How to Tightline Your Eyes

Published in: Eyes, Makeup, Makeup Tips/How To


Tightlining, or “tight-lining,” despite its action-packed name, is not a new extreme sport. It doesn’t have anything to do with bungee cords, ratchet straps or zip-lining, but along with filling in my brows and curling my lashes, it’s an essential part of my everyday makeup routine.


In tightlining, you line the base of your upper lash line from below, getting down in there between the roots, and I do it EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.

Even when I’m under a severe time crunch and have to start making “tough” decisions on which and what parts of my routine I have to skip, I’ll skip bronzer, highlighter, and if I have to, I’ll even skip blush…as long as I still have time to tightline.

So how does tightlining differ from the typical ways of applying eyeliner? Well, I usually apply eyeliner from above, where I get the tip of the liner down between the roots of my lashes and along the lash line, and in tightlining, it’s the same basic process, but I come at the base of the line from beneath it, where I can really get the liner down in there between each and every lash, and it makes the lash line look nice and thick, and that makes the eyes look bigger.

Before tightlining (left) and after (right)

Before tightlining my upper water line (left) and after (right)

For tightlining, of all the different eyeliner formulas — gels, powders, kohls, liquid liners, etc. — I like black waterproof twist-up pencil liners the best, and I choose the twist-ups because the tips are usually super thin, which makes it easier to get down in between each of the lashes at the roots. I also like waterproof formulas because they last (and I LOVE Chanel’s Waterproof Eye Liner in 88 Noir Intense for this reason).

Of course, if you feel like black liners are too stark for you, you can always use another shade. Deep blackish gray, brownish black, medium-toned gray, navy or brown all work, too. Whatever darkens your lash lines and floats your boat.

Step 1: Sharpen your pencil

To start, the first thing I do is sharpen my pencil.

I know that sounds kind of “Duh, Karen!” but using a sharp tip really helps. It makes it much easier to get between those lashes at the roots.

Step 2: Placing the pencil at the base

Next, I place the tip of the pencil just beneath my lash line, pointing at an upward angle, and close the eye I’m working on so that the tip of the liner presses up against the base of the lashes.


Step 3: Start your tightline

Then, I slowly run the pencil along the lash line in short spurts, back and forth, back and forth, all the way along the line moving from outward to inward (toward my nose).

Step 4: Check your work

Next, I’ll open my eye to make sure the line looks dark enough, and if it doesn’t, then I’ll repeat the same process until it does.

At this point, there are usually still a few gaps that need to be filled — places where the pencil didn’t quite get between the lashes — so I’ll take the pencil, and gently fill in those gaps until I have a solid black line.


And that’s all there is to it! Done. πŸ™‚



Sometimes when I tightline, I accidentally end up with liner on my lid, and when that happens, I don’t worry about it too much. I just grab a Q-tip and blend out the line. It creates a bit of a gradient right along the lash line, and I’m all about those gradients, man!

And if I only plan to line my upper lash line, and not also my lower lash and/or water line, and some of my eyeliner transfers to where it doesn’t belong, I just dip a Q-tip into some makeup remover, and use that to clean up.

Lastly, if your liner doesn’t always stick to your water line, dry your water line first by gently rubbing a Q-tip along it before you start, because some liners seem to work much better on a dry surface.

Your friendly neighborhood beauty addict,



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  1. Lulle says:

    I’ve actually made progress at tightlining with a pencil since you gave me all this advice a while ago! But my favorite technique remains the powder shadow applied with a thin, flat eyeliner brush. My go-to shadow for that is Bobbi Brown Espresso.
    Lulle recently posted … A runner’s ally: Oxyrub Pain Relief Cream (20% off discount code inside)

  2. musical says:

    I tried tightlining a cpl. of times with the Laure Mercier cake liner (does that make anyone else hungry??)-and it works fine, BUT, I find it scary!! That, and eye-lash curlers :-D.

  3. Jennifer says:

    I so want to try tightlining, but I wear contact lenses and I’m afraid I’ll somehow end up with an eye infection of some sort. Also, I’m super-klutzy… Haha!

    • Karen says:

      Hi Jennifer, I wear contacts too, and I haven’t had any issues. My eyes are sensitive and Chanel’s Waterproof Eyeliner works for me. It might be awkward at first but like any skill, it just takes practice. πŸ˜€

  4. Tracy says:

    First of all I’m LOVING the au natural, fresh, breezy look you’re rockin! Absolutely beautiful! What, if anything are you wearing? I haven’t been able to find a product that doesn’t transfer onto my contacts although I do love tht look it gives to my eyes. The search continues!
    Tracy recently posted … Things that make me go hmmm Vol. 1

  5. Linda says:

    I love the tutorial, but what do you use to take your eye make up off? My optometrist told me not to use the oil based ones.

  6. Ashley says:

    Thanks Karen!! I’ve struggled to tightline under my top eyelashes for a while. And all my friends have always pulled their skin around their eyes upwards to do it. That has never seemed like a good idea to me! I’m in my early 20’s so I don’t want to get into the habit of doing something that could cause wrinkles later down the line.

  7. Maggie says:

    Hey Karen,
    So far I’ve been tightlining with liquid liner. It sounds weird but I use Maybelline line stiletto which has a flexible felt tip so I can lift up my lashes and then with the tip sideways, press it into the roots of my lashes. The only con is that it takes a little longer for me to apply it than I wish it would. It seems like using a pencil would take less time, but Chanel is a little too pricey for me. Do you have any other recommendations for a longwear waterproof eyeliner that is drugstore or at least cheaper?

  8. Aditi says:

    I love tight-lining too and do it almost daily! This post is very informative for people who find it difficult1 <3 πŸ™‚

    xx Aditi
    Aditi recently posted … Forest Essentials Facial Ubtan Multani Mitti | Review, Photos

  9. anusha says:

    Hiii karen, i love suits my small hooded indian eyes.. but how do i remove it with my makeup remover?? Some of the kohl is always left everytime! Boohoo.. please tell me ..

    • Steph says:

      I have been wondering about this too! I don’t tightline because I can’t seem to get it all off. I can’t even get eyeliner on the top part off, either.

  10. Tightlining is one of my least favorite steps in my make-up routine, haha πŸ™‚ It’s such a delicate thing, ya know! I often end up poking myself in the eye or smudging the color onto my lid, but when it’s done right it makes a world of difference, so I never skip it.
    Kiss & Make-up recently posted … Review | MAC Prep + Prime Fix + Skin Refreshing Finishing Mist (Yuzu limited-edition)

  11. Amanda says:

    Would love a budget-friendly eyeliner recommendation, especially in brownish/black shade.

  12. sarahc says:

    OMG epiphany! Karen when you said about coming at your lash line from below instead of above, I get it now! Thank you for doing this!

  13. Lauren says:

    I would totally wind up lining my eyeball instead of the lid! This would give me so much more “room” for my eyeshadow but I’m scurred.

  14. Noirojos says:

    Man I love tightlining, but absofreakinglutely *hate* the removal process. I’ve been using a really good waterproof liner from Maybelline, but it’s just so much effort to remove it!

  15. Tatiana says:

    Can you recommend a liner that would be good for super sensitive eyes? I haven’t found one that doesn’t make my eyes itchy and extremely watery when applied to the water line. And once they start watering it’s all down hill from there.

  16. Rain says:

    This may sound weird but you can actually remove makeup faster with petroleum jelly. I use it to remove the eyeliner on my upper lash line and/or waterline. Idk if it works for others but it works for me and I have no reaction to it (I mean cleaning my upper lash line with petroleum jelly). I just rake a cotton bud and swipe some petroleum jelly on it and rub it (and very carefully at doing the same on my upper lash line and waterline) on areas with makeup or eyeliner and even stubborn lip tints or lipstick that’s left on my lips.

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