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If you’re just now dipping your toes into the world of liquid eyeliners, it can be intimidating (to say the least). When most of us think of liquid eyeliner, we think of a bold, precise, perfectly manicured cat-eye. But according to the pros, you can employ liquid eyeliner to create a variety of everyday looks, from simple to dramatic.
Byrdie Tested & Approved
With the right design, a liquid liner can be a breeze to apply, but we needed to try them out for ourselves. After thorough testing, we found that the NARS Climax Liquid Eyeliner's marker-like tip made it easy to draw the perfect line the first time around. We were also impressed that our top budget choice, the NYX Epic Ink Liner, delivered ultra-thin lines that didn't smudge no matter how many times we rubbed our eyes.
As consumers ourselves, we realize that there are so many liquid eyeliner options on the market—from drugstore to luxury brands. They all seem so similar, with their pointed tips in their pen-like tubes. So how do you differentiate one from the next?
If you’ve never used a liquid liner or just haven’t found your favorite, it’s all about trial and error. To help you navigate the process, we spent 150 hours researching liquid eyeliners and personally testing 22 of the most popular formulas at home. Each liquid eyeliner was scored on a scale of one to five based on different tests that assessed the ease of application, comfort, pigment, and wear.
To see what liquid eyeliners came out on top and which ones we’ve crowned the best of all time, keep reading.
Best Overall: NARS Climax Liquid Eyeliner
Sells out easily
Our tester kept reaching for this Nars liner because it’s the one that stressed her out the least. In its bright red packaging, it reminds us of a Crayola marker we once used as a kid (but smaller and for your eye). The tip is deceiving: It looks too thick, but the trick is to use a feather-light hand. With just the tiniest bit of pressure, you get that marker-like, perfectly balanced, smooth line with one swipe.
Use that same light touch to drag it up for a cat tail. It creates a sharp, whisker-thin flick—no cleanup needed. The formula is so lightweight on your eyelid (also comparable to the thin, quick-dry formula of a Crayola marker). It’s plenty dark enough with one pass, but a second will deepen it.
The staying power is something else. Since the formula feels thinner than others, we weren't sure it would hang on all day, but it did—12 hours to be exact. Not only did our cat-eye remain uninterrupted, but there was also zero color fade. Removal was painless. It took just a few swipes of an oil cleanser (and there was very minimal smearing).
Type: Liquid | Shades: 1 | Free of: Parabens | Size: 0.014 oz | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: No
Best Drugstore: NYX Epic Ink Liner
Easy to apply with precise tip
Stays on all day
Smudges after a few hours
This drugstore liner delivers. The precision tip stands out among the rest. It’s sharp and ultra-thin (but not hard and firm). So much so that upon first glance we were skeptical that it would make any kind of significant mark. That, however, was not the case. One gentle flick and you’ve got a fully saturated line. You don’t need to layer for color, since it's so pigmented, but might need an extra stroke or two to achieve the desired thickness. It’s very possible to get it right on the first go.
Against our reviewer’s skin, it felt lightweight and invisible. It dried almost instantly with no bleeding. Throughout the workday, we forgot we were even wearing anything at all. “I even rubbed at my eye a few times, forgetting it was on,” says our tester. Still, when she glanced in the mirror, her cat-eye appeared untouched. It was pretty impressive that there was no budging—it was almost tattoo-like.
Eight hours later, at bedtime, it still looked intact—just a hint faded at the tail. We took a micellar water-soaked pad and it lifted cleanly after a few firm passes. This budget liner covers all the bases: long-lasting, knife-like sharpness (for a flawless cat-eye), and easy removal.
Type: Liquid | Shades: 2 | Free of: N/A | Size: 0.03 oz. | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best Waterproof: Urban Decay Perversions Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner
Lasts over 24 hours
Free of parabens
Only one shade
One reviewer, who considers herself a “total newbie” to liquid liner, says this eyeliner is “as foolproof as it gets.” With one swipe, the soft, wispy tip lays down a thin, translucent black coat that doesn’t smudge or run. Note, however, that it takes two to three coats to get that blacker-than-black level of pigmentation. But, unlike a lot of other liners, layering on doesn't add any unwanted thickness or crumbling.
The ability of this pen to layer on and refine allows beginners to ease their way into a cat-eye, rather than committing to one final swoop. With each stroke, the tip glides on effortlessly without skipping or pulling thanks to the creamy texture. It also dries pretty quickly so there’s a slim chance you’ll mess it up. Once it’s on, it’s on.
The most important takeaway with this product is its staying power. “One night I forgot to take off my makeup, slept in it, and my cat-eye was just as crisp as it was when I applied it—no joke,” said our tester. That's over 24 hours of wear time. Even when we went to wash it off, it didn't bleed upon contact with the water. It took a few vigorous rubs of remover to get it gone. (P.S. There was zero smudging upon removal.)
Type: Liquid | Shades: 1 | Free of: Parabens | Size: 0.55 ml | Byrdie Clean: X | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best Cat-Eye: Pat McGrath Labs Perma Precision Liquid Eyeliner
Chiseled precision tip
Lasts without smudging
Takes a long time to dry
Celeb makeup artist Pat McGrath knows what's up. We give her namesake liner top marks for ease of use, fine tip, and inky pigment. The formula is wet but not runny and has a thin, velvety texture. The pigment is super-opaque—blacker than black—so you only need to apply one layer.
The color is incredibly easy to control; cat-eyes and dramatic blackouts are what this formula was born to do. The chiseled tip is perfectly flexible—not once did we have to go in with a Q-tip to fix our cat-eye. Since it is so rich, dry time is a little longer (around seven seconds), but you’re still saving time since we truly consider this to be a one-swipe wonder.
Full disclosure: We prepped the look with an eyeshadow primer, but we’re happy to report the color did last all day without fading. Hands down, we’d go with McGrath’s creation for any big makeup moment. It also sits well over glittery eye shadow and doesn't bleed one bit. Removal was a little messy, but with a dose of baby oil, we were able to get it all off.
Type: Liquid | Shades: 1 | Free of: Petroleum, parabens | Size: 0.4 oz | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: No
Runner-Up, Best Cat-Eye: Tarte Maneater Liquid Eyeliner
Gives great pigment and color payoff
Can dry out
The color payoff here is legit. With even the lightest touch, Maneater delivers a solid black pigment upon contact. The color comes out shiny, looking and feeling wet, and you’ll naturally want to do a few sweeps to even out the thickness. It does smooth out like butter. It takes three to four seconds to dry, so just take a beat between swipes (to ensure that it doesn't get too heavy and start to bleed).
It creates a sharp line with almost no effort or pressure. We give credit to the sturdy bristle tip. Unlike felt tips, which tend to be too hard or too soft, this one was just right. We were able to get an accurate line that didn’t wiggle or catch as we dragged. It made creating a cat-eye a breeze. “I was able to draw an outline of my wing, color it in, and then draw the line across my lid to connect without any mess or having to go back to clean it up,” our reviewer says.
Our reviewer wore hers all day—even on a run. “It’s almost like it didn't want to come off,” she added. When It came time to wash it off a few hours later, we applied a thin layer of cleansing balm and it melted right off.
Type: Liquid | Shades: 1 | Free of: Parabens, mineral oil, phthalates, triclosan, sodium lauryl sulfate, gluten | Size: 0.03 fl. oz | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: No
Best for Beginners: Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eye Liner
Can dry out too fast
Can flake if reapplied
This one wins in terms of gildeablity. It has a thin marker-like tip that moves with incredible accuracy. If you’re new to the game or have a shaky, untrained hand, it’s very possible to avoid any bumps or skips. Depending on your pressure, you can achieve a thin line or a thicker, more vamped-up look.
The texture is unique and easy to work with. It has a watercolor-paint-like quality. It’s wet and dark, but with a tinge of sheerness. Pro tip: Always give a shake to the rollerball, and each time it deposits a consistent flow of ink. We particularly enjoyed doing a cat-eye tail as the final step. It was achieved in one quick flick of the wrist, thanks again to that precision tip.
One thing to note: This product does not smudge. Even when we went in with a cotton pad and (somewhat vigorously) rubbed at it, the lines did not spread out or blur. It stayed exactly in place until it was removed.
Type: Pen | Shades: 6 | Free of: Sulfates, oil | Size: 0.02 fl. oz | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
What Our Editors and Testers Say
"I've worn cat-eye liner nearly every day of my life since I was a junior in high school—so I consider myself a veritable expert in all things liquid liner. Without question, Stila's Stay All Day Liquid Liner is the best of the best. The felt tip is exceedingly easy to use, and the product more than lives up to the claim in its name (but it also removes with relative ease)."—Eden Stuart, Associate Editor
Best Splurge: Hourglass Voyeur Waterproof liquid Liner
High-impact color with little to no pressure
Dries slowly and can be runny
Tip is very firm
Only one shade
Holy mother of darkness: With one foul sweep, you’re able to achieve a dark, end-game quality pigment. The tip is sharp, but our tester got the smoothest line by laying on its side and dragging gently. The pigmentation deepens with every coat, but just one application will suffice. The ultra-black finish had us sold, but let it be known: The ink bleeds immediately upon application if you press too hard. (We learned that the hard way.)
It’s not runny, just wet, which works in your favor, particularly if you’re one to layer your eyeliner over heavy eyeshadow looks. One evening for date night, our tester used this eyeliner over her Patrick Ta eyeshadow palette, and it was just as dark and prominent as it was when she used it on her bare lid. Once it’s dry, it stays put.
After a six-hour evening, the wing was a little faded but still respectably sharp. Removal is a little messy: It comes off easy enough, but the micellar water re-wet the pigment and made a mess all over our tester’s eye. We had to go in with new cotton swabs to get it all gone. Still, we’ll take it since the color is unmatched. Bonus points for the packaging. It’s encased in a rose-gold metallic pen—almost too pretty to use.
Type: Liquid | Shades: 1 | Free of: N/A | Size: 0.009 fl. oz | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: No
Best Dip Pot: Anastasia Beverly Hills Liquid Liner
Glides on easily
True black color
Takes a long time to dry
Can be messy
First off, this one’s a dip pot—unique from other entries on this list. The formula is runny and inky; it’s not for beginners. Some reviewers say it's hard to put on, but it's just a learning curve. Since the pigment is so intense and bleeds black, it’s all about how you maneuver the wand. The most important tip: You have to steady your hand with your pinky against your cheek to get that even stroke. The less pressure, the better—you’ll still get a solid line on the first pass.
“I wish the tip was sharper because, even with a trained hand, it is challenging to keep it thin and crisp,” noted our reviewer. If you’re just lining your lash line, we can see this working well, but, in our experience, the brush is a smidge too thick to get a nice sharp wing. This isn’t a product you can go back in and clean up the edges on. “Even if it’s dried, you’re going to have major smears when you reset it with a Q-tip.”
It does leave a lasting vivid pigment for hours, which is ideal for creating big makeup moments. Our tester wore it for five hours to an event and the shade didn’t falter at all. However, if you touch and rub at it, it does smudge. Removal is more timely than most. It smears around quite a bit, so be sure to have lots of oil-based remover and cotton pads handy.
Type: Liquid | Shades: 1 | Free of: N/A | Size: 0.08 fl. oz | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: Yes
When it comes to finding a liquid eyeliner we have a few non-negotiables. We insist on one that applies easily, has a deep pigment, doesn’t budge throughout the day, and is easy (read: not messy) to remove. That’s why we’re crowning Nars Climax Liquid Eyeliner the best of the best. Its marker-like tip is forgiving, goes on with a quick swipe, and creates a crisp cat-eye flick every time. Another liner we love is Urban Decay Perversions Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner, a pigment-rich waterproof formula that will stay around for 24 hours if you let it. If you’re going for impact, Pat McGrath Perma Precision Liquid Eyeliner lays down dark and is smooth as silk, allowing you to create effortless, dramatic angles without skipping or overlining.
How We Tested
Beauty writer Taylor Jean Stephan spent over three months testing and retesting a total of 22 liquid eyeliners in search of the best of the best. Once the team narrowed down what liquid eyeliners ticked most of the boxes, it was time to put them to the test. Taylor then spent 150 hours evaluating a whopping 22 of the best liquid eyeliners out there, taking into consideration everything from the tip construction to formula. We also paid particular attention to wear and removal. Each liquid eyeliner was rated on a scale of one to five for ease of application, comfort, pigment, and wear. Taylor then selected the top liquid eyeliners and shared her intel as to why these reigned superior and why others didn’t make the cut. All testing was conducted at her home in the Los Angeles area.
Other Options We Tested
Kat Von D Tattoo Liner
We had high hopes for this product, as it has an outstanding track record based on years of online reviews. Even with a good shake of the rollerball pen, the color came out wimpy. One stroke revealed a light, unfilled line. We had to go over it three to four times to get the pigment we wanted, but by that point, we had overlined. The soft bristle tip is decent, but overall not worth the hype in our book. (Reviewers have noted online that ever since the company got sold in 2020, the quality of the formula has declined.)
Too Faced Better Than Sex Easy Glide Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner
We wanted to like this cheekily named liner that comes in a pretty metallic pink tube, but it didn’t pass our wear test. The tip is ultra-thin and flexible, which we liked. And the pigment even came out deep enough for our liking. It’s the longevity (or lack thereof) that loses points for us. We created a bold cat-eye and after a few hours, the smudging was out of control—definitely not waterproof. It was also one of the messiest formulas to remove.
MAC Brushstroke Eyeliner
We thought Mac would have it in the bag with this product. After all, the brand is lauded for its bold makeup formulations. For starters, the pen doesn’t have a rollerball, so it’s hard to get the ink moving. Whether you barely draw or press down hard, it comes out very transparent. Even after three layers, it wasn’t fully saturated. The brush is not bad—a fine tip bristle situation—but after a few tries, this one’s a hard pass for us.
Meet the Expert
- Amber Dreadon is a Los Angeles-based makeup artist. Dreadon has been in the industry for 20 years and her work has appeared on red carpets and in print. Her work has also been seen at New York, Milan, and London Fashion Weeks, working with designers such as Chloe, Proenza Schouler, Kenzo, Victoria Beckham, Rick Owens, and Marni.
- Kirin Bhatty is a makeup artist in Los Angeles. You can find her work in numerous fashion editorials and on many red carpets, and her celebrity clientele includes Tessa Thompson, Freida Pinto, and Kaya Scodelario.
- Lottie is a bi-coastal makeup artist who’s worked with a variety of brands for editorial and red carpet moments. Her client list includes Rihanna, Drew Barrymore, Halsey, Christina Ricci, Alexandra Daddario, and more. She’s also worked with top beauty brands like Shiseido, Beautyblender, Urban Decay, and more.
What to Look for in a Liquid Eyeliner
When it comes to choosing a liquid eyeliner, the pros suggest first looking at the texture. “Pigmented, and a little creamy,” Lottie reveals of her top qualifications. That’s because a cream formula dries less quickly, so it’s easier to go back in and adjust. Alternatively, Dreadon says, “I love a super black wet liner with a medium-dry [time] … so that I can get more flow to my lines.” A wet liner may seem more advanced, but know that you’ll get the crispest cat-eye with this formula.
Next, you’ll want to consider the applicator, which varies from product to product. The two most common materials are built-in bristles or a felt tip. Either can come with a firm tip or a soft tip construction. Both can be great for achieving a multitude of looks, so choosing between the two is more of a personal preference. “I love a pointed brush or firm felt tip,” says Lottie. The firmer the tip, the more precise the line (just note it’s more challenging to keep it bump-free). Dreadon, on the other hand, says, “I always prefer a longer soft tip, either a bristle or felt.” These soft, flexible trips tend to be better for beginners because they are easier to control and make smooth and seamless lines with less effort.
The point of liquid liners is to create a bolder look than you would with a pencil liner. That’s why intensity is another factor to consider. A lot of formulas are wet and thin and made to be layered so that you can build intensity. Other formulas are deep, inky, and more vibrant, so you might only need one or two swipes. If you’re new, you'll be less likely to mess up buildable formulas, since you can correct as you go. Either way, you’ll want your final look to be richly pigmented in order to make your look pop.
How do you apply liquid eyeliner?
New to applying liquid eyeliner? The best way to approach application is to first rest the elbow of the arm you’ll be applying the liner with on a flat surface to steady your hand. Use your other hand to gently pull your eye taut (no tugging!) and begin by applying small dots or dashes as close to the lash line as possible. Extend these dots from the outer corner of the eyes at a slight angle toward the end of the eyebrow, and then connect with short strokes to create a winged look. While you can start your line anywhere from the inner corner to the midpoint of the lash line, you’ll generally want to keep lines thinner at the start, thickening as you reach the outer corners.
Can you put liquid eyeliner in your waterline?
Liquid eyeliners aren't intended to be used on the waterline, though you can use them to line the lash line. When it comes to the waterline, Bhatty suggests reaching for a pencil, especially one with a formula specifically intended for this sensitive part of the eye.
How long does liquid eyeliner last?
Like mascara, liquid eyeliners have a much shorter shelf life than other cosmetics and should be replaced every three to six months. Because the formula is liquid, it’s more prone to bacterial growth, which can lead to irritation or even an eye infection.
Why pick a liquid liner versus other liners?
According to the pros, liquid eyeliners are surprisingly versatile and work for a variety of makeup looks. “I tend to use a liquid liner when I want a super-bold cat-eye or to draw smaller lash-like lines under the eyes,'' describes Lottie. Dreadon agrees, saying uses liquid liner for almost every makeup look she does. “Even if it’s so thin you can barely see it, a teeny little line will complete a look,” she encourages.
How do you create a cat-eye?
Creating a cat-eye is, by far, the most popular way to employ a liquid eyeliner. If you’re just starting or have a shaky hand, know that it can be done. “Try creating the shape you want by using a pencil first—it's easier to tidy up with a cotton bud,” Lottie explains. (Check out the best pencil eyeliners as rated by Byrdie.) “I always, always start my line where I want it to end and work inwards toward the eye instead of starting in the inner corner,” Lottie adds. She also notes that you should look straight into the mirror while applying to give yourself the best vantage point and help to keep the lines balanced on each side.
How do I make my liquid eyeliner last?
Some liquid eyeliners last longer than others; it is what it is. The number one tip pros agree on is simple. “Always make sure you choose a liner that has a secure cap that snaps shut so it doesn’t dry out,” Lottie notes. Also, make sure you store your liner tip down to help the flow of the product run more smoothly. A good liquid eyeliner should last you three to six months, depending on how often you use it.
How do you use colored eyeliner?
If you want to venture out from basic black, there are an array of liquid liners that come in colored shades—from browns to electric blue. Dreadon suggests using color to tie your makeup into your outfit. “I would use a colored eyeliner, like a little pop, on the inner corner. Or start with a thin black liner, for definition, and then a thin colored liner above that line so you’re still defining the lash line but getting a hint of color,” Dreadon explains.
What Is Byrdie Verified?
Did you notice the Byrdie Verified seal of approval at the top of this story? This seal means that our team has researched and tested every product on this list using a unique methodology that’s designed to focus on what our readers really want to know—and to deliver insights that you can’t find anywhere else. Occasionally, beauty brands and PR agencies will send us samples for coverage consideration, but our thoughts and opinions are fully our own. If you visit links within our content, we may receive commissions from your purchases, but we never receive any compensation or consideration for the content of our recommendations. In short, the Byrdie Verified seal stands for product recommendations you can trust.
Why Trust Byrdie
Taylor Jean Stephan has been a beauty writer for over a decade. Her work has appeared in Women’s Wear Daily, Cosmopolitan, Elle, E! News, and more. She’s constantly testing products—everything from new launches to tried and true cult classics. You’d be hard-pressed to find liquid eyeliner formulations that she hasn’t tried. Lucky for you, she used that firsthand knowledge to offer expert input on the category. Rather than being based on brand preference alone, each liquid eyeliner was rated on a standardized scale to conclude the best liquid eyeliners of 2022.