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Updated November 2022
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Buying guide for Best eyeliners

If you really want to make your eyes stand out, eyeliner is a must. Eyeliner not only brings attention to your eyes but also makes them look larger, brighter, and more awake.

Beauty aisles are loaded with eyeliners in a wide range of types and styles. Choosing the best eyeliner for your signature look can get confusing. How do you create the perfect cat eye: liquid, pencil, pen, or gel?

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The right eyeliner gives your eyes definition, makes them look larger and more awake, and plays up your eye color.

Types of eyeliner

Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of the different types of eyeliner.


Probably the most popular form of eyeliner, pencil is also the easiest to master. You’ll find a huge color selection – everything from super brights to natural neutrals. While many eyeliner pencils need to be sharpened just like a writing pencil, others swivel up, so you always have a point ready to use. Eyeliner pencils are especially good for natural or subtle looks, but depending on the pencil and your technique, you can also create bold, smoky, or dramatic eyes.


  • Easy to use

  • Huge range of colors and finishes, including matte, metallic, shimmer, and iridescent

  • Inexpensive

  • Can be used to create many different looks

  • Smudges easily for softer looks


  • May require sharpening

  • Can smudge throughout the day

Best for: Casual or subtle daytime looks, smoky eyes


If you want to create a dramatic cat eye, this is the eyeliner you need. Liquid eyeliners generally come in a pot with a thin brush applicator. The learning curve for liquid eyeliner is steep. It’s very easy to smear, smudge, or draw uneven lines if your hand is unsteady or you’re just starting to use this bold cosmetic. But with practice, you can use liquid eyeliner to draw precise, dramatic, and opaque lines.


  • Ideal for winged eyeliner or other dramatic eye looks

  • Won’t smudge once dry


  • Takes practice to master liquid eyeliner

  • Smaller color selection

  • Takes time to dry

Best for: Dramatic or nighttime looks


Somewhere between the ease of an eyeliner pencil and the drama of liquid eyeliner lies the eyeliner pen. These resemble thin-tip markers, and you use them to draw on your lids in much the same way. Also like markers, pen eyeliners come with either a felt tip or brush tip. While this form of eyeliner has a learning curve, it’s not as difficult to use as liquid eyeliner. Eyeliner pens come in a lot of bright colors, as well as neutrals and black, so you can create dramatic looks and more subtle eye styles.


  • Easier to use than liquid eyeliner

  • Great for dramatic or edgy looks

  • Many colors to choose from


  • Takes practice to gain skill with pen eyeliner

  • Harder to achieve a subtle or natural look

Best for: Dressy daytime looks, dramatic nighttime looks


One of the newer forms of eyeliner is gel. Typically, gel eyeliners come in a small pot that you use with an angled eyeliner brush, although some are similar to eyeliner pens. Gels apply in the same fashion as liquids, but because they are thicker, they are easier to control. They are also easier to smudge slightly right after application, if that’s the look you’re aiming for. Once gel eyeliner dries, it’s very resistant to smudging, however.


  • Lots of colors to choose from, including dramatic brights

  • Creates a bold line but can be smudged if you work quickly

  • Easier to use than liquid eyeliner or pen eyeliner

  • Dries quickly and doesn’t smudge once dry


  • Takes practice to skillfully apply gel eyeliner

  • Can be difficult to remove

Best for: Business or nighttime looks

Choosing the right eyeliner color

Eyeliners come in a wide range of hues, and there’s no reason not to have several colors on hand to suit your mood, look, or activity on any given day. Many women stick with black, dark brown, or gray because these neutrals work with any makeup or eye look and are suitable for day or night. Another option is to match your eyeliner color to your eyeshadow; this adds subtle definition to the eyes without too much drama.

Or you can choose an eyeliner color that makes your natural eye color pop.

  • Blue eyes: For blue eyes, go with copper, gold, brown, navy, or purple eyeliner.

  • Green eyes: Green eyes light up with shades of purple, dark green, mahogany, or bronze eyeliner.

  • Hazel eyes: Hazel looks lovely with eyeliner in emerald green, gold, bronze, olive green, or plum.

  • Brown eyes: Complement brown eyes with navy blue, purple, brown, mink gray, or green eyeliner.

How much should you spend on eyeliner?


You can buy drugstore eyeliner pencils for $5 to $10, but you’ll pay a little more for swivel-up tips. For high-end and luxury eyeliner pencils, you’ll pay around $20 to $25.


At the drugstore, eyeliner pens in the $6 to $14 range are typically quality products. Most high-end and luxury eyeliner pens cost $15 to $30.


Expect to pay between $5 and $10 for a good drugstore liquid eyeliner. For a high-end or luxury liquid eyeliner, expect to pay $15 to $30.


If you want gel eyeliner, you’ll generally spend between $8 and $15 for a good drugstore product and $20 and $30 for a high-end or luxury product.

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For your safety
Never share your eyeliner with anyone else; this can transmit germs that might cause infection.

Tips for applying eyeliner

  • It’s always easiest to apply eyeliner in front of a mounted or tabletop mirror, not one you hold in your hand.

  • For most looks, apply eyeshadow before eyeliner. But if you want a subtle look, put on your eyeliner first, then tone it down by smudging eyeshadow on top.

  • If possible, rest your elbow on a counter or tabletop.

  • Rest your pinky finger against your cheek to keep your hand steady.

  • Don’t tug at the skin near your eyes; a gentle touch is all you need.

How to create eyeliner looks

Eyeliner is one of the trickier cosmetics to master, particularly if you are aiming for a stylishly dramatic look like a cat eye. While there’s no substitution for practice, the following tips will help you get the eye look you’re hoping for.

  • For a casual, daytime look, use your eyeliner – pencil, gel, or pen – to draw small dots along your upper and lower lash line, and then gently connect the dots with tiny strokes of your eyeliner. Smudge gently for a soft finish.

  • If you want something stronger, extend your eyeliner. With a pen or brush, extend the line of your eyeliner past your lash line. This will elongate your eyes.

  • Wing out your liner for a dramatic cat eye. Draw a short line that extends your lash line on an upward angle. From the tip, draw another line that connects back to your lid to make a triangular shape, and then fill in the empty space. If you have small eyes, only line the outer third of your lash line. Otherwise, thin out the eyeliner along your lash line as you near the eye’s inner corner.

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Liquid, pen, and gel eyeliners tend to dry out after six months. Pencils are good for up to two years if you sharpen the tip regularly.


Q. I messed up my eyeliner. Help!

A. It’s a common scenario: your eyeliner turns out uneven or crooked. Dip a Q-tip in eye makeup remover and smooth it over the problem area, and then re-apply the liner. For uneven winged liner, simply get some concealer or foundation on a brush, and run it under the bottom edge of the eyeliner to sharpen the line.

Q. How do I stop my eyeliner from transferring onto my eyelids?

A. This is another common problem, and it’s usually due to oily eyelids or the shape of your eye. Keep your eyeliner where you want it by brushing translucent powder or powder eyeshadow onto your crease before applying liquid, gel, or pen eyeliner. The powder will absorb oil to keep your eyeliner from migrating. If your eyes are naturally hooded, the powder will stop any transfer when your eyes are open.

Q. Should I line my lower lash line?

A. That depends on the look you’re trying to achieve. For daytime, go ahead and leave the lower lash line unlined if you prefer a natural style. Smoky nighttime looks call for liner on both the top and bottom lash lines, but keep the line around your lower lid softer than the line on top. Heavy eyeliner around the entire eye makes your eyes look smaller than they really are. If you have small eyes, only line the outer third of the lower lash line.

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