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How to Pick Makeup Applicators for Photography and Video Production

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Just like in painting, makeup requires different tools to be able to apply specific types of makeup products. In this tutorial, you'll learn about the various tools needed to be able to apply makeup properly.

Picking the Right Applicators

There are no rules to applying makeup, but there are definitely tools that will apply makeup better than others. Different tools apply products differently, so it's very important to understand a few key things when you're choosing which tool to use.

When choosing the right tool to use, consider these points:

  • the amount of coverage you want to apply
  • the skin's texture
  • what formula you're going to use

Different Types of Brushes

There are several different types of brushes, the most common two being synthetic and natural bristled brushes.

A synthetic brush is easy to spot because the bristles are two-toned. They're typically made of nylon, teflon, or polyester fibres.

synthetic brushsynthetic brushsynthetic brush
An example of a two-toned synthetic brush.

Natural brushes are commonly made of squirrel, horse, goat, or sable hair, and you will not see any multi-tones—they're typically just the one colour of hair.

natural brushnatural brushnatural brush
An example of a single-toned natural brush.

When to Choose a Synthetic or Natural Brush

A synthetic haired brush is going to irritate the skin less. If a client, or yourself, has very sensitive skin, a synthetic brush is a great option as it is hypoallergenic, which means it is unlikely to cause an allergic reaction.

Additionally, synthetic hair does not have pores. Being non-porous, it's not going to pick up a lot of product, so it can be used to blend very easily. It's best used with liquids or creams because being non-porous, it will not hold a lot of that product.

Natural brushes have natural pores, which means they typically pick up heavier amounts of product. This is good for blending or buffing with powders, but typically not so great for using liquids or creams, as the pores will absorb a lot of the product.

Different Shapes & Sizes of Brushes

There are a lot of different shapes and sizes of brushes, and they each have their own important uses.

A rounded brush is going to be best for a soft or light application. A domed brush is best for a heavier concentration with the product and is going to allow for more movement through the concaves of the face. A flatter brush picks up the most amount of product because the top is so exposed to the pigment that you're using. When applying for a full coverage, a flatter edge is definitely best.

different brush shapesdifferent brush shapesdifferent brush shapes

Finally, the longer the bristles, the lighter the application. The more the bristles can move, the softer the application will be. Short brushes with dense bristles will give a heavier application.

A fan brush has longer hair, so it's going to be a lighter application. It's going to move really well and apply product pretty softly. You could also use a round head brush, as long as the bristles are about the same length, so it really comes down to your preference of tool to use.

fan brushfan brushfan brush
A fan brush

Tools are multipurpose. Just because I've told you that the round brush is great for a lighter application doesn't mean that a flat brush won't be. It's typically the length of the hair on the tool that I would recommend taking a look at as far as lighter or heavier applications are concerned.


Sponges are another wonderful tool to use to apply and blend out product. My favourite sponge is the beauty blender as it's a very easy product to use. I find that sponges typically work best when they're just a little bit wet. They also shear out the product that you're using a bit, applying a more natural, almost airbrushed finish to the skin.

A beauty blenderA beauty blenderA beauty blender
A beauty blender

The difference between a beauty blender and those little triangles of foam you'd find at a drug store is that the triangles of foam have hard edges. This means those hard 90-degree edges are going to create lines in the skin. What's nice about a beauty blender is that it's rounded, so it's going to blend out and give a nice airbrushed look to the skin because there are no hard edges.

You can find sponges in different shapes and sizes, just like brushes. There are flatter edge sponges that, again, will be ideal for heavier applications, or there are even smaller sponges that will apply less product. So this is very similar to brushes, but just different textures.

 Examples of a flatter sponge (left) and a small sponge (right)

When to Use a Sponge

I find that sponges are best used for applying liquids and creams, or any product that contains a lot of hydration. If you do want a heavier application of a powder, or even for touch-up purposes for photo or video, using a powder puff is a very easy way to apply a powder.

How to Clean Your Tools

These sponges are products that can be used over and over again. Just as your brushes would be cleaned, you can also clean any of your sponges or powder puffs. There are sponge-specific cleaners out there, but you can really just use an overall brush cleaner to get out all of the product that could be harboured in the sponge.

cleaning productscleaning productscleaning products

To clean your sponge, you'll want to place a few drops of either a brush cleaner, a gentle hand soap, or even a baby shampoo in the palm of your hand. First, drench your tool in water. Then lather it with the cleanser that you have, and then wring out any of the excess product. Typically, you can lay it out to dry overnight, and the sponge will retain its shape once it's dry.

If you give your brushes a deep clean once a month, you should be able to keep those tools for years to come. If you clean your sponges or powder puffs at least every couple of uses, then you should be able to have them for somewhere around six to nine months.


When going for a professional makeup application, I usually stick to my brushes and sponges. However, I would suggest everybody use a brow brush to keep any unruly hairs tamed and keep the brows looking nice and clean.

Another tip is if you notice any buildup of product on the skin that your brushes or your sponges are only adding to, and you can't seem to get the skin's texture looking very smooth, you could always use the warmth of your fingers to lightly pat out or blend any product that you're having a difficult time with.

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