How to pull off basic eye liner looks

Like many of you, I love eye liner. I love the precision and perfection of a well-drawn cat eye with liquid liner; I love the smudgy bedroom eyes that a pencil can create; I love the wet-looking, deep vinyl look of gel. Rummage through my makeup drawers, and you’ll find 19 eye liners in varying shades of black, brown, navy, white, grey. I have even less-frequently-used eye iners (hot pink! red! turquoise! silver glitter!) in a huge box in my closet.

But for anyone new to makeup, or just starting to experiment, getting the hang of eyeliner can be an exercise in frustration. Do you line just the upper lids? Or the bottom lids, too? What’s a waterline, and how can eyeliner possibly stay there? Do you use a spoon, tape, or just freehand it when you’re trying a cat-eye? Liquid or gel? Powder or pencil? What about a brush? And hey—do you look cool? Do you look crazy? HOW DO YOU KNOW?

Deep breaths, newbies.

If you’re just starting out with eye liner, you only really need one product. And that product is a simple, creamy black waterproof eye liner pencil. Nobody has to get spendy—this Inglot pencil is smooth, water-resistant, and $12.

Or there’s the foolproof Charlotte Tillbury Rock ‘N’ Kohl if you want something with which you can learn how to get a super-smudgy look. Let’s keep things simple and save the liquid- and gel-liners till after you master the pencil.

A rich, emollient black pencil liner can be used in several ways. We’re going to talk about three of the most popular looks right now.



Tightlining is when you (gently!) poke the eye liner between your lashes to make them look fuller and more lush. It looks like you’re not wearing much eye liner—you just look like you naturally have thick, full, darker lashes.

Take your sharpened pencil and carefully, carefully apply liner in between your lashes on your top lid, filling in any spaces and teensy gaps you might see (please do not stab your eyes.) It might take a few times, and you might be going, “UGH is this even worth it?” but trust: tightlining gets a lot faster the more you practice, and your eyelashes will look like they belong to an adorable cartoon kitten.