Back in high school, I really thought that makeup life consisted of black eyeliner, some lipstick, and maybe a little bit of mascara. Little did I know that over a decade later (but not really that much over a decade just saying), I would feel even less fluent in the language of makeup than I did at 16 years old. I am but a wee babby afloat a sea of liquid bronzer, but I’m ambitious and I want to learn how to be a badass beauty guru! And yes, I’m willing to put the hours in on YouTube and /r/indiemakeupandmore to do it.
After discovering indie beauty brands, I fell deep into a k-hole of eyeshadow and pigments, the likes of which I had never seen before. The only problem was that every single eyeshadow I loved was only available in loose powder form.
Every loose eyeshadow I’ve ever had ended up deep in the back of a drawer or bottom of a makeup bag, eventually getting banished to the “Makeup I Don’t Use” drawer.
If I wanted to use the indie shadows I’d just allen in love with, and revive the ones I’ve left behind, I would need to learn to press them into pans. So that’s what I did.
Warning: This post is huge. If you have something to do in the next ten minutes, book mark it for later. Better yet, share it on your Facebook timeline and you’ll easily find it later. Yes, share it… Excellent.
Okay, first thing’s first: what do I know going into this? I know that pressed shadows are not just loose powder shadows squished together. Alright. That’s it. That’s literally all I know about pressing eyeshadows.
Ooookay, clearly I have a long way to go, but I’m so ready. In the aforementioned subreddit, I learned that most people who press their shadows at home, as a hobby, use a site called TKB Trading for their supplies. After that, it’s up to you to source your favorite loose shadows and pigments. Spoiler alert: the most creative loose shadows are made by indie makeup brands.
TKB Trading: A New Frontier of Makeup Products
The first time I clicked a link to TKB Trading made me feel like I stumbled upon something I shouldn’t have. If you hadn’t picked it up yet, I am highly insecure about my makeup skills. Despite playing with beauty products since I was a child, and having an Avon Lady mom, when it comes to technique and makeup skills I feel as detached as Jason Statham in a Sephora.
TKB Trading is like Neverland for people who have dreamed about creating their own makeup or beauty products. Many of the products have laboratory names which are as intimidating as they are creatively inspiring. I recognize a lot of the product names from my favorite makeup products, which makes me really excited.
I picked up a pigment pressing kit for 15mm tin pans ($2.95) because I’ve read that sample baggies can be pressed into this size for easy access. Sample sizes are the cheapest shadow size option at most indie makeup brands, and typically contain about 1/4 tsp. of loose shadow. So, instead of dipping a brush into a tiny, easily forgettable baggie, you can press it. Then, it’s totally accessible and won’t get left behind! This kit contains nine 15mm tin pans, a pressing die with a gemstone handle, and two extra dies.
I also bought some 26mm pans which came with a palette ($6.95) for them to fit in. This product combo brought some serious glee out of me once I saw it. For anyone who has dreamed of making their own eyeshadow palette, this kit is a literal dream come true. More on that later. This kit came with a 12 pan palette made from cardboard, 12 26mm circular tin pans, and three pressing dies.
In order to keep the loose powders together after pressing, you need a binder. TKB offers a vegan, silicone-based binder called MyMix Pressing Medium ($2.50 for 2 fl.oz.). It’s called MyMix but its real name is Isopropyl Myristate Bis-Vinyl Dimethicone Copolymer and Dimethicone. Cute! But an easier way to refer to it is by calling it a silicone-based polymer. It’s a solution that helps hold eyeshadows together while preventing them from becoming too powdery or hard.
Other tools I gathered from around the house were:
- a metal teaspoon to use as a mixing bowl
- a paper plate to act as my pigment containment unit
- toothpicks for mixing
- rubbing alcohol because you need it
- a piece of toilet paper instead of pressing ribbon (classy, right?)
- a tiny spatula from my cleansing grains container for scooping loose shadows, but any flat, tiny scoop will be fine
Adventures in Beauty: Pressing Loose Eyeshadows
So the basic idea is:
- Add loose shadow to a mixing dish (teaspoon).
- Add some of the pressing medium (1 drop per 1/4 tsp of shadow) and mix it all around.
- Add some rubbing alcohol to temporarily moisten the mixture.
- Place it in the tin pan and cover with pressing ribbon toilet tissue or paper towel.
- Press down semi-hard with the pressing die until the excess moisture is out.
- Repeat as necessary.
- Some people press full eyeshadow pans by doing several tiny layers of shadow, gradually being pressed together. Others prefer to just dump it all in at once and press it all in one go.
- Leave it to dry out (alcohol evaporation) for 12-24 hours.
Then, you should have a perfect, soft, delicious little pan of your very favorite eyeshadow.
So, as simple and concise as that process sounds, there are lots of different anecdotal experiences among the people who have tried and reviewed this process. Here are some concerns I’ve seen:
Too much pressing medium will create a rock-hard tablet of dusty, sheer shadow.
This is true, I had a sad experience with too much pressing medium (and yes you get to see it). It’s appealing to get the shadow as wet as possible when you’re mixing it, because it makes this easily mixable, gooey, sparkly, beautiful goop and that is not only pretty, but it’s easy to manipulate. The sad thing is that it usually results in a shadow that’s very difficult to work with and – brace yourself – potentially lose its duochrome effect or shimmer. I know. Horrifying.
In reality, you want the mixture to be crumbly. Big chunks, little chunks, hydrated powders – all crumble sizes are fine. It should look like a stiff cookie dough. When you compress the layers or pile of shadow, it’ll add some compression-mixing effects. If you don’t mix the medium into the shadow enough, the pressed shadow may get flakey or get really dusty with a lot of fallout. All that = wasted product, so you don’t want that.
Once the mixture is appropriately crumbly, you then add the minimal amount of alcohol to make it hold together at all. Per 1/4 tsp of shadow, I use between 4 and 10 drops of alcohol. The variance is a result of shadows having different formulas.
Matte shadows are difficult to press and often not as good in pressed form.
Admittedly, I haven’t tried this because I haven’t purchased a matte shadow in loose form. Not only am I rabidly attracted to unique duochrome and micro-glitter shadows, but after reading this, I got scared. Also, I feel like you can find great matte eyeshadows anywhere. I have a ton of great drugstore mattes that make purchasing a loose matte shadow pretty unattractive.
That being said, I have found one related thing to be true: the glitzier the shadow, the better it will perform as a pressed shadow. My experiences with high-shine and extremely shimmery shadows has been overwhelmingly positive. I’ve even pressed some loose shadows from e.l.f. and oh my god the payoff was amazing. They performed as well, if not better than the loose version. No need to wet your brush, it’s like pig. men. ted. Swatching that shadow is the most satisfying thing I’ve ever done.
You can use glycerin, jojoba oil, fractionated coconut oil, or ____ as a binder instead of MyMix or silicones.
Yeah, actually, this is true, too – but it depends largely on the type of shadow you’re working with. Some eyeshadows come with binders already added. In that case, you really just need to keep the shadow together when you press it because the binding has already been done for you. If you were to purchase mica-based shadows or pigments, on the other hand, something like MyMix will be a great addition. Remember, though… too much MyMix is a bad thing.
Alcohol, on the other hand, is a must. Use the highest purity you can – 91% is common. You can kind of add as much of this as you want – but you don’t want to get crazy with it. The more you add, the longer it will take for the shadow to dry out and become usable. I don’t know about you, but I need things now, so you’ll find me to be pretty minimal with my alcohol use.
So! Let’s ruin some eyeshadows and then perfectly press some other ones! I used four samples from the Reschensee collection from now-closed indie brand Howl Cosmetics as my pressing guinea pigs. These were mostly shimmer and microglitter shadows with really pretty, soft colors that I wanted to use more often, but never reached for since they were in these sifter jars. Sadly I kind of lost the intensity of some of these shadows, but I definitely still use them (which you can see from the palette photos, haha).
Here’s how it went:
This is Ringing Bells by Howl Cosmetics in the jar. It’s hard to tell what color it is, but it’s a lavender-tinted, pewter grey with silver micro-glitter and a silver sheen. It’s really pretty, but it needed to be built up quite a bit in order to get the full effect.
I quickly sanitized the pan with a drop of rubbing alcohol just to give the eyeshadow a nice, sterile place to live.
Here is what I assumed to be about 1/4 tsp of eyeshadow. (It was more like 1/8th tsp.) I decided to work with this amount because of the small pan size. Additionally, it seems like 1/4 tsp is the smallest unit of measurement when it comes to eyeshadow pressing.
I wised up and put everything over a paper plate because: messy. I highly suggest you do the same, or have some newspaper at least. The recommendation of 1 drop of mixing medium per 1/4 tsp of shadow is pretty smart, but I will ignore that advice in the next photo. I should have stopped here with only one drop, but I got nervous that the mixture wouldn’t be a beautiful, homogenous solution so I added more. That’s obviously before I knew exactly what texture I was going for.
This pic is the shadow in its teaspoon mixing bowl with two drops of mixing medium. It’s just been mixed around with a toothpick and you can see the clumpy, crumbly texture. This ended up being too much mixing medium, but it doesn’t look that different from what it would look like if I’d done it right, so you have to be careful.
I added the drops of alcohol from my little eye dropper and it turned out this way. I read somewhere that an indicator of proper mixing is when the eyeshadow kind of balls up together and cleans the sides of the bowl or spoon. Think cookie dough, again.
Then, I took the mixture and plopped it into the newly sterilized tin. With my toothpick, I kind of tried to smooth out the top as much as possible to ensure that the flattened mixture would fill the pan. I don’t know if you’ve ever made a pie crust, but there’s nothing more irritating than the crust not covering the pie pan, so I avoid that in all areas of my life.
This is where I can look back and say that the eyeshadow mixture was definitely too wet. Adding too much alcohol isn’t as dangerous as adding too much pressing medium because alcohol evaporates over time. That being said, you still want to try to minimize your additions so the shadow stays as true as possible.
The next part is the fun part with the gemstone thingy!
Place your pressing ribbon or TP or paper towel over the top of your shadow pan and press down. I usually start with even, gentle pressing, then as it gets flatter and more solid, I increase pressing strength. You’ll need to do this a few times, and you’ll see the excess alcohol on the tissue when you bring the die up. Use a clean, dry portion of the tissue for each new press.
If the die gets stuck in there, don’t freak out. The pan and the die are literally the same size and fit together so perfectly that, with the addition of tissue, it can get stuck. Just try to wiggle it from side to side and gently try to pull it away from the tissue. It’ll come out, and if you knick your shadow (like I did), no big deal. The next layer will fill it in.
Usually after about 8 presses, I feel good moving onto the next layer. Your layer will look something like this.
See where I knicked the pan when the pressing die got stuck? No worries, like I said! Just press over it.
If your tissue paper or ribbon gets stuck to the shadow or becomes sticky – guess what! You used too much liquid! Don’t beat yourself up, it’s extremely easy to do when you’re talking drops of things. Try sprinking a little bit of extra loose shadow over the top and press again. Eventually, you’ll get something that looks like the pic above. I know because before that pan looked like that, it got stuck to the tissue. It’s fixable!
After this, provided you’re doing layers of pressed shadow and not blowing your shadow load all in one press, get ready to do it again.
Doing separate layers also gives you the opportunity to test out different ratios of pressing medium and alcohol. Not like you’ll be able to tell the difference in the finished product, but you’ll be able to see the difference in how they press.
Eventually, you’ll have a gorgeous, tiny pressed eyeshadow. Ready for your palette or cigarette case or whatever you keep your stuff in. Well, after letting it dry and evaporate for a day. Trust me, you’ve put this much effort into it, you might as well let it dry for the full amount of time.
You can see the little circles imprinted on the shadows from the toilet paper. It’s kinda cute! TKB Trading has basic pressing ribbon for $1 per yard, but pressing ribbon with adorable patterns is kind of hard to find. I encourage you to get creative, and also someone needs to fill this hole in the market! I want tiny illuminati symbols on my eyeshadows, please.
After I pressed the other three shades from the Howl collection and a gaggle of others (you’ll see!), I ended up with these four little dudes:
…Okay, the brand new pressed shadows looked a lot cuter than those do and I might have forgotten to take a picture… but I’ve been using them like crazy! Some of them are a little more difficult to use now (see our little guinea pig Ringing Bells in the lower right corner) and others got a bit flakey (see Frozen Lake in the bottom left). The top two work beautifully and were, to no one’s surprise, the last two I did after using the first two as guinea pigs.
But, over some decent primer, these are all beautiful shadows in pressed form!
These are the three primers I swatched over.
L-R: Winter Winds, Ringing Bells, Solitary Tower, Frozen Lake
It’s kinda hard to tell which primer these perform best over with a still image, so here’s something to help you understand that Essence and Fyrinnae are the best.
I’ll do a big ol’ review on Pixie Epoxy and Essence’s eyeshadow base soon. In the meantime, they’re what I’d recommend using under any shimmer or sparkly eyeshadows. The red color, Solitary Tower, is not a particularly shimmery shade, but it has a beautiful and subtle peach shift. Pixie Epoxy is the only base that really brings it out at all.
Just for good measure, here are some other shadows I pressed into the larger pans meant for the palette.
These eyeshadows came from Innocent + Twisted Alchemy, an indie beauty brand based out of Sacramento, CA. During one of their sales, they had this incredible deal: $5 for five full-sized shadows from past releases. The shadows I got span all the way from August 2016 to April 2014, and they’re all gorgeous. Of course, I have my favorites, but they’re all unique and amazing.
The last set of eyeshadows I pressed for science, this set I pressed because I want to use them every day.
I pulled off the labels on the bottom of each jar and put it on the inside of the lid. Being able to tell people what color eyeshadow you’re wearing is really important when they’re this cool. Lots of people are going to want to know where you got that burgundy-brown with silver shift, you gotta be able to say “Oh, that’s Defy from Innocent + Twisted Alchemy. It’s no longer available for sale, I am so sorry, buuuuut they are still a really cool company…?”
These swatched pretty well, but the palette came with a pressing die that had no handle, so it was a little more difficult to get an even press. Otherwise, it was literally the same except the layers required almost twice as much mixture. The pans are larger, though, so that’s pretty obvious. But instead of making too little the first time (like I did) I figured I’d just remind you!
By the way, if you want to switch out these pans from the palette in the future, it has super convenient poke-holes on the back.
Here’s how they turned out over the same primers:
In this case, I think that pressing made a couple of shades a little darker – namely Jingwei and Surfin’. I definitely don’t mind. But if there is a loose shadow that you absolutely love, like more than certain family members – maybe get an extra and press one. It might not change the color at all! In the case of Empyrean and Lion of the Sun, they look exactly the same as they did before I pressed them.
I think that I lost a little bit of the duochrome intensity from Breaking Down – one of my favorites – and Surfin’. Breaking Down is a warm purple with a strong green shift. Surfin’ is a buttercup yellow with a subtle aqua shift. Luckily, I ordered Pixie Epoxy after I pressed these and once it arrived, my fears were totally put to rest. It restored those duochromes like they were never gone.
Here’s that juicy duochrome-friendly gif for you:
You can see the shifts in Breaking Down, Jingwei, and Defy perfectly. I love wearing duochrome shades like these all over my lid and kind of letting them be the star, but they’re great with all kinds of looks. The inner corner is an awesome place for lighter-colored shimmers and duochromes. It’s just a little something different!
I hope my trials and tribulations have helped you figure out whether or not you want to press your loose shadows! I really think that you should try, and for such a minimal investment at TKB Trading, it’s worth it. As far as hobbies go, collecting a beautiful, chromatic spectrum of magical powders for my face is a pretty sweet one.
Here are some of those eyeshadows in action:
Oh, and just to confirm – I tried pressing a sample baggie of eyeshadow into a 15mm pan like these small ones, and it was totally effective! In some cases, I even had shadow left over. It’s the perfect way to make your favorite loose shadows more accessible in your daily makeup routine.
Have you ever pressed shadows? Please leave your advice and experiences in the comments!
Loose Shadow Pressing Resources:
Want a second opinion? Smart! Because I didn’t do this alone. All of these excellent resources will give you confidence in pressing loose eyeshadows and pigments.
- Portrait of Mai – This is my favorite of the bunch! I’ve read everything like ten times.
- /r/indiemakeupandmore – Seriously! If you ever get stuck, pop your question in there and you’ll surely get the answer!
- The Crafty Cosmetician
- The Indie Makeup Blog
- The Dark Side of Beauty
- This tutorial for pressing matte shadows deserves a shout-out!