Liquid Eyeliner 101: How To Apply It—And The Best Products

You’ll be mastering a cat eye in no time with these expert tips.

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A woman applies liquid eyeliner to an eyelid for a piece on how to apply liquid eyeliner

(Photo: Istock)

If you’ve ever struggled to nail down the perfect liquid liner look, you’re not alone—applying liquid eyeliner is one of the toughest makeup challenges. But fear not: whether you’re looking for the right liner to use, specific application tips or the best products to get your desired look, we’re here to help. We asked two liquid liner experts, Mary Dang, makeup artist and owner of Eye Love Beauty Bar in Toronto and Sarah Lucero, executive director of global creative artistry for Stila Cosmetics, for their need-to-know liquid eyeliner advice, for every eye shape and every style.

Find the right liner

There are lots of liquid liners on the market to choose from, but the two most popular formulas are a liquid pen or a gel pot. “Liquid liner pens have a watery texture and are great for creating a precise line,” Dang says. “They do require a steady hand, though, and aren’t as forgiving when you make a mistake.” With gel liners you have a lot more control and can build up your liner easily using different sized brushes to get a desired look. Dang’s favourite brush to use with gel liners is either an angled brush or a small stiff pointed brush.

Try these application tips

Don’t focus on perfection

While the goal is a completely symmetrical look, a perfect, equal line on both eyes isn’t easy (so don’t beat yourself up over slight imperfections!). “Most people have two slightly different shaped eyes so to create symmetrical eyeliner you must assess and tackle each eye differently,” says Lucero. If one eye is bigger and one eye is smaller, you should apply the liner on the smaller eye a touch thicker than the bigger eye, and vice versa, she says.

Work slowly and in sections

While getting a winged eyeliner look in one swipe is the dream, not many (if any!) people are able to just swipe and go. To get a steady and even look, Lucero recommends applying your liner to small sections of your lash line and building the line slowly using short strokes.

Try a pencil guideline

Both Lucero and Dang swear by this foolproof technique: “Start with an eyeliner pencil to lay down a guide by etching in small strokes along your top lash, then use a Q-tip or stiff angle brush to blend the etched pencil liner to create a soft diffused edge,” says Dang. Next, trace your liquid liner over top of your pencil liner. This will ensure that your liquid liner will look precise and the diffused pencil will hide any liquid liner imperfections. “Eventually you won’t need to lay down a pencil guide as you become more steady in your technique,” she says.

Apply mascara before your liner

While it might seem backwards to do mascara first, Lucero says it will actually make applying your liner a bit easier. “This will help guide you in lining your eyes and help you to understand your eye shape to create the most flattering line.”

Take a step back

When putting on eyeliner it’s easy to move the mirror right up to your eye and become hyper-focused on the application. But, sometimes when you move away from the mirror after applying liner your look can appear a bit…wonky. “Always take a step back and look at both eyes instead of just one eye up close, so you can balance out the liner if needed,” says Lucero.

Line for your eye shape

Follow Dang’s tips for each eye shape below.

For hooded eyes

With hooded lids, often the eye lid isn’t visible, making eyeliner seem to disappear. “Create the cat eye flick where your lid’s hood starts,” Dang says. “Work your way inward, applying your liner in thin strokes and widening as desired.”

For close-set eyes

Dang recommends not lining the inner corners of your eyes and applying your liner from the middle of your eye outwards.

For downturned eyes

“Apply your eyeliner from the inner corner to the outer corner in a thin line,” says Dang. “Extend your wing up towards the crease of your eye, using the outer corner of your eyebrow as a guide, and don’t extend further.”

For “mono” eyelids

Mono eyelids don’t have a visible crease, which leaves lots of space to create a gorgeous cat eye. “Make sure the liner is crisp and straight,” says Dang. “For the thinnest line possible, place the tip of the eyeliner on the lash line at the pupil and draw to the outer corner, then start from the inner corner and draw it to meet the middle point.” For a more dramatic look, continue to layer the liner to your desired thickness.

Final tip: Stock up on reinforcements

Nailing the perfect liquid liner look on the first try is, let’s face it, pretty rare. There’s no shame in having a few extra tools on hand to help you get a professional-looking cat eye. Dang and Lucero agree that having Q-Tips with makeup remover on hand, plus a small travel-sized mirror, will go far in helping to clean up any mistakes. Lucero swears by Beauty Blender Liner Designer ($22) to make liner application a breeze. “It helps guide the application process and is great for a not-so steady hand or for days if you’ve had that extra espresso!”