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How to Apply Eyeliner: A Guide for Beginners

A beauty consultant by profession, Jayne has been advising on correct skin and hair care, makeup, and other cosmetics for over 20 years.

If you're ready to experiment with eyeliner, here's a quick tutorial to get you started. How to apply eyeliner and create stunning effects, no matter what your eye shape or size.


If you've avoided eyeliner because you think it doesn't suit you—as many women do—perhaps you haven't explored all the possibilities. Depending on eye shape and size and the effect you want to create, there are various ways of applying it as well as numerous colors and product types to choose from. It's just a question of experimenting.

You'll find that it not only accentuates and defines the eyes, but also works as a corrective cosmetic. For example, it can enlarge small eyes, "open up" hooded eyes, recede convex eyes, and add sparkle to tired eyes.

Types of Eyeliner

Liquid and Gel Eyeliner

Liquid Eyeliner

Liquid eyeliner creates a sharp, defined stroke. Half close the eye and gently pull at the outer corner for a perfectly even application.

Gel Eyeliner

Gel eyeliner is a little easier to apply if your hand is less than steady, and leaves a softer finish.

Both of these products are ideal if you want your eyeliner to stand out or if you favor dovetails. They are not suitable, however, for smudging and blending.


Kohl is available as a loose powder or, more commonly, compressed into a compact or pencil product. If using loose or compact kohl, apply with an angled or "pencil" brush.

Because kohl leaves a matte finish and is easily smudged and blended, it's ideal for a smoky evening look.

Wax Based Eyeliner

Wax based eyeliner is the easiest to apply, and comes as a pencil product or sometimes in a compact with an applicator. Because it's water resistant, it lasts longer on the waterline than other products.

Powder Eye Shadow as Eyeliner

You can apply powder eye shadow in place of kohl eyeliner using an angled or "pencil" brush.

For a more saturated, defined finish, dampen the brush before applying. A dry brush will give a softer, more diffused look.

An angled brush and liquid eyeliner.

An angled brush and liquid eyeliner.

How to Apply Eyeliner

The Classic Stroke

You can easily accentuate your eyes with a simple stroke of eyeliner along the upper lash line.

If you thicken the contour of the liner directly above the iris, small or narrow eyes will seem rounder. To elongate the eyes, extend the liner beyond the outer corners.

This is best done with liquid or gel eyeliner.

For Hooded and Downturned Eyes

Use eyeliner to correct the appearance of hooded and downturned eyes.

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Begin application directly above the pupil and thicken as you progress towards the outer eye corner. To balance the look, apply mascara more generously to the upper lashes from the inner eye corner to the center.

The "Wraparound"

For a defined, dramatic look, try the "wraparound." In other words, line your top and bottom lids, joining the eyeliner at each corner.

This won't work, however, on close set or small eyes.

For Close Set Eyes

For close set eyes, don’t join the upper and lower liner at the inner corners. It's also a good idea to elongate the outer corners to pull the eyes further apart.

For Small Eyes

For small eyes, don't join the liner at the inner and outer corners.

The Waterline

There are several reasons to apply eyeliner to the inner rim of the eye, which is referred to as the "waterline."

  • Apply dark eyeliner to the lower waterline to add definition and intensity.
  • Make tired, reddened eyes seem brighter by applying a light colored eyeliner to the lower waterline. The most effective color for this is beige.
  • If your eyes are small, or if they appear smaller due to eyeglasses for nearsightedness, light colored eyeliner on the lower waterline makes them look bigger.
  • Dark eyeliner applied to the upper waterline makes lashes seem longer and thicker as well as adding discreet definition.

"Tightlining" Small Eyes

Applying dark eyeliner to the upper and lower waterline is called "tightlining" and is essential if you want a full-blown smoky look. The trouble is, it can make small eyes seem even smaller.

To counteract this, place tiny dots of kohl between the bottom lashes as close to the lash line as possible, as illustrated below. Then, using a soft eye shadow brush, go over the dots with quick, inward strokes from inner to outer eye corner until they are merged. Your eyes should appear to return to their normal size. This technique also recedes protruding eyes.

If you do this along your upper lash line, your lashes will seem significantly longer.

... place tiny dots of kohl between your bottom lashes as close as possible to your lash line

... place tiny dots of kohl between your bottom lashes as close as possible to your lash line

The Lid crease

Another way of making small, narrow, or hooded eyes look larger and rounder is by placing kohl in the lid crease. Blend well with a soft eye shadow brush using upward and outward strokes.

Eye Shadow on a Kohl Base

This is the perfect base for smoky eyes or cat eyes, and will keep your eye makeup looking fresh from dusk till dawn, which is ideal for big events like galas and weddings.

Using a pencil product, apply kohl as illustrated below. With a soft eye shadow brush, blend from outer to inner eye corner in outward and upward strokes. Fix with translucent powder before applying eye shadow.

Eye shadow on a kohl base

Eye shadow on a kohl base

Extra Tips You May Find Useful When Applying Eyeliner

  • Apply eyeliner first, then mascara.
  • Fix pencil eyeliner with translucent powder to prevent it printing on your upper eye area.
  • For sanitary reasons, always sharpen pencil products before use.
  • If you find black eyeliner too severe for day wear, try brown or gray.
  • For close set eyes, always apply dark colors towards the outer eye corner.
  • You don’t have to apply an eye makeup primer if you're wearing foundation, since this does the same job. If your eyes are deep set, a base of foundation or concealer two nuances lighter than your complexion works like magic to brighten and "bring out" the eyes.

© 2010 Jayne Lancer


saesha on January 08, 2011:

i love this article, it's so helpful!

Jayne Lancer (author) from West London, UK on March 29, 2010:

I'm so pleased! I keep worrying that I haven't explained properly; glad to see it worked for you.

Be warned, the eye shadow on a kohl base is difficult, and takes practice. But when you get it right, everyone will want to know what you've done, and want to do it themselves.

Well, you've certainly made my day!

Thank you so much for letting me know.

a.l. laurice from United States on March 29, 2010:

I've been trying to figure out that dark smoldery look since high school. I followed your tip and put the little dots between the lashes, and it worked brilliantly. I can't wait to try the eyeshadow on a kohl base--after I practice a bit more with the liner lol. Thanks!

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