** The fine stem Muji ones are amazing, very finely tipped and non-shed.
|Clinique Cream Liner|
A really brief note on eyeliner. There are many different types and formulations; cream, gel, liquid, cake (densely packed powder which is then mixed with water or another mixing medium before application), powder (eyeshadow or loose pigment for example), kohl, kajal, pencil, wax... This isn't specifically a post about eyeliner per se, so I won't go into all the details of all those available, but probably my most recommended "general usage" liner, across the board, is the Clinique Brush-on Cream Liner in True Black. It doesn't drag, it doesn't dry out, it moves nicely and it's a great alternative to liquid liners, if you just can't get your liquid liner non-wobbly. I have yet to have someone have a reaction to it***, and it's nice and "black enough".
*** Now that I've tempted fate, it's pretty much guaranteed to happen.
Back to the brushes. There are many types of eyeliner brush; standard liner brushes, angled liner brushes, bent liner brushes, push liner brushes, fine liner brushes. They can have synthetic or natural fibres. They come in short and long handles, they are dense or thin bristled, they can be fine, thick, pointed, blunt... I have several (actually about fifty) but these are the ones I go back to, time and again...
Standard Liner Brushes
USE FOR: CREAM - GEL - LIQUID - CAKE
A "standard" liner brush is one that can be used for cream, gel, liquid, cake, powder liner products (probably less of the latter than the former four). The bristles can be synthetic or natural, and can vary in terms of size and shape. I have a few that I use but rarely reach for these anymore, I have more "unusual" brushes, and if I'm not rushing, and resorting to smudged-out pencil (à la opening paragraph), I'm probably doing something specific with liner, and for me, these are standard, not particularly specific, liner brushes.
|MAC 209 Brush|
MAC's 209 is arguably the "industry standard" liner brush, certainly in terms of shape. This has synthetic bristles, and great for creating a thicker line. It was one I used a lot at the start, getting used to liquid liner, but I don't reach for it very often anymore. It's great to have in your kit, but not particularly necessary. For example, I'd probably recommend the Catrice double-ended (and much cheaper) brush over this one, and it'll do more or less the same job. MAC also have a 210 which is a little thinner than the 209, but one or the other of them will do the trick really.
|The Conservatory Sable Eyeliner Brush|
A range of cheap brushes that I definitely recommend is those from The Conservatory, and I have some of their Sable Eyeliner brushes. These are standard, workhorse, liner brushes. They just work, the quality is good, they are reasonably fine and can be used for standard liner or more fine liner work.
Other than that, go into an artists' store, look for a fine pointed sable paintbrush, with not too long bristles, and buy a couple for use as standard eyeliner brushes, and you won't go far wrong.
Push Liner Brushes
USE FOR: POWDER - CAKE - OLD CREAM/GEL PRODUCTS
Push liner (or flat definer, or flat liner) brushes are generally square in shape, blunt, reasonably pointed, flat, and mostly (but not always) synthetic. They're brilliant if you want to create a thicker looking root at your lash line, without looking like you've used liner. They can be used in this way, to "push and wriggle" product either just at, above, or under your lashes (ie "tightlining" your upper waterline). They can also be used at the corner of your eye to create a really easy, lazy, effortless small flick. I personally prefer them for powder products, but you can make them work, wet, with cake eyeliner also.
Push liners are great for using up dryer cream/gel-based liners that you can't manage to get moving, as you're just pushing the product into the lash line, and it doesn't matter that they're a little dried up and would usually drag if you're trying to use them with a standard liner brush.
|Cozette D230 Brush|
Cozette, first and foremost, is a wonderful brand. I have a number of cozette (eye) brushes. This is a vegan, cruelty-free range, utilising soft silky-feeling synthetic fibres. The particular brush I have, the D230 brush, is technically their Eyebrow Definer, however I find it's great to use as a push-liner brush, as the bristles are short and firm enough to warrant this (a particular bug-bear of mine is that a lot of push-liner brushes have reasonably long bristles, which means they are more flexible than I'm personally happy with). This is probably my favourite push liner brush.
|MAC 212 Brush|
I also highlight the MAC 212 (I have the 212SE from the "Adoring Carmine" collection, but it's basically the same as the 212, it just has a shorter handle). This is MAC's push liner (or as they call it, their Flat Definer) brush. It's synthetic and is quite good, like most MAC brushes.
|Smashbox Cream Liner Brush|
Smashbox's Cream Eye Liner Brush #9 is their push liner brush, again this is synthetic. In my opinion, it's only a very marginal second after the MAC equivalent, but to be honest, there's very little difference between them.
|The Conservatorie Taklon Square Brush|
I have tried a number of other, cheaper varieties (including Crown and Sigma) but the cheapest push liner brush that I (very tentatively) recommend is The Conservatory's Taklon Square Brush. I say "tentatively" however, as the bristles are a little more "plastic-y" and not as great for powder as the MAC or Smashbox push liners, but they can be made to work nicely enough with creamier products, if that's what you like to use push-liner brushes for, and if you don't want to spend a fortune.
Angled Liner Brushes
USE FOR: CREAM - GEL - LIQUID - CAKE - POWDER
Angled liner brushes are what the name suggests... small, usually thin, eyeliner brushes whose bristles are arranged at an angle. They can be used quite successfully across the board for all types of eyeliner product. They're great all-round brushes and can be used to replace push liner brushes, standard liner brushes, for creating a very easy and simple flick, they double-up as an eyebrow brush, they can be used for painting mascara onto the lashes (in lieu of a mascara fan brush), they are also brilliant for going over your gel/liquid/cream eyeliner with a powder/eyeshadow to "neaten-up" any wobbly lines, or to make your liner last longer. Of all the possible available eyeliner brushes, I definitely recommend getting an angled liner brush.
|MAC 263 Brush|
|MAC 266 Brush|
These are both angled liner brushes, and both are much-of-a-muchness, but the 263 is synthetic (and better in my opinion) as the 266 bristles can splay out a bit after a while. These are probably not the best angled brushes on the planet, but, as Bridget Jones said, they're not bad either.
|Illamasqua Eye Liner Brush|
Illamasqua have a number of angled brushes, for example their Angled Eye Liner Brush, which is probably my favourite angled brush by far, as it's firm and "pointed" enough on its edge for my use. (I also have the Illamasqua Eye Brow Brush, and it's my favourite brow brush, for exactly the same reasons; you can create an amazingly sharp eyebrow with it). Debenhams online do a lot of Illamasqua stuff for Ireland customers, as Illamasqua is unfortunately not here any longer, having closed in BT2 some time ago.
|Catrice Gel Eyeliner Brush|
A brilliant alternative, and highly recommended, is the Catrice Eyeliner brush. This is cheap as chips and you get great value for your money as it has a bent (standard) liner brush at one end and an angled liner brush at the other. It's pretty impressive and very usable for in or around €3-ish. The angled liner brush is great, the bent liner brush end is good too, if you like bent liner brushes.
I also have a number of cheap angled liner brushes from The Conservatorie (these ones) and Crown (these ones). These are perfectly fine, I use them for softer brow looks (when my Illamasqua brow brush is not at hand) and/or powder liner along my lash line. There's nothing particular to recommend or fault with these brushes, they're just standard angled brushes. I would probably recommend the Catrice as it's available in-store, whereas these have to be ordered online and therefore would incur shipping costs.
Bent Liner Brushes
USE FOR: CREAM - GEL - LIQUID - CAKE
Bent liner brushes are essentially "standard" liner brushes that have a bent ferrule. They're great for when you start out practicing eyeliner, especially for use with cream or liquid-based products, as you can hold the liner close to your lash line but your hand isn't in the way, so you can see more easily what you're doing.
They're usually used for cream, gel, liquid, cake products. I am not including any of mine in this review; I have one or two (Crown brushes, I believe) "somewhere" in my brush collection, but I haven't reached for them in years, as I personally am not crazy about them. The Catrice one mentioned above is reasonably good and incredibly inexpensive.
Non-standard Liner Brushes
USE FOR: CREAM - GEL - LIQUID - CAKE - POWDER - CONCEALER - LIPSTICK
I've bought some more unusual, or non-standard Liner Brushes in the past, I'll include one I like and one that was bought, as my Grandad would coloufully say, "during a rush of s*** to the brain".
|MAC 211 Brush|
MAC's 211 is a synthetic fibre offering. I've got a sneaking suspicion that this might be LE, but if it's not, it's definitely worth getting as something a little unusual. This is great for liner, reasonably easy flicks, precision/micro concealing, handy for lipstick if you've got smaller lips, good for using in the tearduct, you name it.
|Laura Mercier Smoky Eye Liner Brush|
The Laura Mercier Smoky Eye Liner Brush, is another synthetic brush, and (according to their website) "precisely cut with a contoured cone shape specifically designed to create the perfect smoky eye". I got this one evening at an event, early on in my early Adventures In Makeup days. I was sold on the idea behind it. It's a great brush, but I think I have honestly only used it twice, ever. This was an expensive early-on lesson in Being Duped by Cosmetic Companies Into Purchasing Unnecessary Items. I use it more for precision concealing than for its intended purpose, and at that, not often either. It's a good brush, well-made, like all Laura Mercier brushes, but completely unnecessary.
Fine Liner Brushes
USE FOR: CREAM - GEL - LIQUID - CAKE
Fine liner brushes are essentially "standard" liner brushes but with a far less bristles and preferably, a fine, tapered tip. These are great for very controlled application of liner, very fine lines, any detailed or sharp liner work, in particular with liquid or cake liners, or very fluid cream/gel liners. They really struggle with older or drier products. I have a number of fine liner brushes, and my opinion is divided amongst which I consider the best from the following two:
The Hakuhodo Tentsuke brush is made from weasel hairs and is a truly excellent, really uber-fine liner. I have a few Hakuhodo brushes and the quality is out of this world. Shipping is direct from the site, not cheap, and can take a little while, but dealing with the company is refreshing - they are polite, friendly and professional. You get the feeling that you're dealing with a family business, which over the internet, is unusual. Hakuhodo brushes can run very very expensive, however this is a great value (shipping cost aside) specific use brush.
|Louise Young LY24 Brush|
The second fine liner brush that I use, and love, and reach for again and again is the Louise Young LY24 Fine Eyeliner brush. This is a lovely brush, it "does exactly what it says on the tin" and is unfailingly amazing. The bristles are sable. It has become my go-to for "standard eyeliner". It's available online or in Harvey Nichols in Dundrum (Dublin). Louise Young has some gorgeous brushes, and a number of eyeliner brushes (LY23, LY24, LY24A, LY25, LY31, but I only have the LY24 (actually, it was a YouTube recommend by the wonderful Pixiwoo sisters who I believe are contemporaries of Louise Young in Norwich, UK)). I have a number of other eyeliner brushes, so I don't feel the need to purchase the others from the range, but I have a few LY24s, in my kit, and in my own stash.
I have also used a Loew-Cornell #10/0 Spotter American paintbrush as a fine liner brush, back in the early days. I can't find it on their website to link directly to it. It works well, but I don't reach for it any longer, as I tend to favour the above two, which are more tapered at the tip (and therefore, give better control of fine lines). I'm just including the reference here to how how a standard artist's paintbrush can also be used in lieu of a more expensive, makeup artists's brush.
Really, recommending a brush is a minefield; level of use, requirements, expertise and expectations are different. I recommend that everyone has one angled liner brush and one fine liner brush in their stash. The Catrice dual-ended brush or the MAC 263 brush are my angled liner recommendations. After that, I probably recommend a sable fine liner brush (which can be got from an artists' supply shop). With those 2 brushes, you can pretty much do everything you want.