When we say “smokey eye makeup,” there’s probably a specific look that comes to mind—smudged black eyeshadow, lots of liner, and a healthy dose of attitude. And while that slept-in, rock-and-roll style is undoubtedly a classic, it’s by no means the only way to rock a smokey eye. The beauty of smokey eyeshadow is that it’s totally customizable to your personal preferences. And, since precision isn’t required, you don’t need the skills of a professional makeup artist to nail the look (bonus!).
Here, we’ll show you how to do a smokey eyeshadow look with a step-by-step tutorial for beginners. Then, you’ll discover our favorite variations on the standard smokey eye, from barely-there neutral smokey eyes to looks packed with bold (but still effortlessly diffused) color. So settle in and keep reading to find your ultimate smokey eye inspiration.
How To Do a Simple Smokey Eye For Beginners
Typically, the structure of a basic smokey eye is as follows: a medium-toned eyeshadow on your lids, a darker color in the crease, and a lighter shade to highlight your brow bone and inner corners. Rather than be kept distinct, the borders of the three colors will be blended together to create a smokey, diffused effect. As such, the shades you choose should (generally) be complementary—this will help ensure the smokey, gradient effect looks seamless. As for tools, you’ll need an eyeshadow brush (like our Pro Flat Detail Brush) to apply your color and a blending brush (like the Pro Blending Brush) to smoke it all out. Keep reading for our full smokey eye step-by-step tutorial.
Step 1: Prime Your Eyes
Just like priming your face is recommended before applying foundation, priming your lids can help you get the most mileage out of your eye makeup looks. Before starting on your smokey eye, we recommend applying our Ultimate Shadow & Liner Primer from your upper lash line to your brow bone. The formula comes in four skin-adapting shades to flatter a range of skin tones. And in addition to extending wear (the main purpose of eye primer), the blurring formula also helps increase the vibrancy of your eye makeup for maximum color payoff.
Step 2: Select Your Shades
While your primer sets, you can go ahead and pick out the three shades you’ll be using for your smokey eye look. As we mentioned, you’ll want to pick three—one light, one medium, and one darker, all within the same color family. For a classic look, choose shades of silver, gray, and black, which you can find in our Ultimate Color Palette in Smokey & Highlight. If drama is what you’re after, consider experimenting with more colorful shades (we’ll give you some inspiration on that front below).
Step 3: Sweep The Shadow Onto Your Lids
Using the Pro Flat Detail Brush, begin packing your lid shade (the medium shade) onto your eyelid, extending it from your lash line to just below your crease. Blend it out well, so the color looks soft and diffused at the crease.
Step 4: Darken The Crease
Next, apply the darkest shade to your crease, starting at the outermost part of your eye and gradually working your way inward. Use the Pro Blending Brush to buff the color in small, circular motions until there’s a smooth gradient between the colors. Place more shadow at the outer corner and blend out to really create the smokey effect.
Step 5: Add The Highlight
Your lightest shade will act as a highlighter. Using a tapered eyeshadow brush like our Tapered All Over Shadow Brush, sweep the highlight shade onto your brow bone and blend it with the crease shade. You’ll also want to tap a bit of this shade onto your inner corners to help give your eyes an open, awake look.
Step 6: Blend, Blend, Blend
Clean any excess eyeshadow off of the Pro Blending Brush you used before, then lightly buff any remaining areas that need additional blending. Done properly, the effect should be a subtle, natural gradient with no obvious lines of demarcation.
Step 7: Darken Your Lash Line
Further define your eyes by applying liquid eyeliner, like our Epic Ink Liner, to your upper lash line. Use black for a bolder, more dramatic look, or brown if you want to keep your smokey eye soft and subtle.
Step 8: Apply Mascara or Lashes
Lastly, finish off your eye look by coating your lashes in mascara (we love On The Rise Volume Liftscara for full, voluminous lashes) or applying false lashes. If you’re going with the latter option, we suggest our Jumbo Lash! Vegan False Lashes—the reusable lashes come in four different styles to flatter a range of eye makeup looks.
4 Warm and Natural Smokey Eyeshadow Looks
The best way to do a smokey eye that looks natural is to swap out your cooler black and gray shades for warmer hues, like browns, golds, and nudes. For a warm-toned smokey eye, we recommend using our Ultimate Color Palette in Warm Neutrals. The pro-level palette contains 16 complementary shades in both matte and shimmer finishes, including taupe, chocolate, gold, and copper tones. Here, learn how to use this high-performance palette in four ways.
Subtle Smokey Eye
For a light smokey eye that’s perfect for daytime, reach for lighter shades with slight contrast (we suggest using the three matte-finish shades in the palette’s second row). You’ll get the dimension you want, without too much drama. Pair the low-key eye look with a swipe of mascara on your upper and lower lashes for subtle definition.
Brown Smokey Eye
Using brown tones for your smokey eye helps soften the look, making it more versatile than a high-contrast black smokey eye. For a soft but still dramatic effect, use the palette’s darkest brown shade in your crease, a medium brown for your lid, and a soft taupe or rose gold for your highlight shade.
Bronze Smokey Eye
If you want to amplify a brown smokey eye, consider opting for all shimmer shades—think copper on the lids, deep bronze in the crease, and champagne on your brow bone. This subtly-sparkly twist on the standard smokey eye is gorgeous for night-out looks (but, of course, it can be worn anytime you want to shine).
Burgundy Smokey Eye
For a playful but surprisingly versatile take on your go-to brown smokey eye, swap out your neutral browns for warmer tones like brick, sienna, and rose gold. Pair your burgundy smokey eye with a warm red lipstick (like Soft Matte Lip Cream in Madrid) to play up the autumnal vibes.
4 Colorful Eyeshadow Looks To Update Your Smokey Eye
Smokey eye colors don’t have to be neutrals—here at NYX Professional Makeup, we’re big fans of a bold, unexpectedly bright smokey eye. Here, learn how to give your smokey eye an upgrade with a colorful eyeshadow palette, like our Ultimate Color Palette in Utopia.
Jewel-Toned Smokey Eye
Love drama? Us, too. Create a high-impact smokey eye using matte teal eyeshadow on your lids, black in your crease, and a vibrant, shimmer-packed blue as your highlight shade. Pair it with a swipe of black eyeliner for a subtler finish, or line your lash line with a metallic liner, such as our Epic Wear Metallic Liquid Liner in Teal Metal.
Orange Smokey Eye
A subdued, burnt orange smokey eye isn’t just unexpected—it’s super flattering, especially for those with blue eyes. To achieve the look, use the palette’s matte coral shade on your lids, the dark sienna in your creases, and the shimmery, gold-flecked salmon hue for your highlight shade. You can also add a bit of gold eyeshadow to your inner corners for extra visual interest.
Olive Smokey Eye
Olive green eyeshadow is a great shade to have on hand because it can be colorful or neutral, depending on how you wear it. For a brighter green smokey eye, pair the palette’s olive shade with dark teal in your crease, then highlight with the shimmery mint shadow. Want to keep it more neutral? Try wearing olive eyeshadow with bronze and gold for a natural, earthy smokey eye look.
Smokey Eye Surprise
We’ll sum this up with the reminder that, ultimately, your smokey eye can be worn any way you want it. Add an unexpected pop of color by lining your lower lids with an eyeshadow in a contrasting shade (think: electric blue or bright pink), or go full glam by boosting your smokey shadow look with glitter accents. Have fun experimenting!
Next: Now that you’re caught up on the (many) ways to rock a smokey eye, learn how to line your eyes perfectly in our article Eyeliner 101: How To Apply Eyeliner Like a Real Pro.