisp line, usually emphasized by heavy mascara, sometimes false lashes, and a crisp wing.
Liquid liner is especially useful for easily applying cateyes, but gel or cream works applies about as easily, and tends to smudge less while drying.
Dramatic liner can pull a look together, or emphasize your features in a very flattering way, but it can do far MORE if it’s badly applied, or applied in a way that doesn’t flatter your features.