The Beginner’s Guide to Mastering Eyeliner

Woman with winged eyeliner

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Ah, eyeliner. We love you so, but must you be so difficult? We give you all our time and patience, and yet you still rebel like an angry teen, wobbling and smudging and streaking to no end. To which we say enough. That's why we’re taking things back to basics today and sharing 10 game-changing tips for the eyeliner inept (or just those who've never given it a chance). These are the very tips that have helped us overcome our eyeliner frustrations and greatly improved our tracing, retracing, and flicking. We even enlisted the help of two makeup artists to share their secrets to mastering eyeliner.

Meet the Expert

  • Melissa Murdick is a celebrity makeup artist who works with Selena Gomez. She is also the creator of The Pretty Fix, an organization that helps the transfeminine community master makeup.
  • Renee Loiz is a celebrity makeup artist and founder of Color May Vary, a Black-owned beauty guide.

Keep scrolling for 10 game-changing eyeliner tips for beginners—along with our favorite eyeliner products.

eyeliner tips for beginners
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Start With a Pencil

ick Pencil
Urban Decay 24/7 Glide-On Eye Pencil $22.00
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If you’re new to the eyeliner game, you might be overwhelmed by all your options. Pencil, gel, liquid, felt… The list goes on. We’ll give you our best advice: Pick a pencil. Why? Because it’s the easiest and a great starting point for eyeliner beginners. A smooth pencil glides on easily, doesn’t tug, and is more forgiving with shaky hands than liquid or gel.

"Similar to writing with a pencil, an eyeliner pencil is the easiest and most fail-proof eyeliner to use for beginners," says Loiz. "Just hold as you would a regular pencil and draw along your lash line. I’d also recommend using a non-waterproof eyeliner pencil and having Q-tips and makeup remover on hand to easily erase any mistakes."

For everyday makeup, brown or black are classic options, but if you want to branch out, choose a color that makes your eye color pop more. "Copper for blue eyes and plum for green or brown eyes will still look natural but give you a little more oomph," says Murdick.

Layer Your Liners

Layer Your Liners
Kat Von D Tattoo Liner $23.00
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Crave the inky-black, perfectly flicked look of liquid liner but lack the technique for a precise line? Line your eye with a pencil liner first, then layer the liquid on top. This intensifies your line, without requiring the skill of tracing precisely on a blank canvas (i.e., your lid). 

"While looking down in the mirror, tilt your head back, then steady your drawing arm/elbow on a flat surface," says Loiz. "Start at the outer corners of the eye and draw liner going inward and go as close to your lash line as you can. Draw the line slow and steady. Fill in any gaps between your lashes with the eyeliner to give the illusion of fuller lashes. If you have any mistakes, clean them up with a Q-tip and makeup remover."

Connect the Dashes

Connect the Dashes
Pixi Beauty Endless Silky Eye Pen $12.00
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If your lid always seems to tug when you apply liner, you might want to try a simpler route. Namely, drawing three dashes along your eye, then connecting them.

"It's kind of like playing connect the dots," says Loiz. "Have fun with it and take your time. Practice makes perfect."

You can blend the line using an angled eyeliner brush, or simply clean up any unevenness with a cotton swab dipped in makeup remover (or lotion). 

Clench Your Toes (Yes, Really)

Clench Your Toes (Yes, Really)
Eyeko Skinny Liquid Eyeliner $22.00
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So you’re getting the hang of eyeliner, but your hands are still annoyingly shaky. Here’s an easy solution: Clench your toes. We learned this weird cat-eye trick from Kat Von D’s makeup artist, so you know his technique is gospel, and put it to the test. Simply put, it works. You’re welcome.

Murdick says she has another trick to help your eyeliner look flawless. "If you have shaky hands—create some stability for yourself. Do your makeup sitting at a table so you can rest your elbow on the table," she says. "If you don’t have a table handy, create what I call a ‘pinky kickstand’ by resting your pinky on your cheek as you apply the eyeliner." 

Flick Out, Then Connect

Flick Out, Then Connect
Revlon ColorStay Eyeliner Pencil $9.00
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Cat-eyes are intimidating for the unschooled—we get it. Our advice to beginners is to start from the outside in. Place your eyeliner in the outer corner of your eye, draw a wing up at the same angle as your lower lid, and then trace a line along your upper lid and connect it to your wing.

Still feeling intimated by the cat-eye? Try a cat-eye guide or stamp, such as Kaja Wink Stamp Eyeliner ($25). "Guide eyeliner will be your new best friend. This is the easiest way to make a perfect cat-eye," says Loiz. You simply position the cat-eye stamp at the outside corner of your eye and press down. It stamps a perfect cat-eye. You then use the included eyeliner pin to draw along the lashes and connect the wing.

Feel like you still need a visual on perfecting the cat-eye? We've got a step-by-step tutorial for you.


Those who have hooded eyes should avoid a cat-eye as thicker liner can make your eye shape look distorted. "Hooded eyes should always focus on keeping eyeliner thin, precise, and as close to your lash line as possible," says Murdick.

Clean Up

Clean Up
Muji Cotton Buds $9.00
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We’re going to let you in on a little secret: Even pros don’t trace a perfect line every time. Most makeup artists will reach for a cotton swab to perfect their lines and flicks—just dip in a bit of makeup remover (or even eye cream) to wipe away mistakes. Another industry secret? Muji Cotton Buds ($9), which are tightly wound and allow you a super-precise cleanup. Beyoncé’s makeup artist swears by them, as do many others.

Try Tightlining

Try Tightlining
Dior Diorshow Kohl $30.00
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Ever heard of tightlining? It’s pretty much the easiest way to wear eyeliner and will define your eyes in the subtlest way. To tightline your eyes, gently place one finger in the center of your eyelid, then lift your lid. Take an eyeliner (black is preferable) and trace a line on the area of skin below your lash line. (You’re going to look weird doing this, but we promise the result is worth it). We recommend taking an eyeliner brush and smudging out the line so it isn’t as harsh. Then, just curl your lashes and apply mascara as usual. Your eyes will pop, we promise.

Set Your Liner

set your liner
Laura Mercier Translucent Loose Setting Powder $39.00
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If you have oily lids or hooded eyes, you may be tempted to give up liner after seeing the streaked, smudged mess on your lid at the end of the day. Luckily, there’s a simple fix. Just take a bit of loose translucent powder on a fluffy eyeshadow brush, and apply it over your liner to set it.

Another trick is to only buy waterproof eyeliners. "Whether it’s a pencil or liquid, make sure it’s waterproof," says Murdick. "Also, don’t apply eyeliner to bare eyelids. At least put down an eye primer or do a basic eyeshadow look. This gives the liner something to grab onto and also helps absorb any of the oils on your eyelid that can cause smudging."

Go Nude

Go Nude
Rimmel Scandal Eyes Waterproof Eyeliner $5.00
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Tired eyes? Here’s the easiest remedy ever: Take a nude eyeliner pencil and lightly trace your bottom waterline. The nude will open up your eye and make you look like you got eight hours of sleep (even if you were up all night binging Netflix). "If you want to wake up your eyes, use a tone that looks like a light skin tone—so something off-white with a hint of pink or yellow to it," says Murdick. "Don't forget eye drops are your best friend when you’re tired. They help eyes look refreshed before you put on your makeup."

Stay away from white liner, which will only accentuate any redness in your eyes and give a distinctly ’60s-vibe. Great for Twiggy, not so much for you. "Pure white works, but it’s too harsh and attention-grabbing in my opinion. Using a more natural shade brightens things up without causing a distraction," says Loiz. Try Make Up Forever's Artist Color Pencil ($20), which is available in a variety of neutral shades.

Tailor Your Technique

Tailor Your Technique
L'Oréal Paris Infallible Never Fail Eyeliner $5.00
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Now that you’ve mastered all of the above, we have one last piece of advice for you: Consider tailoring your eyeliner application to your eye shape. This small adjustment might just solve all your eyeliner frustrations (e.g., wobbly lines and uneven wings).

For small eyes, Murdick says there are a few tricks to open up your eyes. "If you have small eyes, heavy liner across the eye can make them look even smaller. Stick to lining only the outer half of the eye— from the center of the eye to the outer corner. You can even make the liner a bit thicker as it gets to the outer edge to give the eyes a bit of a lift."

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