Full list with links and prices at bottom of page.
Pencils are arguably the oldest and most common form of eyeliner. It’s possible to find cream and gel formulas in pencil form, and are usually in a twist up container or a traditional pencil that needs sharpening. Pencils provide a familiar tool and if the formula is smooth, the liner should glide on easily. Pencil liner can be applied to the top and bottom lids, the lashline, and the waterline. Because pencils are a familiar tool and can be applied anywhere, they tend to be best for beginners. The only con I can think to mention is when it comes to precision. Even a twist up pencil needs to be sharpened to stay precise, and sharpening pencils means you lose some of the product. Even when sharpened, their precision does have a limit. Some products are so creamy they can slide on oily skin, but I find that gel pencils don’t have this same problem for me.
My collection of pencil liners includes two Revlon Color Stay liners, a Sephora Collection Eye Pencil, and sample sizes of the Stila Smudge Stick, Urban Decay Glide-On Pencil, and Make Up Forever Pencil. The Revlon liners are twist-up with built-in mini-sharpeners to keep them fairly precise. They work well for lash lines and water lines. They are not as creamy as pricier pencils, but they don’t slide too much. I prefer the Stila Smudge Stick to the Revlon liners because it has better lasting power and goes on much more smoothly. However, they don’t come with the nifty sharpeners. The Urban Decay pencils are very creamy, but for me, they were too creamy and slid everywhere. I see a lot of love for these on the internet but sadly, I can’t contribute to it. The Make Up Forever pencil is creamy and nice enough, though I wouldn’t go out of my way to pick up a full size. Of all the pencils I own, my favorite would have to be the Sephora Collection liner, which was a birthday gift from the brilliant Lizzie Lee. It goes on smoothly and easily, stays without sliding or melting, and I love the color. I have a problem where brown eyeliner looks noticeably light and black eyeliner is definitely a statement. This eggplant color is the perfect in between and looks surprisingly natural. It also contrasts nicely with hazel eyes.
I didn’t include pictures of my NYX Jumbo Eye Pencils below since they are so large they aren’t really meant for lining so much as creating a base for shadows. However, they are included in the photo at the top and the swatch photo at the bottom. They are delightfully creamy and it’s really fun to see how different shadows appear over different bases. For an example of this, see my post here where I used an Almay shadow softie over NYX Milk and Black Bean.
Liquid pens are a familiar tool like the pencil, but offer much greater precision. Liquid liner tends to be a bolder color and is usually the best option for achieving the very blackest black eyeliner and sharp, precise wings. However liquid liners cannot be applied to the waterline, so they’re frequently used in combination with a pencil liner. Because liquid liner is, like the name suggests, a liquid, some liquid liners take a beat to dry and can smudge if you aren’t properly patient after applying them.
In my collection of pen-style liquid liners I have two full size products, and two samples. The Eyeko London liquid pen liner has a nice felt tip and is the blackest of the pen liners I own. It seems to stay quite well, but I’m not rushing to buy a full size. The Stila liquid liner is practically indelible and while the black is not as black as the Eyeko pen, the formula and felt tip were nice enough to prompt me to buy the full size in white. The white liner is not quite as opaque as I had hoped, but with a few coats it does get to full opacity. I like this white liner for a different take on winged eyeliner or to use as a base for a colored shadow to create a different eyeliner color. My favorite of all the pen-style liquid liners I own has to be the Physician’s Formula Eye Booster pen. It goes on so smoothly and easily, lasts incredibly well, and claims to promote healthy lashes as well. As you can see from the swatches at the bottom, it is a little browner than the Eyeko pen.
Liquid pot liners are fairly similar to liquid pen liners in terms of formula and brush. The main difference between them is both a pro and a con in my opinion. Because the brush is not connected to a reservoir of product like the pen-style liners, you have control over how much or how little product to pick up with the brush. This is a pro for old hats who are experienced with how much product to use, but for a beginner it can be easy to accidentally use too much and have it run everywhere.
In my collection, I have five pot-style liquid eyeliners, all full size. The NYX Collection Noir Liquid Eyeliner has a very long, thin applicator and is not my favorite for precision. The formula goes on easily and is a bold black, but it is not at all waterproof. For me, this liner works well for a thin line, but not as well for filling in bolder, winged eyeliner. The Wet n Wild H20 Proof Liquid Eyeliner has a slightly larger brush, is extremely waterproof, and is just as bold a black color. I prefer the Wet n Wild eyeliner over the NYX one for the shape of the applicator. My only complaint is that the Wet n Wild liner takes awhile to dry, so opening your eyes too soon after applying it can leave waterproof marks in your eyeshadow.
Both the Sephora liquid liner and the Almay liquid liners are glittery to different degrees. While I usually lean more towards matte or cream liners, the Almay liners are understated enough for day-wear and the Sephora liner is fun for a night out. The Almay liners have a large applicator which can sometimes pick up too much product and make for tricky application. The Brown Topaz, which has a pretty gold shimmer, is my favorite of the two, and I feel like the Black Pearl is a cheesier version of the Sephora Starry Sky liner. The Black Pearl liner has a silver shimmer where as the Starry Sky has a gold glitter which appears to be of a larger particle size than the glitter in the Almay liners.
Wet to dry liners are arguably the rarest type of liner. I haven’t bought any liners directly labeled as a wet-to-dry liner, but I have used pressed and loose powder eyeshadows wet-to-dry as liner. To use a powder eyeshadow this way, you can wet your brush with water or a setting spray. I think the consensus is that you will have better results with a setting spray than with water alone. Using eyeshadows as a wet-to-dry liner you may not get the precision of a liquid or gel liner depending on the formula of the eyeshadow.
Gel liners offer the best of both worlds, in my opinion. Gel liners can be found in pencil form or in a pot. Most potted gel liners do not come with brushes, though some drug store versions will come with very small brushes. The Maybelline Eye Studio Lasting Drama Gel Eyeliner comes with a small brush that I found to be much too large and not at all dense enough to achieve a nice line. In general I have found this liner to work better as a shadow base. It appears to dry in the pot rather quickly and doesn’t yield as bold a line as I would like. I plan to see what I can do to revive this product into a liner, but overall, I was underwhelmed.
My all time favorite gel liner, and liner in general, is the Yves Saint Laurent Effet Faux Cils Creme D’Eyeliner. At one point in my life I would have thought spending $30 on an eyeliner (plus the cost of a brush) to be ridiculous. Now I can’t imagine relying on a different eyeliner the way I can rely on this YSL one. As I’ve mentioned, I have oily lids and watery eyes, which means I have a dilemma when it comes to finding the perfect eyeliner that will not slide. I wore this YSL eyeliner for a 18-hour work day once and by the end of the day it was exactly as I had originally applied it. If I had the spending money, I would buy this liner in every color they offer. In particular, the Bronze Black looks gorgeous.
Brushes can make a mediocre product work beautifully or a fantastic product look sloppy. I recommend going high-end if you want really precise liner. The Real Techniques Starter Set ($18) contains an okay liner brush, but I found that it was too wide and prefer it for adding shadow to the lower lid. I have also tried the e.l.f. Studio Small Angled Brush ($3) as an eyeliner brush, but again I found it to be too wide and works much better as an eyebrow brush. My preference is the Mac 210 Precise Eyeliner Brush ($20). It is the tiniest and most precise, nice for a small flick at the outer corner of your liner. The Mac 208 Angled Brow Brush ($20) looks perfect for packing liner into the lashline and waterline as well as creating a perfect large wing, so I will be picking that one up as well sometime soon. For those of us concerned with finding cruelty free brushes, rest assured that the goat hair brushes from Mac is collected when the goats shed, and no animals are harmed to make these non-synthetic brushes.
- NYX Jumbo Eye Pencils [Milk, Strawberry Milk, Black Bean] – $4.5
- Almay Intense i-Color Liquid Eyeliner [Brown Topaz, Black Pearl] – $7.5
- Wet n Wild H20 Proof Liquid Eyeliner [Ultra Black] – $4
- Revlon Color Stay Eyeliner [Brown, Black] – $8
- NYX Collection Noir Liquid Eyeliner [Noir] – $6
- Physician’s Formula Eye Booster 2-in-1 Lash Boosting Eyeliner + Serum [Ultra Black] – $11
- Maybelline Eye Studio Lasting Drama Gel Eyeliner [Eggplant] – $10
- Eyeko London Skinny Eyeliner [Black] – $16
- Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner [Intense Black, Snow] – $20
- Stila Smudge Stick Waterproof Eyeliner [Stingray (Jet Black)] – $20
- Urban Decay 24/7 Glide-On Eye Pencil [Demolition (Matte Brown), Perversion (Matte Black)] – $20
- Make Up Forever Professional Paris Aqua Eyes Waterproof Eyeliner Pencil [OL (Matte Black)] – $19
- Sephora Collection Colorful Long-Lasting Liquid Eyeliner [Starry Sky (Glitter Black)] – $12
- Sephora Collection Contour Eye Pencil 12hr Wear Waterproof [Love Affair] – $10
- Yves Saint Laurent Effet Faux Cils Crème D’Eyeliner [No1 (Deep Black] – $30
- BEST DRUGSTORE LINER:
Physician’s Formula Eye Booster 2-in-1 Lash Boosting Eyeliner + Serum
- BEST DEPARTMENT STORE LINER:
Sephora Collection Contour Eye Pencil 12hr Wear Waterpoof
- BEST LIQUID LINER:
Physician’s Formula Eye Booster 2-in-1 Lash Boosting Eyeliner + Serum
- BEST PENCIL LINER:
Sephora Collection Contour Eye Pencil 12hr Wear Waterproof
- BEST OVERALL LINER:
Yves Saint Laurent Effet Faux Cils Crème D’Eyeliner
This post took me far too long to put together and publish! I am still in the process of moving to New York City so I have been back and forth between my current home in Massachusetts and the city and swept up in apartment hunting. I’m hoping to get my next post on tattoo history up soon and that once I regain stability and normalcy after the move I will have a steady stream of posts coming again.