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Gel eyeliner is a product that can give you the very best elements of a liquid and pencil. Whether it comes in a little pot or as a pencil-gel hybrid, it’s the best choice when you like to create diverse looks with just one product. Gel eyeliners are a great entryway into the world of winged eyeliner because they offer more control than a liquid but can still achieve that pristine line.
We’ve selected the best gel eyeliners available online, and we’ve made sure to feature both pots and pencil-gel hybrids, to suit your very own application style. Then we get into the differences between gels and their pencil and liquid counterparts.
We’ve also put together a comprehensive guide on how to apply gel eyeliner, and finished off with a few tips and tricks that’ll make your application even easier and more flawless.
Gel Eyeliner Makeup Guide: Contents
- 15 Best Gel Eyeliners to Give a Try
- Pencil vs. Liquid vs. Gel Eyeliner: Which One Is Right for You?
- How to Apply Gel Eyeliner Like a Pro
- Useful Gel Eyeliner Tips & Hacks to Practice
These are the best gel eyeliners to suit every budget. They don’t smudge or budge and offer intense eye definition.
1. Bobbi Brown Long-Wear Gel Eyeliner
This award-winning liner has been considered the best gel eyeliner for decades now, and can even be credited with popularizing this product category. It has a highly pigmented formula that goes on smoothly but quickly sets to offer a waterproof definition. Most brands only offer a black gel liner, but Bobbi Brown has 7 different shades you can choose from. Buy it at Nordstrom!
2. Marc Jacobs Beauty Highliner Gel Eye Crayon Eyeliner
This gel eyeliner sits in the magical place between pencil and gel, with a gel formula molded into the form of a crayon, for an easy application. It’s one of the longest-lasting formulas, and it works even in the waterline. The color is super saturated, and comes in a wide variety of shades that include the traditional as well as some funky ones like metallics and blues. You can get it from Sephora.
3. Maybelline Eye Studio Lasting Drama Gel Eyeliner
With this product, Maybelline proved that great gel eyeliners don’t have to break the bank. It gives a solid black line, with just a hint of a reflective finish. It is extremely water-resistant, for all day wear. This pot eyeliner comes with an included brush, although you might prefer to use a higher-quality brush to apply it. Find it in black or brown at Ulta!
4. MAC Cosmetics Fluidline
It’s hard to find issues with a MAC product, so of course, they’ve made one of the best gel eyeliners on the market. It comes in a traditional pot, without an included brush. The pigmentation is intense, with four excellent shades available. They all have a matte finish, but some are flecked with delicate glitter for some shine. It’s available at Nordstrom.
5. Tarte Clay Pot Waterproof Liner
If you like to really experiment with your makeup look, then this might be the best gel eyeliner for you. Tarte’s gel liners are playful and unique, in colors like hot pink, rose gold, and even stark white. It also comes in traditional black, brown or granite. Most of them go on with a matte finish, and can even double as cream eyeshadows as long as you work fast. Pick one up from Sephora!
6. Trish McEvoy Intense Gel Eyeliner Pencil
This is another gel eyeliner formula that comes as a pencil, for ease of use. These long-lasting gel liners glide over the eye extremely smoothly and impart gorgeous color that really lasts. They are especially favored for tightlining, and can be smudged for a smokey look or kept pristine for more intensity. They come in four flattering shades, but be aware that the black shade is flecked with silver sparkle. Purchase one at Nordstrom!
7. Wander Beauty Slide Liner Automatic Gel Eyeliner
If you’re a traveler or just always on the go, this might be the best gel eyeliner for you. It comes in the form of a roll-up pencil, so it is mess-free and easy to carry. The applicator is very fine-tipped, so it is easy to achieve a sharper wing, though you can also smudge it or apply it to the waterline. It is very long-wearing, and quite water-resistant. It comes in brown or black. Shop it on Net-a-Porter!
8. Pretty Vulgar The Ink Gel Eyeliner
When makeup is your ritual and you like to enjoy every moment of it, it’s important to have interesting, beautiful packaging. On that front, this is the best gel eyeliner to try, since it comes in a little bottle styled after an inkwell with a gorgeous golden lid. The formula itself is a classic, in black, gray or brown, that is highly pigmented, quick-drying, and very long-lasting. Order it from Sephora!
9. Hourglass 1.5mm Mechanical Gel Eyeliner
The unique thing about this mechanical gel eyeliner is just how thin the applicator is. It’s one of the few pencils that are basically made for sharp winged liner. It rolls up for comfort and ease and glides on smoothly without dragging on the eye. The final result lasts for hours and hours. It comes in 5 colors. It is sold at Nordstrom.
10. Dose of Colors Set the Tone Cream Matte Eyeliner
If your priority is having a liner that will not smudge, then this is the best gel eyeliner to pick up. It has a matte finish that dries quickly and does not move. It is deep and dark, available in black, brown, and a gorgeous garnet. You can use it for both tightlining and a glamorous cat eye. Grab it from Ulta!
11. Make Beauty Gel Eyeliner Pencil
This is another gel and pencil hybrid that is worth trying, especially if you don’t mind sharpening a little. It gives a super intense line of black (or espresso if you like a more natural effect), and has a very soft and blendable formula that makes tightlining a breeze. It is extremely water-resistant, and even nourishes the lash line with a bit of honey. Get it online via Net-a-Porter!
12. Stila Smudge Pots
It’s easy not to realize that Stila has made one of the best gel eyeliner formulas on the market since their liquids usually get all of the hype. This ultra-black formula goes on beautifully and sets just fast enough that you don’t have to worry about smudging it accidentally, but you can still smudge it on purpose. It is often recommended as a cream shadow, as well, for super intense smokey looks. Buy it at Sephora!
13. Chanel Calligraphie De Chanel Longwear Intense Cream Eyeliner
For that intense, high-sheen, liquid-like finish, this is the best gel eyeliner for the job. It is super pigmented, and it goes on sharp and pristine with a hint of reflection that is very dramatic. It really is a liquid formula without any of the hassle. The formula is long-wearing, and it comes with a brush included. Find it at Nordstrom!
14. Wet N’ Wild On Edge Crème Eyeliner
This classic gel eyeliner goes on smooth and matte, with a very water-resistant formula. It does require that you work quickly since it can dry easily, but that’s also a testament to how well it sets without smudging. It comes with a brush, but you might prefer to use your own. If you love gel eyeliners but don’t want to spend a lot, there is no better choice. It is available at Ulta.
15. Milk Makeup Long Wear Gel Eyeliner
Finishing with a bang! This is a roll-up pencil gel eyeliner that gives a stark line in seconds. It can work on any part of the eye, and you can feel comfortable wearing it to wild nights out because it is totally waterproof. It comes in traditional shades, a couple of metallics, and a beige tone that is great for opening up the eye. Purchase it at Sephora!
Gel eyeliners have a formula that sits somewhere between liquid and pencil. Their texture is of a thick mousse, while liquid eyeliners have a very fluid texture like ink, and pencil eyeliners are a much thicker, wax-like substance that can be compared to crayons.
Gel formulas can also be made a little thicker, in which case they are molded into sharpenable or roll-up pencils and end up being a sort of hybrid that is softer in texture than a traditional pencil eyeliner.
Most gel eyeliner formulas have a matte finish since they are made of a matte blend of hydrocarbons, silicones, and pigments. There are exceptions to the rule that are more reflective, metallic, or that have been infused with flecks of glitter. Pencil eyeliners tend to have the same finish, while liquid eyeliners often have a sheen, which is easier to achieve with their water and polymer formula.
When it comes to the actual application, the main benefit of gel eyeliner is that, while it sets quickly, it’s not as quick to set as a liquid eyeliner. This means that after you’ve applied it you can smudge it a little if you’d prefer to achieve a smokier look or you can keep it clean and sharp.
Because they take a little longer to set, you can also clean up any errors or smudges easily with a Q-tip, which can help you also achieve a sharper line. Pencil eyeliners almost always have a more diffused finish, so they are best suited for smokier and more natural eyeliner looks.
Pencil-gel hybrids can be applied directly to the eye, while gel eyeliners that come in a pot must be applied with a brush. Sometimes the makeup brushes are included, and other times you have to buy a brush separately. Based on your preferences, you can choose either an angled brow brush for a fast application or a skinny pencil brush for precise, defined lines.
There are lots of different methods as well as various tips and tricks for applying gel eyeliner. This is my favorite method for the actual eyeliner application, which includes tightlining and applying a full wing, though there are other techniques that you can adapt and combine based on your preferences and eye shapes.
• Start your gel eyeliner application after you’ve finished applying most of your eye makeup, but before applying mascara.
• Get into a comfortable position for applying your eyeliner – the best one is with a small, hands-free mirror that you can look down into.
• If you’re using a pot gel eyeliner, then dip your brush directly into the pot and then wipe off the excess on a tissue or the lid. For gel pencil hybrids, simply make sure that your pencil has a nice, sharp tip.
• It’s best to start by tightlining the eyes. Place your finger above the center of your eye, between the lid and the crease, and pull up very lightly.
• Hold your brush or pencil from below, so you can use it to apply eyeliner to the upper lash line from below rather than above.
• With a very gentle motion, press the liner in between the lashes so that color is deposited in between every lash, and then wiggle back and forth slightly.
• Repeat the press and wiggle motion until you have lined all along the upper lash line.
• You can stop here for a more natural look, or keep going to achieve a gorgeous winged eye.
• Take a few seconds to blink, and then finish lining the area above your lid – you can also start by drawing the wing if you prefer, there are no rules here.
• To line the area above the lid, keep looking downwards while lightly pulling up on your lid. Starting wherever you are comfortable, begin drawing on the eyeliner in short strokes towards your outer corner. Some people like to start at the inner corner, others start in the center and fill in the inner corner at the end, while others opt for a softer, open-eyed look with only the outer two-thirds of the eye lined. It’s up to you.
• If you’re aiming for a smokier look, smudge the edges of your line with a clean brush or smudger tool quickly, before it sets.
• Repeat your efforts on the other eye.
• For adding the wing, follow the curve of your lower lash line when you draw the lower line of your wing, starting from the outer corner outwards – this will help guide you and will make it easier to keep the two eyes looking symmetrical.
• Do the same with the other eye immediately, and then check in a larger mirror for symmetry.
• Finish off the outline of your wing with your eyes open. Starting at your crease, draw a line that connects to the lower line of your wing about half a millimeter from its end. This ensures that your wing will look sharp.
• Then, with your eye still open but looking downwards, connect that upper line to the liner over the lash line. When doing this, your aim is not to continue the angle of the wing, you might even find yourself drawing the line almost straight downwards. This will make for a look that flatters the eyes when they are open, though you might notice a bit of a jump with the eyes closed. This is an especially excellent technique for those with hooded eyes.
• Finally, fill in the inside of the wing. This is also your chance to smudge it a little bit to achieve a smokey wing.
• Once again, repeat these steps on the other eye, and then examine in a larger mirror to check for symmetry.
• If you’d like to draw with a gel eyeliner on the lower lash line, now is the time. For the waterline, it is best to use a pencil-gel hybrid. Simply pull down on the under-eye gently, look up, and then fill in the waterline with color.
• To apply liner just below the lash line, look upwards and then fill in color as close to the lash line as you can get, using short strokes. If you like, you can thicken it up or smudge it outwards for a smokier look.
These are the tricks you can try before, after, and during your gel eyeliner application to improve your overall application.
• Gel eyeliner applications rarely look perfect on first swipe. You can clean up minor mistakes and smudges with just a Q-tip and makeup remover. However, a concealer, foundation, or eyelid primer will often work better than a makeup remover, because as they take off the gel eyeliner they will also refine your line and leave behind a bit of product on top of which it is easier to build eyeshadow or liner.
• If you would rather have a bit more security and insurance, first draw your eyeliner wing on with a dark eyeshadow following my instructions, and then go over it with your gel eyeliner.
• Some gel eyeliners take longer to set than others. If you would like to make your liner set quickly, go over it with a bit of dark shadow, which will act just like a translucent powder does over foundation, to absorb moisture and keep things in place all day long. This will also prevent less water-resistant formulas from smudging easily.
• The brush with which you apply your gel eyeliner is just as important as the gel eyeliner itself. If you have a lot of control and prefer fine details, a skinny pencil brush will be best, while if you would rather get an easy line that’s a little thicker, an angle brush will probably work best for you.
• To ensure maximum longevity, apply your gel eyeliner directly on top of a thin line of eyeshadow primer. The gel eyeliner can grab on to the primer better than it would to eyeshadow, so simply apply your eyeshadow first and then add another layer of primer followed by eyeliner.
• When choosing winged eyeliner looks, you can play around with length and angle of your wing based on the look you’re going for and what you find most flattering with your features. A downward wing is known as a puppy eye and is very popular in Southeast Asia, a straighter wing can look very sultry, and a wing angled more upwards feels very glamorous and retro. You can also opt for a seductive cat eye, where your sultry wing connects to the line on the lower lash line.
• The thickness of your liner on the lash line will also impact your features. A line that gets thicker towards the outer corner of the eye will often give a sultrier cat eye effect, a line that is thicker in the center can give a doll-eye effect, and a line that is thin all the way around is more natural and softer. If you don’t have a lot of lid space, a thinner line is usually best.
• Gel eyeliner is fantastic for blending in the strip of false eyelashes with the rest of your liner. After applying your lashes, go over the strip and any visible dry glue with your liner, and meld it with the line of eyeliner you have underneath.
• If your gel eyeliner is starting to get dry, scrape up a bit of it from the pot, and mix it with a few eye drops. This will be completely eye-safe and will help to moisten up the gel.
• Some people prefer applying their gel eyeliner after they’ve applied mascara, and that’s perfectly okay! You might find that by doing it this way you don’t gunk up your lashes with gel eyeliner, or you might find that it makes it easier to know when you’ve applied enough since it’ll be part of a more complete look.
Photos via @beautsoup, @nikki_makeup, @annafischerrr, @mirmua