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Sometimes, nailing the perfect cat-eye can feel like walking a tightrope between two 10-story buildings. Obviously, the consequences aren't nearly as dire, but the intense pressure to not fuck up is real, nonetheless. The slightest bump or twitch can send an eyeliner pen or brush flying in the wrong direction and force you to start over — even for people with super steady hands and tons of eyeliner experience under their belt. You might even have smaller or hooded eyelids that don't give you a lot of room to work with.
While the art of the cat-eye will never be the easiest part of a makeup routine, there are certain methods and products you can use to make the process far less difficult. At the end of the day, it all comes down to choosing smooth formulas, being patient, and getting familiar with your own anatomy. Below, makeup artists break down their best tips for how to do a cat-eye with eyeliner.
It's even tougher than usual to draw a smooth line if your eyeliner is tugging at the skin while you go. If that's the case, your eyeliner could be dried out from age or you might just need to invest in a smoother formula.
If you're on the more experienced side and like using an eyeliner pen, you can't go wrong with Stila's All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner, according to New York City makeup artist Tommy. (It's also an Allure editor favorite and a Reader's Choice Award winner.) He also recommends Maybelline New York's Hyper Easy eyeliner if you're on a budget.
Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eye Liner
Maybelline HyperEasy Brush Tip
If you are newer to eyeliner or just like having extra stability, makeup artist Katie Jane Hughes makes an excellent case for wetting an eye shadow and using a brush to apply instead. "Use the most malleable formula you can possibly find, like MAC Fix+ and Carbon eye shadow," she explains. "That way you'll get the easiest glide versus using a gel pencil."
You could also opt for a brush and potted gel eyeliner — bi-coastal makeup artist Lavonne recommends Morphe's Jet Gel Liner. Just make sure the brush you're using has a sharp and stiff enough tip to create thin, straight lines.
Everyone's eyelids have differing sizes and shapes, and that plays a huge part in determining the size and shape of your eyeliner wing, according to Lavonne. Here is her guide to determining your own eye shape.
Round eyes: If your irises are completely visible when your eyes are open and resting naturally, you likely have round eyes. "Start from the outside, drawing at a downward angle toward the eye's outer corner," she advises for this eye shape. "Apply the liner inwards, stopping at the center of your lid where your pupil is when you're looking straight ahead."
Monolids: Monolids are characterized by minimal eye creases or a lack of eye crease. Creating the thinnest line possible is best for this eye shape, Lavonne says. "Place the tip of the eyeliner on the lash line at the pupil, then draw to the outer corner. Then, start from the inner corner and draw it to meet the middle point."
Almond eyes: If your eyes are more ovular than circular and have sharp outer and inner corners, you've got almond-shaped eyes. As Lavonne recommends, you should take advantage of your extra lid space. "Draw your eyeliner from the inner corner all the way across the lash line, then flick it out, stopping at the point where your crease starts."
Hooded eyes: Do your creases seem to magically disappear when you open your eyes? That means you've got hooded eyes. "To make sure the liner doesn't disappear under your lid, create the outer wing flick where your eyelid hood starts," Lavonne advises. "Work your way inward, applying your liner in thin strokes."
One of the most common cat-eye mistakes, Lavonne says, is "curly cats" — in other words, when the eyeliner wing curls upwards instead of jutting straight outward. "It will change the shape of your eye," she explains. A great way to avoid those curly cats is to map out your cat-eye beforehand, and makeup artists have come up with all sorts of ways to do this.
Tommy's approach takes some of the guesswork out of choosing the right liner shape for your eyes. After curling your lashes, he recommends visualizing an imaginary line that stretches outward from the outer corner of your eye to the outer brow bone; it should follow the same angle as your outermost eyelash. "Place a dot right behind that outer eyelash. This will be the end of the tail," he explains. "It should lift the eye shape and, most importantly, widen and elongate."
Before doing anything, I draw a small dot about halfway between the outermost corner of my eye and the outermost corner of my eyebrow.
You can also create the entire shape of the cat eye with a sharp brush and lighter-colored eye shadow, which is what Lavonne likes to do before going back over it with eyeliner. That way, there's a lot more room for error, and you can see how the shape of the liner will pair with your eye shape before committing to a dark, waterproof wing.
A lot of people use their fingers to stretch out their eyelid when applying an eyeliner wing. It might just be reflex, but it can singlehandedly ruin a cat-eye. “Stretching can risk warping the consistency and symmetry of the liner,” Tommy says.
Painting an eyeliner wing when your eye is completely closed can cause similar problems because the shape of the eye can change as it opens and closes. This especially goes for hooded eyes and people with mature skin, which is why Hughes always recommends applying eyeliner while the eye is open.
Because I have hooded eyes, I only draw my cat-eye to the middle of my eye, keeping my eyes open the whole way through.
"Put your head in the most neutral position you possibly can, relax your eyes, and get real comfortable the way that your eye is in the most relaxed position," she advises. "Then just gently place [the liner] without tugging too much over that fold or within that area."
To avoid blinking while doing this, Lavonne recommends grabbing a handheld mirror. "I tell beginners to hold a mirror under their chin, look down into the mirror, rest the liner or brush or pencil on the lash line, and begin to draw short connected strokes," she says. "You get a perfect line every time and you won't blink."
Even the professionals keep makeup remover on hand to perfect or correct their cat-eyes. "To make it extra crisp I use a super thin cotton swab with some Bioderma micellar water to sharpen the line, then add a dot of concealer and blend it out so it creates a sharp wing," Lavonne says. "The concealer is like painters tape; it makes crisp edges."
If I need to, I use micellar water and a cotton swab to straighten out my lines.
So if you don't like the shape of your wing or got bumped along the way, don't feel bad about not getting it perfect on the first try. You can clean up small imperfections with concealer and micellar water like Lavonne. Worst-case scenario, you just try again next time — either way, you'll get better at it the more you practice.
More on eye makeup:
Eye-Shadow Tips Makeup Artists Want You to Know
The 29 Best Eye Shadow Palettes of All Time
11 Ways to Make Your Eyes Look Bigger
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