Here’s a small group of brushes I use most of the time when I do my makeup. I have many more but these are the ones I like to have close at hand after finding specific uses for each of them. Further down in the post I have comparisons for some of them if you’re looking for more information about size, shape, the way they feel, etc.
Elf Blush Brush
This is available on Elf’s website but the photo looks a little different than the brush I have. The one I have is sort of flat with a lightly pointed tip and very soft synthetic bristles. The way I use this most is by taking one of the larger flat sides and laying setting powder over larger areas of the face with it. Sometimes I’ll use the pointed end to apply setting powder under the eye area. I do not use it for blush or cheek product application because I do not like the shape or the type of bristles to use with those products. I find it doesn’t blend them out the way I want. It can work but I just have another brush I prefer.
I use the domed end of the brush to apply blush to the cheeks and it blends the edges almost without effort. I have used this for bronzer and contour but it will apply the color over a larger area than with the Morphe M510. Just depends what you want. A couple of very similar ones are the Sigma F40 and the Mac 168.
This is too large to use for eyeshadow and too small to use for something like blush. I use this for applying contour or bronzer. I’ve tried it for applying setting powder the way I do with the Morphe M504 but the bristles are longer and splay out more so the powder does not apply as evenly.
This is a very common brush shape and you can find one like this almost anywhere. I use this for applying setting powder to smaller areas, highlighter to the cheeks, and brushing away eyeshadow fallout (if it isn’t too stuck to the skin). Sometimes I’ll use it to apply powder foundation to specific areas of the face where I want more coverage but don’t want to use concealer, like under the eyes, on my nose, and areas with sun damage (like the top of my cheeks).
This is a good alternative to the sadly discontinued natural hair Mac 217. It’s not exactly the same shape but is similar enough and good for applying your “everyday” style of eyeshadow. This is a pretty common shape brush and there may be more options available now compared to when I bought this but I like the quality/functionality of this one. The bristles are not too floppy or too sparse. I don’t typically wear “everyday” eyeshadow looks, so for me this functions more for dealing with difficult to blend eyeshadows. If I’ve applied a shadow that my other brushes are not able to blend out, I’ll try this one and usually have more luck with it.
I have three of these. They are probably my most used eyeshadow brushes. My eyes are smaller and blending brushes like the Morphe M433 limit what I can do because they are a bit big. This one is about half the size so I can get more detailed and use more colors without them all blurring together. But it is still big enough that I can use it to apply just one or two shades without it taking forever to blend those colors out and finish an eye look. I’ll also use it to apply inner corner and brow bone highlights and shade/blend along the lower lashline in a more diffused way. The Elf Detail Crease Brush is similar and I will use that one if all my Morphe ones are dirty but it is less tapered so it isn’t as precise.
This can be used in a similar way to the Morphe M506 but it is a smaller, flatter brush so it will apply color to an even smaller area than that one will. I wouldn’t reach for this if I was going use only a few shades because the size would cause me to be blending for much longer. It’s more of a complementary brush that I use alongside the other larger brushes I have. Some of its many uses:
- Inner corner and brow bone highlighting
- Detailed use of multiple colors
- Blending smaller areas, like blending the outsides of a transition shade
- Lower lashline line application and blending
- Filling in patches missed by larger blending brushes (often happens in the crease)
The way I most often use this one is for inner corner and brow bone highlighting, mainly with matte or metallic shades. It applies color less intensely than a pencil brush which can be useful if you are using something that is very pigmented but want to soften it up. Because it is fluffy, if I use this with a shadow that has larger sparkles, it tends to cause those sparkles to fall down under my eyes much more than with a pencil brush.
This is about half the size of the average pencil brush and has a well rounded shape. I have several other pencil brushes and most of them have bristles that come to a point. I like having one that doesn’t do that because it makes it more useful overall. In general you can use a brush like this for applying/blending concealer and applying eyeshadows to small areas with more intensity than with something fluffier like the Sigma E47.
Next to Morphe E36 in the photo is another unnamed pencil brush I often use specifically for concealer. I use the Morphe brush only for eyeshadow because it is the smaller of the two and isn’t as worn out so the shape is still decent. This particular one is no longer available but I included it just because I always use it. It’s nice to have one dedicated for creams and another for powders, so I’m not using the one that has creams on it when dipping into eyeshadows.
Sonia Kashuk Small Eyeshadow Brush
This doesn’t seem all that special at first and maybe I just haven’t looked around enough, but I find this somewhat unique as far as shader brushes go. Being thicker gives the end a more domed shape and so I can use it not only to apply a lid shade, but to then blend that shade up into the crease all in one step. Depending on the quality of the shadow, sometimes I can skip using a fluffy brush altogether if I just use this brush first. This is also pretty dense and will pack a shade on nicely. Quite soft and nice on the skin as well.
I use this mainly for applying concealer. It is like a concealer brush but smaller and shorter. I have a concealer brush but I always use this one I guess because I like the size better. It also lays cream products down super evenly. I can get better coverage by using this to do the majority of concealer application and then go in very minimally with that unnamed pencil brush I mentioned earlier to make sure it actually looks like skin.
It can be used to apply lipstick and actually I like the shape of this better for that than what you normally see in lip brushes. The end is mostly flat with tapered corners so you can get crisp edges and shape out your cupids bow easily.
This is newer to me and I mainly only use it to apply shimmery shades to the center of the lid. Once in a while I will try turning it on its side to use the narrow edge to apply color along the lower lashline but I don’t find it works as well for that as another brush I have (Sigma E05). I’m sure I could find more ways to make this more versatile but for now I like its purpose of precise shimmer placement.
This is a smaller and skinnier version of an angled brush. I use it for more precision when doing my brows and lining my eyes because out of all the angled brushes I have, this is the one I can get the cleanest lines with. For the brows, I’ll mainly use this to extend the ends and fill in any gaps in the hairs. A thicker angled brush works faster if I’m trying to fill in the entire brow. I’ll use this to also tightline (lining under and in between the lashes) and use powder eyeshadow as eyeliner.
A Detail Eyeliner Brush
This is not a must have but if you want to get thinner lines with liquid liner, something like this can help. Try an art supply store or look for painting brushes online. The one in the photo is an American Painter Spotter 10/0. I’m not familiar at all with art brushes but did a google search and found that 10/0 refers to the size. I haven’t found one that is actually made for makeup that is small enough for what I was looking for. The last photo in the post shows this compared next to a couple of other brushes so you can see what I mean.
I’m currently using one from Elf. The $2 one with a white handle. It works fine, the shape is good, no oddly sharp corners. The only thing is that the glue that holds the ferrule to the handle is questionable. If you’re willing to reglue it down the road, no big deal. I use it for:
- Combing through messy brows
- Blending out brow products that have been applied too heavily
- Brushing excess shadow out of the lashes, or excess setting powder out of the brows
- Dislodging sparkle fallout or glitter that is stuck to the skin or that ended up in areas I didn’t intend for it to go
Morphe M405 Comparisons
I use all three of these interchangeably. The one from Sigma is slightly larger than the other two but other than that they all have bristles that feel about the same and mostly apply product the same way.
Morphe M433 Comparisons
I can’t remember if I had the Sigma E25 or Mac 217 first but they were all purchased because of the Mac 217. It’s one of those things where you find the perfect shape brush and you are trying to find a cheaper alternative that will do the same thing. I wasn’t alone by a long shot in this. From what I remember, Sigma became known for “duping” Mac brushes. For now the Morphe M433 is the best alternative that I have found. It doesn’t have exactly the same shape but is close enough and is one of the most effective crease brushes I have tried for difficult-to-blend eyeshadows.
Morphe M506 Comparisons
Here I included a brush from Elf that is pretty close to the Morphe one in size and will do nearly the same thing. I prefer the one from Morphe because it is ever so slightly more pointed so I don’t tend to get any patchiness in the crease with it. I turned the Sigma brush on its side so you could see it from a different angle and compare the size next the others.
Morphe E36 Comparisons
These three are together because I will have used all of them for the same purpose but ended up settling on Morphe as my fave. It is the softest of the three and has the most uniform shape. The Morphe M149 is more pointed and scratchier. Ecotools is also slightly scratchy.
More Pencil Brush Comparisons
Here are some other larger pencil brushes next to the Morphe E36. The ones from Elf and NYX are scratchier than the rest of the brushes in the photo so I usually don’t reach for them. The Morphe M455 is more pointed but it doesn’t flop around much.
Sonia Kashuk Small Eyeshadow Brush Comparisons
Here are three of basically the same type of brush in different sizes next to a Mac 239S. The one on the far left is my go-to. It used to be the Mac 239 or 239S before I found the one from Sonia Kashuk. The Sonia Kashuk Brush is a bit more narrow and I just feel like I can control where I apply color with it better than with the Mac one, especially around the outer lid/crease areas.
Mac 231 Brush Comparisons
I have a couple of similar size and shape brushes here but with different cuts. The Mac 231 has curved corners compared to the sharp ones on the brush next to it. The Elf Concealer Brush is probably the best alternative but I prefer the shape and bristles of the Mac 231.
Sigma E46 Brush Comparisons
I have used all of these to apply shimmer to the lid at one point or another. The Sigma E46 is my favorite because it is narrow (good for someone with not much lid space or hooded lids) and has longer bristles. The shorter bristles on the NYX one cause me to touch the end of the ferrule to the lid and create an unintentional line or just make it more difficult to apply color in general. I didn’t find the Sigma E56 on their website and but found another one that looks almost the same (the E58). I like this one as well for the same purpose but prefer the size of the E46.
Morphe M160 Brush Comparisons
These are a bunch of other angled brushes I have. Most of them are thicker than the Morphe 160, except for the Sigma E06 which is thinner but is also incredibly difficult to control so I almost never use it.
Eyeliner Brush Comparisons
The brush on the left is the one I talked about above. The one in the center is the most typical size I have seen for this type of brush when searching through brushes made for makeup application. I included the one from Sigma here because I find it to be oddly thick for an eyeliner brush but at the time when I purchased it, I wasn’t aware that it was going to be like that.