A Beginner’s Guide to Applying Eyeliner, Plus the Best Eyeliners to Try

March 06, 2023
Marisa Petrarca
By: Marisa Petrarca | Makeup.com by L'Oréal
Close-up picture of a person applying liquid eyeliner

Eyeliner is a staple in our beauty routines. From the most artistic graphic liner looks to a subtle flick, we simply can’t complete a makeup look without adding some liner. It’s an easy way to call attention to your eyes, make your lashes look longer and even make yourself look more awake. Granted, perfecting a tightline or cat-eye takes time. But if you’re new to using eyeliner and are just getting started, fear not. We’ve got a bunch of tips, tricks and pointers that’ll help you master your eyeliner application in no time.

How to Apply Eyeliner: A Beginner's Guide

Step 1: Pick an Eyeliner Your Love

Whether you choose pencil, gel or liquid, each has its own special application and skill level. An eyeliner pencil is perfect for an everyday look and is arguably the easiest to use. Just make sure to regularly sharpen your pencils to achieve a thin, precise line. 

Gel eyeliner typically comes in a pot and is applied with a brush. These can be a little trickier because you need to pick up the right amount of product to apply. Gels have a creamy consistency that lets them glide across the eyelid easily. You can also find gel eyeliner pencils, which combine the ease of a pencil with the rich, pigmented color payoff of a gel. 

The most advanced liners fall into the liquid category. They can be unforgiving if you make mistakes, but once you master the delicacy needed for proper application, liquid eyeliners are unparalleled for creating cat-eyes and other dramatic eye shapes. 

Keep reading for our favorite eyeliners for beginners, including pencils, liquids and gels.

Step 2: Prime Your Lids

Regardless of the eyeliner formula you choose, an eyeshadow primer will prep your lids and create a smooth, even base. We like the Urban Decay Eyeshadow Primer Potion, which keeps eye makeup crease-free and pigmented all day. 

Step 3: Draw the Line Thin and Close to Your Lash Line

When drawing your eyeliner, focus on applying it right against the lash line. You can always build it up later to create a thicker line, but it helps to have your base down first. To elongate your eyes, try keeping the line thinnest at the inner corners of your eyes and gradually thickening it as you reach the outer corners.

Step 4: Don’t Forget to Blend

If you’re using an eyeliner 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, but you can also blend your liner with your finger or a smudger brush. The pressure you apply will determine if your line is slightly softened or completely smoked out.

Step 4: Fix Mistakes With a Cotton Swab

If you messed up, don’t worry — it happens to the best of us. Instead of starting from scratch, dip a cotton swab in makeup remover or micellar water 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 the eyeliner while it’s wet than it is when it dries down. To remove waterproof eyeliner, we recommend using the Garnier SkinActive Micellar Cleansing Water All-in-1 Waterproof Makeup Remover

More Eyeliner Application Tips to Try

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, gently 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 to be gentle — you don’t want to tug too hard. 

Choose the Right Color

You don’t always have to go with a classic black shade, especially if you are just starting out with eyeliner. Brown and gray are great training colors because they’re more forgiving if you make a mistake. You can also make your eyes appear brighter and more vibrant by using a fun colored eyeliner. For blue eyes, try a color in the warm brown, bronze or copper family. Green eyes can experiment with violets and purples, while bright blues and navy perfectly complement brown eyes. Don’t be afraid to try a variety of shades you love regardless of your eye color — you may be surprised by how great they look. 

Line Your Waterline With a Nude Shade

Instead of using black on your inner rims, choose a nude shade for a bright-eyed effect. This is a perfect trick for when you’re tired and want to look more awake. You can also use a shimmery champagne or metallic rose gold hue to brighten up the eyes. 

Trace Your Way to a Flawless Cat Eye

If you’re ready to attempt a cat eye but are nervous about getting the perfect slant, try this trick: Hold a business card diagonally against the corner of your eye and trace alongside it with a pencil. You can also put a piece of tape in the same area and use that as a guide. 

Give Your Liquid Liner Time to Dry 

After applying liquid liner, keep your eyes closed for 30 seconds. This will prevent any accidental smudging. You can also lock in the product by dipping a small shadow brush in translucent powder, like the Dermablend Loose Setting Powder. Gently dab the powder over the top of the (dried) line. 

Finish Off With a Setting Spray

After taking a serious chunk of time out of your morning to apply that cat eye, you don’t want it rubbing off after a couple hours. Make sure it stays on all day long by finishing off your look with a few spritzes of a setting spray. We’ve been loving the IT Cosmetics Your Skin But Better Setting Spray+

The Best Eyeliners for Beginners

Maybelline New York TattooStudio Sharpenable Gel Pencil Longwear Eyeliner

This eyeliner pencil has a creamy, gel-like consistency that applies smoothly and evenly across your lid, no skipping or tugging. You can find it at the drugstore in a wide assortment of colors, from go-tos like black and brown to bright pink and blue. Not only is the formula smudge-resistant, it’s waterproof and can stay put for up to 36 hours (though we always recommend taking your makeup off every night). 


Maybelline New York TattooStudio Sharpenable Gel Pencil Longwear Eyeliner

NYX Professional Makeup Vivid Matte Liquid Liner

If you’re ready to try your hand at a cat eye, our editors can’t recommend this liquid liner enough. When we reviewed the formula, we fell in love with the pigmented, matte black finish, the all-day wear time and the fine-tip brush. This liquid liner gives you total control and precision, even if you’re an eyeliner beginner. 


NYX Professional Makeup Vivid Matte Liquid Liner

Urban Decay 24/7 Glide-On Waterproof Eyeliner Pencil

Can’t get enough colorful eyeliner? Check out these pencils from Urban Decay, which come in a dizzying array of 38 colors and five finishes: matte, shimmer, glitter, satin and metallic. Each pencil is easy to blend for a soft and smoky look and packs 16-hour lasting power. The formula is smudge-proof and waterproof, too.  


Urban Decay 24/7 Glide-On Waterproof Eyeliner Pencil

L'Oréal Paris Infallible Never Fail Eyeliner

If you love the look of smudgy, smoked out eyeliner, this is the perfect pencil to add to your collection. It comes with an eyeliner on one end and a silicone smudger on the other. Once you draw on your eyeliner, take the smudger and gently drag it on top of the line to create a diffused smoky eye. 


L'Oréal Paris Infallible Never Fail Eyeliner

NYX Professional Makeup Epic Smoke Liner

The NYX Professional Makeup Epic Smoke Liner is another great choice if you love a smoky, blended eye look. It comes with a square-tipped eyeliner on one end that makes it easy to draw on crisp, defined lines, plus a flat paddle-shaped brush on the other that allows you to easily blend the liner out. Choose from a range of smoky shades, like gray, burgundy and classic black. 


NYX Professional Makeup Epic Smoke Liner

Lancôme Drama Liqui-Pencil Dramatic Eyeliner

This is a hybrid-gel formula that glides on with the rich, dramatic pigmentation of a liquid eyeliner and the beginner-friendly format of a pencil. Available in eight flattering, smoky shades and three finishes — matte, metallic and glitter — that are longwear and waterproof for up to 24 hours. 


Lancôme Drama Liqui-Pencil Dramatic Eyeliner

MAKEUP BY MARIO Master Pigment Pro Eyeliner Pencil

This creamy, matte and richly pigmented pencil sticks to your lids and waterline all day without smudging or fading. For a soft, subtle wing, try drawing the liner all the way to your outer corners, then softly drag the color out with the pencil’s attached brush. 


MAKEUP BY MARIO Master Pigment Pro Eyeliner Pencil

Melt Cosmetics Slick Waterline Eye Pencil

A nude eyeliner along your lower waterline will make your eyes look instantly brighter and more awake. These pencils from Melt Cosmetics come in four hues of nude to flatter fair, medium and deep complexions. Plus, they can double as an eyeshadow primer if you scribble them across the lid. 


Melt Cosmetics Slick Waterline Eye Pencil

Photographer: Chaunte Vaughn

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