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The best eyeliner style guides explain the differences between the types of eyeliner and how to apply them to achieve the effect you want. Eyeliner can make your eyes look sultrier, wider, more defined, elongated, lifted, downturned, and more.
You’ll probably find that some eyeliner styles are more flattering than others (everyone’s different!) but that shouldn’t stop you from experimenting or putting your own twist on things once you get the hang of the application.
Here, we’ll discuss a variety of eyeliner styles, which eyeliner to use for the best results on each one, how to use the different eyeliners, and the best eyeliners on the market right now.
The Best Eyeliner Styles
So, you want to perfect your eyeliner skills, try a new look, enhance or subtly change the shape of your eyes, or just have a ton of fun experimenting. Try these eyeliner styles:
This line simply hugs your lash line and adds definition. It tends to be thin and can be accomplished with any type of liner. It’s perfect for days you want your makeup to look natural.
This classic style was popular in the 1950s and 1960s, faded out, then made a comeback in the 2000s. It’s like basic eyeliner, but there’s a little flick at the end that gives the eye a more playful, lifted look. It can be thicker and bolder than the basic eyeliner style and tends to be thinner toward the inner corner of the eye and get thicker toward the outer corner of the eye.
The cat-eye liner style can be accomplished with any liner, though gel, felt tip, and liquid are best at giving it the crisp edges at the heart of this style. If you like the defined look but it’s a little harsh, go over it with a matching eyeshadow to diffuse the line without sacrificing the shape.
This eyeliner style takes the cat eye, makes it slightly more dramatic, then adds a second, thinner line on the bottom lash line, with that (shorter) wing angled down at the outer corner. Leave the gap between the upper and lower wings at the outer corner.
Have you ever seen pictures of Marilyn Monroe’s eyeliner when she looks a little sleepy and seductive? Her eyeliner style was a version of this. Add white or beige eyeliner to the waterline and between the upper and lower wings to finish the look.
Want a dramatic, need eyeliner style? You’ll love this one. This eyeliner style elongates the eye and gives a beautiful, sultry effect. Pair it up with colorful, light-reflecting shadows to make the look even more stunning. You’ll need a waterline-safe eyeliner because a lined waterline is a key component of this look.
Kohl liners–or creamy, waterproof pencils—will give you the best results here, but make sure you sharpen it so you can get a crisp line. Another option is to use a gel or liquid liner and then lightly trace the line with black eyeshadow on a small brush (you won’t be able to use this method on the waterline, though).
Using short strokes, start at the very inner corner and line along your top lash line. Create a short flick at the end, at the outer corner. Your line should get a little thicker as you move outward, but it shouldn’t be a drastic difference.
Now make short strokes along the lower lash line, headed in toward the inner corner. Be sure to trace your inner corner all the way around with a very thin line, dipping down slightly, close to your nose. If your eyeliner is waterline-friendly, finish the look by lining your waterline.
The foxy eyeliner style is like the Arabic one in some ways, but the waterline is free from the product and it’s usually paired with neutral shadow shades. The inner corner is precisely lined and balances the flick at the end.
Bold and Dramatic
This can involve anything from an intense, thick line of eyeliner, a bright or bold color, or one eyeliner shade with another one just above it.
These are the daring, creative looks that really stand out. You can do them with any type of eyeliner, but if you’re starting from scratch and want to shop, check out gel liners (don’t forget to choose the type of brush you’ll need to get the look you want too) and jumbo crayon liners.
The smoked and smudged eyeliner looks are best done with eyeshadow, kohls, kajal, and some pencils. Line your top lid and as far along the bottom lash line as you’d like, then go in and gently smudge the outer edge with your fingertip, a small brush, or even a cotton swab.
If you’re worried it’ll continue to smudge throughout the day, you can set it with a matching eyeshadow.
This is like the cat-eye liner, but you’ll need to draw it in a different order. Don’t create the flick first.
Line your upper lashes (like you’re creating the basic eyeliner style), but instead of stopping at the end of your lashes, continue down so the point is almost even with your lower lash line.
Then flick it up and out to create the tail. Draw a line from the endpoint back to the upper lash line and fill it in.
This is a flirtier, more playful version of the cat-eye and can give the illusion of thicker lashes. Line the upper lash line, adding an upward flick at the end. Then go back and draw a second flick right above that, but thinner and shorter.
If you’re familiar with Twiggy of the 1960s, you know the eyeliner style mod, complete with drawn-on lashes. Use the pencil that’s creamy enough not to tug but not so creamy that it will smudge on your lids within minutes. You could also use eyeshadow on a small, dense brush for this step.
Trace from the very inner corner of your upper lid, in an arc just above the crease of your eyelid (not your lash line yet), all the way to the outer corner of your eye, just past where your lashes end. If you used a pencil, trace the line with a matching eyeshadow to set it
Now use the gel or liquid liner to draw the winged liner along the upper lash line, connecting the tail to the outer edge of the first line. Line your lower lashes with the pencil or shadow, then use the tip of a small, angled brush to draw “lashes” along the bottom lid.
Another optional step: Line the waterline with a waterline-safe white liner.
Types of Eyeliner
Here’s a quick rundown on the types of eyeliner you can use to create the best eyeliner styles.
These look like writing pencils but come with lids. Sometimes, you’ll get a smudger on the other end. These are perfect for quick, basic looks. Depending on the pencil, you may be able to achieve a sexy, smoky or smudgy look.
- Easy to work with
- Come in a wide variety of shades
- Can be inexpensive
- Not always the most pigmented
- May tug on the skin
These are easy to work with, too. Plus, they don’t need to be sharpened—just twist. These are best for basic eyeliner looks, some smudgy looks, and even the occasional wing, but you probably won’t want to use them for elaborate liner looks.
- Easy to manage
- Can get a fine line
- Often starts off with a somewhat diffused look, but can be smudged out further, if desired
- Usually won’t give rich color
- May smudge more than you’d like
Kohl liners are like pencil liners, but darker, creamier, and easier to smudge. These are usually dark black and perfect in smoky eye makeup looks.
- Lots of pigment
- Smokey and sexy
- May not last all day because of the tendency to smudge and move
Gel liner comes in a pot and can be used with a small brush (angled brushes tend to work best). You can do almost any look with gel liner unless you want something especially smudgy.
- Creamy application
- Can get a crisp line
- Easier to work with than liquid, but achieves the same result
- Can dry out
- You’ll need a brush
Liquid (Brush Tip)
When you want a crisp eyeliner style with wings, liquid is an easy choice. That said, it’s not the best for beginners who aren’t just settling in the evening to practice.
If you’re on your way out the door and looking to create a cat eye or more sophisticated eyeliner style, gel is a safer bet.
- Can get defined, need looks
- Crisp lines
- No extra brush needed
- May run
- Takes a steady hand and some practice to get right
If you have an eyeshadow palette with a deep, dark (or bright, or bold, if that’s the look you’re after) shade, you already have what you need to create an eyeliner style, even without an extra product.
What you will need, however, is a brush with a thin edge and dense bristles. Angled brushes work especially well here because they’ll hug the lash line well and “stamp” a basic, winged, or downturned, dropped flick shape on for you.
- Easy accessible
- Easy to use
- Good for beginners
- With the right brush, the work is basically done for you
- Automatically has a slightly smoky, diffused look
- Not as need the other options
- You’ll need another brush
- Intricate, dramatic looks aren’t the best match for eyeliner looks done with eyeshadow
Felt-tip liquid liners can give you precision and they’re not quite as difficult to work with brush-tip liquid liners.
- Easy to manage
- Deep colors
- Good for dramatic, intricate eyeliner looks
- Can dry out quickly
- Still not as easy to work with other options
- When the tip wears out, the liner application will look shaky
These are chunky, creamy, and come in a ton of shades for an instant bold liner look or quick eyeshadow look.
- Dual-purpose, as liner or shadow
- Easy to use if you want a bold or smoky eyeliner style
- Liner will be thick no matter what you do
- May smudge a lot
How to Use Different Types of Eyeliners (Style Guide)
The eyeliner above will give you more detailed advice based on each look, but here’s a TLDR guide in case you’re in a hurry:
- For precise looks , especially with wings or careful lining of the inner corner: Gel, brush-tip liquid (most difficult), or felt-tip liquid
- For basic, everyday looks: Pencil, twist-up pencil, kohl, or gel
- For dramatic, bold looks: Crayon, gel, even kohl or liquid, depending on how colorful or smoky vs need you want it
What Eyeliner Shape Should I Use?
This is personal preference. What do you like? Here’s a quick guide regarding effects you can achieve with different eyeliner shapes:
- To make your eyes look farther apart, choose looks that emphasize the outer corners.
- To make your eyes look closer together, choose one that involves lining close to the inner corner.
- To make your eyes look smaller, line all the way (or most of the way) around.
- To make your eyes look larger, limit the lower liner to the outer half, don’t connect the upper and lower lines, and line the waterline with a light shade.
- To lift the eyes, add a wing at the outer edge.
- For a sultry look, smudge your liner to diffuse the color and create a smoky effect.
The Main Differences Between Liquid Eyeliner vs Pencil Eyeliner
There’s a reason there are different types of eyeliner; they don’t all achieve the same effect. Here are some of the main differences between liquid eyeliner and pencil eyeliner:
- Liquid eyeliners are perfect for need eyeliner styles, whereas pencil eyeliners are better for looks that don’t require a lot of extra detail.
- Liquid eyeliners aren’t the best for lining the lower lashes, whereas pencils look less stark in that area and can add definition without standing out.
- Liquid eyeliners aren’t the easiest for beginners (though felt-tip may be easier than brush-tip), whereas pencils are the perfect way for a newbie to practice application.
- Liquid eyeliners should almost never be used on the waterline, whereas some pencil eyeliners can.
- Liquid eyeliners can dry out, whereas pencil eyeliners only need to be sharpened to continue being used until the pencil’s too short to be used anymore (so there’s less waste for those who don’t apply liner every day and use their products up quickly).
- Liquid eyeliners aren’t generally smudgeable, whereas pencils are more versatile because they can be somewhat defined but also smudged out for a smokier look.
Advantages of Experimenting with Eyeliner Styles (Why Bother?)
Mascara can tie a natural look together with or without eyeliner, but with anything more than the “no makeup, makeup” look, eyeliner can really take your look up a notch. Here are some of the advantages:
- Eyeliner can make your lashes look thicker and darker, which may make you look younger.
- The right shade for your eye color can make your eyes stand out even more.
- Eyeliner adds a polished look to eye makeup that defines the eyes and gives the whole look a more professional appearance (though not all looks with eyeliner have to be polished or professional).
- If you wish you could change your eye shape just a little, eyeliner is one of the best ways to do it because you’re practically drawing a new outline for your eyes that will help them look rounder, more elongated, or more lifted.
- It’s fun to experiment with new shapes, colors, and formulas!
- The right shade can brighten your eyes and make you look more awake when you didn’t sleep enough the night before.
Disadvantages of Experimenting with Eyeliner Styles
Eyeliner’s a wonderful way to bring out your eyes, but it can go wrong. Here are some of the disadvantages:
- It can smudge, which is annoying for anyone. For those who are worried about looking older, professional, or their eyes looking a little droopy, the smudging can be especially problematic.
- If you use a waterproof eyeliner (which you may prefer if you have hooded lids), it could be difficult to remove.
- Using a gel liner will give you one more brush you’ll need to clean.
- Liquid liner stings when it gets into your eyes and can ruin your whole eye makeup look.
- Pencil eyeliners don’t always provide the pigment you want, although they’re good for all eye shapes and levels of comfort applying liner (twist-up pencils tend to perform slightly better).
- Making the line too thick can make your upper lid look too droopy, cause the eyes to look smaller, or make the overall shape of the eye look rounder (but not a cute, wide-eyed way).
Safety Tips for Using Eyeliner
There are a few important things to keep in mind when you want to experiment with the best eyeliner styles and shapes.
- If you want to apply liner to your waterline, make sure it’s safe for that area.
- Keep the liquid liner to the top lash line as much as possible. When applied to the lower lash line, it’s more likely to run, look too harsh, and make your eyes sting. Gels and pencils may work better here.
My Top Eyeliner Recommendations
Here are some of my favorite eyeliners:
This one requires a brush, but it’s creamy and exceptionally versatile.
- Can do a variety of looks
- Creamy, but lasts
- May dry out before you’re done using it up
- Requires a brush
Urban Decay 24/7 Glide-on Eyeliner
This one is easy to use and sticks around all day.
- Comes in a wide variety of colors
- Lasts all day
Rare Beauty Perfect Strokes Matte Liquid Liner
This is one of the easiest liquid liners to use.
- Easy to work with
- Only comes in matte black
Milani Supreme Kohl Kajal Eyeliner
This is a twist-up style that delivers an amazing amount of pigment and can be used on waterlines.
- Can be used anywhere on the eye
- Rich color
- Creamy application
- May smudge
- Only available in black
NYX Jumbo Eye Pencil
If you want an all-in-one product, you’ll love the NYX jumbo eye pencils .
- Can be used as eyeshadow or eyeliner, or you can use a black or white one to enhance or deepen the eyeshadow you put on top
- Wide range of shades
- Not the longest-lasting
- May crease or smudge where you don’t want it to
Question: Which Type of Eyeliner is Best for Beginners?
Answer: Pencils (regular or twist-up) are the easiest to work with when you’re brand new at eyeliner application. If you’re trying an eyeliner style that needs a crisper line than what you can get from a pencil, try a felt tip liner or gel liner with a small angled brush.
Question: What is the Best Eyeliner 2021?
Answer: Urban Decay 24/7 Glide-On Eye Pencil is long-lasting, comes in a wide range of colors and finishes, and the price is not too bad. A similar one is the Marc Jacobs Highliner Gel Eye Crayon (which isn’t as thick as the name implies).
Question: How do I Shape my Eyeliner?
Answer: The general answer to the question: lots of practice and experimentation. It will depend on the look you’re going for, though.
Generally, start thin and build up or out from there because it’s easier to add more later than to shape it with a cotton swab and makeup remover.
If you’re making a wing of any, kind, start with a thin line across your upper lids, then make the bottom line of the “triangle.”
Then draw another line on top (finishing the triangle shape), back to the spot on your lid where you’d like it to connect. Smooth the line along your lid to connect the wing to the line on your upper lash line.
Question: What Type of Eyeliner is Best for Small Eyes?
Answer: A thin line along the top, with or without a flick at the end, will be perfect. Keep it to the top lash line only or, if you feel the look needs more balance, apply it to the outer 1/4 of the bottom lash line, too.
Skip eyeliner styles that have you line your whole eye, as this will make them look smaller.
Question: Is it Better to Use Liquid or Pencil Eyeliner?
Answer: It depends on the look you’re going for. Natural or smoky looks tend to do best with pencil eyeliner. Something more dramatic, bold, or precise will require a liquid over a pencil liner in most cases.
Question: Does Eyeliner Make You Look Prettier?
Answer: Eyeliner can help bring out your natural beauty by defining and emphasizing your eyes. The right shade can make your eye color more striking.
You can also use eyeliner to enhance or balance the natural shape of your eyes, which might make you feel prettier and more confident.
Question: Is Liquid or Pencil Eyeliner Better for Beginners?
Answer: Pencil eyeliner is a lot easier for beginners to start with, but if you want to give a liquid liner a try, consider the Rare Beauty Perfect Strokes Matte Liquid Liner (available at Sephora).
Question: What Color Eyeliner Should an Older Woman Wear?
Answer: If you’re looking to stray away from the deeper, darker tones of eyeliner as your hair lightens to gray, white, or silver, try softening it up a bit. Choose a brown, gray, navy blue, violet, or soft green. These will highlight your eye color and define the shape of your eyes.
Question: What is the Best Eyeliner for Older Eyes?
Answer: Anything that has a reputation for not smudging, like Urban Decay 24/7 Glide-On Eye Pencil.
Question: How do You Apply Eyeliner for Beginners?
Answer: Choose a formula that’s easy to work with (pencil—regular, twist-up, or kohl will work). It may help to sit in front of a mirror and prop your elbow on the counter or table. Start lining from the middle of the top lash line and work your way out in short strokes.
Stop at the edge of the lash line. If you’d like to line along the bottom lash line, start at the outer corner and work your way in as far as you’d like, again, using short strokes. If the end result looks choppy, retrace the line with a longer stroke.
Question: How do You Make Your Eyeliner Look Natural?
Answer: Keep your line thin and don’t wing it out too far. Choose a shade that is darker than your hair color (so not always black). Skip the liquids and gels if you’re trying to do a very natural look. Instead, choose pencils or eyeshadow.
In most cases, it’s smart to only line the top lashes, but you can take a taupe or soft brown shade and apply it along the outer section of the lower lash line to make it look more like the shadow from lush lashes than actual liner.
Question: Should you Wear Eyeliner on Your Bottom Lid?
Answer: You can, but don’t use liquid liner. Use a type of liner you can smudge just a little to soften the look, and don’t line all the way across (unless it’s along the waterline).
Don’t go more than ¾ of the way across. Experiment and see if ¼, ½, or ¾ of the way across looks best with your eye shape. The further in you go, the more rounded you’ll make the bottom of your eye look.
This can look droopy on some eye shapes. If you’re trying to brighten your eye area, you can apply a pearly white, cream, caramel or similar shade (a bit lighter than your skin tone) to the inner corner, including the very inner corner of the bottom lash line.
Question: Does Eyeliner Make you Look Older?
Answer: Not when it’s worn on the top, especially if you’re mindful about flicking the end of the liner up at the outer edge (to avoid making your eyes look droopy).
If you wear liner on the bottom, it can make you look older, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it will.
If you feel that you need some definition on the lower lash line, apply only to the outer corner (about ¼ of the way across, from the outside corner in) and be sure to use a liner that doesn’t migrate too far down as you wear it.
You want to be able to smudge it yourself to soften the line, but not move after that.
Question: Should I Wear Black or Brown Eyeliner?
Answer: It depends on the look you’re going for. Black is generally more dramatic. If your hair is light (or red), brown may look more natural. If your hair is dark, black may look more natural and tie the eye makeup in with your brow and hair color.
If you have blue eyes, you may be especially drawn to brown eyeliner because the contrast between brown and your eye color will make your eyes look brighter and bluer.
Conclusion: How to Find the Best Eyeliner Style for You
The key to finding the best eyeliner style for you won’t just come from a guide. You’ll need to experiment and practice. See what you like the look of first, then try it out with your features.
Use the above guidelines to decide how to approach the world of eyeliner styles, then let them steer you toward new styles or inspire you to create your own hybrids.
Don’t be afraid to see away from the “rules” of a look and create your own spin on it that perfectly flatters your eye shape.
Don’t forget that eyeshadow, application mask, and even false lashes work hand-in-hand with any eyeliner style for an overall effect, just as you experiment, play around with those too.