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Picture this: It’s Friday night, Taylor Swift is blasting, and you’re getting ready for an epic night out. For your beauty look, you want to go with that perfectly sultry smokey eye, so what do you reach for in your makeup bag? Chances are you’re going to grab your favorite eyeliner pencil. Some of the best eyeliners out there are pencil formulas, thanks to their beginner-friendly textures and versatility. Not only can you use them to line your waterline, and upper and lower lashlines, but you can blend them out for eyeshadow, draw graphic shapes, and, of course, smudge it out into a smokey eye.
We’re so confident in the power of the best pencil eyeliners that we’d wager there’s no beauty pro out there that doesn’t have one in their kits, and it seems pro makeup artist Aya Tariq would be inclined to agree. “I think everyone should have eye pencils in their makeup bag,” she tells Marie Claire. “Eye pencils are one of those tools that can help you create a lot of different looks and, depending on the formula, they could be very forgiving.”
With pencil eyeliners such a crucial product in the makeup world, it’s no surprise that just about every beauty brand offers one, but they aren’t all created equal. Luckily, we did all of the work for you in finding the best pencil eyeliners. Ahead, you’ll find our favorites that include picks from Urban Decay and Hourglass Cosmetics, as well as drugstore winners that hold up just as well. Whether you’re on the hunt for an everyday black eyeliner or a fun colorful option, this guide has got you covered.
What to Look For
When it comes to finding the best eyeliner pencil, texture is key, says Tariq. If you’re a beginner or are wanting to experiment with eyeliner, Tariq suggests looking for eyeliner with a creamy texture. “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, which Tariq says have a more opaque pigmentation, but are not as forgiving as other pencils and require speedy work if you want to blend it out.
The Best Eyeliner Pencils
- Best Overall Eyeliner Pencil: Pat McGrath Labs PermaGel Ultra Glide Eye Liner Pencil
- Best Budget Eyeliner Pencil: Maybelline TattooStudio Gel Pencil
- Best Colored Eyeliner Pencil: Urban Decay 24/7 Glide-On Waterproof Eyeliner Pencil
- Best Waterproof Eyeliner Pencil: Sephora Collection 12 Hour Contour Pencil Eyeliner
- Best Clean Eyeliner Pencil: Jones Roads Beauty The Best Pencil
Best Overall Eyeliner Pencil
Pat McGrath, a.k.a. the queen of backstage makeup, knew what she was doing when she created this eyeliner pencil. This eyeliner is a gel formula, meaning it glides on incredibly smooth without any tugging or skipping. The buttery liner is easy to smudge before it dries and is so pigmented, you'll only need a swipe or two. While I typically prefer liquid eyeliners, I found this pencil incredibly easy to apply and long-lasting, so I've been convinced to switch up my go-to makeup in favor of this pencil.
Pros: Comes with sharpener; Glides on very smoothly; Long-wearing; Highly-pigmented
Cons: Over $20
Best Budget Eyeliner Pencil
Aya Tariq counts herself a fan of this $10 pick, saying it is "so, so good." She adds that this gel-formula pencil "lasts all day," a must when it comes to eyeliner. Although you have to work quickly if you want to blend out, once this liner dries, it does not budge (hence why "tattoo" is in the name). This gel pencil glides on like a dream with super pigmented color. Speaking of color, you have your pick of nine ultra-rich shades.
Pros: Under $15; Glides on smoothly; Dries quickly; Comes in nine shades; Waterproof; Long-wearing
Cons: Difficult to sharpen; Does not come with sharpener
Best Eyeliner Pencil for Smokey Eyes
Celebrity makeup artist Mario Dedivanovic has created the perfect eyeliner pencil for effortless smokey eyes. Thanks to this pencil's insane smudge-ability, you too can channel Kim Kardashian in just a few swipes. This pencil features a creamy formula that's super easy to smudge and it even comes with a built-in smudge brush. Reviewers and even the pros love the five highly pigmented shades, too. Tariq says Mario's eyeliner pencil is "what I want an eyeliner to be."
Pros: Comes with built-in smudge brush; Comes with sharpener; Easy to blend or smudge; Long-wearing; Highly pigmented
Cons: Over $20; Reviewers say there's little product for the price
Best Colored Eyeliner Pencil
Urban Decay's 24/7 Eyeliner Pencil is a cult favorite for a reason. The creamy formula glides across the lids without any tugging, and you won't have to worry about smudges—once this liner dries, it stays put. What's most impressive about this pencil, though, is its extensive color range. This eyeliner comes in just about every color you can imagine (33 to be exact!) in a variety of finishes, so this pick is especially useful if you're wanting to get creative with your eyeliner look. Pro makeup artist Shadi Malek is also a huge fan of this pencil, calling it her "favorite eyeliner of all time."
Pros: Glides on smoothly; Smudge-proof; Waterproof; Comes in 33 colors in a variety of finishes; Long-wearing
Cons: Does not come with sharpener; Difficult to sharpen; May transfer to undereyes
Best Gel Eyeliner Pencil
This gel eyeliner pencil by Hourglass took home the Allure Best of Beauty Award for Best Eyeliner, so you know it's good. It features a creamy, easy-to-blend formula, that glides seamlessly across the lid. Whether you're attempting a graphic shape or just want to lightly line your eyes, there's plenty of time to shape this liner into whatever you want before it sets in place. MC's e-commerce writer, Julia Marzovilla, likes to use this pencil for winged looks since its forgiving and creates super sharp lines.
Pros: Waterproof; Smudge-proof; Long-wearing; Twist-up design; Vegan
Cons: Over $20
Best Clean Eyeliner Pencil
An eyeliner that's beginner-friendly and made with completely clean ingredients? We love to see it! This pick from Jones Roads Beauty is especially great for makeup beginners thanks to its blendability—for a no-frills smokey eye, you just have to sweep this liner across the lid and smudge out. Besides black, this pencil is offered in five other highly-pigmented shades that can also be blended out into eyeshadow. Clean ingredients and versatility mean this eyeliner pencil is a win-win.
Pros: Clean formula; Glides on smoothly; Can draw sharp lines or be smudged out
Cons: Over $20; Reapplication may be needed; Does not come with sharpener
Best Variety Eyeliner Pencil
Another Allure Best of Beauty 2022 Award (particularly for its deeper colors), Tariq says she's "obsessed" with this waterproof eyeliner from Kulfi. "They’re gel, retractable and they stay well! They really figured something out with their formula and the colors are beautiful," she explains. Its pretty colors include a shimmery berry, leafy green, and sky blue, just to name a few. This underrated pick truly lives up to its name, too—it lasts all day and won't budge under your eyes.
Pros: Vegan; Waterproof; Long-wearing; Comes in seven shades in two finishes; Twist-up design
Cons: May smudge after a while
Best Drugstore Eyeliner Pencil
At just $5, this drugstore favorite is the perfect match for anyone looking to experiment with their eyeliner. Whether you're going for a graphic shape or a smoked-out look, this liner sets quickly for a long-lasting finish. Its twist-up design means you don't have to worry about carrying a sharpener, plus it comes with a built-in smudge sponge. Tons of reviewers say this is their "go-to" liner thanks to its budget-friendly price and formula that stays put.
Pros: Under $15; Twist-up design; Highly pigmented
Cons: Only available in black and brown; May smudge after a while
Best Waterproof Eyeliner Pencil
At just $11, this pencil won't break the bank and hits on just about everything you need in a good eyeliner. It applies on the skin smoothly and is incredibly long-lasting. In fact, this Sephora pick will hold up through humidity, rain, tears, and oily eyelids thanks to its impressive waterproof formula. It also comes in a whopping 24 shades in a variety of finishes, so you really have the chance to create fun looks. Because of its amazing color payoff and wear, celebrity makeup artist Billie Gene says this budget pick is his favorite eyeliner.
Pros: Under $15; Waterproof; Long-wearing; Comes in 24 shades; Glides on smoothly; Highly pigmented
Cons: Does not come with sharpener; Some reviewers note that the tip is prone to breaking off
When to Use Eyeliner Pencils
Out of the eyeliner options out there (i.e. pencils, gels, and liquids), you’ll want to turn to pencil formulas when you are hoping to achieve a smokey, sultry look. With their creamy texture, pencil liners were practically made for smudging, with many products even including a smudge sponge on one end. Fun fact: A pencil eyeliner’s ability for smudging is actually what inspired Tariq to become a makeup artist. “The reason why I’m a makeup artist is because I remember my grandmother with her eye pencil every morning putting eyeliner in her water line and smudging it to get that beautiful, raw smoky eye,” she explains.
As mentioned before, you can also use pencil liners to simply line your upper or lower lashlines, or waterline since they are the safest to use in that sensitive area. If dark, smokey eyes aren’t your thing, you can take a colored pencil and smudge it out to work as eyeshadow. Or, get creative with it and draw fun shapes. The options are (almost) limitless.
As a last pro tip, Tariq reveals that she uses pencil eyeliner first to get her preferred shape, then tops it with a gel or liquid liner to get a super-lasting effect. “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
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.
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Brooke Knappenberger is Contributing Writer at Marie Claire, where she writes across the board from fashion and beauty to books and celebrities. As a pop culture junkie, Brooke obsessively consumes and writes about the latest movie releases, streaming TV shows, and celebrity scandals. 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.
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