The Only Makeup-Brush Cheat Sheet You'll Ever Need

We say it time and time again: often, it's not what makeup you have on your face, but how you apply it. That's why your brushes and tools can have a huge impact on the end result. We're talking the difference between a streaky finish and flawless lines and edges. Of course, no one ever said it was easy to lock down your squad. Finding your foolproof brushes is a challenge, since there's no right brush for everyone.
How do you navigate the world of beauty tools when it seems as if there's a new option every time you hit the store? Fret not, because we've put together this handy-dandy cheat sheet to bookmark — and consult before adding anything to your cart!
Ahead, a quick guide to the basics of makeup brushes: What are the most popular options typically used for? What shapes are most effective for different formulas? Plus, other important tips. Of course, feel free to get creative and forge your own path — this is just a reference point to get you started.
Click through our slideshow for the tips and tricks to master brush shopping — then, tell us which brushes you love in the comments below.
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For Liquid Foundations & Creams

1. The Flat Foundation Brush
This common brush is a go-to tool for many. It applies base evenly, allowing you to build coverage as you see fit. The best part? The application is just like painting with a paintbrush.

2. The Pointed Foundation Brush
A smaller brush, often with a tapered point, is great for a more detailed application of foundation and concealer, especially around your nose and mouth.

3. The Duo-Fiber Stippling Brush
For an airbrushed effect, a duo-fiber brush, often with white synthetic strands peeking out, is great for gently buffing product onto skin. Squeeze some foundation or cream into your hand, tap the white brushes into it, and lightly tap and blend the cream onto your skin.

4. The Concealer Brush
Think of this as a denser, smaller, pointed foundation brush. A stiff concealer brush is the most precise tool of these four, meant to apply cream or liquid concealer in small amounts, making any red spots or bumps disappear.

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Perfectly flat and wide, for a smooth, even finish.

Make Up For Ever Large Foundation Brush, $36. Shop it here.
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This option from Sonia Kashuk is great for getting into the areas around your nose.

Sonia Kashuk Core Tools Synthetic Pointed Foundation Brush, $12.99. Shop it here.
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This duo-fiber brush will give you a smooth, airbrushed look.

MAC 130SH Short Duo Fibre Brush, $42. Shop it here.
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A classic concealer brush will magically cover any blemish.

Shiseido Concealer Brush, $20. Shop it here.
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For Powders

1. Angled Contour Brush
You know how to get a precise, flattering contour? By using this brush, with an angled edge to emphasize those cheekbones with highlighter, blush, or bronzer.

2. Fan Brush
Fan brushes are excellent at creating soft-focus swipes of highlighter, blush, and even bronzer. These gently diffuse powder, resulting in sheer coverage.

3. Domed Blusher Brush
A fluffy, domed brush is great for applying color to the apples of your cheeks — and blending, too.

4. Tapered Blush Brush
A tapered blush brush is both fluffy and precise, with a flatter edge than a domed brush. This means more specific application of color, which you can build up, too.

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A soft, vegan blush brush that feels luxe and applies blush and bronzer like a dream.

Antonym Contour Brush #3, $22. Shop it here.
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Use this option to gently sweep on a wash of highlighter.

Sonia Kashuk Core Tools Duo Fibre Fan Brush No. 129, $7.99 Shop it here.
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For a perfectly flushed look, apply color to the apples of your cheeks and blend up and out.

Sonia Kashuk Domed Blusher Brush No. 29, $17.99. Shop it here.
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These strands pick up just the right amount of color for a soft flush, which is great for a pop of natural-looking color of the apples of your cheeks.

Real Techniques Bold Metals Collection Tapered Blush Brush, $19. Shop it here.
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For Both Powders, Liquids & Creams: The Kabuki Brush

Kabuki brushes, which originated in Japan, are incredibly versatile. Made for overall coverage, these brushes are large, fluffy, and quite cute.

Thanks to their size, kabuki brushes are great for applying liquid, cream, and powders — and blending them in over large surfaces. For liquid, simply tap the makeup onto your face with your fingers where you need coverage before using the brush to swirl and buff until it disappears into skin. For powder, tap the brush in the powder, give it a quick shake, and apply as you see fit. Use a light touch for a natural, airbrushed effect.

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A flat, soft edge gives this brush a light touch.

Sisley-Paris Phyto-Touches Brush, $40. Shop it here.
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For blending, opt for this short and sweet version.

Tarte Airbuki Bamboo Powder Foundation Brush, $28. Shop it here.
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The Blending Sponge

Use sponges to blend in everything from liquid foundations to creamy blushes, even powdered bronzers. The best part? They're tiny, so you can bring one with you wherever you go. And they're way easier to clean than makeup brushes.
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— PAID —

This sponge does it all — and the price really can't be beat. Use the orange rounded side to seamlessly blend in foundation and the pink pointed tip to contour or swipe on blush and highlighter (or to get those hard-to-reach spots). Use it dry for full coverage with any liquid or powders.

Real Techniques Dual-Ended Expert Sponge, $5.99, available at Ulta Beauty.
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For Eyeshadow

1. Shading Brush
A wide, flat brush is great for applying powder eyeshadow all over your eyelids, evenly distributing the color.

2. Blending Brush
For major blending power, look for a soft, fluffy blush that can seamlessly blend pigment.

3. Precision Brush
For statement lines of color, reach for a small precision brush, with tightly packed hairs. These small, versatile tools are great for a variety of looks: Smudging your pencil liner, swiping on lines of eyeshadow, and tapping on an accent color.

4. Crease Brush
These brushes can go either way — super fluffy for blending, or denser for precision. The tapered point makes it easier to get into the crease, which makes it incredibly versatile.

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With a short, rounded top, this eye shading brush is perfect for a base layer of eyeshadow. Think: an everyday wash of color.

Sigma Eye Shading Brush, $16. Shop it here.
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You could opt for a classic domed, fluffy brush to check this box, or try the blogger-fave Artis brush. Blend out the crease with this cult classic for a killer smoky eye.

Artis Oval 3 Brush, $40. Shop it here.
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Use this precision brush to swipe an accent color on the outer edges of your eye or blend out pencil liner for a natural smoky eye.

Beautycounter Precision Brush, $23. Shop it here.
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This pick from Sephora is fluffy enough to blend shadows at the crease, but dense enough to pack on color.

Sephora Collection PRO Featherweight Crease Brush #38, $22. Shop it here.
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For Eyebrows

1. Angled Brush
An angled brush is great for sketching on eyeliner and for filling in sparse brows — all without a heavy-handed finish.

2. Thin Eyebrow Brush
Precise points increases your control when working with both cream and powder on your brows — plus, the lines mimic the look of natural hair.

3. Spoolie Brush
The spoolie's tubular design is created specifically to brush out and amp up brow hairs — but these brushes can be used on eyelashes or even with some hairspray on flyaways. Just be sure to wash thoroughly or use different spoolies for different uses.

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An angled brush will make filling in sparse brows a breeze. The one shown here is currently out of stock, but it's an editors' fave.

Beauty Is Life Eyebrow Brush, $26.
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If you prefer drawing on individual brow hairs — and have an extra few minutes — this pointed brow brush is meant for you.

Sephora Collection Pro Pointed Brow #35, $20. Shop it here.
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Run this through your brows to perfect the shape and amp up volume.

Smith Cosmetics 214 Spoolie Brush, $16. Shop it here.
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For Eyeliner

1. Angled Brush
Eyeliner can be fickle — every eye shape is different, and thus, one size does not fit all. A small angled brush — much like a brow brush — can create perfectly imperfect lines and is great for covering a lot of space in as little time as possible. Think: smudgy and sexy.

2. Pointed Eyeliner Brush
A thin, tapered option is perfect for lining your waterline. It will provide more precision than an angled brush.

3. Flat Eyeliner Brush
These flat, stiff brushes are great for strong, colorful eyeliner looks and applying bold color right at the base of your lashes.

4. Thin Eyeliner Brush
The thinnest of all brushes, these super-precise options are great for painting on cream and liquid liner — both for applying and for cleaning up. They're great for a classic cat-eye.

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Pack on some black eyeshadow at the corners of your eyes for extra drama.

NARS Angled Eyeliner Brush #47, $28. Shop it here.
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For soft, delicate lines, this pointed brush is perfect.

Anastasia Beverly Hills Pointed Eyeliner Brush, $18. Shop it here.
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NARS' synthetic brush transforms any cream or powder hue into an eyeliner. Add water for an even more saturated color.

NARS Push Eyeliner $46, $28. Shop it here.
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Use one side to apply, and the other to clean up — the angle helps you maneuver around tricky spots, too.

Tarte Etch & Sketch Double Ended Bamboo Liner Brush, $15. Shop it here.
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For Lips: The Lip Brush

1. Classic Brush
A lip brush is an optional tool — you can certainly apply your lipstick or gloss directly from the tube. However, these are clutch when diffusing pigment, creating a stain, or blending different shades to make your perfect hue. A classic lip brush tends to be medium-density, soft, and compact.

2. Slanted Brush
The latest innovation in lip brushes has a rounded edge and wider brush helps cover more of your lip with less work, while magically following the curves of your mouth, too.

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This classic lip brush can't be beat, thanks to a metal cover that allows you to load the brush with product and toss it in your bag for touch-ups. (No mess!)

MAC Lip Brush, $20. Shop it here.
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The curve of this editor-favorite brush hugs every curve for an even applications — sans liner!

Smith Cosmetics 302 Lip Brush, $20. Shop it here.
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Related Video:

Makeup Brush Cleaning Hacks You Didn't Know You Needed
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