The 18 Best Eyeliner Pencils to Define Eyes and Add Drama

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Unleash your inner artist with a smoked-out look or dramatic cat eye.

<p>InStyle / Brian Kopinski</p>

InStyle / Brian Kopinski

While even the best eyeliner pencils can seem a little snoozy compared to liquid liners and dramatic gel formulas, they have one major advantage: Functionality. Few other makeup products can offer the same ease of use, long-term wear, and pigment payoff as eyeliner pencils—not to mention the inherent ability to define, emphasize, and play up the eyes.

“Eyeliner pencils are easier to use and control compared to a liquid liner,” says celebrity makeup artist Monika Blunder, adding that she loves to use a pencil’s fine, focused tip to line the delicate upper and lower waterline. “They’re also really versatile—you can create everything from a precise line to a softly smudged look.”

Although certain picks offer unique benefits, we’ve found that most of the eyeliner pencils beloved by makeup artists, and featured ahead on this list, can be blended out as needed, yet still set quickly. With eyeliner pencils, you can expect dramatic pigments and fade-resistant formulas that slide across lids smoothly, evenly, and precisely, then smudged, smoked out, or left intact as one thick, clean line.

Best Overall: huda Beauty Creamy Kohl Longwear Eye Pencil

$21 at

See at

What We Love: The glide-friendly formula applies in one pigmented swipe of color, practically forbidding mistakes.

What We Don’t Love: We wouldn’t say no to a few more color options.

Transfer-proof with impressive color payoff, this cream pencil slides like soft butter across the lid, going so smoothly from corner to corner that it almost draws a clean wing for you, something both beginners and liner aficionados will appreciate. Plus, the waterproof formula stays put once you apply it and won’t migrate to other areas of your eyes, like right below the brow bone–a huge boon for those with hooded eyes.

Developed to be a long-wearing formula, you can go about your day stress-free knowing your cat eye or flicked out tail won’t budge for up to 24 hours—without even needing to use an eyeshadow primer first. “My morning handiwork spent perfecting the angles of my dramatic eyeliner flick so it looks clean and even is usually lost as a late afternoon oil slick takes over my lid,” says InStyle Senior Beauty Commerce Editor Kaitlin Clark. “I had my doubts that my oily lid compatriots would find this liner as long-wearing as the brand promises, and while I didn’t squeak out a full 24-hours, I did get plenty of smudge-proof wear.” Available in two opaque shades, an inky jet-black and espresso brown, deliver creamy, rich color in one fell swoop, and allows a generous amount of time to smoke out or blend before setting and locking in place as it dries. But, we have one suggestion: Add an electric blue or green that would look dazzling on hazel-eyed friends into the mix and the eyeliner would truly be unstoppable.

Type: Kohl  | Shades: 2 | Finish: Matte | Size: 0.04 oz

Best Budget: NYX Professional Makeup Epic Wear Waterproof Eyeliner Stick

$9 at

$9 at

What We Love: The color payoff is unmatched.

What We Don’t Love: The tip can be tricky to sharpen.

These waterproof eyeliner pencils won't budge once they're on, and they're priced so that you can (and probably should) stock up on multiple shades. And that’s especially easy: There are 33 colors to choose from and they come in matte and metallic finishes, too. Reach for an everyday neutral, like olive, espresso, and pitch black, for workday wear, and when the clock strikes 5 p.m. on Friday, match your liner to your weekend energy with the bright, bold, high-impact hues of shimmery aquamarine, metallic chartreuse, frosted lilac, or snappy orange zest. Not only does the creamy formula resist fading and smudging, but it's also waterproof, sweat-resistant, and transfer-proof for up to 36 hours. The light shades do require an extra layer or two to get the most impact, but the brighter and darker shades are packed with pigment for an immediate payoff.

Ticking all the usual boxes we expect of a quality eyeliner—smudge-proof, waterproof, and sweat-resistant—NYX takes it one step further with the wildly fun range of colors that seemed to be created specifically to wear for a good time. You can also trust that what you see is what you’ll get, and even for the boldest shades go on as an opaque pigment and true to the pencil color.

Type: Gel | Shades: 33 | Finish: Matte, metallic | Size: 0.043 oz

Best Waterproof: Caliray Surfproof Easy Glider Eye Definer Waterproof Eyeliner Pencil

$20 at

What We Love: A bona fide cocktail of natural skin-loving ingredients, like strengthening ceramides to protect the eye’s delicate skin barrier, moisturizing beeswax, and collagen-boosting pearl powder.

What We Don’t Love: It skips slightly over textured skin.

Our love for this liner is twofold: It’s not just a little waterproof—it’s majorly waterproof, as in you could spend the day surfing, splashing around the ocean, and sweating, yet somehow, your liner would look just as crisp and clean as if you spent the day in an air-conditioned library. And if that weren’t enough, anyone who’s struggled in their search for a rich, saturated brown shade is well aware that neutrals, least of all the family of nutmegs, coffees, and cocoas, are as simple as they sound.

What InStyle writer Irene Richardson liked most about this warm shade is that it wasn’t dark enough to be considered black, but not too light where it disappeared behind her black mascara. Velvety and smooth, this liner feels great on our lids, allowing for comfortable, all-day wear. Our sensitive eyes remain irritation-free, thanks to thoughtful formula additions, notably the nourishing ceramides and moisturizing beeswax. Richardson said she still needed to pull the skin taut around her eye during application to avoid it skipping over fine lines and contours around the eyelid area.

Type: Gel | Shades: 3 | Finish: Satin | Size: 0.04 oz

Best Crayon: Natasha Denona Macro Tech Eye Crayon High Pigment Pencil Eyeliner

$24 at

See at

What We Love: Several punchier colors give your cat eye more drama.

What We Don’t Love: It’s more prone to smudging since it doesn’t immediately dry down.

Most people think a liquid formula is key to sculpting a knife-sharp cat eye. In reality, recreating Taylor Swift’s signature makeup with a pencil is much more forgiving of mistakes. It’s even easier with the Natasha Denona eye crayon because its cream formula doesn’t immediately set, giving you time to dot and connect your line or work in short strokes before it dries. (Keep in mind this means you’ll need to be careful to avoid accidentally smearing it before it’s finished drying). And if you find yourself becoming bored with a regular old cat eye, the green and burgundy shades level up the drama—be forewarned that this liner wasn’t made for wallflowers.

Type: Cream eye crayon | Shades: 4 | Finish: Matte | Size: 0.04 oz

Best for Sensitive Eyes: Gucci Stylo Contour Des Yeux Khol Eyeliner

$39 at

$39 at

What We Love: It’s much more blendable than most other liners.

What We Don’t Love: The tip can break if you apply too much pressure.

For unbeatable blending, consider this creamy liner, which is softer than most of its peers. This feature allows it to slide on and blend in seamlessly, making it a go-to if you're in the market for a smudged, smoky look. You could also use it to replace eyeshadow in a pinch. It's easy to apply evenly, and despite its ability to smudge, it works for waterlining, since it’s both dermatologist- and ophthalmologist-tested.

It comes as a retractable pencil so there's no need to sharpen it—although the compromise there is that the point won't be as precise. And while it does come with a sharpener, which is housed in one end of the pencil, it tends to waste some of the product.

Type: Kohl | Shades: 6 | Finish: Matte | Size: 0.01 oz

Best for Smudging: Victoria Beckham Satin Kajal Liner

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$32 at

What We Love: It's so saturated with pigment that a single swipe is enough.

What We Don’t Love: You have to sharpen it regularly.

This kajal-based eyeliner earned the top spot for its multifunctional formula. ”The Victoria Beckham liners are super-creamy and smudge and blend out beautifully—and once they set, they don't budge,” says Blunder. She adds their blendability makes them especially beneficial for eyeliner application for hooded eyes because it’s easier to “create the illusion of larger and more open eyes,” she says. Although it feels creamy and soft as you draw it on, you can still sharpen the tip (with the included sharpener) for a clear, precise line. Then, once it sets, the formula is waterproof and smudge-resistant, so it won't smear beneath the eyes. Another plus is that it comes in three different finishes—matte, shimmer, and jewel—allowing you to create a number of different looks. It's also a waterline eyeliner that’s safe to use in this area.

Type: Kajal | Shades: 15 | Finish: Matte, shimmer, sparkle | Size: 0.042 oz

Best Gel Eyeliner Pencil: L’Oréal Infallible Grip Gel Mechanical Liner

$11 at

$11 at

What We Love: It deposits rich pigment and the blending sponge on the opposite end of the pencil is quite handy to buff out color when you want a lived-in look.

What We Don’t Love: Because it’s mechanical, the tip doesn’t stay very sharp.

Don't feel like sharpening? You’re in luck: This retractable gel eyeliner is built like a mechanical pencil, so you can just twist it up to keep the applicator fresh and sharp. It's also dual-ended with a blending sponge on the other end, making it simple to create a variety of looks.

Its gel formula isn't just waterproof and resistant to smudging, it also glides onto skin easily, preventing your hand from skipping and leaving wild dash marks along the lash line. And with a wear time of up to 36 hours, it’s pretty safe to say that your eyeliner will outlast your dwindling energy at the end of the day. It's also ophthalmologist-tested and safe for sensitive eyes, making it a good option for waterlining (if that's your thing).

Type: Gel | Shades: 6 | Finish: Matte | Size: 0.011 oz

Best for Contact Wearers: Burt's Bees Nourishing Eyeliner

$10 at

$10 at

What We Love: It’s a great, basic eyeliner that’s gentle enough for all.

What We Don’t Love: It might transfer or wear off during the day.

The magic of this fade-resistant (but not waterproof) eyeliner is in the formula. It's made with 99.9 percent natural materials, including a cushiony blend of jojoba, mango, and meadowfoam oils, which both offer a comfortable and hydrating application. It's not only ophthalmologist-tested, but also free of parabens, phthalates, petrolatum, and synthetic fragrances.

The color goes on softly and smoothly and stays put whether you're applying it to monolid eyes, hooded eyes, or oily eyelids. The drawback is that the texture of the pencil can be too hard for the waterline—and, of course, it's not fully waterproof.

Type: Cream | Shades: 3 | Finish: Matte | Size: 0.04 oz

Live Tinted Hueliner Longwearing Pencil Liner

$20 at

$20 at

What We Love: It easily and evenly glides across lids without skidding.

What We Don’t Love: Only two shades are currently available.

Infused with a moisture-rich blend of argan oil, hyaluronic acid, and panthenol, this creamy eyeliner can create a smooth, seamless line without tugging skin or skipping. While it may be soft, however, it won't break—and it's still able to create skinny lines.

The latest addition to beauty influencer Deepica Mutyala's makeup line, the clean formula is safe for the waterline, from which it won't budge, since it's both water- and transfer-proof. The pencil itself is also retractable, negating the need for regular sharpening.

Type: Cream | Shades: 2 | Finish: Matte | Size: 0.01 oz

Best for Oily Lids: Jillian Dempsey Kohl Eyeliner

$20 at

$20 at

What We Love: The shades are limited, but more unique than others.

What We Don’t Love: It doesn’t come with a sharpener.

This dual-ended eyeliner is “also a favorite,” Blunder says. “It is much stiffer and less creamy, but that allows me to get super-clean, super-thin lines—and it also doesn’t smudge once it has set down.” Even though it's stiff, it features a blending nub on one end for easy smudging, giving you added versatility.

And although the pencil itself is harder than others, it's still nourishing; in fact, it’s formulated with 100 percent plant-derived ingredients, such as organic jojoba oil, organic shea butter, and marula oil. It's also waterproof, so you don't have to worry about it melting or running through sweat and tears.

Type: Kohl | Shades:  6 | Finish: Matte | Size: 0.32 oz

Best for Beginners: make up for ever Artist Color Pencil Brow, Eye & Lip Liner

$24 at

$24 at

What We Love: It can be used anywhere on the face that needs definition.

What We Don’t Love: It’s not waterproof.

New to eyeliner? You’re in luck: “These pencils go on smoothly and work great when you need to smudge them, because they don’t dry down,” says Mai Quynh, a celebrity makeup artist who works with Ali Wong and Riley Keough. She appreciates that they’re flexible and easy to apply, too.

Another perk from this option? You’re not stuck with a handful of neutrals. “I also love how many shades they offer as well,” she says. That said, the neutrals here do include a variety of browns that work for every skin tone, giving them an edge over other options. They all come in a matte finish, too, which is what allows them to be used as a brow pencil and lip liner—in addition to an eyeliner pencil. While most of the hues are suitable for your eyes, lips, and browns, shades Versatile Chestnut and Boundless Berry are strictly for lips and brows.

Type: True pencil | Shades: 14 | Finish: Matte | Size: 0.05 oz

Best for Dry Skin and Lids: Urban Decay 24/7 Glide-On Eye Pencil

$23 at

$23 at

What We Love: The variety of colors is unmatched.

What We Don’t Love: The glitter and shimmer finishes aren’t ideal for the waterline.

This oldie-but-goodie “is the smoothest, longest-lasting eye pencil I have ever used,” says celebrity makeup artist and Ulta Beauty Pro, Deney Adam.

Even better: You've got options when it comes to the shades and finish. It comes in matte, satin, glitter, metallic, and shimmer finishes, allowing you to experiment with a huge number of makeup looks.

The formula deposits bold, rich color in a single application, thanks in part to its texture, courtesy of a blend of vitamin E, jojoba oil, and cottonseed oil. It’s also waterproof, offering up to 16 hours of wear for an intense look that will likely outlast your evening activities.

Type: Gel | Shades: 38 | Finish: Matte, shimmer, glitter, satin, and metallic | Size: 0.04 oz

Best for Mature Eyes: Jones Road Beauty The Best Pencil

See at

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What We Love: It creates a super-sharp line.

What We Don’t Love: The sharpener is sold separately.

If you don't love the softness of a creamy pencil, consider Bobbi Brown’s take on the firm liner pencils instead; these were inspired by the intense, deeply pigmented pencils of old-school eyeliners from the 1970s, which were nearly devoid of any creamy or silky ingredients and had the point and firmness of an actual pencil. And while that keeps the color from settling into or tugging at fine lines and creases, it can still be blended easily once you apply it—although you might not want to, considering the neat, sharp line this can create.

The downside is that the formula isn't long-lasting; it has a wear time of about six to eight hours. However, you can set it with a powder eyeshadow if you need to…although it might just be a worthy trade-off for the clean, saturated look.

Type: Cream | Shades: 6 | Finish: Shimmer, matte | Size: 0.04 oz

Best for Waterline: Hourglass Voyeur Waterproof Gel Eyeliner

$28 at

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What We Love: It strikes the right balance between softness and staying power.

What We Don’t Love: You can’t really sharpen the tip.

This long-wear, retractable gel liner is a winner—for a few reasons. Quynh is an especially big fan of the texture, noting that it “goes on effortlessly and stays put.” Plus, the staying power is impressive: It can last up to 12 hours without fading, smudging, or transferring onto your face, giving you all-day intensity.

While it’s only available in five shades (four of which are matte, with one shimmer option), “the colors are opaque and intense in pigment,” she says. “It really stays put and makes my job easier.” If that’s not a major selling point, we’re not sure what is.

Type: Gel | Shades: 5 | Finish: Matte | Size: 0.01 oz

Best Black: Makeup by Mario Master Pigment Pro Eyeliner Pencil

$24 at

$24 at

What We Love: It has a built-in sharpener that’s easy to clean.

What We Don’t Love: The tip can feel a little dry.

Blunder has been loving this pencil in the black shades, especially. “It is a true, deep, rich black—and has been a staple in my kit since it came out,” she says. The dual-ended, retractable pencil balances a velvety formula on one end with a blending brush—not a sponge—on the other, which allows for more seamless blending than the usual tool. It’s not waterproof, but it still has a decent wear time.

It comes with a sharpener, but you do need to sharpen it regularly if you're looking for a precise point—so there's a little more maintenance involved. However, the sharpener has a cleaning stick to get rid of the shavings, which is a nice touch.

Type: Cream | Shades: 5 | Finish: Matte | Size: 0.03 oz

Best for Tightlining: Charlotte Tilbury The Classic Eye Powder Pencil

$24 at

$24 at

What We Love: It’s versatile, since it can work as a liner or shadow color.

What We Don’t Love: Since it’s softer, the tip is also prone to breaking.

This eye pencil is infused with powders, which allow for easy blending—making it a good pick if you're looking to smudge, smoke, and saturate the color around the eyes. That also makes it especially forgiving if you’re a beginner, since there’s no real expectation for a super-precise line.

“For tightlining, I usually go for a pencil that has the right balance of waxiness and creaminess, because I don’t want the eyeliner to bleed but I still want it to apply smoothly,” says Blunder, who name-checks this Charlotte Tilbury one. “She has great color options—I also love using a nude shade in the waterline to open up the eyes.”

Keep in mind, though, that because you’re working with powders, the payoff is a little less intense than other options out there. And there’s no long-wear advantage here, so you may need to set it with a loose, translucent powder—or just manage your expectations accordingly.

Type: True pencil | Shades: 3 | Finish: Matte | Size: 0.04 oz

Best Kohl: Kulfi Underlined Kajal Eyeliner

$20 at

See at

What We Love: It’s long-lasting, yet easy to remove.

What We Don’t Love: You don’t get as much product as in other liners.

Kohl, also known as kajal, has long been used in India to define the eyes for centuries, and Kulfi, an AAPI-founded indie beauty brand, gave this ancient formula a thoroughly modern spin with its super-creamy, waterproof eyeliner. Infused with soothing aloe vera, conditioning safflower seed oil, and moisturizing vitamin E, this trio of skin-nourishing ingredients ensure each pass is ridiculously smooth, easy, and always drag-free, with an intensely rich traditional kohl pigment.

A retractable eyeliner, it works well on the waterline and won't migrate into the eye, and comes in bright shades in both matte and shimmer finishes. Put simply: It packs a punch when it comes to both color and staying power.

Type: Kohl | Shades: 8 | Finish: Matte, shimmer | Size: 0.012 oz

Best for Drama: Lancôme Drama Longwear Liqui-Pencil Eyeliner

$25 at

$25 at

What We Love: The color is intense, so a little goes a long way.

What We Don’t Love: It can feel a little dry when you first use it.

Pairing the bold pigment of a liquid eyeliner and the easy application of a pencil, this formula has a creamy texture that's easy to blend and smudge. And with 24-hour resistance to transferring, fading, flaking, and smearing, it outlasts almost every other liner on this list.

While a few of its eight shades have glitter and shimmer finishes, the matte colors are especially good, delivering intense payoff in a single stroke. It's also ophthalmologist-tested and free of fragrance, parabens, and phthalates, making it yet another option if you're into waterlining.

Type: Gel | Shades: 8 | Finish: Matte, metallic, glitter | Size: 0.42 oz

What to Keep in Mind

  • Texture: Eyeliner pencils can come in creamy texture, like kohl or kajal, or a gel. “I usually use gel eyeliner pencils when I’m doing a look that needs to be long-wearing, as well as opaque and intense in color or a graphic eye look,” says Quynh. These also tend to be best for beginners, Blunder says, as they’re smooth and glide easily across skin without skipping. The glide factor is key, since it means the pencil will deliver a smooth, even line. “Creamy eyeliner pencils are great to use for a smudgy or messy smoky eye, like a slept-in look,” says Quynh. And they typically won’t budge once they’ve set.

  • Waterproof Formula: To keep racoon eyes from forming, a waterproof eyeliner pencil will do the trick. They’re especially helpful if your eyelids get oily throughout the day—or if you’re planning to apply eyeliner close to the eyeball, as with waterlining. “I love to use waterproof eyeliners on the waterline for an intense look that won’t budge,” says Quynh. “I also like to use waterproof liners for certain eye shapes that have issues with products that may run underneath the eyes and smear.”

  • Pencil Tip: Quynh is a fan of pencils that can be sharpened to give her an ultra-pointed tip to easily draw a clean, precise line. But for gel pencils, she “prefers them in a retractable pencil form” to protect the tip from melting or smashing against the cap. “Remember to put the cap back on tightly after each use, or it’ll dry out quickly,” she says. Looking for something more smudgy? “If I want a fast wash of color all over the eye, or I’m going for a punk-rock, super-smudged, lived-in liner, I will go for a chubby pencil,” says Blunder.

  • Applicator: Some eyeliners are also dual-ended, with a sponge or brush at one end, so you can line your eye as you’d like and then use the sponge side to buff it out. Finally, for a clean, sharp wing, Blunder will either apply the color with an angled eyeliner brush; you can also use an angled applicator to get similar precision.

Your Questions, Answered

How do you apply eyeliner?

“I love using a pencil that is a bit on the creamy side, so it is easier to draw a line, and easy to clean up if you mess up,” says Blunder. “One great tip I always tell my clients is to start with dots, instead of trying to draw a continuous line. Start by placing small dots or dashes along your lash line out to where you want your wing to be and then connect them for a smoother, more controlled application.”

Is it bad to wear eyeliner on the waterline?

“Be mindful of your eye health and choose a safe and gentle product,” says Adam. “Some eyeliners may contain ingredients that are not safe for use on that specific area of your eye, such as certain pigments or preservatives.” He recommends checking the label; if it says ophthalmologist-tested, you’re usually good to go.

Should you put eyeliner on before or after mascara?

Eyeliner goes first. “Applying mascara first can sometimes smudge the liner or make it difficult to apply smoothly,” says Adam. On top of that, “you want to really be able to work the liner into the base of the lashes, and mascara makes that challenging,” says Blunder. The exception? She curls lashes before applying liner, since curling afterwards could remove some of the liner.

Why does my eyeliner always end up under my eyes?

It could be humidity—or your other beauty products. If you get racoon eyes by the afternoon, “go for waterproof formulas,” says Quynh. “Also, make sure your eye cream or concealer isn’t too emollient, otherwise it may migrate and your liner and eye makeup will travel down your face.”

To keep transfer from happening, “you can also set your eyeliner with powder after applying with a matching eyeshadow or translucent powder,” says Adam. “This will help to lock the eyeliner in place and prevent it from smudging.”

Why Shop With Us

Irene Richardson is a commerce writer for InStyle covering beauty and fashion. Evergreen commerce team. She spends her days testing and sizing up new beauty launches to share the best products that are actually worth your hard-earned money. She added her favorite eyeliners to this story and interviewed celebrity makeup artist Monika Blunder to learn the secrets and tricks to finding and perfecting your eyeliner technique straight from a professional.

Deanna Pai is a freelance writer and editor who has been covering beauty, health, and wellness for more than a decade. She’s been testing and wearing eyeliner pencils for years for both personal and professional reasons. For this story, she interviewed makeup artists, Deney Adam and Mai Quynh.

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