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How to apply liquid eyeliner, according to makeup artists

These tips are for everyone from beginners to professionals.
TODAY Illustration / Amazon / Ulta / Beautylish

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Whether you're new to eyeliner or years into your makeup journey, you probably know that working with liquid liner is no easy feat. If you're like me, no matter how many YouTube tutorials you watch, you just can't seem to get it right.

To ease some of the woes that come with attempting to apply liquid eyeliners, Shop TODAY spoke to two makeup artists to get their tips and find out the best products to work with.

What to look for when shopping for liquid eyeliner

Celebrity makeup artists Ehlie Luna and Jeannia Robinette emphasized the importance of choosing the right brush tip when shopping for liquid eyeliners.

The two types of liquid eyeliner tips are brush tips and felt tips. Further within those two types are thicker and thinner tips with varying flexibility ranges. Robinette says thicker felt tip eyeliners that look like pens are easier to use and are a good choice for beginners.

The look you’re trying to create is another factor that influences which tip you should choose, Luna told us. If you want to focus on inner corner definition for a more feline look, she says you’ll want a more precise liquid eyeliner with a finer tip.

Another thing to look for is how much product comes out during application. This one might be harder to determine while shopping online, but Luna suggests finding out how much product saturates the brush tip through customer reviews and feedback. If it lets out a lot of product on one swipe and you’re not experienced in using liquid eyeliner, it can be overwhelming and make the process messy or difficult. On the other hand, you don’t want an eyeliner that releases liquid inconsistently, Robinette added.

How to do a cat eye or winged eyeliner

A cat eye or winged eyeliner look is probably one of the first things that comes to mind for people when thinking about liner. “It seems like the easiest thing, but it’s the hardest thing if you’re not a makeup artist. It’s really hard to do on yourself,” Robinette said.

The number one mistake she says people make is closing their eye when trying to do a winged liner. Instead, she says you should keep your eye open, look straight ahead at yourself and use the liner to extend your eye.

She also stressed not using mascara on your lower lashes and making sure to clean the area around the eyeliner to make sure your lines look sleek.

One of the ways Luna suggests doing a cat eye is to follow your bottom waterline and use it to guide the angle of your wing. “A lot of times people will just start doing their liner and they try to imagine a shape,” she laughed. “Everything in makeup relates to the face, it relates to the features. These are our anchor points so we know where to start and where to aim.”

The other method she offered is a three-dot — also referred to as a tic-tac-toe — method: a starting dot on your waterline, a dot at the point you want your wing to come out to and a dot on your lash line where you’d like your wing to end.

Robinette is a big fan of the cat eye look combined with “a good brow” and mascara. “I think it’s the number one thing that a woman can do to make her eyes look more open, to make her look more sexy, to make the eyes look beautiful without putting a lot of makeup on,” she said.

How to do eyeliner on hooded eyes

One way to do eyeliner on hooded eyes, Robinette offered, is to just keep the eyeliner on the outside of the eye, like a half-cat eye. “ You just want to do the most natural, tiny little flick on the end,” she said. “You’re just using the black and the flick of the eyeliner on the edge to lift your eye up.”

If you want to do a traditional full cat eye or winged eyeliner on hooded eyes, Luna offered tips for a different approach. She recommends starting out with the same tips she offered earlier, using your waterline as a guide for the angle of your wing. With hooded eyes, this is when she recommended stopping and looking straight ahead, then proceeding by moving the liner across the top to close up that wing but ignoring the fold as you do so.

“There’s usually a crease or a fold or something there where the liner gets eaten up by it. The way to get past that is to go past it. Treat it as if it's flat and just go right over it,” she said. “You might have to sketch and work in smaller strokes. Then open the eye, see what needs to be filled — usually there’s a little bit of a gap — and then fill it in a way that is aesthetically pleasing to you so that when your eyes are open, it’ll be a liquid liner and when you look down, it’ll be a fierce design.”

Most importantly, she said, work very slowly. It can be tempting to want to move as fast as the people in videos you see on social media, but Luna stressed the importance of remembering their ability to edit out clips of them cleaning up the look or redoing it over and over again. So take your time!

Additional tips for using liquid eyeliner

  • Experiment with different brush tips. If you’re a beginner, Luna suggests trying out different brush tips with more accessible brands to determine which type you work best with before making a pricier investment. “If you want to do it and you enjoy doing it, it’s worth investing a little time and discovering ‘How do I work best?’’
  • Don’t put eyeliner on your waterline. While you want to use a waterline as a guide for the angle of your eyeliner, you don’t want to make the mistake of actually putting the product on your waterline, Luna warns. “With liquid liners, if it’s not formulated to go on your waterline, don’t put it there,” she said.
  • Use liquid eyeliner as the last step. Both Robinette and Luna recommend drawing your eyeliner on first with a pencil or brush and a gel liner, then going over it with a liquid eyeliner to increase intensity and finalize the look. This method also takes some of the pressure off of having to get it exactly right the first time around and leaves you with some room for error, Luna added.
  • Use pointy cotton swabs to clean it up. Robinette specifically recommends using pointy cotton swabs to clean up your eyeliner looks. “[It] keeps it pointy and crisp and you really get a clean line. 99 percent of the time, I do not do any makeup without those pointy Q-tips,” she laughed.
  • Curl your eyelashes. To get the most out of your eyeliner look, Robinette says you should curl your eyelashes. “Even if you have curly lashes, when you use an eyelash curler, it just makes it look all together,” she said.
  • Be careful closing your eyeliners. When closing up brush-tip liquid eyeliners, pay close attention and make sure you’re not crashing the cap into the brush because it can ruin it, Luna advised.
  • Store your liquid liners tip down. This method will keep your brush tip from drying out, Luna told us. “Sometimes if you have your brush stored the opposite way, gravity over time is just going to be pulling everything down. Then when you go to grab it, you might get an inconsistent or drier tip. Store it tip down so they’re always ready to go.”

Best liquid eyeliners to use, according to makeup artists

Maybelline Hyper Easy Liquid Pen Eyeliner

For a budget-friendly option, Robinette recommends this Maybelline liner that rings in at less than $10. "It’s really easy to put on as well and it gives you that nice inky black look," she said.

Haus Laboratories Liquid Eye-Lie-Ner

Luna recommends this liquid eyeliner for beginners because of its larger felt tip. "I think it’s better for doing a liner across the lash line," she said.

Uoma Beauty Afro.Dis.Iac Cleopatra Ink Liquid Eyeliner

Luna likes this eyeliner for its precise felt tip. According to the brand, this eyeliner is water-resistant, smudge-proof, transfer-resistant and removes easily on contact with warm water.

Lancôme Idole Ultra-Precise Felt Tip Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner

Another recommendation from Robinette, this eyeliner has a felt tip and boasts up to 24 hours of waterproof wear. According to the brand, it's the perfect eyeliner for beginners because of its slim tip for seamless application.

Benefit Cosmetics They're Real! Xtreme Precision Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner

Robinette is a big fan of this liner from Benefit Cosmetics, a brand she's worked with in the past. She says they have her go-to liquid liner. She likes that it glides on easily, doesn't dry out too quickly, doesn't smudge and offers highly-pigmented color.

Hindash Heroline

This one is a favorite of Luna's, so much so that she was actively applying it while we were chatting! "This is a beautiful liquid liner and it does give you a lot of control. The product comes out so evenly and beautifully," she said.

Lancôme Artliner Precision Point Liquid Eyeliner

Robinette recommends this eyeliner for amateurs and says it's the one her 73-year-old mother uses. "She doesn’t mess up that much because it’s easy to control because the brush isn’t that advanced," she said.