The 12 Best Eyeliner Pencils Are the Most Versatile Products in Your Makeup Bag

Smokey eyes, graphic shapes, subtle wings: The options are (nearly) endless.

Collage of hourglass, urban decay, maybelline, and makeup by mario pencil eyeliners overlaid on a peach and purple gradient background
(Image credit: Future)

Maybe it’s Friday night, Taylor Swift is blasting, and you’re starting an epic evening by drawing on a perfectly sultry smokey eye. Maybe it’s Tuesday morning, and you’re starting the work day with a soft-girl brown mascara and a coordinating liner. In either scenario, you automatically reach for your best eyeliner pencil: the rare makeup bag essential that can achieve both looks and everything in between. Not only can you use an eyeliner pencil to accentuate your waterline and upper and lower lashlines, but you can also blend it out for eyeshadow, draw graphic shapes, and, of course, smudge it into a smokey eye.

Every beauty expert agrees the best eyeliner pencils are a non-negotiable, if only because they’re more versatile than they seem. “I think everyone should have eye pencils in their makeup bag,” professional makeup artist Aya Tariq tells Marie Claire. “They're one of those tools that can help you create a lot of different looks and, depending on the formula, they could be very forgiving.”

Just about every beauty brand offers a take on eyeliner, from drugstore staples to all-out luxury formulations. To find the best eyeliner pencils for every makeup need, Marie Claire editors tested several variations and consulted experts like Tariq for their recommendations. Whether you’re on the hunt for an everyday black liner or a fun colorful eyeliner, you’ll find the new hero of your makeup bag ahead.

What to Look For in an Eyeliner Pencil

The best eyeliner pencil for your makeup goals depends on its texture, according to Tariq. If you’re a beginner or want to experiment with eyeliner, the beauty expert suggests looking for eyeliner pencils with a creamy formula, like a Laura Geller Baked Kajal Eyeliner. “Creamy textures are more forgiving and you can smudge them with a Q-tip, your finger, or a brush,” she explains.

You’re also bound to come across gel pencils in your eyeliner search, which Tariq says have a more opaque pigmentation. However, these are not as forgiving as other pencils and require speedy work if you want to blend it out. 

The Best Eyeliner Pencils

How to Apply Pencil Eyeliners

It's worth repeating: The limit on ways to apply pencil eyeliners almost doesn't exist. First and foremost, you can simply line your upper or lower lashlines with a thick or thin line, depending on your preference, for an eye-opening effect. You can also apply pencil eyeliners to the waterline, since they are the safest to use in that sensitive area, or use an angled eyeliner brush to smudge out a subtle wing.

If dark, smokey eyes aren’t your thing, pencil eyeliners can still be a hero product. You can take a colored pencil and smudge it out to work as a long-wearing eyeshadow. Or, get creative with it and draw fun shapes for a cool graphic eyeliner moment.

Eyeliner Pencils vs. Liquid and Gel

Eyeliners come in three main formulas: pencils, gels, and liquids. Whenever you're hoping to achieve a smokey, sultry look, you'll want to turn to a pencil. Pencil liners can be precise and sharp, but they are practically made for smudging with their creamy texture. Many products even include a smudge sponge on one end. Gels and liquids, meanwhile, don't easily switch from look to look.

That said, you can also combine pencil and liquid formulas—in fact, Tariq recommends it. She first uses pencil eyeliner for her preferred shape, then tops it with a gel or liquid liner for long-lasting hold. “Even as a professional makeup artist doing a liner can be tricky, but it’s always good to allow myself to make mistakes and be able to correct them,” she says. “Using an eye pencil and topping it with a gel or liquid is always great for being able to correct and for longevity.”

Meet the Expert

portrait of aya tariq makeup artist
Aya Tariq

Born and raised in Saudi Arabia, Aya honed her skills by moving to New York City and assisting Daniel Martin, Pat McGrath, Nick Barose, Moises, Cyndle, Caitlin Wooter, and many others. Aya is passionate about working on projects where storytelling is the focus and the team works together to produce great works. She pushes herself to ideate, taking inspiration from film, philosophy, and paintings. Her work has appeared on the New York Fashion Week runways for Moschino, Thom Brown, Michael Kors, and more, plus she's worked on celebrity clients including Noor Tangouri, Sting, ASAP Ferg, Gallant and Krystyna Hutchinson, Vagabon, Anna Rose, and Wendi Starling. 

Brooke Knappenberger
Associate Commerce Editor

Brooke Knappenberger is the Associate Commerce Editor at Marie Claire, where she specializes in crafting shopping stories—from sales content to buying guides that span every vertical on the site. She also oversees holiday coverage with an emphasis on gifting guides as well as Power Pick, our monthly column on the items that power the lives of MC’s editors. She also tackled shopping content as Marie Claire's Editorial Fellow prior to her role as Associate Commerce Editor.

She has over three years of experience writing on fashion, beauty, and entertainment and her work has appeared on Looper, NickiSwift, The Sun US, and Vox Magazine of Columbia, Missouri. Brooke obtained her Bachelor's Degree in Journalism from the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism with an emphasis on Magazine Editing and has a minor in Textile and Apparel Management.