Your ultimate smoky eye step-by-step tutorial

By Mehwish Khan

You want a simple step-by-step guide for a quick, easy and versatile smoky eye? You got it.

Graphic by Mehwish Khan

1 – Clean face

By “clean face,” I mean no makeup. Prep your skin with eye cream and moisturizer. Give them a few minutes to sink in.

2 – Conceal

Concealer is a huge deal when trying to pull off a dramatic eye. The natural darkness around your eyes will make your overall makeup look sloppy. Conceal above and below your eyes, paying special attention to the inner and outer corners (this is where darkness lurks!)

*Note: After concealer, generously pat translucent powder under your eyes – from corner to corner – in order to catch falling shadow. You can easily brush away the powder once your makeup is done. (This step is optional, but I think it’s a good idea).

3 – Line

Use a dark liner – cream or pencil – and line your eye from end to end on the upper lid. Make the line thinner at the inner corner then gradually thicken it towards the outer end. Rim the lower inner lid as well.

4 – Smudge

Use an angled eyeliner brush, a pencil brush or a Q-tip to smudge the liner you have just applied. The point is to blur the hard edge of your eyeliner. You can dip your brush in a bit of dark shadow and use it to soften the liner if it does not blend out easily. Do this on the top and bottom. Blend the outer halves of your eyes more than the center or inner corners. If your eyes are wide-set, or larger and protrude, you should take the shadow all the way across your lid.

5 – Highlight

It’s so important to create contrast. I know, a lot of smoky eyes look like they are only one deep shade of color swiped across the entire lid, but if done well, this is not actually the case. Use a light color of shadow – think champagnes, vanillas, or creams – and highlight the inner corner of your eye (in a C shape around the tear duct) and under the brow.

6 – Medium Tone

This is the step many people miss. A medium shadow, something in the same color family as your lid color, but lighter, should be used in the crease. You’re trying to create depth without leaving any obvious lines. It’s important to overlap the dark and medium shades where they meet. Use the same medium tone to blend the outer portion of your lower lid.

So that’s a simple smoky eye. You can do it exactly this way, or change it up. You may only want to do one or two of these steps if a dramatic look is not your style. That’s okay.

Here are some of *my* personal favorite products for this look:

– I like to use a gel pot liner. It’s easy to smudge. I love Smashbox’s Jet Set Waterproof Eye Liner. If you don’t want to spend that much, Maybelline just came out with a pot liner and it’s surprisingly good.

– I’ve tested a lot of drugstore eye shadows. Unfortunately, I find that the expensive department store shadows are significantly smoother and blend better. M.A.C.’s “Carbon” shadow is a great matte must-have. You can use it with an angled brush as a liner or as an eyeshadow.

“Nylon” by M.A.C is great for highlighting, so are “Rice Paper” and “Shroom”, depending on your skin tone.

You can also do a smoky eye using plum, navy or brown shades for a twist on the traditional look. Whatever you do, just make sure your edges are blended and your under-eye area is clean. Load up the mascara and make sure your brows are well-groomed.

Any questions? Ask away!

Mehwish is a Chicago-based professional makeup artist who also has her own lifestyle blog at



Recent Comments


  1. BLING PHAT wrote:

    I LOVEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Posted 8.9.10
  2. Rena wrote:

    Which concealer would you recommend? I have dark skin (I’m Indian). I’m having trouble finding a food concealer to cover my very dark circles.

    Posted 2.7.12
  3. shyema wrote:

    I like Miracle Skin Transformer’s concealer, IT cosmetics bye bye under eye concealer in Tan, and TheBalm TimeBalm concealer in Medium/Dark. If your circles are really dark, try covering it first with a orange-base (like in Make Up For Ever’s palette) to cancel out the grays and then follow with a matching concealer!

    Posted 2.8.12
  4. Beth L wrote:

    If you wanted to try the smoky eye in plum or browns would you use those colored eye liners or still the black?

    Posted 3.18.12
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    Posted 9.7.12
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