There's one quintessential thing that most—not all, but most—of our forever-favorite eye makeup looks have in common: eyeliner. Whether it's a whimsical stroke (or three) of pretty pastel, a precisely angled, jet-black wing, or just an extra hit of smoky definition à la a creamy gel or kohl pencil, eyeliner is our go-to secret ingredient for saucing up any kind of aesthetic.
That said, anyone who has tried their hand with the stuff knows it can be a tricky product to execute sans mess. And, what we envision being a red carpet level application can all too quickly veer deranged kindergartner at the craft table. Just us? Practice definitely makes perfect and your technique is important, but the actual vehicle you choose—aka the specific eyeliner you pick up during your next beauty run—also holds a lot of influence where your end results are concerned. We're here to help as much as we can on that front, so we crafted a master list of 16 best-of-the-best eyeliners, from gels to pencils to liquids and more, that will make the job a little easier and significantly less intimidating. Keep scrolling for the best options in every category.
Best Liquid Eyeliners
I almost always favor liquid formulas when it comes to eyeliner (it's just a quintessential part of my signature makeup M.O.), so as a beauty editor, I kind of feel like it's a cardinal sin that I only just tried this best-selling liner from KVD Beauty. Seriously, folks—I don't think I'll ever look at another one again! With just one or two quick flicks, you can achieve the perfect, I mean perfect, dainty wing, and the super-fine tip is so easy to build and maneuver around your eyes and lashes.
If you're into chunky liner or dramatic cat-eyes, this one probably won't be thick enough for you, but if you're like me and want a kick of extra definition around your eyes and just an extra little something' somethin' when creating your wing, you'll flip for this.
This liquid liner from nontoxic brand Ilia is another all-time favorite, and the fact that it's made with clean, non-irritating ingredients is just the icing on the gluten-free cake. Because yes, in addition to providing satisfying, jet-black pigment payoff, it's also gluten-free, fragrance-free, alcohol-free, and impressively long-wearing.
The name (or glowing reviews!) doesn't lie: If you're looking for an A+ liquid formula that clocks in at under ten dollars, this satiny, waterproof option from Maybelline totally has your back. It has Terminator-level staying power that will last you 24 full hours (if you want it to), and the flexible tip paired with the unique hexagon-shaped pen provides optimal control for precise execution.
I totally get $54 is a balk-inducing pricepoint for an eyeliner of all things, but in this instance, it's completely worthwhile because you're really getting two liners in one. This chic pen delivers the blackest of black finish, plus two different tip options—one long-tipped brush plus a more delicate-tipped calligraphy-style option. Not to mention, your liner artistry will last you all day, night, or both with zero risks of bleeding, flaking, or smudging.
Best Pencil Eyeliners
If you think this is your average Josephine of an eyeliner, think again. The über long-lasting formula (think 14 long, waterproof hours) glides on with the smooth-as-silk slip of a liquid liner, while somehow retaining the smudge-friendly, smokeable texture of a kohl pencil. Plus, luxe ingredients like crushed pearl powder help moisturize the delicate eyelid and boost your natural collagen production. Not too shabby, eh?
I'll be honest…I've tried lots of clean eyeliner pencils and the majority of them felt like smudge-city on my lids. That said, this one from A-list makeup artist Jillian Dempsey is a complete exception. Not only does this pencil come in the most striking of hues, with lush, plant-based ingredients to boot, but it's also waterproof, applies like velvet, and even has a built-in smudge tip. Try it, and you might even fool yourself into believing you're a pro-level makeup artist.
If the $5 price tag, 52,000 (and counting) reviews, and nearly five-star rating aren't enough to convince you to buy this wallet-friendly mechanical eyeliner, I don't know what will. Oh, and did I mention the super-fun spread of shades you have to choose from? My advice: Go wild.
If your budget has the bandwidth for a *very* worth-it splurge, I highly suggest boarding the beauty editor-filled bandwagon and trying out this satiny eyeliner pencil from queen Posh. The gemstone-like colors are gorgeous and ultra-pigmented so a little goes a long way as you apply. (Nothing is worse than having to apply coat after coat of product on top of a delicate area like the eyelids.) The creamy texture is easy to smudge and manipulate however you'd like as you apply, but once you let it set, it absolutely won't migrate. The nutrition profile is also impressive and high-quality antioxidants in the form of vitamin E, pro-vitamin B5, and a soothing hit of chamomile extract create a happy and healthy eye area—an extra great perk for those who veer sensitive.
Best Gel Eyeliners
Makeup artists, celebrities, and beauty editors alike adore this iconic gel eyeliner from Marc Jacobs. We're talking the creamiest of creamy consistencies, reliably durable wear, intense color payoff, and a super-handy built-in sharpener. Trust me, you're going to want to collect each and every shade.
Say hello to one of the newest kids on the gel eyeliner block—an impressive, dual-ended concoction from celebrity makeup artist Mario Dedivanovic. (If that name rings a bell it's probably because Kim Kardashian is one of his most famous clients.) The payoff and pigment are rich and highly blendable, and the silky-smooth gel-based formula sets quickly but not before you have time to blend, layer, and add whatever level of definition you're looking for. It's matte, and it even has a helpful brush on the end to allow for expert-level execution.
It's fair to say makeup artist Patrick Ta knows his way around a super-dreamy eye look, so you can imagine my excitement when he recently launched his very own eyeliners to help us mere mortals re-create his celeb-caliber looks at home. While all of the eyeliners are gel, you can choose from a matte, satin, or metallic finish and a variety of flattering hues.
No one knows drama better than Lady Gaga, so there's no way we could leave her highly-rated gel eyeliners off our list. The sky is the limit in terms of your color options, and just one swipe leaves behind a creamy, albeit bulletproof finish with tons of eye-catching saturation.
Best *Fun* Eyeliners
I love multitasking beauty products, and this brilliant eye shadow/eyeliner hybrid from makeup artist Violette_FR's line takes the cake in said category. There are matte and shimmering shade options, and the doe-foot applicator is thin enough so you can use it to create a dynamic graphic liner look sans mess. Plus, it absolutely won't budge until you want it to but doesn't dry so fast that you don't have enough time to tinker and play with your shape. (The twinkling shade I'm wearing above is called Bleu de Minuit, and it's perfection.)
If you're someone who struggles to create a perfectly flicked cat-eye—in other words, if you're human—you'll definitely benefit from Kaja's wing stamp pen and felt-tip liquid liner. Just stamp the wing wherever you want it, and fill in the rest with the liner. It gets extra brownie points for being waterproof and smudge-proof, too.
Not only is this iconic glitter eyeliner insanely nostalgic for me (I don't think there was one dance recital or competition where I went without the stuff from pre-K through high school), but it's also just impossibly good. I swear there isn't a formula with a more sparkling payoff, and while the clear water-based formula makes application a snap, it dries down quickly and is easy to layer for a move-proof, customized finish. The hardest part is choosing just one shade!
Valentino's foray into the beauty world has been one of the most exciting industry moments of 2021. All of the formulas are pretty fabulous, but my beauty editor friends and I agree that this double-ended liner might just be the MVP. On one end you'll get a semi-matte liquid liner, and on the other end, you'll get an ultra-smooth gel liner in Valentino's signature red hue. Of course, if red isn't quite your vibe, it also comes in a black/brown combo.