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Call us crazy, but doesn't it often feel like the simplest of products are the hardest to find? Take black eyeliner for example. It's a go-to item in everyone's makeup bag, and there's no shortage of options out there (take a quick trip to the drugstore beauty aisle and you'll see what we mean) but finding the best formulas is no easy feat. A lot of them crease and smudge easily, a nightmare scenario for anyone trying to master a fierce cat-eye. So, to help you sort through all the choices, we weeded out the poor picks.
Read on to discover the best eyeliner pencils out there that'll glide like a dream and make all of your eyeliner looks a long-lasting reality.
Best Overall: Pat McGrath Labs Permagel Ultra Eye Pencil
Pat McGrath’s Labs Permagel Ultra Glide Eye Pencil is made using silicone, so it moves across the eyelid like a dream. It works well if you want a crisp line, but if a smokey eye is more your thing, you can soften and smudge before it sets. It’s really pigmented too, so you don’t have to continuously trace over it.
Best Drugstore: Maybelline New York Master Precise Skinny Gel Eyeliner
The 1.8 mm microtip on this pencil can be used to draw a cat eye, and even allows you to get super close to the lash line—a tough feat—and it stays exactly where you applied it. The pencil automatically twists up, so you never have to worry about having a sharpener on hand, and it lasts for a whopping 24 hours of wear. The soft gel feel makes it easy to use, as well.
Best Shade Range: Marc Jacobs Highliner Gel Eye Crayon
If you want shade options, the Marc Jacobs Beauty Highliner Gel Eye Crayon Eyeliner can deliver. Ranging from shimmer to matte to satin to glitter finishes, there’s something for everyone. But it doesn’t end there. The pencil itself is really creamy and pigmented, so works well to create a strong, dramatic line. And once it sets, it will not move.
What Our Testers Say
"The liner didn’t smudge or run on me when I wore it on the top lash line—I found that it really held up through some long days." — Ashley Rebecca, Product Tester
Best for Waterline: Urban Decay 24/7 Waterline Eye Pencil
The waterline is a tricky spot to wear eyeliner because the moisture from the eye can cause it to smudge and rub off, but this Urban Decay option defies the odds. It’s a really rich, creamy crayon that once set, won’t budge. Once applied, hold your eyelid open for a moment to give it a chance to dry down.
Best Budget: NYX Slim Eye Pencil
This liner is so good, it’s hard to believe it’s only $5. It’s really creamy so glides on seamlessly, and the fine tip makes it easy to map out a subtle line. It also comes in a wide range of colors (think lavender, mint green, gold, and bronze) so you can match your makeup to your mood, and at that price, who wouldn’t want to.
Best for Blending: Tom Ford Eye Kohl Intense Eyeliner
It’s difficult to find a true kohl pencil that doesn’t drag across the eyelid, but this offering from Tom Ford somehow strikes the perfect balance. It’s a really malleable product, so try drawing a thick line across the lid and blending out with a brush or your finger. It’s perfect for crafting a smoked-out wing, too.
Best Luxury: Chantecaille Luster Glide Silk Infused Eye Liner
The name says it all really. This super-luxe French pick from Chantecaille is infused with silk powder, so it has an almost liquid-like effect in the form of a pencil. It smudges slightly but works best to deliver soft, clean definition around the eye area. It’s super rich in pigment, too.
Best Longwear: Sephora Collection 12 Hour Contour Pencil Eyeliner
If you want a pencil that won’t budge, you’ve got to try this impressive option from Sephora. It’s a waxy pencil, so will apply to the skin smoothly but lock in place, resulting in a line that lasts through sweat, humidity, oily lids, and tears. It’s super opaque and comes in a wide range of colors as well.
The unanimous Team Byrdie eyeliner pencil favorite has got to be Pat McGrath's Permagel Ultra Eye Pencil. It’s an incredibly smooth, rich, long-lasting product that feels beautiful and looks even better. But if it’s a smoky eye you’re after, we can’t go past Tom Ford's Kohl Intense Eyeliner. It’s by far one of the softest pencils we’ve used and smudges really well (making dramatic eyes a cinch for everyone).
What To Look For When Buying An Eyeliner Pencil
The most important thing to take into consideration when choosing an eyeliner pencil is the product's softness and finish. According to makeup artist Jasmin Lo, you really want a soft liner and won’t pull or drag the skin. Look for something that applies smoothly and gives you a bit of time to smoke it out, but then sets in place and doesn’t budge.
This really comes down to personal preference. Classic black will give you a defined, smoky look, whereas, for Lo, deep brown is a nice alternative to achieve subtle depth and warmth. And of course, we’re big fans of color! Lilac, neon green, baby blue, and peach are all on-trend hues.
How do you apply an eyeliner pencil?
When it comes to eyeliner pencils, you can really apply however and wherever you wish. But if you need some pointers, Lo suggests applying liner “along the top lash line, gently pulling your lid out with one hand, and in the other holding the pencil horizontally so that you are drawing with the side of the tip, rather than the pointy end of the tip.” This will make it easier for you to keep a smooth, straight line.
How do you sharpen an eyeliner pencil?
As tempting as it may be, try and avoid using regular pencil sharpeners and stick to a specialized cosmetic sharpener instead. They’re less likely to cause damage.
Can you use an eyeliner pencil on your top lid?
Of course! You can use an eyeliner pencil on the top lid, bottom, or in the waterline. Lo personally loves using a pencil to create soft, natural definition around the eye. “You can even do a little wing without it looking as directional as a liquid flick,” she adds.
Why Trust Byrdie?
The first makeup product Emily Algar actually picked up as a teen (aside from foundations that were about six shades too dark) was an eyeliner pencil! And it’s been a love affair ever since. She is not a professional when it comes to makeup application, so she loves a quality product that’s going to help her achieve the perfect smoky/defined/winged eye, easily.
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 eyeliner pencils 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.