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Learn to Apply Liquid Eyeliner Like a Pro

woman with winged eyeliner
Maria Ignatenko/Shutterstock

Many of today’s favorite eye makeup looks involve liquid eyeliner: the secret behind precise, defined cat-eyes and so much more.

But while the pros make it look easy, liquid eyeliner can quickly become the bane of a makeup lover’s existence. It’s messy, unforgiving, and requires a seemingly impossible level of precision. If you’re frustrated by the woes of liquid eyeliner, you’re not alone.

Look at it this way: if all of those people on Instagram learned how to apply it well, so can you. You just need the right tips and techniques—plus a lot of practice. Here’s what you need to know to get comfortable with one of makeup’s messiest products.

The Problem: Uneven Lines

Getting the line even on one eye, and then getting the second eye to match, is one of the most common issues people face when applying liquid eyeliner.

There’s no substitute for a steady hand, but it takes time to get there. To start, you may want to opt for a cream liner applied with a stiff angled brush, instead of a liquid liner pen. It’s easier to control the thicker cream formula, and a stiff brush offers more precision than a soft felt tip. Then, once you have some practice, you can move on to liquid.

An old art class trick works just as well here: lightly trace your lines with a regular eye pencil before bringing out the thicker liquid liner.

It can also help to sketch your lines before you add a liquid liner. Try a regular eye pencil, or a brown eyeshadow applied with an angled brush, to sketch the shape of your lines and wings. Use a pointed Q-tip and water to correct any mistakes. Then, once you have the shape right, you can easily trace it with liquid liner.

Finally, make sure you keep your eyes slightly open while you apply the liner. Otherwise, you’re using guesswork, which is sure to lead to mistakes.

The Problem: Smudged Liner

Once liquid eyeliner dries, it’s practically permanent. But until it’s dry, you run the risk of smudging your clean lines.

To fix this problem, try wiping excess product off the tip of your liner with a tissue before you apply it. You also may want to prep your lids with a bit of eyeshadow primer first, to make the liner stick. If you have oily lids, set your liner with a layer of translucent powder on top. And, of course, you should always wait for the liner to dry before moving on to your next step.

The Problem: Shaky Hands

If you just can’t get your hands to stay steady, don’t worry. You can still apply a liquid liner successfully.

Just try applying it across your lid in short dashes, instead of one long line. Once you connect each dash, no one will be able to tell you didn’t draw the line in one fell swoop.

If your hand isn’t steady enough, this connect-the-dots method doesn’t require one perfect swoop but looks perfect when you’re done.

You can also add a dot where you want the end of the wing to be before you draw it on. This helps ensure both wings are even. Then, just connect the dot with the line on your upper lid, and you’ll have a perfect winged liner.

The Problem: Messy Wings

Sometimes, it’s easy to draw the line on your lid, but when the time comes to draw the winged part at the outer edge, it turns messy. Which should come as no surprise—you’re trying to freehand-draw something super precise on your face.

The fix here is easy: just use something with a straight edge to keep your wings nice and neat. A piece of tape, a credit card, or anything else you have on hand can work. Place the straight edge so that it runs from the outer corner of your eye toward the end of your brow. Trace the straight line with eyeshadow or a pencil and use that line as a guide, or just apply liquid eyeliner against the straight edge.

The Problem: Gaps Between Liner and Lashes

If you don’t apply your eyeliner close enough to your lash line, you’ll be left with a sloppy-looking gap. It’s best to work on getting your line closer to your lashes. But when you do find a gap, just fill it in with black pencil, and no one will be able to tell the difference.

The Problem: Liner Ran Out

Did your liquid eyeliner run out of ink right when you needed it most?

You can fix this by storing your liners with the tip side down. This ensures that all the ink runs down to the tip.

As with all makeup techniques, practice makes perfect. And, in the end, you may decide that liquid eyeliner isn’t for you, and you prefer a different look, like an intentionally-smudgy kohl liner.

But if you really want to get the winged liner look down, these tips will get you there. And once you have that basic look mastered, your lids can become an expressive canvas for any geometric eyeliner style that speaks to you.

Want to wear your liquid liner even on sweltering days? Here’s how to keep your makeup in place in the summer heat!

Elyse Hauser Elyse Hauser
Elyse Hauser is a freelance and creative writer from the Pacific Northwest, and an MFA student at the University of New Orleans Creative Writing Workshop. She specializes in lifestyle writing and creative nonfiction. Read Full Bio »
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