Dec 11, 2023

Types Of Eyeliner: Which Eyeliner Is Best For Beginners?

What's the best eyeliner for beginners? + Other eyeliner questions, answered.

12/10/23 Update: since this interview was originally published in 2022, several readers have written in with additional questions. We passed them along to Alyssia, and she was kind enough to provide additional answers. You'll find the new questions and answers at the end of the original article.

Formulate user Cecilia is in need of some advice:

I'm getting married next June! Yay! I'm getting my hair done by a pro but I didn't want to shell out to have my makeup done because ya girl has a budget. I figured I would save a bit by increasing my overall makeup knowledge and doing it myself. I've never really been a person who wears a ton of eyeliner but I know I'll want to wear a little to make my eyes pop. I really like it on other people, I just never bothered to get into it very much myself because eh, who has the time to do eyeliner every day? So now the problem is that I know almost nothing about eyeliner since I never really wear it. My plan is to practice a lot until I get better. And that's where I need your help. What are my eyeliner options, what are all the different types? Is there a type that's best for beginners? Should you apply eyeshadow or eyeliner first? Also I've heard liquid eyeliner typically looks best, is that true? 

Thanks for writing, Cecilia. Congratulations on your big day! To answer your questions, we consulted professional makeup artist/educator Alyssia Chang, founder of Prevail Beauty. We've included our conversation with her below - we hope it helps!

Types of Eyeliner

Formulate: Hi Alyssia! Thanks for your help. What are the different types of eyeliners, and what are the pros/cons of each for a beginner?

Alyssia: There are 4 main types of eyeliner categories: Gel, Liquid, Pencil, and Powder. 

Gel eyeliner is generally easy to apply. It's a great gateway to learning how to master eyeliner before using liquid. Gel provides a very smooth, even finish. It also tends to last longer than other types of eyeliner. You can get a clean, even line. However, it can be difficult to remove and may smudge more easily than other types depending on the formula. 

Liquid eyeliner creates a clean, defined line. It provides a very even pigmented finish. It comes in matte, satin, or a luster finish. There are many colors and you can also get metallic or glitter formulas. The downside is that it can be harder to apply depending on the applicator. The user might have difficulties creating a nice line if they have an unsteady hand. Also, be careful if you have lash extensions as many do contain oil as a base.

 Pencil eyeliner is the most versatile type of eyeliner and the easiest to use. It can be used to create a variety of looks, from tightlining to smudged-out thick, dramatic wings. Pencil eyeliner is also relatively easy to remove. It comes in different formulas: Kohl (best for smudging), Gel (best for long-wearing), and waterproof. A couple of cons is that pencil liner might transfer and may need to be sharpened frequently if it doesn't have twist-up packaging. 

Image content: A small container of black gel eyeliner next to a small makeup brush.

Powder eyeliner is the most natural, soft, and beginner-friendly way to apply liner. It is perfect for defining your lash line and making a template for your liquid or gel. It is the fastest way to achieve a framed eye. The downside is that powder can fade or wear off quicker, might not show up as deep as you want it to, and doesn't create clean-cut lines.

Formulate: What kind of looks does each type of eyeliner work best for? Why?

Alyssia: Gel eyeliner is an eyeliner that is great for creating an opaque line but without the advanced makeup skills needed for liquid liner. It is great for an evening-to-night look as the formula isn't light or natural. 

Liquid eyeliner makes the best dramatic liner looks. Think bold, graphic, or winged-out eyeliner. The super pigmented and very sharp lines make it easy to create evening-to-night shapes. 

Pencil eyeliner is very versatile due to the vast range of formulas it comes in. It is the only eyeliner that is safe for the waterline and tightlining as it is a "dry" texture. It will stay on the waterline area and won't leak into the eye itself. It is also amazing for creating a smudged-out line on the top eyelid. If you have a gel-based pencil eyeliner, it can make great graphic line shapes. 

Powder eyeliner is best for natural and daytime looks. When you want a soft definition and natural frame for the eye, the powder texture makes the liner look easily diffused onto the skin and has a soft blended edge.

Image content: Person looking into mirror applying pencil eyeliner at corner of left eye.

Eyeshadow or eyeliner first?

Formulate: Should you apply eyeshadow or eyeliner first? Why and how? 

Alyssia: Think about how it might affect the eyeliner if you put on powder or cream eyeshadow after you have perfected your eyeliner. If you are applying eyeshadow over the whole eyelid, the chance of fall out or accidentally sweeping your eyeshadow brush over your liner is quite high. That might ruin the liner look that you just created. 

Take your cream or powder eyeshadow and apply it over the eyelid to create your desired makeup look. Then take your eyeliner and draw a line as close to the lash line as possible on both eyes. Make sure that they are symmetrical and even. From there, you can create more of an almond eye shape line or wing it out.

Is liquid eyeliner better?

Formulate: Does liquid eyeliner work better than pencil eyeliner? Why or why not?

Alyssia:  It depends on what look you are trying to achieve. Liquid creates a bold, even, and smooth line. But it can be tricky when applying if you have an unsteady hand, runny product, or if there is a poor applicator on the liner itself. Pencil eyeliner is wonderful on the waterline to add a dramatic effect or to tightline the upper waterline for a thicker lash line look. It is also great if you do not have a steady hand and want to create a liner look without the potential "mess". The only downside is that it might "catch" onto the upper lid skin and not make a smooth line. Pencil also might not create the dramatic effect that is delivered when using liquid. 

2023 update: BONUS eyeliner questions, answered

What kind of applicator should you use to apply gel eyeliner?

Reader Gemma K: I tried gel, but I couldn't get past how much it hurt to apply. The applicators that came with the tools always felt painful to use, and very stiff. I felt like I was going to poke my eye out. What do you recommend using?

Alyssia: With so many different formulas of gel eyeliner available in the makeup industry, it's important to use an applicator that will not streak, provide ample control, and be able to create any line you want to make on the eyes. Tools shouldn't be painful, as comfort is the number one indicator of performance. I recommend using a thin, sharp, yet sturdy brush that is good for all skill levels. Try using the MAC Cosmetics 263 Synthetic Small Angle Brush for the perfect laydown of gel eyeliner!

How do you steady a shaky hand when applying liquid liner?

Reader Christina S: I have shaky hands, so I don't typically use liquid liner. Are there any tips to apply liquid liner when you have shaky hands?

Alyssia: Absolutely! When applying your liquid eyeliner, use your non-dominant hand to hold and steady your opposite elbow or place your elbow on a flat surface. Lift your dominant hand to your eyes to steady the liquid liner. Another tip is to dip an angled eyeliner brush into the ink of the liquid liner, then use that instead of the original applicator. The width of the angled brush will help to smooth out the line, even with a shaking hand.

Which liquid eyeliner applicators are easiest to use?

Reader Katie D: In the article, it's mentioned that certain applicators make the application of liquid eyeliner easy. I'd love to know what applicators to keep an eye out for, because liquid liner is a struggle for me.

Alyssia: Look for any brush applicator tip that has a fine point and has a bunch of individual hairs. The sweeping motion of the brush hairs against the skin (instead of a felt or sponge tip) will allow the liquid eyeliner formula to easily glide onto the skin! This avoids skid marks and allows full control in building line thickness.

How can you prevent pencil eyeliner from catching on your lid?

Reader Sadie F:  How can you stop pencil eyeliner from catching on the eyelid as you apply it?

Alyssia: It's all about the prep and angle!
- Make sure that the formula is new and easy to glide on. If you have an old pencil  (6 to 12 months) or if there is a white film on the pencil, you should replace it.
- Keep the pencil sharpened and fine tipped.
- Warm up the pencil with friction on the back of your hand.
- Use the SIDE of the pencil rather than the tip when applying. This will avoid those harsh ridges and catching on the fragile skin of your eyelid. 

How can you get better at winged eyeliner?

Reader Layne K asks: Which eyeliner is best for people like me who are super terrible at wings but want to get better? And how do you get better?

Alyssia: Start practicing with a thin angled brush and eyeshadow. You'll build the muscle memory in your hands on where to start, end, and place the angle of your wing.
- Once you master the basics with an eyeshadow powder, upgrade to a gel eyeliner formula, then liquid liner.
- The BEST time to practice is at nighttime before going to bed, as you have no expectations or pressure of time and can take on & off your eye makeup as many times as you want.
- It's ALL about the position of your head. To apply eyeliner evenly on both eyes, tilt your chin/head upwards about 30 degrees. While lifting your eyebrows up (this stretches the lids), draw the liner on. Make sure to lift your wrists ABOVE your lashes to avoid hitting them, this this will make you blink.
- Be kind to yourself! There are so many shapes and sizes of wings that look good
on all kinds of eye shapes, occasions, and moods. Have fun and remember
practice makes perfect.

Are twist up pencils or traditional pencils better?

Reader Justine B: As a pro MUA, do you prefer twist up pencils or the traditional types of pencil liners? Why?

Alyssia: For my pro makeup kit (used when I do freelance gigs like weddings, commercial, photoshoots, etc) I always prefer pencil eyeliners because of sanitary reasons (it's faster and easier to fully clean) and to always have a sharp point. Twist up pencils are convenient but they don't always come with a pull-out sharpener on the end. Plus, there isn't as much liner formula in them as a regular pencil liner.
For myself, I love using a twist up pencil for everyday tightlining or using in my waterline when I go out. I don't always have to sharpen it, as having a bit more of a blunt tip feels a bit more gentle in that sensitive area.

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