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How-to: Eyeliner

Eyeliner is often considered essential in finishing eye makeup or accenting the bare eye. You would be surprised at how much of a difference adding a touch of black eyelilner on the lower rim of your eye can be. There are many different types of liner–from gel to kohl to liquid to pencil–and nearly infinite shades and colors. Even textures vary from brand to brand and certain types of liner have a specific texture.

Gel liners are similar to both kohl and pencil liners, but they might seem a bit “wetter” and more movable (kind of like fluidliners, which come in a pot-form). Liquid liner is just what it says; liquid color that is applied using either a separate brush or with an included applicator. The biggest differences between liquid and other forms of liner are that liquid liners can allow for stronger color, often have longer staying power, and more precision.

When applied correctly (with a great deal of accuracy!), liquid liner allows for a distinct and precise line of color. Gel liners like fluidliners also allow for similar precision when used with thin angle brushes (like MAC’s 266). Fluidlines in particular also provide the same staying power and usually similar in color boldness as liquid liners. Kohl and pencil liners have a higher chance of the liner migrating to the corners of the eyes throughout the day, but they are easily handled by even makeup beginners because they give the user more precision and forgive more easily than a liquid liner’s applicator. However, kohl pencils are frequently used along the lower lash line, and especially for smokey eyes. It is easy to smudge black kohl liners with brushes, q-tips, or sponge-tip applicators (pick your poison!). Liquid liner is really great for lining the upper lash line because of the sensitivity of the eyelids, the softness and lightness in pressure of the liquid liner work very well. Sometimes pencil liners take several strokes to get the color strength desired, and lining the upper lash line is hard enough without taking this into account.

Black is often known as a staple eyeliner color, and it is a good idea to have one in your make-up bag, but there are many other shades to choose from and shouldn’t be ignored. Of course there are liners in every color imaginable, but other good staples for a collection would be brown, dark gray, and gray. Even if you cannot find a particular eyeliner in the color you want, eyeshadows can be used dry or wet to line eyes, as well. Some people find that putting a touch of dry shadow on their lower lash line helps accent the colors they used on their lid.

In terms of application of liner, users with small eyes may find lining both the upper and lower lash line to be counterproductive and actually make their eyes appear even smaller. Someone with naturally big, open eyes may find the opposite is true: lining both can further open and enhance their eyes. To apply liner on the upper lash line, one method to do this is by using one of your fingers to lightly pull your eyelid slightly upwards and to the side. To apply liner to the lower lash line, look up if you can and apply liner against lower lash line. To get deeper color, it may be necessary to go over the same area with the kohl pencil several times. The lower lash line is definitely easier to apply liner to than the upper lash line–at least for most people!

When lining the upper lid or using liquid liner, be cautioned that liquid liner is much less forgiving for errors in application than pencil. Keep this in mind, because practice, practice, practice is essential to master the artistry of liquid liner (and liner, in general, too!). Just don’t get caught up in frustration when it doesn’t work. One way to practice without ruining your makeup for the day is to make liner attempts shortly before you are ready to remove your makeup for the day/night. This way you can see how it works for you without worrying about a jagged line or smudges over your eyeshadow. Another trick is to start off make-up application by lining the lid (upper, lower, or both) and using make-up remover (usually with a q-tip) to clean up any mistakes and keep the line defined and precise.

It is truly practice that is going to give you the results you want, so stick with it and let it come as you experiment and try it out.

Product Suggestions: I suggest the following specific products as my preferences in lining: MAC technakohl in Graphblack for a strong black; L’Oreal Automatic liner in Ebony for a good drugstore black; MAC’s fluidline in Blacktrack for a good gel liner black; MAC’s Boot Black liquid liner; MAC liquidlasts make for great colored liquid liners, as well.


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jenn Avatar

one good way of practising using liquid is going over pencil eyeliner… or at least it has helped me a lot….

i also def recommand maybeline’s stylist its the best ive used so far… it goes on smoothly, and it actually stays put

Julia Avatar

I second that – I still do it, and I’ve been using liquid eyeliner off and on for years. It’s so easy, even though the extra step can be sort of time consuming. It works for a perfectionist like me with a not so steady hand.

Jess Avatar

The Smashbox liner brush with a bent end is AMAZING for putting on liners- they have little pots of gel liners that go with it, and you can get a very precise line that takes sharpening a pencil over and over again to achieve otherwise. It goes on similarly to liquid liner, but with a longer brush handle for more control, and less mess because the liner isn’t a liquid. I use it every day with their liners and they have lots of colors that go with everything. My favorite part about the brush is that it lets me get inside my lower lid in a way that I wouldn’t be able to otherwise.

Denise Avatar

Do you have any specific liner suggestion to someone with very watery eyes/oily skin? Even when using an awesome primer my liner smears and smudges so I can never have a cat tail or anything fun/retro. The ONLY liner I have EVER used that stays on well is the Revlon ColorStay eyepencils, but I would like to be able to wear something with a thicker, creamier texture for “mod” looks and whatnot instead of just having a precise line. I have also tried several liquid liners and the Smashbox cream liner to no avail. Haven’t tried anything from MAC yet, is there something that may work for me? Urban Decay and Too Faced shadows stay on well for me, as do matte MAC shadows, but the veluxe do not. If that helps. Thanks 🙂

Christine Avatar

MAC’s liquidlast liners are very, very long lasting. I mean, you can swatch them on your hand, and unless you do some major scrubbing… it’s not going to budge! MAC’s Blacktrack fluidline has great staying power and is a bit easier to lose than the liquid last (it’s a gel liner). I find Blacktrack stays on my waterline most of the day with no problems, even when my eyes do get watery.

Have you tried Satin finish shadows? Not sure if you have, but those should work well for you – they’re quite similar to matte shdaows. 🙂


Meme Avatar


Great tips as always!

I have a question about lining the eyes.

Is it bad for the eyes (i.e. increase chances of infection) to line the lower inner rim (waterline) on a regular basis?
Are there any tips to prevent the eyeliner from dissapearing/smudging from this area – I find that since the waterline is watery, it tends to dilute the liner.

Would it be too much to line both the lower waterline AND the lower outter lashes? Would that close off the eyes too much?

Christine Avatar

Hi Meme! No, I’ve never heard it was bad for the eyes to line the lower rim… so long as you’re lining it with a recommended pencil liner – i.e. not using something that you know isn’t eye safe! You can set lower lash liner with a powder eyeshadow to help it stay on longer, or you can invest in better staying products. I’ve found that MAC’s Blacktrack fluidliner doesn’t budge or smudge at all on my lower water line. Nope, it wouldn’t be too much – I generally line both the water line and lower lash line. I don’t go too thickly on the lower lash line, but enough so you can see it. It might be too much if you line the upper lash line AND the lower lash line (it happens to some people, like myself), though.

Meme Avatar


thanks for the tips – a thought just popped up…would it be safe to use a waterproof pencil liner in the waterline, or would that be a bad idea?

Meme Avatar

Hi Christine,

I know this was a question from a while ago, but what kind of brush do you recommend for applying fluidline to the waterline?

Meme Avatar

Hi Christine,

Thanks for answering my question!

That’s an EXCELLENT idea! I was hoping it didn’t have to do with brushes because for some reason, I find it really difficult to line my waterline with any sort of brush.

I’ll definitely give it a try, thanks!

How much of Blacktrack do you pick up on the pencil at a time? And do you sort of swirl the tip of the technakohl in the fluidline?

Meme Avatar

Dotting an “i” – great description there =)

How do you find the black technakohl on its own for waterlining? Does it seem to stay put for a long time/not smudge?

Thanks for answering all my questions, hope I’m not bugging you too much!

Christine Avatar

haha, we have the same name.

I have tried all of the recommended before and I have to say Chanel’s Le Crayon Kohl is the most amazing thing in the world.
Other than that, amazing article! I love your site!

Janis Avatar

Hey Christine! I love playing with different colored eyeliners coz I think they make my eye color pop out even just recently I bought Permaplum and Tealo which I absolutely adore! I did stumble into the different colors of Mac’s Fluidline (which I really liked) but some of the colors seem to me, too light for an eyeliner. What looks do you think I can do with Iris Eyes (a light lavender) and Blue Peep (light teal/blue? Thanks!

Christine Avatar

Hey Janis! Different colors are great ways to spice up an old look or even just a quick-on-the-go look, too.

Blue Peep is gorgeous on the waterline/lower lash line – people use this one all the time. Iris Eyes is lovely on the waterline as well, really opens up eyes.

Tiffany Avatar

Hello I am a first time user of the liquidlast liner, and I made a mess, what should I use to help me remove my mess I tryed soap and water and witch hazel to try to remove it and it would not leave. Please help.

Audrey Avatar

Hey Christine,

Eyeliner has always been one of the few products I usually avoid. I hate the black heavily-lined eye look that most of the girls wear at my high school. How can I wear eyeliner to enhance my eyes and still look youthful and fresh?

Also, I’ve heard that blondes should avoid black on the eyes. What do you think?

Christine Avatar

Hi Audrey!

If you want to go light on liner, you don’t have to do heavy black liner, you can do thin and still open up your eyes. For more natural look, but still defined, try lining with a dark brown liner instead of blacks.

I disagree – blondes can most definitely use black to line!!

Clara Avatar

Great site by the way! It was EXACTLY what I was looking for, keep up the good work! 🙂
I got liquidlast in point black last year and I HATED it, I sold it on ebay… way too gloopy, mistakes were virtually impossible to correct and very difficult to remove but I know MAC do glittery liners in the liquidlast line so I’m intrigued to give it another go. Are they all like that or was the black one just a bad apple in the liquidlast range?

Christine Avatar

Hey Clara! Thank you!

Okay, it shouldn’t have been gloopy at all. It should be thin and smooth, not water thin, but the consistency of normal liner. It’s probably a bad apple.

MAC is coming out with some glitter liners soon, though. Those are well liked!

Kendra Avatar

I would have to say for me personally, applying liner to my lower lash line is harder than the upper lash line- for some reason I get sloppy and thick lines when I do the bottom! Then don’t get me started on trying to do my waterline- I either poke my eye or start crying nonstop and get everything smeared!

Kayla Avatar

Hey there!

Any tips for those of us who wear contacts, in regards to waterline /lower lash line application? Things to avoid and the like?

….btw, i LOVE this site! 😀

Sharon Avatar

Hey, I really need help! I’ve always worn liner pencils for my waterline an no problems but I recently bought the milani liquifeye pencil and it’s so rich and dark and creamy but it’s making my eyes water I’ve always worn pencils don’t know what’s the prob? I’ve tried shadow over and still watery! Helllppp 🙁

Sydney Avatar

I have a question. What is your best eyeliner for staying all day on the waterline? I’ve tried fluidline and UD 24/7 eyeliner pencil, both set with black eyeshadow, but I find that doing this just makes it smudge and looks bad. When I don’t set it, it doesn’t smudge, but it also comes off my waterline so quickly. I hate touching up my eyeliner, so what would you recommend?

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