How to Apply Eyeliner with Perfect Form (and Straight Results) Every Time

No-fail tips for mastering five classic techniques

Woman with Eyeliner Pencil
Photo: Image Source/Getty Images

There's more than one way to apply eyeliner. That being said, no matter whether we're talking about how to apply liquid eyeliner, how to apply pencil eyeliner, or how to apply gel eyeliner there are a few hard and fast rules that are universally applicable. No eye pulling, heavy lower-lining, or applying when you're in a rush. The last of these always ends terribly. Most other eyeliner transgressions are easily forgiven—if not up to personal discretion. As for just how you go about getting the perfect subtle line that both widens and brightens eyes? Well, that's dependent primarily on your eye shape. Once you've nailed down the proper eyeliner technique for your eye shape (more on that here), allow us to serve as your guides on the journey to perfecting your lash-line look.

Tightline Eyeliner

Ever heard of it? It's the subtlest of eyeliner techniques and, quite surprisingly, not too tricky to pull off if you use our no-fail process. The easiest way to go about tightlining is to start with either a liquid or gel liner. Simply dab your brush or eye pen just below your upper lash line, but above the waterline. It creates a little extra oomph, making your lashes appear thicker than what can be achieved with just a coat or two of mascara alone.

Products to Try:

Bobbi Brown Long-Wear Gel Eyeliner, $30;

Bobbi Brown Ultra Precise Eyeliner Brush, $31;

Lancome Artliner Precision Felt Tip Liquid Eyeliner, $31;

Waterline Eyeliner

Approach with caution. Sensitive eyes? Allergies? This one isn't for you. Let us also say that a pencil is your best tool for this type of application. With caution (read: extreme levels), pull back your lashes so your waterline comes into view. Now, you may have tried this before and wondered why your liner just wouldn't stick. It's probably because there was too much moisture on the application site. Gently dry the waterline with a cotton swab or cotton pad then, use your pencil to line the dried waterline. You can also employ the same technique on your lower lash waterline if you're looking to really kick up the drama. Whatever you do, don't lay it on too thick.

Product to Try:

L'Oreal Paris Infallible Pro-Last Waterproof Eyeliner, $5;

Winged Eyeliner

What's the difference between a cat eye and winged liner, you ask? Some might say they're one in the same. As far as we're concerned though, there is a subtle difference. With a cat eye, there's a definite upward motion, whereas winged liner just means your liner extends beyond your lash line—it could go out or up but, please, never down. There are a few different ways to achieve a winged liner look, but perhaps the simplest is just extending your liner out slightly beyond the lashes, then bringing a line from the lower corner of the lid up to meet it. Go thin at first, adding more weight as desired. It's always easier to make a line heavier, but thinning it out typically requires completely starting over.

Product to Try:

Marc Jacobs Beauty Highliner Gel Eye Crayon Eyeliner, $25;

Cat Eye Eyeliner

It is possible to freehand a cat eye but, in the year 2019, you don't have to. Simply use the nifty little guitar pick-like tool linked below to trace the edge of your liner and create the perfect cat eye. The real conundrum is going to be finding the right time and place for this high-stakes look. Sunday service with Mama and them? Probably not. Saturday night out with the girls? Absolutely. But, as with most things, less is more. Just a subtle flick of liner, a hint of a cat eye, will do you just fine.

Product to Try:

BeautyBlender Liner.Designer, $16;

WATCH: How To Apply Eyeliner

Smudged Eyeliner

You're going to want to watch a few YouTube videos before trying your hand at this one (start here). Begin with a liner and a powder eyeshadow in a color similar to that of your liner. Apply your liner to your lash line (we'll leave it to you as to whether you choose to go lower, upper, or both). Then take your shadow and smudge it into your liner, using an angled brush. To finish, go heavy on the mascara. Now is the time to bust out your lengthening and volumizing wands—even if you need to use two different varieties. We're fans of a mix-and-match mascara adventure, too.

Products to Try:

Maybelline Volum' Express Colossal BIG Shot, starting at $6;

Urban Decay Naked2 Basics Eyeshadow Palette, $29;

Lancome Dual-Ended Brush for Eyeliner & Eyeshadow, $33;

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