Choosing the best eyeliner is not simply a case of picking a brand or a colour. Do you need a gel, pencil, powder or liquid eyeliner? Do you need a fine applicator or one that’s thicker? Then there’s the matter of how to apply eyeliner once you’ve found the best one.
The liner many people default to is a black, thin, liquid liner, which also happens to be the most difficult to apply. This is because you need an extremely steady hand and patience when using liquid eyeliner, let alone when the brush is thin and fiddly.
If you’re a beginner, we recommend you start with a pencil eyeliner. It may not give you the sharp edges or the vibrancy of colour that liquid eyeliners do but it’s much more forgiving.
If you’re after sharper edges but don’t feel confident with a liquid eyeliner yet, felt tip eyeliners are a great place to start for both pigment and ease-of-use.
For buildable colour, or if you want to use a makeup brush to apply your liner rather than a built-in pen, gel eyeliner is the way to go.
You can also buy powder eyeliners that are softer and can be blended more easily.
There are additionally “cheat” products that can help you get that perfect winged eyeliner, but they’re generally more expensive than buying an eyeliner.
To help you choose, and to hopefully help you feel a little less overwhelmed, we’ve handpicked our favourite liners for every budget, skill level and need below.
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£26 | Buy now from Selfridges
Why we love it: If you’re after the best eyeliner that offers the benefits of a liquid eyeliner with the ease-of-use of a felt tip, we highly rate the Perma Precision eyeliner from Pat McGrath Labs. It’s got a short nib meaning it works more like a brush than a pen and it’s the blackest black eyeliner we’ve used. It doesn’t dry out quickly and lasts for ages, too.
Pat McGrath is a world-renowned makeup artist and, while her collection is far from cheap, the quality and staying power of every product we’ve ever used makes them worth the investment.
£6.50 | Buy now from Boots
Why we love it: Vegan-friendly and cruelty-free, Soap & Glory’s Supercat eyeliner is up there with the best eyeliners on the market, despite coming in at just £6.50. It’s not the cheapest product in this list – that title goes to Rimmel – but we chose the Supercat Liquid Eyeliner Pen for our Bargain Buy because its felt tip nib makes it much easier to apply. You can also opt for skinny and precise, or a chunky and dramatic version, whatever matches your look, making this liner more versatile.
£29.70 | Buy now from John Lewis
Why we love it: The price you’re paying for this eyeliner most definitely goes towards its gorgeous packaging. It’s so beautiful that it would make the perfect centrepiece of any dressing table. Guerlain describes its eyeliner as being “akin to a calligrapher’s tool,” and its super long brush helps you create a super fine line. This does make it a little harder to apply, but the formula has a gorgeous shine to it and a little goes a long way meaning this eyeliner will last a while.
£16 | Buy now from Urban Decay
Why we love it: If you’re after a liner that is less dramatic and precise, without sacrificing too much on pigment and staying power, we recommend Urban Decay’s 24/7 Glide-On pencil eyeliner. Pencils are ideal for applying to both your waterline and along your upper lashes. Its soft formula also means you can blend this eyeliner out to create, or add to, a soft smokey look.
This creamy formula also means, as the name suggests, that the colour glides on reducing the chances of you snagging the skin and creating smudges. It’s also waterproof and comes in a staggering 50 shades from neon, to matte, shimmer and beyond.
£5.99 | Buy now from Amazon
Why we love it: If you’re after the best eyeliner that has a lot of pigment, stays place and makes a killer wing, look to a dip liquid eyeliner. We’re huge fans of Rimmel’s Exaggerate as it’s one of the blackest we’ve ever tried (behind Pat McGrath’s Perma Pen); it’s waterproof and lasts all day. It’s also incredibly cheap – although comes in a small pot so you may find you get through this eyeliner quickly.
If you need a bit of guidance, pop a bit of tape on the corner of your eye and draw along and up, this way your wing will be super sharp. Given both the liquid nature of this formula, and its pigment, we recommend you keep your eye closed for a few seconds after applying this to avoid any smudging of transference.
£16 | Buy now from Amazon
Why we love it: One of the more versatile types of eyeliner, gel eyeliner is up there with the easiest to use and can perform the benefits of a pencil with the precision of a liquid liner. Applied with a small brush, it can create the sharpest and most dramatic eye looks, and is perfect for editorial makeup, but can also be blended out for a more smokey look.
We love using Inglot’s AMC gel pot because the black is highly pigmented, so much so it rarely needs touching up, but it also comes in so many different colours that if you’re after a bright blue or a gorgeous gold, you’re covered. We apply a fierce wing with this, using a tiny angled brush (check out our makeup brushes guide to discover which brush is best for this) and add in a couple of drops of Inglot’s Duraline for a wet-look, black eyeliner that isn’t going anywhere.
£17.55 | Buy now from John Lewis
Why we love it: For the best control over your eyeliner, look to a felt tip. They’re just like a pen, obviously, meaning you can get a really good grip, making sure there are no wobbly lines. The downfall of these pens is that, like regular felt tips, they do dry out quickly if you leave the top off.
Benefit’s Roller Liner gives a solid, black line at first asking, which means you’re not left trying to patch it up. This one doesn’t drag on the skin, meaning it’s good for the delicate area around your eyes as well and when paired with the fantastic Roller Lash mascara (the best mascara we’ve ever used) it creates a bold, beautiful look on a relative budget. This is just one of the reasons why Benefit is one of the best cheap makeup brands on the market.
£19.50 | Buy now from SpaceNK
Why we love it: If you’re new to the eyeliner game, or just prefer a simple application that offers more options than a pencil eyeliner, then powder may be for you. You can always opt for an eyeshadow, but Laura Mercier’s Tightline Cake eyeliner is a dream to work with. Use with a dry brush for a soft, delicate line or use a wet brush and mix into a paste for a sharper colour.
It gets its name from a technique used to create a more delicate, but still striking, eyeliner look called tightlining. Tightlining is when you apply the liner at the base of your upper lashes, intensifying your mascara while not sacrificing lid space. To apply this liner, wiggle the brush between individual lashes. It’s dermatologically tested, meaning it’s safe for contact lens wearers.
Elly is a production journalist and sub-editor for a number of national newspapers and magazines including The Daily and Sunday Telegraph, and Woman and Woman’s Own magazine. A beauty-enthusiast, she loves travelling – especially to the States – reading and calligraphy