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If the eyes are the windows to the soul, consider a thick swipe of black eyeliner the sleek satin curtains that pull the room together. Eyeliner was one of the first makeup products I started experimenting with—the dull, harsh wooden pencil I took from my mom’s makeup drawer to outline my entire eye was my entry point. My makeup skills have gotten better since then (thankfully), but a good black eyeliner is still a staple.
The biggest problem is choosing which to use—on the surface, different varieties of black eyeliners can at the same time appear so different, yet so similar. Which is best for what? We compiled some of our favorites and spoke with makeup artist Deanna Flanagan to learn her picks.
What to Look For in a Black Eyeliner
The right brushes
“Figuring out what brush your hand works best with is key to any gel liner," says Flanagan. "For me, it is an angle brush, but some people’s hands may work better with a pointed brush." Her favorite angle brush is the Morphe M165, and for a pointed brush, she liked the e.l.f. Cosmetics Beautifully Precise Eyeliner Brush.
Your desired looks
Consider what type of looks you want to create with your eyeliner, as well as what situations you'll be wearing it. Do you need a waterproof black liner with lots of staying power? Is it important that your liner is vegan and cruelty-free? Do you prefer a liquid liner, a pencil, or gel? Whatever your preference, there's a black liner for that—just think about your needs.
Keep scrolling to read more about the best black eyeliners in our book.
Best Overall: Chanel Stylo Yeux Waterproof Long-Lasting Eyeliner
A classic, waterproof pencil liner from Chanel is our best overall pick for black eyeliner. The liner auto-sharpens so you always have a fresh tip, it’s super smooth to apply, and it leaves behind a rich dark black that resists smudging.
Best Budget: Maybelline New York Master Precise Skinny Gel Eyeliner
The super skinny applicator makes it easy to customize looks and draw on super precise lines. The retractable tip is always sharp, and the gel pencil consistency manages to be both soft and easy to control.
Best Long-Wear: NARS High-Pigment Longwear Eyeliner
For rich, stay on all-day liner, this Nars High Pigment Longwear Eyeliner claims to deliver for up to 12 hours. You’ll need to keep a sharpener on hand, but it’s worth it for the ability to apply color to your waterline, or a smokier liner all over.
Best Pencil: Urban Decay 24/7 Glide-On Eye Pencil
Flanagan praises this pencil from Urban Decay for its soft workability and longwear hold. “The reason I love this pencil is that you can leave a solid crisp line, or you can smudge it,” she says. Once it’s on, it’s on, though Flanagan adds that however you apply it is how it will set, so work quickly.
Best Gel: Morphe Gel Liner
Morphe’s gel eyeliner formula applies smoothly and stays on for 12 hours. “It's long-wearing, creamy, and super pigmented,” says Flanagan. You’ll need a liner brush to use it, which enables you to further customize the thickness and method of application.
Best Liquid: Revlon ColorStay Liquid Liner
If you prefer liquid liners, Revlon’s is our favorite choice for a formula that won’t smudge or fade. The brush tip lets you change up your strokes depending on the look you’re going for. It’s affordable, too!
Best Waterproof: wet n wild H2O Proof Liquid Eyeliner
“This liner is literally a hidden gem and is super affordable,” said Flanagan. She even trusts the waterproof formula to hold up for brides on their wedding day! It sets immediately and stays put, even on oily lids. Flanagan prefers to use her own brush rather than the one it comes with, but the formula itself can’t be beaten.
Best Applicator: KVD Vegan Beauty Tattoo Liner
For an easy-to-use liner, try this option from KVD Beauty. “It is in a marker form with a precise brush tip to achieve the thinnest or thickest line desired,” said Flanagan. It’s long-wearing and waterproof, too. Just make sure you store it upside down so the brush never dries out.
Best Versatile: Juvia’s Place The Saharan Gel Eyeliner
This waterproof formula in a pot is creamy and darkly pigmented and comes with a two-sided liner brush. It’s easy to apply, stays on through everything, and even comes with a brown liner, too! The packaging and liner make it one of the most versatile options on this list, so it’s good to have for whatever look you’re trying to achieve.
Best Cruelty-Free: Glossier Pro Tip Brush Point Liquid Eyeliner
One of my favorite everyday liners is this one from Glossier. The applicator makes drawing on a cat-eye liner quick and easy, and the liquid formula leaves behind super black matte color. Plus, it’s vegan and cruelty-free.
Best for Dark Black: Inglot AMC Eyeliner Gel
For the darkest black liner, try the Inglot AMC Eyeliner Gel. “Some gel liners, once applied to the eye, can lose the intense dark pigment, and turn almost dark gray. The Inglot liner stays black, and it is super easy to work with because it is a bit stiffer than other gel liners, which gives you ample control,” said Flanagan.
Best for Waterline: Rimmel Scandaleyes Waterproof Gel Pencil
This extremely affordable liner is perfect for use on the waterline—it’s waterproof and long-wearing, has an extremely high color payoff, and the smooth application won’t tug at the sensitive waterline.
What Our Testers Say
"I found the liner did not run or smear on me throughout the day, and I was impressed with how efficiently it stayed in the waterline." — Ashley Rebecca, Product Tester
A self-sharpening black pencil-like Chanel Stylo Yeux Waterproof Long-Lasting Eyeliner is amazing to have on-hand for most eye looks. But when you absolutely don’t want your eyeliner to move, Wet n Wild H20 Proof Liquid Eyeliner is bride-on-her-wedding-day approved. Lastly, Juvia’s Place The Saharan Gel Eyeliner is another big winner because it's super versatile—we recommend it whenever you want to experiment with trendy eye looks or put on a super sharp wing.
What does black eyeliner do?
Black eyeliner helps emphasize your eyes, and can be used to create a subtle definition, an exaggerated, winged-out shape, and just about everything in between.
What is the easiest black eyeliner to use?
Pencil formulas—either in twist-up or wood stylos—are typically an easier starting point for eyeliner novices, as the shape gives the user more control. If you have trouble holding a steady hand, opt for a creamy formula that you can blend into your desired shape in case the lines come out asymmetrical.
Can I put black eyeliner on my waterline?
You can, but choose your formula wisely. Because it's a very sensitive area, you'll want to opt for a soft, creamy formula that easily glides along your waterline to avoid any tugging or scratching.
Why Trust Byrdie?
Joline Buscemi is a Byrdie contributor and beauty writer for many other publications. She’s tested out hundreds of liners and has finally mastered a freehand cat-eye.
According to our Diversity Pledge, 15% of products in our newly-published market roundups will feature Black-owned and/or Black-founded brands. At the time of publishing, we were not able to find enough black eyeliners from a Black-owned and/or Black-founded business to meet this percentage. If you know of one we should consider, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will evaluate the product ASAP.