Ask MBB: How Can I Blend a Better Smokey Eye, and What Brushes Should I Use?

Published in: Makeup Tips/How To

“You do such a fantastic smokey eye… Mine needs so much work.

I think part of my problem is just not having the right tools to blend with (brush recommendations would be appreciated!)… I love how, in your looks, the colours seem to flow together seamlessly. I also know NOTHING about eyeshadow bases beyond eyeshadow primer (I’m such a noob), so any tips on that would also be super helpful!”


Hi Jess,


I’m on it! OK, so it really helps to have a good blending brush — scratch that. A good, clean blending brush, because even a good brush with a lot of gunk in the bristles will just scoot the shadows around your lids, instead of blending the colors together seamlessly.

I have a couple of favorites I love and use all the time, like the mighty MAC 217 and 224.

The 217’s brush head is a little denser and smaller than the 224’s, so I prefer it for blended eye looks with more distinct transitions between the color gradients or when I’m working with hard-to-blend eyeshadows.

Laura Mercier Artist's Palette 2013

For this look with the new Laura Mercier Artist’s Palette for Eyes, I blended it with the MAC 217.

And when I want smoother color gradients and a smokey effect that looks really blown out, I grab the 224, which has a fluffier, wider head.

Basically, when I don’t have to be terribly precise, I go for the 224.

Too Faced A Few of My Favorite Things

Blowing it out with the Too Faced My Favorite Things Palette and the MAC 224…

Between the 217 and 224, you really can’t go wrong with either one.

Too Faced also has a tapered blending brush similar to the MAC 224 that I like. It’s a little thinner than the 224 and great for guys/gals with small lids. It’s available in their $39 Shadow Brushes Essential 3-Piece Set, which also comes with a flat shadow brush and a small smudger brush. The whole kit is top-notch, come to think of it.


Powdering your lids first can also make blending a little easier. After you apply your primer (It’s easier to blend shadows on top of some primers than others. I like using MAC Painterly Paint Pot as a primer.), dust face powder all over your lids with an eyeshadow brush. You can use whichever brush or face powder you like, but I usually just grab whichever ones are closest, LOL!

Anywho, the layer of powder latches on to your primer, evening out the surface and smoothing the application of any powder products you layer on top. The result? More easily blended eyeshadows.

I hope this helps! And if you’re reading and you have any other smokey eye tips or recs, please share them in the comments.

Your friendly neighborhood beauty addict,



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So far, 43 people have commented on this article. How cool is that?

  1. I soooooo agree with you on the MAC 217. I could not live without that brush.
    Kiss & Make-up recently posted … Review | Perfect skin with the Glominerals Face Primer & Camouflage Oil Free concealer

  2. Natalie says:

    This is pretty similar to using a powder over the lids before shadow. But using a skin toned shadow in the crease specifically (if that’s where you’re having the most trouble) as a base first always helps me.
    Natalie recently posted … Berry Lip Light

  3. Alison M says:

    I second the Too Faced brush set…it really is top notch!! And I recently learned the trick to apply a neutral eyeshadow or colorless face powder over the primer. It makes all the difference!
    Alison M recently posted … Mixing Things Up at bluemercury with NARS and Aisha Alves

  4. Ruchita says:

    Thank you for sharing these tips! I love the two smokey eye looks you posted. I have small eyelids and blending can be difficult sometimes. I’ll have to check out the smaller version from Too Faced.

    P.S. I got my paws on the Hourglass Ambient Lighting Palette. I’m excited to try it out!

    • Karen says:

      Hi Ruchita,

      You’re welcome. πŸ™‚ I think you’ll love the Too Faced brushes. All of the brushes in that kit have smaller brush heads, so they’re wonderful if you’ve got limited space on your lids to play.

      So stoked about your new palette! Which color are you going to dig into first? πŸ™‚

      Hi to the kittehs!

      • Ruchita says:

        Your reviw of the palette was helpful, so I’m going to try Dim Light first as an all over face powder. I’m also curious to see how the primer works. The kitties send meows and purrs to you and Tabs. πŸ™‚

        • Karen says:

          I love Dim Light especially for casual skin days. I think it looks fab on top of a tinted moisturizer, sheer foundation or bb cream. Let me know how it goes and I will keep my fingers crossed that you will love it as much as I do!

          Aww, kitties. πŸ™‚ Tabs sends his regards. He’s been very naughty lately! Every morning, at 3am on the dot, he claws at the side of the mattress to wake my @ss. Funny thing is, he purposefully claws at the corner where I can’t reach him easily, so I have to get up and shoo him away. He’s not exactly a kitty Einstein, but some things he’s managed to figure out. YARGH! Bad, bad tabby.

          • Ruchita says:

            Naughty Tabs indeed! Waking up at 3 AM would be rough.

            Mingy will come upstairs between 5-6 AM. Sometimes he’ll jump on the bed and actually sit down for a couple of minutes to get petted. Then he’ll manage to find something noisy to chew on. There’s some boxes with packing tape in the room and he will chew on the box and the noisy tape! Of course, this always seems to happen on the weekends when I’m trying to sleep in! πŸ™‚

            Nina on the other hand is quite an angel. She’ll snuggle up in the bed and sleep with us all night.

          • Karen says:

            I’ve been trying to tire him out more during the day with extra long play sessions that cut into his nap time, heh heh! I haven’t seen any results yet, but here’s to hoping.

            Mingy cracks me up. Sometimes I wonder if cats purposefully act obnoxious because they can. It sure feels like that sometimes!

            And Nina just seems like the sweetest. πŸ™‚

            So, are they dressing up at all for Halloween?

          • Ruchita says:

            Extra playtime is good. I learned from Jackson Galaxy that playtime right before bed and then some food is supposed to fit in with their hunt, eat, groom sleep cycle. Although sometimes it seems like food just gives them more energy!

            I would love to dress them up for Halloween, but I haven’t bought anything yet.

            Thanks, Nina is the sweetest. We literally cat-napped her off the street and it’s so lucky that she’s turned into such an awesome kitty.

            I’m getting all cat-lady emotional now – but all my kitties showed up in my life unexpectedly and I’m so glad that our paths crossed b/c they always brighten my day. πŸ™‚

          • Karen says:

            Ooh, I know how that is! Isn’t it wonderful how kitties can completely change your life? For years, El Hub and I were sure we’d end up with dogs. And then Tabs one day literally strolled through the door and never left. Life wouldn’t be nearly as fun or as sweet without him.

  5. Christine says:

    Karen, Can you tell me what lipstick you are wearing in the top picture? Thanks!!

  6. rachna says:

    mac 217 is the best!
    rachna recently posted … The Balm Instain Blush Toile Review

  7. Denise S. says:

    So glad to see blending tips! That is a weakness for me, I own two 217 brushes and the Chanel eyeshadow blending brush. I’ll make sure they are clean before using them. And I’m going to try that tip with the neutral shadow in the crease or over primer. Love that purple smokey eye Karen!!

  8. Jess says:

    Oh my gosh, Karen, I couldn’t believe it when I saw my own words staring back at me from the MBB front page! Not to sound like a narsissist, as I’m sure these tips will help a lot of people, but thank you for taking the time to address my smokey eye woes in a post! And thank you to everyone who is commenting with their tips…I can’t wait to invest in a few tools and start experimenting!

    • Karen says:

      Hi Jess,

      Thank you for asking a great question! I really do hope that these tips help, and please let me know how your smokey eye experiments go. πŸ™‚ It took me a while to get a handle on the look; just keep practicing!

  9. gio says:

    I couldn’t live without the Mac 217 brush. It makes blending eyeshadows so easy!
    gio recently posted … 7 Tips For An Effortless Smokey Eye

  10. Bella says:

    Oh, I so adore that Laura Mercier look, I so wish Sephora would ship to Europe!!!

  11. Sheryl says:

    Your skin looks amazing in these pictures! Wondering what foundation you are using these days. Thanks for sharing your blending tips. I love my MAC 217 brushes. (I have 3, so I always have a clean one)

  12. fancie says:

    Great advice Karen! I definitely need to pick up more blending brushes. I’m always double dipping lol
    fancie recently posted … MAC Stroke of Midnight Haul

  13. hanna says:

    I love mac 217
    hanna recently posted … Outfit: Purple Bow Sweater & Silver

  14. Sun says:

    I used to really struggle with the smoky eye thing, especially with what to do underneath my eyes, until I “discovered” Lisa Eldridge. She answered all my questions: Do I line my eyes, and if so, with what? How do you smudge the liner to get that “smoky” effect? What’s the best way to blend? It’s amazing to me that I reached the age of 42 without knowing any of this stuff!

    I’ve learned so much from LE’s videos, and bought the MAC 217 and Paula Dorf Sheer Crease brush because she uses those two all the time. I’m by no means a pro, but I’m much, much better than I was before. It’s nice to hear from other fans of the 217 brush. Now, I’m really curious about the Too Faced brushes. πŸ™‚

  15. breyerchic04 says:

    I think I need a second 217… I have one I use exclusively for concealer blending (and maybe for blending in my neutral paint pots occasionally). I haven’t fallen in love with my 224.

  16. Sylvia says:

    Thanks for the lovely tips, Karen! I should look into these MAC brushes, your LM Artist Palette look sold it for me, haha.
    Sylvia recently posted … Essence Stay Matt Lip Cream

  17. Colleen says:

    Great tips! Thank you! I would love a review of the too faced brushes. Your blog is amazing – informative and fun, what a great combo.

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