Eyeliner—when done with precision—is easily one of the most transformative makeup products. Whether it’s a sleek cat eye or a subtle flick, a great eyeliner should be a staple in any makeup afficinodo’s kit.
Byrdie Researched & Approved
Splurging on a luxurious formula is fine, but believe us when we say countless drugstore liquid eyeliners are worthy of your attention. “Some of my favorite liquid liners come from the drugstore,” makeup artist and beauty expert Michael Brown tells us. “And what’s great is that it won’t hurt your wallet to replace them when they dry out.”
We researched the best drugstore eyeliners, evaluating each formula on its longevity, ease of application, and level of pigment. Brown helped us curate our list, considering dozens of brands and landing on the best in show.
Keep scrolling to shop for the best drugstore liquid eyeliners for a statement-eye look.
Best Overall: e.l.f. Expert Liquid Eyeliner
Easily control the amount of product on the brush
Prone to fading
This wallet-friendly eyeliner from e.l.f is seriously impressive. The formula glides effortlessly across the lids, depositing an inky black color that doesn’t require multiple coats. While not waterproof, it’s very resistant to smudging and fading.
Shades: 3 | Size: 0.15 oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
Best Budget: Essence Super Fine Eyeliner Pen
Dries out quickly
This is one of the best drugstore buys with a fine-tip felt applicator and waterproof formulation. It also comes with an unbeatable price tag. We’ll take five, thank you!
Shades: One | Size: 0.03 oz | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
Best Applicator: COVERGIRL Perfect Point Plus Liquid Liner
Sturdy brush helps with precision
If you’ve got a wobbly hand, or want to create a sharp line without too much fuss, Covergirl’s Perfect Point Liquid Liner makes it easy. The fine, slightly angled tip moves with the eye but isn’t too floppy, preventing smudging, creasing, and bumps. It also boasts solid black pigment, too.
Shades: 2 | Size: 0.08 oz | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best for Beginners: Maybelline Hyper Easy Liquid Pen Eyeliner
Smooth felt applicator
Not as pigmented as others
“I love this liner because the felt tip is soft and moves against the contour of the eye,” Brown tells us. “It also delivers a constant but even flow of product for easy application.”
Shades: 1 | Size: 0.18 oz | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
Best Budget: NYX Epic Ink Liner
This liner from Nyx comes in shades like lilac, burgundy, and white so you can tailor it to suit your mood or makeup look. It’s long-wearing and has a fine but flexible brush tip, lending itself well to both cat eyes and intricate eyelid art.
Shades: 8 | Size: 0.12 oz | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
Best Shade Range: ColourPop BFF Ultra Fine Liquid Liner
Great shade range
Fine tips makes for easy application
Reviewers claim it dries out quickly
Another fun lineup of colors, the BFF Ultra Fine Liquid Liner from ColorPop is made for makeup maximalists. Rich in pigment, the opaque shades glide over the lids easily so you can forget about pulling or dragging. Wear them alone or pair with a complimentary shadow for all of the Euphoria vibes.
Shades: 7 | Size: 0.019 oz | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best for a Bold Look: Ulta Classic Felt Tip Liner
Can pill or lift if you trace over the product too many times
Simple but oh so effective, Ulta’s very own Felt Tip Liner has a sizeable brush and smudge-proof pigment for big, bold wings. It doesn’t require much pressure in order for the product to flow, either.
Shades: 2 | Size: 0.015 oz | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
Best Matte Finish: Milani Stay Put Matte Liquid Eyeliner
Long-lasting matte finish
Glides on easily
Tricky to remove
If you need your liner to lock into place in all kinds of conditions, Milani’s Stay Put Matte 17hr Wear formula is the one for you. It has quite a large brush, so it works well for thicker lines and wings. We love the fact it comes in black, brown, and waterproof, too.
Shades: 3 | Size: 0.09 oz | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
Best for Art: Revlon ColorStay Liquid Eye Pen
Fine felt tip offers great control
Reviewers say it dries out quickly
Revlon’s ColorStay Liquid Eye Pen is a classic for a reason. The soft felt tip never pulls or drags, while the waterproof formula lasts through sweat, tears, and humidity. While it is pigmented, it’s not intensely black, making it a great pick for those who prefer a more natural finish.
Shades: 1 | Size: 0.05 oz | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
Best Pen: Uoma Beauty Afro.Dis.Iac Liquid Eyeliner
Intense black pigment
While it is a little more than your standard drugstore price point, this liner from Uoma has nothing but rave reviews. With a fine tip and intense pigment, it has a glossy finish that’s amazing on its own or with some smoky eye shadow. It’s also fragrance-free, water-resistant and smudge-proof.
Shades: 1 | Size: N/A | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
Best Black: Rimmel London Colour Precise Eyeliner
Great staying power
Not as pigmented as other formulas
Rimmel really is one of the OG drugstore beauty brands, so it would be remiss of us not to include them in this round-up. The Colour Precise Eyeliner has a fine applicator tip and smooth formula for a precise line without too much fuss. We love the fact it comes in both black and white, too.
Shades: 2 | Size: 0.042 oz | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
Best Gel: Maybelline Eyestudio Lasting Drama Gel Eye Liner
Brush offers great control
Not as malleable as a true liquid
“If I want to create a dramatic wing with infallible staying power, this is what I reach for,” shares Brown. “It repels both water and oil, so it can be relied on in all weather conditions… it even stays on in the waterline.”
And while we get it's not technically a liquid, this drugstore liner is worth a mention, especially if you’re chasing a truly long-wearing formula.
Shades: 2 | Size: 0.11 oz | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
We truly can’t go past the e.l.f. Expert Liquid Eyeliner for its price, pigment, and user-friendly format. As for runners-up, it’s a tie between the NYX Epic Ink Liner and the Maybelline Hyper Easy Liquid Pen Eyeliner. We love Nyx for its shade range and long-wearing formulation, whereas the Maybelline Hyper Easy Pen is made for anyone who finds liquid liner to be challenging.
Meet the Expert
Michael Brown is one of Australia’s leading celebrity makeup artists and experts and has worked on countless photoshoots, campaigns, red carpet looks, and magazine covers throughout his 20-year career. Michael has also held Australian ambassador roles for global brands including St. Tropez, Marc Jacobs, Moroccanoil, Ardell Lashes, and Olay.
What to Look For in a Drugstore Liquid Eyeliner
When it comes to liquid liner, makeup artists typically recommend waterproof. Our eyes can tear up naturally for a variety of reasons, and in those moments, a waterproof liner can be your best friend. Aside from keeping the liner in place aesthetically, it keeps it out of your actual eyes for safety. Keep in mind, though, that you'll need a heavier makeup remover or cleansing balm to get the waterproof liner off at the end of the day.
If waterproof makeup isn't your thing (or even if it is), you'll want to opt for a smudge-proof liquid liner. This allows the liner to stay in place and hold its form throughout the day despite minor wear and tear moments, whether it be an accidental rubbing of the eye or something even more simple like pulling a sweatshirt over your head.
When choosing the perfect liquid liner, color can also come into play. Your tones—which in this case are dictated by your eye color—are a shortcut to figuring out which colors will look complementary on you. Purple shades make brown eyes pop, for example, while green eyeliners can do the same for hazel. Copper provides a stunning contrast for blue eyes, as does red eyeliner for green eyes.
How can I create a smudged look with liquid eyeliner?
How do I create the perfect wing?
Flanagan’s favorite tip for a perfect wing is to use tape as a guide. Apply the tape at the angle you’d like your liner to wing out to, and then simply follow along. When you remove the tape, you’ll have a super sharp line.
Can you wear liquid eyeliner on the bottom of your eyes?
While there is no technical reason you can't, understand that if your eyes experience any irritation or tearing, it will typically directly impact that bottom liner. And if the liquid liner is not waterproof and smudge-proof, you may run into issues.
Why Trust Byrdie
Byrdie contributor Emily Algar has been a beauty journalist for over seven years—not to mention someone who loves a winged liner moment. For this roundup, we also tapped a makeup expert and scoured through third-party reviews to find the best drugstore eyeliners available.