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22 Aug 2012

The Eye Brush Series - 3: Blender brushes

Now that we're finished digressing about socket brushes, we'll move on to arguably the second most important brush in your eye brush arsenal;  the blender (or blending) brush.

Some of my blender/blending brushes.
Top-down: Sigma Blending E25 (awful), MAC 217, Lauren Luke Tapered Blending brush, MAC 286 (LE),
Inglot 6SS, MAC 224, Illamasqua Blending Brush #1

Just as the flat lay-down brush is important for laying down colour on a flat surface, and the rounded or pointed socket brush is good for getting product into the socket/crease area, the blender brush is a necessary tool, and is essentially used simply for softening edges, either
  1. for blending your eyeshadows together (if you're using more than one shade or colour)
  2. for blending an outer edge "into" your skin, ie blending away harsh lines

A fluffy blender brush may also be used to deposit a more diffuse wash of colour on your lid;  the fluffier the brush, the less dense the result after all.  Blender brushes can be used for powder and/or cream products.

L - > R: Illamasqua Blending Brush #1, MAC 224, Inglot 6SS, MAC 286 (LE),
Lauren Luke Tapered Blending brush, MAC 217, Sigma Blending brush E25
Frequently these brushes are quite dense but fluffy - they may feature a lot of bristles but they will generally be looser packed, and may be synthetic or natural fibre brushes, and are generally rounded or oval-shaped.  The quality of brush is important here.  A scratchier brush will be unpleasant to use and move product around more than required, resulting in a muddy finish.  An overly-firm brush will move your skin too much, resulting in an imprecise finish.  An overly loose brush will take you an age to blend with.


How to blend eyeshadow - tips & tricks


  • First off, it's important to have a few blender brushes in your stash, and to keep them clean.  If you try to blend with a dirty brush (well, one that has shadow on it from before), you'll wind up creating a "muddy" look.  For this reason, I generally advise using a blender brush with no product on it.
  • Use a light touch.  Hold the brush at the end of the handle to help with this.  This helps you to move product, as opposed to your skin.  More expensive brushes will help out with this, as the fibres will be naturally softer, but if you can't afford more expensive brushes, then just learn how to use the ones you have to the best of their ability!
  • Only use as large a brush as you need.  So, if you have used, say, an angled liner brush (as opposed to something like a pencil brush) to start creating a sharp cut crease, you're not going to want to use a large brush like a MAC 224 to blend this out - you'll want a brush with a smaller head or more precise tip to just blend this out gently (and possibly only the top edge, for a cut crease in particular).  On the other hand, if you have socketed your eye with a soft mid-tone colour, and you just want to blend the edges of that out to give a diffuse look, then you may want a larger brush like the 224.
  • Do you want to blend-out or blend-away the edge of your shadow into your skin?  If so, use teeny tiny gently motions along the edge you're blending, think tiny micro-circles.  Blend gradually farther and farther away so that the shadow disappears eventually.  I like the MAC 217 for this.
  • Blending-out your socket area?  Use your blender brush in a windshield-wiper motion, gently, over and back, just above product that you previously applied to the socket area.
  • Want to blend two different shades together?  Place your blending brush at the join and move the brush over and back across the two colours, again using micro-circular motions to create a gradual colour shift rather than a harsh line.  Any soft, reasonably pliant brush will do this for you.
  • Blending is very important in smokey eyes - the point of "smokey" or "smoked-out" eyes is that you have a gradient from a more concentrated amount of a shadow through a medium amount to a "barely there" amount... like smoke.
  • Blending is assisted by having something to blend "into".  This is where your lay-down of a base colour and your socketing of a mid-tone colour will help.  Trying to blend on top of just skin can be quite difficult, depending on the shadow you're using.
  • You may have used an eyeshadow that's proving difficult to blend-out, you're in a hurry and you want to use a little of another shadow (a mid-tone, your face powder, your bronzer, whatever is to hand) on the blender brush to soften the edge - that's fine, but make sure you tap away excess first to avoid making a mess under the eye;  as blender brushes are quite loose, fall-out from product loaded on them is not unusual.
  • In terms of products, note that harder formula, matte eyeshadows can be easier to apply and harder to blend - this is another reason why a base and a mid-tone socket are important.  Similarly, softer eyeshadows can be easy or hard to pack-on but easier to blend, but can come with a price: fall-out and (sometimes also) less pigmentation.
  • Take a tip from make up artists who sometimes use blender brushes for under-eye concealers and correctors.  Not just for eyeshadows!

My recommendations

I personally prefer slightly tapered blending brushes.  The Illamasqua #1 Blending brush is really brilliant, and rivals my previous go-to blending brush (the MAC 224).  The MAC 217 is a good blending brush for smaller areas.  The MAC 286 is a LE dual-fibre brush which is just amazing for use as a lay-down brush for cream products and both as a blender brush and a socket brush for powder products, and as an under-eye concealer brush (I have particular love for this brush).  If you are short on space, I might recommend something like the Laura Mercier Ponytail brush, as this is pointed but very soft and can be used for socketing and blending both.  If you're short on cash, I'd recommend a mid-size blending brush as you can just use the tip, barely touching it to the skin, for your socketing, and then pushing harder when you want to blend so more of the brush is in contact with the product and the area you want to blend.

Don't bother with the Sigma E25, this is the most scratchy and rotton brush I've ever used; I've had two of them now and they actually hurt to use.  It's just here for comparison.

Part Five (Detailer brushes)

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