Makeup Brushes 101: Eye Brushes
My most-used eye brushes from L-to-R: Fine gel liner brush, flat angled brush, smudger brush, blender (oval), flat shader, pencil brush, small blender, and regular tapered blender.
I used to be a fan of “finger-painting”. I.e. applying most of my eye shadows with my fingers. Part of it was laziness, and part of it was just ignorance about how the heat, moisture and oils from your fingers can destroy your shadows by sealing the surface over, and/or breeding and re-applying bacteria to your face.
If you’ve ever seen the surface of your shadow going darker, shinier, or sort of bumpy like tarmac after a few uses, you’ll know what I’m talking about.
Unfortunately, this usually means the color pay-off (intensity) of the shadow is gone.
Now, I only use my fingers for loose pigments because those do not contain absorbent fillers like titanium dioxide and talc, which are the main reasons eye shadows “seal over” when touched with your fingers. For pressed shadows, there are plenty of good brushes you can find that will not break the bank or make a mess on your face.
The trick is getting familiar with how each shape and type of bristle works. The rule of thumb is you get more precision with firm, tightly packed brushes (smudgers, flat angled liner brushes, gel liner brushes), but you need looser, softer brushes for blending and smoking out colors. Brushes with a combination of these (soft bristles packed tight in a flattened/oval ferrule) is a great multi-tasker. More on this below.
If you’re starting out in makeup or want to keep things simple and fuss-free, these are the essentials:
- Small pointed liner brush (synthetic hair)
- Smudger brush (natural)
- Soft shader (natural/synthetic)
- If you’re starting out in makeup, gel liners are the easiest way to get very strong and controlled lines without a whole lot of skill. Pencils tend to be less long-wearing and don’t always give as strong a line.
- A good gel liner brush should have a small, tapered tip with a flattened ferrule (point of the barrel that holds the brushes) so you can use it flat for a thick line or side-ways for a thin one. Of course, this is only applicable if you use gel liners. For a good sense of relative size, look at the left-most brush (in a cap) in the top image.
- These are more versatile than the long ultra-fine brushes sold by many makeup brands, because those are harder to handle in general.
- My ALL-TIME favorite is the one that comes with the Maybelline Lasting Drama gel liners. Good as the high-end brands, and so much cheaper because you’re getting 2 products for one!
TIP: These are FANTASTIC as concealer brushes for hiding spots and blemishes because they are firm enough to pack on product, but small enough for precision.
- This type of brush deserves a whole lot more love than it does. The name “smudger” is slightly misleading because I find it much more useful as a tool for applying dark shadows close to your lash line as a smoky liner. They usually have a flat, wide ferrule (barrel) and firm, natural bristles.
- I feel that defining your lash line is very important when you’re wearing lots of colors or shimmer on your lids, because all that makeup can really overwhelm your lashes and make your eyes less defined.
- A good one should be firm when you press down on the tips, and the bristles should not bend easily, or you will get a mess when you try to apply shadow to small areas.
TIP: You can use this to apply a cut crease in your socket line.
- Shader brushes are an all-rounder because they are not just a staple for packing on intense color, but can double-up as blending brushes. These are usually flattened and cut in a rounded paddle-shape, and I’ve found the fluffier, natural bristles to work better than synthetic ones at picking up and applying intense color.
- The most famous shader around is probably MAC 217, but you can find similar shapes from most brands and price ranges, although I love the ones with these cottony-white bristles because they feel sooo nice and work so well.
- Take note that the size can vary from brand to brand, and I’d suggest something no wider than your thumb nail as the really huge ones can mess up your eye look by muddying every color together.
TIP: Some makeup artists like to use these brushes to apply concealer for a very natural finish.
OPTIONAL BRUSHES DEPENDING ON YOUR NEEDS:
- Flat angled brush
- Flat shader brush
- Fine detail brush
- Tapered blending brush
- Used similarly to the smudger brush, this gives a more precise line, but the short, stiff fibers tend not to grab as much pigment, so it works better (in my opinion) as a brow brush when I want to avoid overdoing my brows.
- These also tend to hurt a lot more than the rounded tops of smudge brushes when you accidentally slip and jab yourself in the eye!
- The big, flat older-cousin of the soft shader, this stiff, flat brush is good for packing on softer shadows and loose pigments because the firm flat surface helps to press and adhere loose pigments.
- Unlike the softer version above, the flat shader is not good for blending out colors and harsh lines because the bristles don’t have a lot of “give”.
- Can be used to apply cream/gel/fluid shadows if you don’t want to use your fingers.
- A small pointed tip shaped like a doe-tail is great for applying color to the crease. To see just how small it is, check the top image again! Just dip the tip into shadow, then into the hollow of your socket and then sweep left and right along your socket line, in a windshield wiper motion.
- Also good for applying highlight to the inner corners of eyes.
- A staple for many people, the longer, tapered blender brush is very soft, and better for smoothing and blending out color after applying because the super-soft bristles will not grab much pigment.
- My favorite alternate use for this is applying mineral powder concealer onto spots by lightly stippling down with the very tips of the brush (don’t buff or blend!!). Smaller blemishes will do a disappearing trick and larger ones will be less obvious than when you cake on a whole lot of concealer.
Do note that I collected my brushes from a whole mix of places, including Sigma and Sephora, and these are the ones that I consider to have good brushes for good value, although Coastal Scents has a good range of smaller detail brushes and smudgers.
- Eye brushes that are used for powder shadows don’t really need to be washed daily unless you need to apply a different color each time, but they are generally small enough to dry within a couple of hours so it’s no big deal for me.
- TIP: I use a residue-removing shampoo to clean these (baby shampoo is not strong enough and detergent is too strong) and then lay them with bristles hanging over the edge of a table to dry. If you keep them in a case, pouch, or brush roll, do make sure they are completely dry first.
- Gel liner brushes and anything I use to apply creams or to cover up spots should be cleaned after EVERY use. To get everything squeaky clean when a brush is used for cream products, I actually use a bit of oil makeup remover to break down all the product in the brushes first, then wash once more with a residue removing shampoo.