cake liner

Don’t Be Scared Of Cake Eyeliner: How To Use It + The Brands The Pros Like

Let’s begin with a collective confession: we pretty much never actually execute the thousands of makeup looks we save. Despite hefty Pinterest boards, a healthy “looks” folder in our Instagram Saved section and, of course, all those incredible TikTok makeup videos, sometimes all you can muster is brows, blush and lip balm. And that’s chill. However, if your hand is continually hovering over your makeup brushes and chickening out, let us also be the first to say, go for it!!!

One of the most creative makeup trends—that you can barely scroll a second without running into right now—is cake eyeliner. You’ve more than likely seen some of the amazing looks creators are throwing out with this old school format of makeup. Think of those painterly, detailed and often abstract liner looks, sometimes extending well beyond the canvas of just the eyelids. While they can look both too time consuming and intimidating for those of us not blessed with a surgeon-level of steady hands, we’re here to dispel that myth.

Cake eyeliners, sometimes also called water-activated cake liners are for everyone. Below, we break down how to use these pots brimming with your untapped creative makeup potential.

What exactly are cake liners?

Think of cake eyeliners as concentrated pots of pigment, that you activate with water (or other mediums, but we’ll get to that) to create a liquid that you paint on using a makeup brush. The modern cake liners we have in bright colours, as well as in metallic and pearl finishes are also happily in much-updated formulations compared to the early cake eyeliners of the ’60s. These days, most cake eyeliners are pigmented, dry down to a non-transferable and long-lasting finish and could even be mixed with other cake liners to create some custom colours.

How do you use cake liner?

Cake eyeliners are really limited mostly by your imagination. Whether you’re going full ‘sketching a Van Gogh on your face’ or just want to dabble a little with some Ariana Grande-esque “Rain On Me” white eyeliner, these are a few things to note.

You’re going to need a liquid to activate the liner pigment, and there are a variety of options. Plain water will work and you can adjust how opaque you’d like your look to be by varying the amount of water you use. A wet brush with more pigment will give you creamier, thicker-looking liner. More water leads to softer, less intense colour payoff, and it may also talk a bit longer for your look to dry completely.

You can also use a makeup setting spray you have lying around—which can help the pigment “grip” a little better than just water. We’d recommend spraying a little water or setting spray onto the back of your hand, or onto a small dish or lid of the cake liner. From there, you can dip and wet your brush before picking up the cake liner. It’s a little easier to control how wet you end up making your eyeliner this way and saves you accidentally saturating your makeup.

If you’re going hard, makeup artists and enthusiasts would point you in the direction of mixing mediums. These are specifically formulated liquids or gels that are designed to be mixed with other makeup to create long-wearing looks. A couple of drops of mixing medium from MAC, Inglot, Mehron or Kryolan will create a longer-lasting look. We’d also note that using the Inglot Duraline mixing medium will make your cake liner looks waterproof. (Water-only cake liner looks will not be, on account of being water-based.)

You’ll also probably want (depending on the look you’re trying to achieve) the smallest eyeliner brush you can get your hands on. We’d recommend one with synthetic bristles, as natural hair brushes soak up and cling onto wet makeup a bit more, and will be harder to clean. No thanksssss. If you don’t happen to have one in your collection, have a rummage around for a liquid eyeliner you no longer use (not a felt tip pen style!). Chances are, it’s the very thin and flexible kind of brush we’re looking for, just clean her off very well and get painting.

Tips for cake liner application? Patience and not being in a rush to get anywhere certainly helps! But seriously, have a bunch of (eco-friendly) cotton buds or a clean liner brush handy to dip in water and swipe away any wobbly edges. Again, it’ll come off relatively easily if you’re just mixing the cake liner with water. If you want, “sketch” out the main areas you want your design to go with a couple of guide dots, for example the beginning and end of your floating eyeliner look.

After a couple of practise strokes on the back of your hand, move with *confidence*. It’s a little easier to get a line looking fluid that way, but of course, you can etch it in slowly and then clean it up with a damp cotton bud afterwards. If you need to fix up a larger area (perhaps you did sketch a whole painting onto your cheek) we’d suggest something like the Face Halo X. They’re a makeup remover tool from the same people who make one of our favourite reusable makeup removers, just in a smaller more precise size. Because you’re creative and environmentally conscious.

Face Halo X, $38 for a pack of four at Face Halo.

The best cake liner brands to use

When it comes to what cake liners the pros and the semi-pros recommend, there are a few staples we’d flag before you go shopping. We’d note that you can also achieve pretty similar looks by employing the same techniques with your loose and pressed eyeshadows and pigments. Try shopping your stash and scraping the tiniest bit of eyeshadow out to create your own liner colours. However, if you’re ready to give up coffee and work on your fine motor skills, start here.

SUVA Beauty

Stocked at Morphe in Australia, the SUVA Beauty cake liners are an excellent starting point. They’ve got your basic white and black covered in one handly little pot, as well as a range of bright colours, metallics, and ones that glow under UV-light. Points if you ever finish one of these pots, they’re so pigmented. Above, I’ve used the SUVA Beauty Hydra FX (Chrome) in Lustre Lilac and the white side of the SUVA Beauty Doodle Hydra Liner, with water only.

Both of these wore perfectly, with no flaking or smudging to be had and were very easy to achieve a smooth, opaque line with. My non-pro tip? If you’re doing a multicolour look, you can use one cake liner colour to neaten up the edges of the first one you’ve put down and colours in a similar tone to each other are gonna be more forgiving.

SUVA Beauty Hydra FX (Chrome) in Lustre Lilac, $21 from Morphe.

SUVA Beauty Doodle Hydra Liner, $23 from Morphe.

Glamvice Cosmetics

Glamvice Cosmetics are a Latina-owned and cruelty-free beauty brand making the cake liners of your retro dreams. As well as a selection of UV-activated and neon cake liners, the brand also offers a bunch in very sweet (and currently having a moment) pastels.

Retro Liner in Peaches and Cream, $12 from Glamvice Cosmetics.

Glisten Cosmetics

Another favourite amongst the Instagram makeup set are the cake liners from Glisten Cosmetics. They also have an extensive range of colours and finishes, but we’re particularly into their split liners. Featuring two complementary shades of a colour, these pots would be your one-and-done stop if you want to try your (steady) hand at ombre liner looks.

Split Liner in Banana Split, $13 from Glisten Cosmetics.

Lead image via Instagram @cutcreaser.

Monisha Rudhran (@monishamay) is a writer and chronic Pisces. Formerly at Syrup, she's now a Digital Content Producer at ELLE and marie claire Australia. She’s into trying to be a better person and sparkling water.