How Do You Choose Complementary Eyeshadow Colors?

Published in: Just For Fun, MAC Makeup, Makeup Tips/How To


Think back to when you first started wearing eyeshadow. I don’t know about you, but I remember being *hella* confused. I’d approach makeup counters totally overwhelmed, never knowing which colors to wear or which colors to pair.


Janice, a newbie to the eyeshadow world, is looking for beginner eyeshadow color pairing tips.

I love make up, but I have NO IDEA how to apply it… especially shadows!

How do you choose colors that compliment each other? Like the shadows that don’t come packaged together, can you look at them and see which ones will work together? Is there a rule of thumb?

I usually buy whatever the salesladies tell me goes together, but I’d like to do it on my own.


Hi Janice,

Some makeup books will tell you to follow steadfast color rules, but honestly, I think those rules were meant to be broken. I wear what moves me, and that’s what I hope you’ll do, too. 🙂

There are some considerations that may help when you’re looking for colors to pair together, like how cool or warm colors may work with your skin tone, different textures (like matte versus shimmer) and how products differ in how much pigmentation they pack.

Boiling it down to a few basics, here are some tips to help get you on your way:

1. A good place to start is to pair a neutral, like a shimmery beige, with a single pop of color. Benefit Bikini Line (a shimmery beige), MAC Ricepaper (a shimmery peachy beige) and MAC Shroom (a shimmery beige) are ones I like to use together. Try using them with a blue, green, gold, purple, pink, black, gray or any other color that moves you. Experimentation is key.

2. Afraid of brights? Consider building your look around versatile browns. When I started wearing eyeshadow, I only felt comfortable in neutrals. I found a few great browns and then built up my collection from there (check out this video for a few brown eyeshadow suggestions). If you’re color shy, try pairing browns with beige, gold, bronze, peach or taupe shadows. Any of these shades will be easy to blend and are very beginner friendly. A few to look into: Benefit Velvet Eyeshadow in Dandy Brandy (a shimmery bronzy brown), MAC Arena (a shimmery peach), MAC Woodwinked (a shimmery gold), MAC Amber Lights (a shimmery peachy brown) and MAC Satin Taupe (a shimmery taupe).

3. If you’re ready for more complicated color pairings, look at some pictures of flowers, or go for a walk outside. Once, a cream-colored white rose bush inspired me to do a beige, gold, dark green and chocolate brown eye. Another time I took a cue from a bird of paradise flower and tried an orange, purple and green eye with a hint of yellow. Mother Nature is a fantastic painter and a great source of inspiration for me.

Gals, think back to your early days with makeup. How’d you choose colors to pair together, and how do you do it now?

Your friendly neighborhood beauty addict,


P.S. I almost forgot! Take a look at Adobe Kuler. It’s a site literally bursting with color palette suggestions. Photographers and graphic designers use it for color inspiration. Great site!


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  1. Aurora says:

    Thanks for these very helpful tips on starting to wear eye shadows. I do not wear those, but I plan on starting and I too am very confused.

    I see all these people wearing vibrant combinations and they look great but I have no idea how to get the look. Then I thought it was supposed to match your clothes but some of the times when I have seen it NOT match outfits it looks even better.
    .-= Aurora’s last blog post… How To Remove A Bandage Painlessly =-.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Aurora,

      Some people like to match their clothes, some don’t. There’s a rule that you’re not supposed to but I don’t really follow that one, either.

  2. YadiQ says:

    thats so funny – i am an avid user of adobe kuler for my design work

    for me personally i use color theory as a guide – and i am all about the brights

    working with shades and tints of colors within a color wheel and balancing this out with your skins undertones is really a fun way to experiment pairing colors – the color wheel concept really is very close to the same concept you mentioned karen – using nature as a guide

    ahh color – this is why i am a color specialist – lol aka color corrector and retoucher lol

    here is a fun guide to use for basics on color theory!

  3. YadiQ says:

    of course i have a favorite color ! PINK

    i am all about the pink lol

    i love pair pink with bright green and deep purples and blacks for dramatic looks then i like to also pair pinks with greys and browns and frosty champagne colors for softer looks

    lol my cell phone cover is pink my wallets are pink i write at work with a pink pen – lol its kinda funny when i take a street fighting class all decked out in a pink workout top – it’s so not aggressive lol ! if i were to list the collection of pink nailpolish i own we might be here for quite some time lol

    • Karen says:

      Hi Yadi,

      YES! One of my favorites. I was a late bloomer in the pink department. I didn’t start liking it until my early 20s. Now it’s one of my faves!

      I can so imagine you kicking butt in your class in your pink outfit. Too cute. 🙂

  4. I also feel like a beginner when it comes to eye shadow application, though I have a gazillion of them and have been wearing it forever! I pretty much stick to my basic two color look, but am trying to venture into new territory. I’m definitely not afraid of color, but I tend to wear the more “funkier” colors in an eye liner (specifically the Urban Decay 24/7 liners).

    Yadi thanks for that link, I just bookmarked it also!
    .-= Vampy Varnish’s last blog post… NOTD: Color Club =-.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Vampy Varnish,

      I hear ya. I love brights as liner — it’s the easiest way to do it, plus, I don’t feel uncomfortable in public. Like, I’ll bust a hella crazy green eye here at home just for fun, but I dunno if I can get away with that while I’m buying bananas at Safeway.

  5. Redhead says:

    I remember I only wore compact shadow trios and quads in neutrals like NYC Mod Quads in Far Out Fawn (beige, pink, brown and a brown cream liner) until I found Temptalia! She does all these amazing looks, from crazy experimentations to soft neutrals. Check it out, you won’tbe disappointed: ! Enjoy, and good luck!

  6. Meream says:

    Thanks for these tips, Karen. I’m still stuck on the brown and neutral phase. I’m too scared to venture to other colors.

  7. Sylvie says:

    Hi Karen, I mix any colours I want and if I’m lucky it turns out right, if I’m not, I’ll just smoke it out and nobody knows anyway =P that’s how I did a peacock eye one day. Purple and green. Didn’t go together but with a few brush strokes, it looked like a peacock’s tail feathers.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Sylvie,

      Sounds pretty! Plus, I love that you just roll with it. Gotta love that makeup improv.

      How have you been? It’s been a while since I’ve talked to ya!

  8. Kate & Zena says:

    To this day, I still use the color wheel charts I learned in grade school art class. As an artist, I use that. Basically, a complimentary color will be on the opposite side of the color you want to use on the wheel. Ex. green-red, violet-yellow, blue-orange. I use more as a “base” idea and spread from there.

    I love using a vanilla base and smoking out a teal on the outer corners of my eyes. Most HiP duos follow the color wheel (ex. Flamboyant is a shimmery yellow and matte purple). Not all, but most from what I’ve seen. If you want just one bright color, pair it with a neutral. Neutrals are called neutrals as they match with ANYTHING.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Kate & Zena,

      I didn’t know you were an artist! Do you draw, paint, sculpt?

      For some reason I can see you doing line drawing since you love manga so much. 🙂

  9. For first timers I would always recommend looking at how palettes are organized because coordinating colours are always near each other and good ol’ experimentation.

    Set some time for yourself and have some makeup wipes handy just in case.

    Another tip is if say you wore a neutral during the day and you’re just about to wipe off your makeup pile on that brgt colour in the look just to see what its like without the pressure of having to wear that look outside =)

  10. heyhey says:

    OMG thank you Karen. My ex-boss mentioned kuler a while back and I’d completely forgotten about it. Awesome. It’s like illustrator’s palettes, but social and trend-tracking. I’m geeking out.

    Also, I’m a eyeshadow n00b. Back in the day as teen I was hella adventurous, but nowadays I only use it on special occassions, and always a neutrals with a pop colored eyeliner, smudged out on the tightline(?) for a subtle something.

    Aside: I wonder how much female designer’s makeup reflects their design aesthetic.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Heyhey,

      You’re welcome! I could spend HOURS on that site, fo’ real.

      I wish I was more adventurous as a teenager! That’s the time in life I feel like you can REALLY get away with crazy colorful looks.

      What are your favorite colored liners? I love the ones from Urban Decay.

  11. Kate & Zena says:

    Ha ha, I’m very artistic but not professional. Autistics generally are very artistic. I draw, I paint when I’m feeling like a two-year-old (because I’m awful at it), I color a lot, I make little Sculpey critters for my family, I sew a bit (beginner), I crochet, I fiddle with make-up, patiti pata. I love playing with textures. I have manga-influences but heavens if I could do that everyday! I’m too busy trying something else than I am uploading on my deviantart page but you can check it out if you like:

    My big artsy thing is interior design. I want to get my Bachelor’s in it but the schooling is hideously expensive (art school only). The recession isn’t helping either. I could get a degree in fine arts in general but I’d be missing a lot in terms of industry-based skills. The school I want to go to is small in terms of how many students there are but is centered right below the largest interior design showroom in the world and is less than a mile from the train station meaning I can’t get lost in Chicago. I become easily lost so the closer it is to where I’m coming from, the better.

    If you’ve seen Batman Begins, the monorail scene takes place on LaSalle Street Bridge, which is right in front of where the art school I want to go to (the school is located in the Mart Center). They also shot in Waukegan on the Amstutz Expressway, the “city” right next to mine. The Amstutz goes from Waukegan to Great Lakes Naval Base and it’s been used in a host of movies (Batman Begins, Groundhog Dog, Ocean’s Twelve). So, you’ve seen pieces of what I live near, just not my town (unless, they’ve shot at Six Flags: Great America). The Amstutz is a major road for many of us so you can imagine how annoyed we become when there’s a sign that says “closed for filming.” You can take twenty minutes on 41 to go from Great Lakes to where I live or the five-ten it takes using the Amstutz near the Metra station depending on traffic!

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