Basic Eyeshadow Placement Guide

This is a general beginner's guide for my go-to shadow placement. I would like to emphasize that using fewer products is an option, however I think for a beginner, it actually makes sense to use more colors and blend less. The fewer colors you use, the more active blending you have to do, and that is the part where practice/skill are important. If you are frustrated with your blending abilities, try using a few extra colors instead of trying to just blend two disparate shades together.

Eyeshadows You Need:

Keep in mind these items are named as generically as possible- I want you to be able to make any color look with this guide, not just a matching orange one.

  • HIGHLIGHT SHADOW- I prefer a satin-pearl finish in a shade close to my own skintone.
  • SKINTONE SHADOW- matching your eyelid/eye area skin (sometimes called a "base" shadow you can substitute translucent face powder for this step as well.)
  • CREASE COLOR #1- only 1 shade darker than your skin (not dramatically darker)- should be a neutral matte brown leaning toward whatever undertone you have (warm, neutral, cool.)
  • CREASE COLOR #2- soft, blendable, and only slightly darker than the above shade- I use MAC Soft Brown which is a very feathery, sheer warm orangey brown. If you're cool toned I suggest a taupey, cooler brown or gray with a similar feather-light texture and matte finish. This is used to soften the borders and help blend.
  • MAIN COLOR- looking at the shadow look you want to achieve, what is the "main" color that people would associate your look with? Mine for the above pic is a saturated burnt orange. Ok so I need 1 matte single shadow in that shade- orange.
  • SUPPORT COLOR- you're going to need a matte background player here that is harmonious with the color scheme but helps soften the edges of the MAIN COLOR. In my case, I need something harmonious with orange so I chose mustard yellow. If you're using a dark green you might use a matte lighter khaki. Anything that's a "happy medium" between the main, noticeable color you're using and your own skintone. If you're using a bright teal in the crease you should choose a grayish blue. If bright pink, choose a peachy shade. Something that splits the difference of colorful and natural. 
  • DARK COLOR- next you'll need something that jibes with the MAIN COLOR (orange here) but has a strong contrast- in this case if I chose a deeper orange, it would just get muddy. Those shades are too similar. So I chose dark chestnut brown. If you're using blue, choose dark navy. If you're using dark purple, choose black. Light purple, choose burgundy or plum. Etc. You have to make sure that the main crease color you're using is at least 3-4 shades brighter/lighter than this, otherwise you'll end up creating less definition and a muddy mess.
  • MATTE BLACK self-explanatory- use this bad boy mixed with the above dark color to get the ABSOLUTE darkest point for blending. Also if you don't have a dark enough color to use for the last bullet point, you can just mix your main crease color with this black to get a darker in-between version.

Brushes You Need:

  • MAC 239- or any other dense-but-slightly-fluffy shadow brush. You don't want a stiff, paddle brush, but you don't want anything with loose bristles. The MAC 239 is my definite favorite but Zoeva makes a similar one that should get the job done.
  • CREASE BRUSH- MAC 217 or similar. Hakuhodo makes a similar brush that works as well (some people like it better, I don't) and Coastal Scents makes a really cheap, not great, but PASSABLE version for a few bucks. I like to use a goat hair bristle brush for this step because the texture makes it good for quick blending. Softer bristles (like squirrel or synthetic) can sometimes be too gentle.
  • PENCIL BRUSH- Pencil brushes are almost all the same. The only one I've tried (cheap or expensive) that was no good was the ELF one with the white handle. All that's required here is a very stiff, short, pointed brush.
  • MINI CREASE BRUSH- here's the one where I'm sorry to say you have to splurge- the Hakuhodo J5529 is just the best. It's small, slightly floppy and soft, and blends your the small outer crease/v area without muddying all the colors together. I don't have a cheaper dupe in mind and this is one where I've found that spending money helps. I was hopeless at outer v work until I owned this brush and the 217. Also it is different from the MAC 217 so you will need something different for these purposes.
  • FLUFFY BRUSH- anything in the same vein as the MAC 224, but for this I've found most cheap brands do serviceable versions.

Application Steps:

  • First apply your primer followed by your SKINTONE SHADOW from lashline all the way up to brow using your shadow packing brush.
  • Using MAC 217 (or dupe) and your CREASE COLOR #1, sketch a very soft arch that defines the "outer perimeter" where your shadow won't go past. At this point, you wouldn't really know there was eyeshadow there unless you were right up in the mirror. DOn't worry if it looks very subtle right now- it's meant to!
  • Using same MAC 217 and your CREASE COLOR #2, go over that soft arch to reinforce the perimeter, both visually, and in your own mind so that you start to build the muscle memory of where your shadow should go. This is training for the next time you do it, and the next time after that.
  • Using (still the same) MAC 217, first apply the SUPPORT COLOR in firm short strokes. Do not go outside your border but focus on getting the color dense. You don't need to cover your lid, just go slightly down onto your lid and above your crease up to the perimeter you laid out.
  • Now using MAC 217 apply the MAIN COLOR overlapping the SUPPORT COLOR but do not go all the way up to the edge. Build the color to the saturation you like, and don't worry about your unfinished lid or the edges yet. You should start to see some nice things happening with the main crease/support color border blending itself naturally. This is easier than just using your main color and trying to work it gradually so it blends into your skin by itself.
  • Then with your pencil brush, dip into your DARK COLOR and "stamp" your outer V area using the side of the pencil brush. First stamp a short line/chunk that follows the angle of the outside edge of your eyeball. Then re-dip and stamp a mirror reflection of that line, that follows  and extends your lashline. That will look like an unfinished, chunky V shape. Do not blend with the pencil brush and don't sketch back and forth. Just stamp once, twice, you're done with that.
  • Now using your MINI CREASE BRUSH (Hakuhodo J5529 or similar) and gentle, circular (not windshield wiper) strokes, start softening that V-stamp you've made. Blend it quite well until it's a little bit too blended.
  • Repeat the V-stamp step with more dark shadow and pencil brush, then repeat the next step and blend a bit more. You will see a gradient start to appear as you take it a bit too dark, then soften, then a bit darker, then softened again. If it is still looking too harsh, blend more. If it looks too soft and muddy, repeat the V-stamp and then blend less this time.
  • Now take your same MINI CREASE BRUSH but this time with your MAIN COLOR and go over just the edges of your outer V dark shade. If your outer V shade looks too light, go over it with your pencil brush and a hint of black, only in the place where the outer point of your V meets.
  • Blend the outer corner with small circular motions and your mini crease brush but do not attempt to make all the colors blend into one big swath- they need to be separated or you won't get that sharp v shape.
  • Using your MAC 224 or similar domed fluffy brush, dip it into your CREASE COLOR #2 and buff the edges (JUST THE EDGES) of your outermost perimeter with it to marry it with your skintone. If you've gotten a blotchy border or gone too far, you can soften with your SKINTONE BASE shade
  • Sketch your MAIN COLOR under your lower lashline with PENCIL BRUSH and darken the outer lower lashline with your DARK COLOR.
  • Using your MAC 239, press the MAIN SHADOW allover the lid, allowing it to overlap with the same color you buffer into the crease, and joining with your upper lashline. If you are interested in creating a shimmery look, the process above will have created a "base" and you can pat a shimmer or satin shade just on the lid that shares its hue with the MAIN SHADOW.
  • Dab your HIGHLIGHT SHADOW into the innermost corner of your eyes. Using your fluffiest crease brush, lightly apply just under the arch of your brow.
This is my favorite shadow look as it can be done with basically any color theme. It works well in daytime or nighttime, and changing up the colors and finish can create a more or less dramatic effect. I have used the above technique/guide to create a dark neutral smoky version and a shimmery green version, pictured below so you can see that, while basic, this placement technique can still be interesting if you play with colors and textures.


  1. hallo, just stalking your blog late at night, so glad to find it. so many good reads. commenting to thank you for this one particularly - i'm enjoying diy-ing my own palettes from depotted shadows/singles, but i need a more structured tonal spine for my frankenpalettes to hit my sweetspot where the shadows offer enough color variety but are supportive of each other. your list on shadows gives me some well articulated structural guidelines to work off~ have been shooting in the dark with only my intuition and pre-existing palette patterns for too long! looking fwd to incorporating this info to improve my frankenpalettes futher tailored to my own style >:)

    1. Hi Rose! Thank you for the compliment!! I think that term- "structured tonal spine" is ABSOLUTELY what I aim for with my shadow collection. I try not to buy too many things that deviate from my main themes...small branches are ok but no big departures out of the blue (no pun intended as a blue eyeshadow phobic person.)

  2. I would love a pictorial version of this!