How ever you wear it, nailing your eyeliner look is easy when you’ve got the best eyeliner pencil for the job
Finding the best pencil eyeliner can be a long and tedious process — pre-pandemic we could swatch away in drugstores to our heart’s content but now that testers on shelves are a thing of the past it’s really difficult to test if an eyeliner pencil will be any good. That’s why we’ve tested a whole range of pencil eyeliners and put together this handy guide to help you choose the best one for you, whatever eye look you’re aiming to achieve.
Pencil eyeliner is a surprisingly versatile tool that can be used to create anything from a colourful graphic liner look to a classic smoky eye. If you fancy broadening your horizons and learning a little more about different tips and tricks for applying pencil eyeliner, then take a look at our buying guide below. Or, if you already have your technique down, then scroll down to find our top picks for every look.
Best eyeliner pencil: At a glance
How to choose the best eyeliner pencil for you
Since cosmetics were created, eyeliner has been a staple product to frame our eyes. Evidence suggests that as early as 400BC Egyptian royals would use Kohl eyeliner as a mark of high status, often winging their eyes right out to the hairline — that’s where the iconic cat-eye look began.
Of course, eyeliners today have evolved to be more colourful, precise and better formulated which means pencil eyeliners are the best starting point for eyeliner newbies. Here’s a quick guide to everything you should consider before you buy a pencil liner.
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When it comes to eyeliner, the formulation can make or break a liner’s longevity. In general, pencil liners are formulated using a waxy thickening agent to keep the product on the skin, a polymer film former to help with smooth continuous application, and a coloured pigment. Of course, this varies from liner to liner and waxier pencil liners tend to glide on really smoothly but they run the risk of smudging throughout the day. Getting the balance right can be difficult.
You may have seen some life hacks online that claim you can substitute lip liner for eyeliner; whilst lip liners are similarly formulated to eyeliners, they’re definitely not interchangeable. When it comes to these hacks, a fail-safe rule is to take no chances with your eyes, so you should never, ever use a lip liner as eyeliner as some pigments used in lip products are toxic to your eyes.
To hazard a guess, the pencil eyeliner colours you’re most used to seeing are probably black and brown; applied and blended over the lash line, these colours give the eye definition and a sultry, smoky effect. However, there’s a whole host of pencil eyeliner colours out there, all of which can be used to create different makeup looks.
For example, applying white eyeliner to the waterline to make your eyes appear larger is one of the oldest tricks in the book. If you were around in the eighties, you’ll remember Princess Diana’s iconic blue eyeliner look. The options really are unlimited when it comes to colourful eyeliner and, thanks to the bold makeup featured on shows like Euphoria, experimenting with colour has never been so trendy.
If you’re feeling super technical, you can experiment with different colours based on your eye colour. According to colour theory, red-toned eyeliner helps to make green eyes pop, purple eyeliner is meant to compliment brown eyes, and orange-toned brown is best for blue eyes. If you have hazel eyes, then choose the colour that’s most dominant, and use the complimentary liner colour for that, as above.
Getting the right ‘look’
Pencil eyeliners are an incredibly versatile tool to have in your makeup bag — there are tonnes of different ways to apply them but getting the application right comes with practise. Here are some tips for applying pencil eyeliner to get some basic looks:
Basic liner: To achieve a basic eyeliner look, apply the liner in short, swift strokes so that enough pigment is deposited across the upper lash line. Some people find that pulling on the outer corner of the eye is helpful to flatten out the top of the eyelid and provide some tension before application.
Smoky eye: Start by creating a basic liner look and then use a small fluffy brush, or your pinky finger to blend out the liner slightly. You can also use coloured eyeshadow to blend out pencil eyeliner.
Waterline: To apply eyeliner to your waterline, the first step is to use a cotton swab to carefully and gently dry the waterline. Next, whilst looking directly into the mirror, tilt your head down and gently pull down the lower eyelid. Then, carefully apply the pencil over the lower waterline and let go. To do your upper lash line, repeat the steps but tilt your head up and instead of pulling the skin, hold your lashes up on your brow bone whilst you apply. You can also apply an eyeshadow over the top to set the liner in place.
Cat eye: To start, create a basic liner look then follow the line of your lower lash line upwards to create an angle. Some people find that using their fingertips to pull on the outer corner of the eye helps to draw a smooth line.
Graphic liner: Go crazy! There are no rules for applying graphic liner. Popular looks include drawing a line that runs directly between the eye and eyebrow, following the line of the eye – like a basic liner that’s floated off from the lash line. Or, some people like to draw extra wings on their winged liner. If you’re looking for some inspiration, there are tonnes of ideas on Pinterest and TikTok.
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How we test eyeliner pencils
Eyeliner pencils are finicky makeup products to test because many claim to be smudge-proof, water-proof, transfer-proof, and blendable at the same time. Few are actually as all-singing, all-dancing as they claim to be, which means our testing has to be incredibly thorough.
Thankfully, there are simple tests we can perform to check how an eyeliner performs. We always test the liners side-by-side, by applying the liners onto the back of our hands. Once applied, to test the liner’s longevity and smudge-proof qualities, we wait a few minutes for them to set in place, and then use some force to rub over the top of them to see if they’re properly smudge-proof. With waterproof liners, we’ll splash the area with water to see if the liners run at all. To test the blendability, instead of waiting for the liners to set, we blend the liners using our fingertips immediately after application to judge how even the blend is, as well as how quickly, if ever, the liners set in place.
When it comes to doing a wear test, there are, of course, many different eyeliner styles. That means we tested each eyeliner in every style – in the waterline, over the lash line, and in a more graphic, winged style. This also gave us a feeling for how easy and smooth the liners were to apply in different areas, which showed us how well-suited each liner is for each style.
The best eyeliner pencil you can buy in 2023
1. Kylie Kyliner gel eyeliner pencil: Best pigmented eyeliner pencil
Price when reviewed: £16 | Check price at Boots
When we tested this eyeliner pencil, we were blown away by its strong pigment and smooth application. You’ll only need a light touch to get an incredibly strong colour payoff, and the pencil glides over the eyelid without pulling on the skin at all. It’s certainly the most comfortable eyeliner application you can get, both because you don’t need to go over the same spot multiple times, and because the gel formula melts seamlessly onto the eye.
Better still, the liner is also really blendable; it can be used to create strong lines or blended out for a smoky effect before it sets. You may think that its creamy, blendable consistency lends itself to smudges, but the Kyliner is waterproof and sets in minutes so that it lasts all day without transfers. All in all, this is the best eyeliner pencil you can buy.
Key details — Colours: 15; Type of pencil: Standard pencil
2. Kat Von D tattoo pencil liner: Best waterproof long-wear eyeliner pencil
Price when reviewed: £19 | Check price at LookFantastic
Kat Von D’s tattoo liner has been a cult favourite in the beauty industry for years, owing to its no-budge formula that’s opaque, waterproof, smudge resistant and lasts all day. Whilst the range’s liquid liner is the most popular amongst makeup artists, fans of eyeliner pencils will be glad to know that the pencil version also lives up the tattoo-liner name. It’s got great pigmentation for drawing on bold liner looks and the twist-up applicator means that there’s no need to carry a sharpener or waste any product sharpening.
There is one small caveat though; as this pencil is so long-wearing, the liner itself has a thicker formula that doesn’t glide across the eye as easily as some other liners and is almost impossible to blend into a smoky eye. However, this is a small price to pay because no other pencil eyeliner will keep your eye makeup looking flawless and sharp for this long.
Key details — Colours: 10; Type of pencil: Twist-up pencil
3. Glossier No. 1 Pencil: Best eyeliner pencil for graphic liner
Price when reviewed: £16 | Check price at Glossier
If you’re hoping to hop on the graphic eyeliner trend, this Glossier eyeliner is the perfect blend of pigmented, colourful and blendable to give you as much creative freedom as the heart desires. Either draw on your liner shape and leave it for 30 seconds to set, or use that time to blend the liner out to give a smoky effect before it sets into place.
This liner is available in ten funky shades, all of which glide smoothly over the skin without tugging the eyelid out of place. It’s also water resistant when dry and is suitable for sensitive eyes and contact lens users.
Key details — Colours: 10; Type of pencil: Standard pencil
4. Eyeko limitless long-wear pencil eyeliner: Best eyeliner pencil for the waterline
Price when reviewed: £15 | Check price at LookFantastic
Whilst every waterproof liner is well-suited to the waterline, this one from Eyeko is our favourite because it’s really smooth to apply, has great pigmentation and stays fixed all day. It’s available in five different shades: navy blue, dark purple, brown black and nude; even the lightest shade here comes out totally opaque. We think the nude shade, ‘Higher Self’ works well in the waterline to make your eyes appear larger and brighter.
Again, because this is a waterproof long-wear liner, it’s not blendable but that does mean your look will last on your waterline. More blendable liners are more prone to slipping off the waterline throughout the day as it gets wet.
Key details — Colours: 5; Type of pencil: Standard pencil
5. Morphe Color Pencil: Best blendable eyeliner pencil
Price when reviewed: £6 | Check price at LookFantastic
Eyeliner pencils aren’t just great for creating basic lines around the eye, they can also be blended for a smoky effect. This eyeliner from Morphe is one of the best for blendability, making it great for softer liner looks. It has 18 different colour swatches, each with good pigmentation, so the world is your oyster when it comes to experimenting with colour. Use a black liner for a classic smoky eye, or a brighter colour for something a bit more interesting — you can read all about which liner colours suit your eye colour in the buying guide above.
One small issue you may encounter with this affordable liner is that it has a really creamy consistency and isn’t waterproof. That means it’s a little prone to smudging throughout the day; you can fix this problem with setting spray, or by setting the liner with a similar coloured eyeshadow over the top.
Key details — Colours: 18; Type of pencil: Standard pencil
6. 17 Line Up Pencil: Best budget eyeliner pencil
Price when reviewed: £2.50 | Check price at Boots
Cheap eyeliners are often chalky, hard to apply and lacking in pigment. Luckily, this eyeliner from 17 – Boots’ recently relaunched own brand of makeup – is free from those vices. It applies to the eyelid smoothly with an impressive opaque pigment and is really easy to blend out to a smoky eye if that’s the look you’re going for.
As ever with cheaper liners, it does transfer when you touch it but that can be fixed with setting spray or black eyeshadow over the top. Considering the general quality of this eyeliner, however, it’s a no-brainer if you’re looking for something affordable and effective.
Key details — Colours: 6; Type of pencil: Standard pencil