One of my biggest challenges this year was finding a liquid eyeliner that won’t smudge or run. Nope, this wasn’t for myself – two of my best friends got married this year, one month apart, and they both asked me to do their makeup.
A liquid eyeliner pen is a gorgeous tool, perfect for creating a delicate eyeliner wing for any bride, though it can also add some serious intensity on top of a heavier eyeshadow look. The problem was finding one that would look great from the early morning photoshoot until the exuberant dancing at the end of the night.
Incidentally, both of my friends were planning on wearing contacts on their respective wedding days, which is not something they normally do. Because of this, they needed a liquid eyeliner pen that could withstand both tears and eye drops. So, I went on a mission, and here are my discoveries.
This article features my list of the best liquid eyeliners you can find online right now! Then I explain exactly what liquid eyeliners are and why they are such a special makeup product. I compare them to other types of eyeliners, like gel and pencil eyeliner, as well.
To make sure you are able to get the sharpest wing, I added the most thorough and comprehensive tutorial possible. Once the night ends, getting liquid eyeliner off can be tough, but I have a special trick up my sleeves for getting it to come off completely and without irritating the eyes – that’s in here too. If that’s not enough, I also added some must-know tips and tricks for using liquid eyeliner flawlessly.
Your Liquid Eyeliner Guide: Contents
- 21 Best Liquid Eyeliners to Buy
- Is Liquid Eyeliner for You? Pencil vs. Liquid Eyeliner
- How to Apply Liquid Eyeliner Flawlessly
- How to Remove Liquid Eyeliner
- Other Liquid Eyeliner Tips & Hacks to Know
From eyeliner pots to pens, these are the best liquid eyeliners that promise to stay put throughout the day.
1. Fenty Beauty By Rihanna Flyliner Longwear Liquid Eyeliner
This is the eyeliner that defied all odds at the first wedding. Rihanna’s first eyeliner offering is an easy-to-use liquid eyeliner pen with a felt tip that glides on easily and is super easy to control. The ink is dark black and fairly reflective, and I assure you that it does not move even through an onslaught of eye drops. It does require a few seconds to set, so don’t blink too soon after applying it. Buy it at Sephora!
2. Kat Von D Tattoo Liner
While Kat herself might be under a lot of heat right now for her anti-vax beliefs, I can’t deny the fact that her brand released what might have been the best liquid eyeliner on the market at the time. This liquid eyeliner also went through grueling tests – it held well through a dip in a jacuzzi and an excursion into the sauna. It also has a slightly reflective finish and a wonderful felt-tip pen that makes creating a sharp wing as easy as can be. It’s available at Sephora in both brown and black.
3. Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner
This liquid eyeliner has been around for a while, and it deserves the respect it garners. The formula is quite similar to the KVD Tattoo Eyeliner, as is the performance. It’s a remarkably waterproof and opaque offering that also has that slightly reflective sheen and wonderful felt-tip pen. It comes in sleek, minimalist packaging and is available in 12 shades at Nordstrom.
4. Illamasqua Illustrator Pen Truest Black
Illamasqua doesn’t get enough credit, even though it’s by far one of the most sophisticated makeup brands around. This liquid eyeliner pen is gorgeous, with an ultra-fine tip and super saturated color. It gives an intense, slightly reflective line that will stay in place all day long. The packaging is clean and minimalistic, which makes it extra classy to use. Get it from Net-a-Porter!
5. NYX Matte Liquid Liner
Sometimes that reflective finish of even the best liquid eyeliner just doesn’t work with a particular look or aesthetic, which is why this matte eyeliner from NYX is so useful. Instead of a pen it comes in the form of a little tube with a very thin brush attached to the applicator.
Some folks prefer the one applicator style over the other, but it is undeniable that these tiny brushes are the best when you need a super thin line. This formula is long-lasting, waterproof and non-smudging, with the biggest complaint about it being that it just won’t come off! You can buy it at Ulta.
6. Lancôme Artliner Precision Point Liquid Eyeliner
This liquid eyeliner pen is a classic with a massive fanbase. The packaging is simple yet sleek, which is great for anyone who likes keeping their makeup bag looking simple and elegant. It is a pen liquid eyeliner with a felt tip, so it is as easy to use as can be, and the formula is quite water-resistant. Pick up your favorites of the 8 colors it comes in at Nordstrom, which include both a shiny black and a matte black!
7. Tarte Tarteist Double Take Eyeliner
This worthy contender for the title of the best liquid eyeliner is a two-in-one from Tarte. One end has a liquid eyeliner pen, with a very fine felt tip that gives an extra precise application. The formula is quite thin and liquidy, so it’s easy to build up although those with a lot of fine lines might find that it’ll bleed before it sets.
If you have dry or sensitive skin and you find that most eyeliners drag too much on your eye, then this would be a good choice. The other end is a fabulous pencil eyeliner that can be used in conjunction with the liquid or alone. Find it at Sephora in matte black or matte brown!
8. MAC Cosmetics Liquidlast Liner
If you’re not sold on this felt-tip pen business then this might be the best liquid eyeliner for you. This is a product for those of you who are extremely confident about their eyelining skills. It comes with a super slim brush applicator that creates the sharpest wing, and has a super pigmented and waterproof formula that is difficult to remove. There is not much room for error or correction with this liquid eyeliner, but you’ll be happy to know that once it’s on it will not move. It is sold at Nordstrom in 7 shades with different finishes.
9. Marc Jacobs Beauty Magic Marc’er Liquid Eyeliner
This is one of the most water- and oil-resistant liquid eyeliner pens on this list, so if you find everything smudges, then try this one! Seriously, you might even find the removal process with it a little bit difficult. The color is opaque and only slightly shiny, and the felt-tip brush is a little stiff and works best for those who like a thicker, more dramatic line. You can buy it online from Net-a-Porter in black or brown.
10. IseHAN Kiss Me Heroine Make Smooth Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner
This waterproof liquid eyeliner has a cult following. Before it was easily available online, Asian beauty fans were finding all kinds of creatives ways to order it all the way from Japan because it was just that good. This liquid eyeliner goes on opaque and black, with a slightly reflective finish. It is comparable to the Stila and KVD liquid eyeliners but at a fraction of the cost. Order it from YesStyle!
11. Urban Decay Heavy Metal Glitter Eyeliner
And now for something completely different! If you’re the glitter-happy type then this would be the best liquid eyeliner to try. These liquid liners are comprised of superfine glitter embedded in a clear, smudge-proof base. You can wear these alone or over an opaque eyeliner, and you can even use the flatter side of their skinny brush to get a thicker layer on. They are super versatile, so it’s basically mandatory to get creative with them. They are available in 10 fun colors at Sephora.
12. Clinique Pretty Easy Liquid Eyelining Pen
The name for this liquid eyeliner pen is perfect because it really is so easy to use. This might be the most beginner-friendly option on this list, because the felt tip pen is extremely flexible and forgiving. The formula is quite resistant to smudging, but it’s otherwise easy to remove so you can easily fix mistakes – assuming you make any, which is not likely. Pick it up at Nordstrom!
13. Charlotte Tilbury The Feline Flick Liquid Eye Pen
This liquid eyeliner pen is unique in that its formula is a bit more like that of a gel. It goes on matte and opaque, and you can get a great-looking line with one swipe since the brush is super precise. The pen itself has a pretty cool shape that even includes a little finger cushion. While the formula is water-resistant, it’s not insanely waterproof so you shouldn’t have to struggle too much when taking it off at night. Order it online from Net-a-Porter!
14. Physicians Formula Eye Booster Lash 2-in-1 Boosting Eyeliner & Serum
We gotta admit this liquid eyeliner is polarizing. While some don’t really like it, those who do are absolutely obsessed with it. It has a slightly drier formula than some of the other liners on this list, so it sets very quickly and it doesn’t tend to bleed.
It is not waterproof and is actually fairly easy to remove, so while it’s not the most long-lasting option on this list it actually wears away slowly and evenly, which some folks appreciate. If you’re new to liquid eyeliners, and you need something that is easy to work with and easy to remove if you make mistakes, then this is a great choice. Find in three shades at Ulta!
15. Dior Diorshow On Stage Liquid Eyeliner
The Diorshow liquid eyeliner is a step above the rest, with a price that reflects that fact. The color range here is the most substantial, with 12 shades available in both matte and satin finishes, and some truly unique colors like green, pink, white, and rust in addition to the traditional ones like black and purple. This formula is waterproof, and the tip allows really precise control. It can be purchased at Sephora.
16. Lorac ‘Front of the Line PRO’ Liquid Eye Liner
This matte pen liquid eyeliner seems to do it all. It gives a really precise application, lasts a really long time, and somehow is not a pain in the butt to remove. The applicator is more brush-like than felt, but the bristles are clustered so close together that you wouldn’t notice at first glance. Get it from Nordstrom!
17. theBalm Cosmetics Schwing Liquid Eyeliner
With so many sleek liquid eyeliner offerings, I feel like we’ve neglected all of those who have a cutesy, retro aesthetic. This is a ‘tube and applicator attached to lid’ style of eyeliner with a skinny little brush that’s great for a truly sharp wing. The finish is very matte, giving an authentic ‘50s-inspired winged line. You can find it on Amazon.
18. Pat McGrath Labs PERMA PRECISION Liquid Eyeliner
It’s no surprise that Pat McGrath’s brand launched one of the best liquid eyeliner pens on the market. This fairly recent release is stiff competition for a lot of the other liquid liners at this price point, because it’s just so intense. The color is a deep, dark black, and the felt-tip pen is super precise, as fitting for the woman responsible for some truly iconic eyeliner wings. It’s available at Sephora.
19. NARS Eyeliner Stylo
If you want a liquid liner that will give your eyes serious presence, this would be a great choice. This liquid eyeliner has dark black pigment that is perfect for a retro-glam eye, even though you could be fooled since the packaging is rather cutesy. The felt-tip pen is quite flexible, so you can use it both for thinner and thicker lines. It is sold via Sephora.
20. Bobbi Brown Long-Wear Liquid Liner
The gel liner from Bobbi Brown is much more famous, but we think their liquid eyeliner is also deserving of a mention! It comes with a unique pointed applicator that gives a super slim, precise line, so it is definitely preferred by people with a bit more eyeliner experience. The formula is super long-lasting – to the point of being tough to remove. It comes in a deep black, as well as five shimmery shades. Pick it up at Sephora!
21. L’Oréal Infallible Super Slim Liquid Eyeliner
It’s hard to resist a product that looks and behaves as well as some more high-end products, but at a drugstore price point. This liquid eyeliner is one of the best, with a cushioned grip that makes it extra comfortable to use. The makeup addicts on Reddit consider it one of the best liquid eyeliners available at the drugstore. You can get it from Ulta in reflective black, blue or brown.
Liquid eyeliner is awesome! It’s perfect for creating a retro winged eyeliner look or an intimidating cat eye. However, it’s definitely not the easiest eyeliner option. If the look you desire requires a liquid eyeliner then you’ll have to master it, but if the task is too daunting you might have to settle for a different kind of eyeliner.
There are four main types of eyeliners from which you can choose, and I’ll break them all down here.
A liquid eyeliner is a must-have in the arsenal of any makeup addict, even if it’s not used every day. Liquid eyeliners are eyeliners that come in the form of a viscous liquid that can be applied along the lash line in order to darken and frame the eye. Their formulation includes water, polymers, and pigments.
The water, often along with humectants and emollients, gives the liquid eyeliner its texture. The polymers are film formers that ensure that once applied the liquid eyeliner will stay in place without moving or smudging. Lastly, the pigments are responsible for the color of your liquid eyeliner, with black being the pigment most commonly used.
Liquid eyeliners can come as pens, complete with a felt-tip applicator, or they can come in a small container, with a lid that has a thin brush applicator attached to it. The former is certainly easier to apply than the latter, but it also tends to dry out more quickly.
Liquid eyeliners are ideal for a look where you want the eyeliner to be obvious, as they go on like a sharp line with dark and opaque pigmentation. These looks include the traditional ‘50s winged eyeliner look and the ‘60s cat eye, but they also fit with more modern takes on winged eyeliner.
Liquid eyeliners can come with a reflective or matte finish, and they tend to be fairly water-resistant even if they’re not advertised as waterproof eyeliners. They’re usually not oil-resistant, though, so they can still smudge on oily skin.
Gel or Cream Eyeliner
Gel eyeliner is liquid eyeliner’s fraternal twin. Once applied, it’s hard to tell which type of product was used, even though the appearance and ingredients of the two products are fairly different.
Cream eyeliners are usually made up of emollients (especially isododecane, which is a type of hydrocarbon), silicones, and, of course, pigments. There is no water in sight, and as a result their texture is much thicker than that of a liquid eyeliner. Because of that it can be a little more difficult to get gel eyeliner looking crisp on the first try.
Gel eyeliners usually come in a small jar either with a cheaper brush or without a brush at all, so it’s recommended to purchase a separate eyeliner brush. The benefit is that you can choose whatever brush you like, with some people opting for a very thin pencil brush and others preferring an angled brush instead.
Gel eyeliners are likelier to be matte than liquid eyeliners, but of course exceptions exist. Personally, I find that gel eyeliners are a little less smudge-proof than liquid eyeliners, though they tend to hold up just as well against water and even better against natural oils.
They also take a little bit longer to set, which does make them the more forgiving option if you’ve made any mistakes that need fixing. You can smoke them out before they set, which is another small benefit. They tend to work just as well for tightlining as a soft pencil eyeliner, whereas it can be very hard to tightline with a liquid liner.
Pencil and Kohl Eyeliner
Pencil eyeliners are solid sticks that come either in the form of a sharpenable pencil or a roll-up mechanical pencil. Their formulas are fairly similar to gel eyeliners, with a mixture of emollients, silicones, and waxes that are a little more solid so they can be moulded into a thin stick.
They are super beginner-friendly, since they are very easy to apply, but they also don’t give the same level of control as liquid eyeliners. Unlike with gel and liquid eyeliners, pencil eyeliners are ideal for creating a soft or smokey eyeliner look. They are excellent for tightlining as well as for lining the waterline.
While powder eyeliner might not technically be a thing, I think eyeshadows and eyebrow powders are excellent eyeliner options, especially for newbies. By applying eyeshadow with a damp thin pencil brush or angled brush, you can end up with super quick and easy eyeliner.
The final result is softer and smokier than pencil or gel liners, and it’s super easy to correct mistakes. Here’s another tip: you can first apply a layer of eyeshadow where you would like your eyeliner wing to go, make sure it’s perfect, and then go over it with a liquid eyeliner.
● Prepare your eyes – like the rest of your face, your eyes should be clean and moisturized before you start applying any makeup.
● Before applying your eyeliner it’s important that your eyes be primed. You can just use a concealer set with a bit of translucent powder, or opt for a dedicated eye primer like Urban Decay Primer Potion.
● Liquid eyeliner can look very fetching over bare eyes, but if you’re planning on wearing eyeshadow, make sure to apply it before putting on your liquid eyeliner. You might also want to curl your lashes and apply mascara first, especially if you find that your eyeliner tends to get on your lashes and cause them to clump.
● Eyeliner time! Lots of sources will tell you to start out with the wing first, and then move on to line above the lash line. I don’t think it actually matters, as long as you treat the two parts as separate from each other and only connect them at the very end.
● Open up your liquid eyeliner and, if necessary, wipe the brush off on the rim of the eyeliner tube to remove excess product. If you’re using a pen eyeliner that you don’t need to worry about this.
● Throughout the application you will likely need to reload your brush or pen tip with product. Either re-dip your brush into the liquid eyeliner tube or give your pen a shake to saturate the tip with more product.
● Make sure your dominant elbow is stabilized over a solid surface like your bathroom counter or vanity table.
● If starting with your lash line, get in position by tilting your head back so that you have to look downwards in order to look into the mirror. Pull your lid upwards gently with your non-dominant hand; this will ensure that you can get a thin line without any gap between the lashes and eyeliner.
● Begin drawing on your eyeliner using short strokes, as close to the top lash line as possible. Don’t worry too much about having the line be straight or smooth at the top, as you can correct that later. Focus on getting the liner almost in between your lashes.
● It doesn’t matter whether you start at the center of the eye and work your way inwards or forwards, or if you start at one end and work your way to the other – do whatever feels natural and gives you the most control.
● Do the same on the other eye.
● Give that first layer of liner a few seconds to set, and then examine it in the mirror. With your eyes open you can now smooth out and thicken the line by using longer strokes (or you can jump over to do the wings and finish this part later).
● The trick to getting this part of the liner even and equal on each side is to work gradually, going from one eye to the other for each correction, rather than trying to finish one eye and then doing the other.
● Now for the wing! Start by first determining what kind of wing angle you would like. A classic way to start is by choosing a wing that will line up with the angle of your lower lash line.
● Your eyeliner wing is essentially a triangle shape with an elongated tip, and you’ll want to start by drawing the lower liner of the triangle on each eye. Start that line by following the curve of your lower lash line. You may use one of the aids I described in the Tips & Tricks section to ensure that line is straight.
● For a really sharp and thin wingtip, complete the triangle on each eye by connecting its second line a little lower than where the first line ends. With your eyes open, pull that line down towards your eye, stopping it right at where the curve of your orbital bone starts.
● Fill in the little triangle with liquid liner on each eye, so you can have a complete and beautiful wing!
● Connect your wing to your eyeliner. Depending on the shape of your eye, you can do so by progressively making the lash line eyeliner a little thicker on the outer end or by pulling the upper wing line sharply downwards towards the lash line. You can also do a combination of both.
While you will certainly find that having a super smooth and progressive angle will look nicer when your eyes are closed, this can actually look awkward and unflattering with your eyes open, especially if you have hooded eyes. This is why you want to examine your eyes while they are open to ensure that the wing and eyeliner connection looks seamless, and to mostly ignore what it looks like when your eyes are closed.
● Take a step or two back and look directly at the mirror – this will allow you to examine both eyes at the same time to ensure that they are even. You can now make any small corrections either by applying more eyeliner where necessary or by cleaning things up with a cotton bud dipped into concealer or eye primer.
● To turn this winged eyeliner look into a cat eye, start by applying your liquid eyeliner to the outer corner of the lower lash line in short strokes, keeping as close to the lash line as possible without veering into the waterline.
● Connect the liner on the lower lash line to the lower part of your wing, so it looks seamless.
● In short strokes apply the eyeliner in a thin line, stopping it either ¾ of the way away from your inner corner, or pulling it all the way to the inner corner and then connecting it to the eyeliner on the upper lash line by creating a very thin point.
● Examine your look again from a bit of a distance to ensure everything is even and symmetrical, and make any corrections.
● If everything is perfect and if you haven’t done so yet, now is the time to curl your lashes and apply mascara.
● Saturate a cotton pad with your liquid eyeliner remover of choice. This is some super-strong, smudge-proof eyeliner, so don’t be stingy.
● Place the cotton pad over your eye, and hold it in place for about 10-15 seconds. This will allow the remover to permeate through your eyeliner and mascara, properly breaking them down.
● Wipe the cotton pad over your eye in a gentle downward and outward motion.
● If there is still a bit of eyeliner left on your top lash line, fold the cotton pad and use it to gently wipe off the excess liner. If you can feel it dragging over your skin then stop, add a bit more remover and go back to holding it over your eye to break down the eyeliner further.
● For removing the eyeliner on the bottom lash line look up, and then use the cotton pad to remove the eyeliner that’s there, getting as close to the lash line as possible. Chances are just wiping will suffice, but if the eyeliner looks like it’s stuck firmly in place then repeat the process of holding the cotton pad over the eye for a few seconds and then wiping.
● If necessary, use a cotton bud dipped in makeup remover or oil to get rid of any bits of eyeliner stuck in between your eyelashes.
● Practice, practice, practice. No one has mastered the perfect liquid eyeliner after one try. It takes work and experimentation to learn which shapes work best for your eye, as well as to train your hand to draw those fine, precise lines.
● A cotton bud dipped into foundation, concealer, or eye primer can work like an eraser to help correct small mistakes. Use a rolling motion to remove or thin out your liquid eyeliner without smudging or ruining the bulk of it. Don’t try doing this with makeup remover, as it is a little messier and it might remove layers of foundation or cause the rest of your eyeliner to smudge.
● While I do suggest checking the symmetry and trying to perfect your eyeliner, don’t go overboard. The eyes themselves are rarely perfectly symmetrical so achieving truly symmetrical eyeliner is impossible. No one is going to examine you straight on to see if your eyeliner is perfectly symmetrical, so there is a point where you’re allowed to say “this is good enough” and to let your eyeliner be.
● Anything with a straight edge can act as a guide when you apply your liquid eyeliner, if you find it difficult to create a straight line. A credit card, a piece of paper, and even the back end of a knife can act as guides. My personal favorite, however, is a piece of medical tape, since it stays in place all on its own and it doesn’t hurt or damage the skin when removed. It might take a bit of work to figure out which angle flatters you best, but a good place to start would be to line up your line with the end of your nose and the outer corner of your eye. Use that as the stencil for the lower line of your eyeliner wing.
● Double or triple up on products. Filling in the whole eye with a liquid eyeliner can be time-consuming, so applying a pencil eyeliner first and then finessing the edges is a totally acceptable way to go.
● You can also carve out your wing with a shadow first, and then go over it with a liquid eyeliner. This is a great method, since correcting eyeshadow is easier than correcting liquid eyeliner.
● The right mirror will go a long way towards making the application easier. A wall-mounted magnifying mirror that can be moved around a bit will totally change your eyeliner game, by allowing you to examine your look from a few different angles. A regular wall-mounted mirror is important, as well, as it will allow you to examine your eyeliner from a distance and check the symmetry.
● Don’t bother with gimmicky tips like drawing dots or putting your eyeliner on your eyelash curler – they don’t really work.
● There are two schools of thought when it comes to when mascara should be applied. Some folks find that their mascara smudges or transfers over to the lid very easy, so it ends up ruining their hard work on the eyeliner, in which case it’s definitely worth applying first. For others it’s difficult to apply liquid eyeliner through the enhanced and lengthened lashes.
Personally, I prefer first applying a thin layer of eyeliner close to my eyelid, then curl my lashes and apply mascara, and then finish off the eyeliner. Often the lengthened lashes on the outer corner also help act as guides for my eyeliner wing, which is a bonus.
● If you have close-set eyes then don’t bring the eyeliner too close to your inner corner. Instead, have it taper off about ¾ of the way in.
● If you’d like to give your eyes a rounder and more doll-like shape, apply your liquid eyeliner in an arch-like shape where the line is a little thicker and more rounded right above the pupil.
● If you’d like to elongate the eye, then apply the eyeliner in a gradual shape where it is thinnest closer to the inner corner of the eye and becomes gradually thicker the closer it gets to the outer corner of the eye.
● Some liquid eyeliners (though none of the ones we’ve recommended) take longer to set and can accidentally smudge if you blink. You can use a fan or a blow dryer to speed up their drying time.
● Contrary to what some sources suggest, you do not need to set a modern liquid eyeliner with powder or shadow! These modern formulas are going to set just fine on their own, and a powder or shadow will only cover them up, reduce their luster and make their edges less crisp.
● Black liquid eyeliner is not the end-all and be-all. Metallic liquid eyeliners are super popular these days, and we are also starting to see the rise of neon liquid eyeliners. Deeper browns, mauves, and navies are also fun to play around with.
● If it seems like your pen eyeliner is getting dry, try giving it a clean! Often, it’s just the brush tip that gets a little clogged up with dried liquid eyeliner, so by wiping it down with a paper towel saturated with brush cleaner you can get it clean and working good as new.
Photos via @nikki_makeup, @ellinorrosander, @elizabethkayeturner, @ponysmakeup, @elinabaath