Eyeliner is one of the most integral parts of your makeup looks. Sure the artistic cat-eye and smoky eye gazes are all about liner, but even some of the most natural, barely there makeup has some type of eyeliner involved. Why, you may ask? Because it’s a sneaky way to subtly call attention to your eyes, make lashes look longer, your eye color more vibrant, and even look more awake. Knowing what color, where to put it, and how to apply it are key skills that any makeup lover should have in her beauty repertoire.

Getting even flicks, lashline hugging perfection, and catch-the-light-just-right placement are skills that take practice. Sadly, not all of us have the steady hands of a master calligrapher. If your hand shakes like you’ve had five cups of coffee every time you pick up an eyeliner pencil, don’t worry: We feel you. Sometimes just making a straight line can be tricky, but that doesn’t mean you can’t master this beauty basic. Truth is — with foolproof tips and a few secret cheats, eyeliner can actually be quite simple once you get the hang of it. Practice enough and you’ll be a whiz not only with natural-looking makeup, but also with a few flashier looks for when you want to jazz things up. Consider this list of tips and tricks your ultimate crash course in eyeliner. We’ve got a simple guide for you to follow, complete with some of our fave product picks, to help you make all your eyeliner hopes and dreams come true. We promise, you’ll be a cat-eye-wearing pro in no time.

1. There are Three Basic Types of Eyeliner

Whether you choose pencil, gel or liquid, each has its own special application and skill level. Pencil is the most common (and easiest) type and perfect for an everyday look. One of the biggest mistakes people make is not regularly sharpening their pencils. In addition to keeping them clean and bacteria-free, sharpening your pencil ensures you can get your line as close to your lash line as humanly possible. Dulled, rounded off points make for good shading (more on that later), but they lack the precision needed to connect your lash line to your lashes for that seamless appearance. So sharpen them regularly — just not too sharp. Remember, you’re putting this pencil in close proximity to your eyeball — you definitely don’t want to run the risk of maiming yourself with a sharp-as-a-needle pencil tip. Ouch!

Product recommendations: Lancôme Le Stylo Waterproof, L’Oréal Paris Infallible Never Fail Eyeliner

Gel eyeliners typically come in a pot and are applied with a brush. These can be a little trickier because you decide how much product is being applied, rather than with a pencil where it’s mostly a controlled amount. Gels have an amazingly creamy consistency so they can glide across the eyelid without pulling or tugging like a pencil can. One drawback is that unlike pencils, which are good to the last sharpening, gels are housed in pots and can dry out faster than other formulas.

Product Recommendations: Lancôme Liner Design, It Cosmetics Liner Love

The most advanced liners are the liquid category. They can be unforgiving if you make mistakes, but once you master the delicacy needed for proper application, these inky beauties are unparalleled at creating cat-eyes and other dramatic eye shapes. They are the messiest of the three, which is why it’s crucial to find a technique that works for you and will help you avoid turning your eyelid into what looks like a third-grader’s art project.

Product recommendations: Lancôme Grandiôse Liner, L’Oréal Paris Infallible The Super Slim Liquid Liner, Maybelline New York Curvitude Eyeliner

2. Hold your eye for more control

You’ll find that most liners tend to get stuck or skip across your lid, so start off by creating a smooth canvas for your liner to glide across. Using your pointer and middle finger, pull the skin above your eye taut for a smoother, more precise line. Instead of free-handing it, prop your elbow up on the counter to steady your hand. Just be sure not to manhandle the delicate skin around your eye — you don’t want to tug too hard and risk stretching or damaging the skin.

3. Choose the right color

You don’t always have to go with classic black, especially if you are just starting out. Brown and light gray are great training colors when you’re trying a new technique as they are less stark and much more forgiving if you make a mistake. You can also make your eyes appear brighter and more vibrant by using a color-enhancing shade. For blue gazes that means picking something in the warm browns, bronze, or copper family. Green beauties should try violets and purples, while brown-eyed girls can go bold with bright blues or keep it simple with navy. Hazel eyes, with their multi-tonal colors, have the option to play up either the browns or greens in their eyes. To make them look browner, try rich earth tones, gold, and green. Bring out green by using bronze or eggplant chromas.

Product Recommendations: NYX Cosmetics Studio Liquid Liner, Urban Decay 24/7 Glide-On Pencil, Maybelline New York Eyestudio Lasting Drama Gel Liner

4. Don’t forget to blend

When using a pencil, blend it out for a more natural look. A dual-ended pencil with a sponge attachment at the end makes this process a lot easier. The pressure you apply will determine what kind of line you get. A light touch will soften without losing definition, while a heavier hand will diffuse the color and create a smokier effect.

Speaking of smoking, did you know you can use your liner to create the easiest smoky eye ever? Take your liner and place it about halfway across your lower lash line. Draw a line outwards, making sure to keep it directly against the rim of the eye. Extend the line past the edge, angling it up towards the tail end of your eyebrow. Don’t go all the way — stop when you are level with your eyelid crease. Then place the line at your crease, just above that first line, and follow the crease until you are halfway across the eyelid. Use your liner to color in the space between that V-shape you’ve made. Use your finger to smudge the color outwards and now you’ve got a high-drama, sexy look using just one product.

5. Line your waterline in nude for bright eyes

Instead of using black on your inner rims, choose a nude shade for a doe-eyed effect. This is a perfect trick for when you’re tired and want to look more awake. It’s great for hiding red, post-cry-fest eyes. You can also use a champagne or metallic rose hue to really brighten things up. Trying applying it to both the waterline and smudged into the inner corner of your eye for a more ethereal effect. Try IT Cosmetics No-Tug Gel Eyeliner.

6. Trace your way to a flawless cat-eye flick

No need to guess where and what angle your cat-eye should be. Just hold a business card diagonally against the corner of your eye, and trace alongside it to draw your cat eye flick. You can also put a piece of tape in the same area and use that as a guide, but be careful not to yank or rip it off — it will both hurt and potentially damage your skin.

Another easy trick? Instead of creating one continuous line, use your liner to create small dots along the lash line in the shape you want your flick to be, then simply connect the dots to create that line. This one is great if you suffer from super-shaky hands since it doesn’t require you to be steady as you go.

7. Line your eyes first in pencil when using liquid liner

It’s easier to draw a precise line with pencil than with a liquid liner. So use this “training wheels” method when starting out with liquid liner: Line your eye first with a pencil, and then trace over it with your liquid liner. Brow pencils are great for this as they don’t deposit as much color but can still be seen enough for you to do your paint-by-numbers cheat.

8. Fix a mistake with a cotton swab

Mess up? Don’t worry, it happens to the best of us. Instead of starting from scratch, dip a cotton swab in makeup remover and use it like an eraser to carefully remove any mistakes. Just remember to get to it quickly — it’s easier and less of a mess to erase it while it’s wet than it is when it sets into your skin


9. Give your liquid liner time to dry

Avoid any smudging while your liquid liner is still wet by keeping your eyes closed for 30 seconds after applying. You can also lock it in even more by dipping a small shadow brush in translucent powder, we love the Dermablend Translucent Setting Powder for this, and gently dabbing it over top of the (dried) line. If you want to get really fancy, use a complimentary eyeshadow to set and amp up the color.

10. Use a primer

When you take pains to draw a gorgeous cat-eye, you don’t want it rubbing off after a couple hours. Use an eye primer like the Urban Decay Eyeshadow Primer Potion to create a base that will help your eyeliner last all day.

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