Want to build your own custom eyeshadow palette? Here are my tips for getting started.
I know I’m in the minority, but eyeshadow palettes don’t really do it for me. I have an extreme minimalist aesthetic when it comes to eyes, and most palettes contain too many shades that I know I won’t use. I once spent my Shoppers Optimum points on the Urban Decay Naked 2 palette, and gave it away six months later because I just never, ever used it.
I resisted buying single pan shadows for a long time. For whatever reason, I didn’t like the look of cardboard Z-Palettes, and building a custom palette seemed like a lot more effort than it was worth. Most days, I am happy swiping my bronzer or contour powder through the crease. The end.
Despite my resistance, I couldn’t stop lusting over images like these and had a wishlist saved on Makeup Geek for months. Finally, when a free shipping promo popped up over the holidays, I went for it.
Since then, I’ve done a 180 on single pan shadows—but I made some mistakes along the way. Below, I share 5 tips for building your custom palette.
1. Have your palette ready
If you don’t have a proper place to store your single shadows, you won’t use them. To enjoy your shadows as soon as you get them, make sure you have a customizable palette ready. As soon as I finished checking out on Makeup Geek, I hopped over to Nail Polish Canada and ordered a Large Z-Palette. Later on, I ordered a Baby Z-Palette from Sephora so that I could use it for travel.
Pro tip: Z-Palettes and other magnetic palettes have a magnetized base, which means any shadow in a metal pan will stick to it. MAC shadows are the opposite: the magnet is on the pans, and their palettes are metal. If you want to put your MAC shadows in a magnetic palette, you need to remove the magnet and apply a metal sticker onto the bottom of the pan. I personally like the Z-Palette because it comes with metal stickers that you can apply to the bottom of shadows that don’t otherwise stick.
2. Swatch shadows in person
Pan colours don’t always look like the swatches, and online swatches don’t always look like IRL swatches. No amount of online research will make up for actually hauling yourself to a store and swatching the shadows yourself—not just for colour, but for variations in formula, finishes, and textures as well.
My goal for my MUG order was making sure I had a good range, from light, all-over base and transition shades, to mid-tone cool and warm shades, to deeper shades. Yet when I started using my shadows, I felt I was missing a bunch from the transition category. It turned out that the shadows I chose appeared lighter on my monitor than they were in real life. There will always be a disparity between the pan, the swatch, your monitor, your skin tone. Getting to a store and swatch the shadows yourself ensures you make the best possible selections.
Where can you find single shadows in person? MAC has an extensive line of single shadows, which also just dropped in price from $12 CAD per pan to $8 CAD per pan. Anastasia Beverly Hills singles ($16 CAD + volume discount) are now being sold at Sephora in select stores. Sephora also carries MAKE UP FOR EVER’s Artist Shadows ($25 CAD + volume discount), which are much larger than the standard 26mm pans that MAC, MUG, and ABH use. Inglot’s Freedom System shadows cost $12 CAD and are available at their Dundas Square store in Toronto.
3. Compare swatches
If you insist on ordering online, be open to unexpected results. I tirelessly researched swatches of every shade I ordered and still came out with a few duds.
Do a Google Image search for the shades you’re interested in, and search for swatches on a skin tone similar to yours. You’ll get a better idea of how the shade might look on your skin tone, but you’ll also learn just how wildly the representation of shades can be.
Just look at the variation in colour between all of these photos of Makeup Geek’s warm reddish brown shade, Cocoa Bear:
Cocoa Bear is the middle swatch in the first image; the first two images are both from Makeup Geek’s website. My own Cocoa Bear doesn’t look like any of these pans or swatches!
Here’s another example. MUG’s High Tea looks pretty close to the first pan here, but nothing like the second or third image:
Why not one more? Here’s MUG’s Baby Face (the centre shade in the swatch image below):
See what I mean? It’s impossible to know which photographs are wrong until you have the pans in hand. If you’re not up for the risk, ordering online might not be for you.
4. Avoid colour dupes
I’ve made this mistake twice now, and both times could have been avoided by a) following my own advice about swatching in person and b) having a little self control.
I wish I whittled down my selections further by deciding between two similar colours. Yes, I can see the difference between MUG’s Peach Smoothie and Beaches and Cream, but I don’t feel I need them both. Likewise, I’d have been happy selecting either Barcelona Beach or Latte.
When the MAC single shadow prices dropped, I picked up four shades, two of which were Omega and Wedge. They’re both beautiful, but I don’t need both. And again—had I swatched these shades in person, I may not have chosen either of them because these warm and cool brown tones are already represented amongst my MUG shadows, when I had intended to fill in some blanks.
Having all of the colours is fun, but expensive, and barely practical for my own routine.
5. Start with a core collection
I went a little ham with my first purchase from MUG. If I could do it all over again, I would have chosen 6-9 shades and continued to round out my collection if I felt I was missing anything. Right now I simultaneously have too many shadows but am also missing core shades that I know I would get more use out of. Had I kept my first selections to a minimum, I could have been more thoughtful about how my custom palette was being built.
Do you have any other tips for building a custom palette of single shadows?