12 Gel Eyeliners For When You Can’t Decide Between Liquid and Pencil

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Truth be told, liquid eyeliner has never been my forteè. Regardless of how I place my hand, the mirror, or the eyeliner that I use, I just can’t get the perfect line that I’m striving for. Until I started using gel eyeliners. I know what you’re thinking, a gel eyeliner—why not just use a pencil? Unlike liquid or pencil liners, gel eyeliners are easy to apply in a seamless line, cat-eye, or wing, and won’t slide off easily. 

Using silicon-based compounds to create pigmented color, gel eyeliners arrive in a wide range of colors—literally any you can imagine—and in simple-to-use brushes, retractable applicators, and self-sharpening pencils. And, if that weren’t enough to convince you, they also don’t smudge or move at all. They are practically foolproof for those of us (aka me) who just can’t seem to master liquid eyeliner. Don’t believe me? Try one out for yourself. 

Read on for the best gel eyeliners that will give you the perfect line every time.

Best Overall: Marc Jacobs Highliner Gel Eye Crayon

Marc Jacobs

There’s a reason this formula is absolutely iconic; it brings together the benefits of both a gel eyeliner (no accidental smudging) and a pencil (precision) into one. It’s also highly pigmented, waterproof, and versatile to wear so you can create flawless, precise lines or smudged lines for a smokey eye. And, it arrives in 37 different shades and three different finishes—shimmer, matte, and satin— so you can easily achieve any look you desire.

Best Drugstore: L'Oréal Paris Infallible Lacquer Liner 24H

L’Oreal Paris Infallible Lacquer Liner 24H

Created with a unique lacquer finish, this gel eyeliner will last you all day and night seamlessly. Don’t be fooled by the price; its smooth-gliding brush, easy-to-use consistency, and mistake-proof application are just some of the reasons why it’s just as spectacular as its more expensive counterparts.

Best Splurge: Pat McGrath Labs PermaGel Eyeliner Pencil

Pat McGrath PermaGel Eyeliner Pencil in Blk Coffee

Everything that Pat McGrath creates is nothing short of perfection and this eyeliner is no exception. The soft, waterproof eyeliner ensures long-lasting definition and a perfectly defined gaze with just a quick swipe. And, the revolutionary formula is available in select colors in both classic and bold shades—such as Xtreme Black to Blitz Blue.

Best Shade Range: Haus Labs Eye-Dentify Gel Eye Pencil

Haus Labs Eye-Dentify Gel Eye Pencil

From metallic silvers to burnt terracotta to rose gold, Haus Labs has every shade you could imagine (and more). Color-packed and creamy, this eyeliner applies like an absolute dream and is transfer-proof, water-proof, and long-wearing. These eyeliners are SO incredible that they lasted me through a dip in the pool and a hot summer day with zero smudges whatsoever.

Best Pencil: ONE/SIZE by Patrick Starrr Point Made 24-Hour Gel Eyeliner Pencil

ONE/SIZE by Patrick Starrr Point Made 24-Hour Gel Eyeliner Pencil

This ultra-pigmented eyeliner combines both silky and smudgy textures so crafting any eyeliner look is unchallenging. Its two colors—Bodacious Black and Busty Brown—look fabulous on any skin tone and it glides on beautifully. The best part? It lasts for 24 hours with zero budging at all.

Best Multi-Use: Tarte Tarteist Double Take Eyeliner

TARTE Tarteist™ Double Take Eyeliner

If you’re looking to dip your toes into gel eyeliner, but still want to keep trying your hand at liquid liner then Tarte’s Double Take Eyeliner is your best bet. Its two sides—one gel and one liquid—can be used separately or together to construct an impeccable winged eyeliner. And, both formulas are made with a soft-flex tip, so evenly saturated color is always deposited.

Best Waterproof: Morphe Gel Liner

Morphe Gel Liner

We’ve all been there; a bad breakup, a sad movie, or our best friend’s wedding with eyeliner that we spent endless time doing completely ruined. While we can’t prevent the tears from flowing, we can prevent the eyeliner from moving—and that’s exactly what this eyeliner will do. I promise you, it will stay completely flawless whether they are happy or sad tears. And, it’s incredibly creamy, long-wearing, and in some truly beautiful colors.

Best Long-Lasting: Stila Smudge Pot

Stila Smudge Pot

Smooth and silky, Stila’s formula stays on all day and is easy-breezy to apply. What we love most about this eyeliner—aside from its incredible long-lasting formula—is the fact that you can use it as both an eyeliner and eyeshadow. Watch out: you may find yourself using it every day.

Best Long-Lasting, Runner-Up: Too Faced Killer Line 36 Hour Waterproof Gel Eyeliner

Too Faced Killer Line 36 Hour Waterproof Gel Eyeliner

Leave smudging of any kind behind with this liner that lasts 36 hours. Water-proof and ultra-smooth, creating killer sharp lines requires little to no effort. And, there is no shortage of colors—eleven to be exact.

Best Natural: Hourglass Cosmetics 1.5MM Mechanical Gel Eye Liner

Hourglass 1.5MM Mechanical Gel Eye Liner

Housed inside a 1.5MM mechanical pencil is the thinnest gel eyeliner I’ve ever seen. Don’t be fooled by its size; its application is done with complete ease and accuracy—and you’ll end up with the most precise eyeliner line you’ve ever laid your eyes on. If that wasn’t enough—its formula is completely clean and cruelty-free.

Best for Waterline: Smashbox Always On Gel Eye Liner

Smashbox

Smashbox’s gel liner is a favorite of pros and makeup artists everywhere—and for a good reason. Its super-saturated pencil is long-wearing, waterproof, and applies to the waterline without moving. To apply to your waterline, use shorter strokes to deposit even amounts of color.

Best for Beginners: ILIA Clean Line Gel Eyeliner

ILIA Clean Line Gel Eyeliner

Hands down, if you’re a beginner, ILIA’s easy-to-use crayon is for you. Water-resistant formula aside, this eyeliner boasts budge-proof wear and blends like an absolute dream. Plus, its formula is formulated without any bad-for-you ingredients like sulfates, parabens, and more.

Final Verdict

With its easy-to-use applicators and smudge-proof formulas, switching over to gel eyeliners is a complete game-changer (especially for newbie eyeliner users). With its 37 highly-pigmented shades, versatile wear, and water-proof formula, Marc Jacobs Highliner Gel Crayon is our overall favorite. If you’re looking for a gel eyeliner that’s truly worth the splurge, try Pat McGrath Labs PermaGel Eyeliner Pencil. It’s a revolutionary formula, long-lasting definition, and ability to perfectly define your gaze make it well worth the price. For more affordable options, try NYX Professional Makeup Gel Liner and Smudger or Lóreal’s Paris Infallible Lacquer Liner 24H.  

FYI, gel eyeliners can be used as a creamy eyeshadow. “Gels generally have a little bit of playtime before they set to double up and use your gel as a creamy eyeshadow, says Gilbert Soliz, Global Makeup Artist for Marc Jacobs Beauty. Opt for shades that are lighter in tone or that contain shimmer, he explains. To apply, Soliz recommends lining along the lash line, blending with your fingertip from the lashline to crease, and then applying complementary eyeshadow on top of a bold long-lasting finish.

What to Look For in a Gel Eyeliner

Color

Certain eyeliner colors compliment certain eyes. “Choosing a color that compliments your eye color will motivate you to wear it more often than not,” says Soliz. And, it’ll also make your eyes pop! 

Long-Wear Formula

When choosing an eyeliner, opt for one with a long-wearing formula. “You want the gel eyeliner to have long-wear attributes so there’s no smearing or smudging around the eyes,” explains Soliz.  

How do you apply gel eyeliner?

Gel eyeliner can be applied in a bunch of different ways depending on the look you’re going for. For beginners, it’s best to apply it how you would a liquid or gel eyeliner. “Start by applying the eyeliner at the outer corner of the eyes, then gradually work your way towards the innermost part of the eye,” explains Soliz. He says, I also recommend “tight-lining” the upper lash line to add definition, especially if you’re challenged with creating a straight or smooth line. 

What does gel eyeliner do?  

Gel eyeliners really help make your eye or eye makeup look pop. “Whether you opt for pot or pencil, you can always count on the ease of application and smudge-proof formulas,” says Soliz. 

Does it have any other purposes? 

In addition to a precise line, gel eyeliners can also be used as a creamy eyeshadow. "As a makeup artist, I often reach for gel eyeliners when I want to create a graphic line that is really pristine," explains Soliz. They also perform well when used around the innermost part of the eye when a definition is needed since they don’t smudge or bleed at all. Or, they can also be used as a base to lock powdered eyeshadow into place.”

Why Trust Us

Byrdie contributor Rachel Dube has written for some of the biggest magazines and websites out there. Along with writing about beauty, she has also tested hundreds of beauty products. After acknowledging that liquid liner is not her forteè, she has been on the hunt for the best gel eyeliners to easily create a precise eyeliner line. 

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 gel 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 contact@byrdie.com and we will evaluate the product ASAP.

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