Plenty of people have pared down their beauty routine to a few simple steps. Maybe they'll just swipe on mascara and dab some concealer, and then they're out the door. But others—such as pro makeup artists and Marie Claire beauty editors—love to switch things up, from basic eyeliner to graphic liner looks. These are the people who love to express themselves through experimental makeup—and, arguably, the best product to do it with is colored eyeliner.
The best colored eyeliners will make you stand apart from the crowd, and you don’t have to be an expert to use them. As with any beauty product, practice makes perfect, so don’t get intimidated by bright hues. “Work with small, light-handed strokes and take your time,” says makeup artist Antoinette Mahr, whose love for fun eye makeup is blasted across her Instagram page. It’s a-okay to make mistakes, too, when working with colored eyeliner. “Having a small, clean brush on hand or a cotton swab and micellar water to clean up helps so much,” adds Mahr.
To help you ease into the world of colored eyeliners, we spoke to the pros to get the lowdown on everything you need to know before picking up a rainbow shade. Whether you prefer eyeliner pencils, liquid formulas, or gel, and no matter your budget, we’ve got you covered.
What to Look For in Colored Eyeliner
First and foremost, you’ll want to pay attention to a liner’s pigmentation, advises pro makeup artist Aya Tariq. “I love a colored liner that is opaque with full to buildable coverage. I can feather it out for a blended eyeshadow base or leave it as is for graphic solid liner,” she adds. “If you’re going for a pop of color, look for pigmented!”
You’ll also want to consider a liner’s texture and look for a product that glides seamlessly across the lid, says Mahr. “Whether it’s cream, kohl, or gel, the eye area is so delicate and a formula that glides and that is easily workable with a brush or fingers is so important,” she explains. With a creamy texture, you’ll avoid any rough tugging at the lid, keeping those precious eyes safe.
Lastly, you’ll have to decide on the right liner formula for your desired look and skill level. Pencil liners tend to be the most forgiving for beginners, while liquid liners require a steady hand to create sharp lines. Meanwhile, Mahr adds, “Gel liners are great when you need something that sets in place right away, especially if you have oily lids.” All in all, don’t be afraid to experiment with different products as the best liner formula will vary from person to person. For example, Mahr’s all-time favorites are “cream pencils that give you a little more playtime for it sets in place.”
The Best Colored Eyeliners
- Best Overall Colored Eyeliner: MAC Colour Excess Gel Pencil
- Best Budget Colored Eyeliner: NYX Professional Makeup Epic Wear Waterproof Eyeliner Stick
- Best Splurgeworthy Colored Eyeliner: Stila Stay All Day ArtiStix Graphic Liner
- Best Pencil Colored Eyeliner: Urban Decay 24/7 Glide-On Eyeliner Pencil
- Best Gel Colored Eyeliner: Maybelline TattooStudio Gel Pencil Eyeliner
- Best Liquid Colored Eyeliner: Glisten Cosmetics Wet Liner
- Best Vegan Colored Eyeliner: Kulfi Underlined Kajal Clean Waterproof Long-Wear Eyeliner
Best Multi-Use Colored Eyeliner
"I’d rather swipe once and get the right amount of pigment rather than going back and forth, that sometimes can irritate the skin considering the eye area can be very sensitive," says Tariq. "My go-to here is P. Louise Paints—they’re so versatile and I can use them for multiple things." Multiple things indeed. This ultra-pigmented paint-like liner can be used in the waterline, as an eyeshadow base, on the body, and even as lipstick. In 60 seconds, this paint dries down in a matte finish and won't budge until you take it off.
Pros: Pro-approved; Highly pigmented; Offered in 29 shades; Long-wearing; Multi-use.
Cons: Requires a brush.
Best Overall Colored Eyeliner
"I've tried out almost every shade of this gel eyeliner from MAC and they're all great," says MC's E-Commerce Editor, Julia Marzovilla. "In fact, these are the eyeliners that I keep in my everyday makeup bag because they apply so smoothly." Each one of the 18 available shades are creamy and blendable right after you apply them, but once they set, they aren't going anywhere. In fact, the brand promises budge-free wear on the lid for a whopping 24 hours.
Pros: Editor-approved; Waterproof; Long-wearing; Easy to apply; Offered in 18 colors; Works well in waterline; Ophthalmologist-tested.
Cons: Some reviewers note that the tip is prone to breaking off.
Best Pencil Colored Eyeliner
If you're on the hunt for a liner that glides like a dream, look no further than Urban Decay's 24/7 pencil, a cult favorite in the beauty world. Made with 50 percent moisturizing ingredients including vitamin E, jojoba oil, and cottonseed oil, this pencil conditions the skin while depositing high-impact color at the same time. Whenever I'm feeling extra, I'll replace my usual brown liner with the dark eggplant shade, Empire, to make my green eyes really pop.
Pros: Editor-approved; Glides on smoothly; Smudge-proof; Comes in 33 colors in a variety of finishes; Long-wearing; Vegan; Blendable.
Cons: Difficult to sharpen; May transfer to undereyes.
Best Liquid Colored Eyeliner
Both Tariq and Mahr love Glisten Cosmetics' Wet Liner, a water-activated formula available in so many colors and finishes. "These are the best for having fun and playing with details for a wild graphic look," says Mahr. "Since they’re water-activated, you can use a small, cheap paint brush and really have fun with different shapes, techniques, and even use a fluffier brush and a small amount of water to get maximum pigment and use them the way you would an eyeshadow or a blush."
Pros: Under $10; Pro-approved; Offered in over 30 shades and finishes; Highly pigmented; Vegan formula;
Cons: Requires a brush; May take practice to find the right water-to-pigment ratio.
Best Colored Eyeliner on Amazon
"Formula is also so important—if I’m working with a talent that is singing and dancing onstage, then I want a formula that can set and doesn’t flake," explains Tariq. "My go-to for that is usually Inglot! It’s sweat/waterproof and you can use duraline to revive the liner if it dries." With the brand's duraline liquid, you can also turn this gel liner into body and face paint. This little pot may be small, but it packs a mighty punch of creamy color.
Pros: Pro-approved; Smudge-proof; Waterproof; Highly pigmented; Long-wearing; Multi-use.
Cons: Requires a brush to apply.
Best Gel Colored Eyeliner
MC's own Beauty Editor, Samantha Holender counts herself a fan of this drugstore pick, saying, "the gel tip has a ridiculously smooth glide, doesn't tug on the lid, and delivers uniform pigment in just one swipe." At just $11, this pencil is one to pick up on your next Target run if you're wanting to be more adventurous with your makeup. These are available in a range of metallic and shimmery finishes, like this sparkly olive shade, that also work well in the waterline as they are sebum-resistant.
Pros: Editor-approved; Long-wearing; Waterproof; Blendable; Offered in over 10 shades; Highly pigmented.
Cons: Dries fast; Difficult to sharpen.
Best Pro-Approved Colored Eyeliner
Mahr calls these pretty crayons by LH Cosmetics her "absolute favorites." These creamy pencils are offered in a rainbow of colors, from firetruck red to a shimmery rose gold, and we love that they are multi-use. "They’re a beautiful, creamy, and comfortable multi-use formula (eyes, lips, brows) with a range of shades and finishes," adds Mahr. "They’re incredibly easy to work with and give enough time in between setting for experimenting before it sets to a smudge-proof finish."
Pros: Pro-approved; Multi-use; Smudge-proof; Offered in 25 different shades and finishes; Vegan formula.
Cons: Must be removed with an oil-based makeup remover.
Best Chrome Colored Eyeliner
You know when the light catches an oil slick and it suddenly dazzles in a pretty rainbow effect? You can create that same effect on your lids in just one swipe of Kaleidos' Epiphany Glow Melt-On Eyeliners. "These are gorgeous for someone looking for a multidimensional shift of color in a liner," says Mahr. "Some days I want to be a little bit extra but only have the energy to do a wing, this multichrome liner elevates it instantly." The color shift effect is so pretty, you really have to see it to believe it.
Pros: Pro-approved; Long-wearing; Waterproof; Smudge-proof; Highly pigmented; Glides on easily; Vegan formula.
Cons: Must be removed with an oil-based makeup remover.
Best Vegan Colored Eyeliner
Kajal liners tend to be especially creamy formulas, so they work great in the waterline. This pick from Kulfi fits that description. Formulated with aloe vera extract, safflower seed oil, and vitamin e, this eyeliner is extra soothing and moisturizing. Those skin-loving ingredients also mean that the liner won't drag or tug, a must for waterline eyeliners.
Pros: Award-winning; Long-wearing; Waterproof; Vegan formula; Highly pigmented; Contains soothing ingredients.
Cons: May smudge after a while.
Best Beginner-Friendly Colored Eyeliner
Despite only having five shades (two of which are black and brown) the pastel shades are seriously pretty. The purple shade matches the brand's packaging to a T, while the blue shade is a fun sky-blue tint. All of the colors are creamy and long-wearing, plus the pencil's easy-grip design makes them especially great for beginners or those with shaky hands.
Pros: Award-winning; Under $15; Long-wearing; Vegan formula; Easy to apply.
Cons: Only offered in five shades.
Best Splurgeworthy Colored Eyeliner
What you know and love about Stila's Stay All Day liquid liner has been made into a graphic liner and I could not be more obsessed. These fun shimmery sticks have the same magical staying powers as Stila's liquid formula, but you can still blend them out into eyeshadow before they dry. Available in a literal rainbow of colors, each intense shade is so pretty it's hard to decide which one to go with. I tend to swap between Salsa and Hula when I opt for a colored look.
Pros: Editor-approved; Long-wearing; Highly-pigmented; Blendable; Waterproof; Offered in 12 shimmery shades;
Cons: Only comes in one finish.
Best Colored Eyeliner for Sharp Lines
While liquid liners are notoriously difficult to master, some people can nail a winged liner look in just a swipe. If you're one of these people, then you need to try Dior's On Stage Liner for a pop of color. This pen has an ultra-flexible felt tip, so any line thick or thin is as easy as just a flick of the wrist. Dior's unique shade of highly pigmented colors imitates their couture runway designs and are offered in a variety of finishes.
Pros: Long-wearing; Waterproof; Precision tip; Highly pigmented; Offered in three finishes.
Cons: Over $25; Tip may dry out over time.
Best Waterproof Colored Eyeliner
Don't sleep on Sephora's in-house makeup collection. If you're venturing into the world of colored eyeliner but don't want to break the bank, turn to Sephora's 12 Hour Contour Pencil Eyeliner. Not only is it available in just about every color you can imagine, but because of its impressive waterproof formula, it'll hold up even through humidity, rain, tears, and oily eyelids. One stroke across the lids will get you pretty, intense color no matter what finish you opt for.
Pros: Under $15; Waterproof; Long-wearing; Offered in 24 shades; Glides on smoothly; Highly pigmented.
Cons: Some reviewers note that the tip is prone to breaking off.
Best Budget Colored Eyeliner
Another wallet-friendly option that's perfect for those wanting to test out the colored eyeliner waters is NYX's Epic Wear liners. These colors range from everyday neutrals to bold shades, but each one is seriously pigmented. Whether you prefer a matte finish or shimmery, you've got options there too. Once this liner dries, it won't come off or fade until you want it to. In fact, the brand says this liner lasts for up to 36 hours, but you probably don't want to wear your makeup for that long.
Pros: Under $15; Offered in 24 different shades and finishes; Long-wearing; Waterproof; Glides on smoothly.
Cons: Difficult to sharpen.
Best Bright Colored Eyeliner
It should come as no surprise that Lady Gaga's makeup line houses an impressive eyeliner pencil. She's known for some out-of-this-world beauty looks, after all. Haus Labs' gel-like liner pencil is offered in some intense shades, including this acid green and a hot, hot pink. Packed with skin-loving ingredients like vitamin e, argan oil, and kajal, these pencils are asking to be used in the waterline. And if you have oily eyelids, you won't have to worry about this waterproof formula transferring.
Pros: Offered in over 15 shades; Smudge-proof; Waterproof; Vegan formula; Highly pigmented; Blendable.
Cons: Reviewers note some shades are drying.
How to Choose Flattering Colors
Colored eyeliners are meant to be fun, expressive, and creative. If you want just a pop of color or you want to go full-out Europhia-esque with glittery lids, then that’s your choice. But if you’re turning to colored eyeliners to make your eyes especially pop, then you may want to pay attention to the color wheel. Let’s go back to elementary school art class for a moment—on the color wheel, colors directly across from each other are called complimentary colors. These are the colors that, when paired with your eye color, will be particularly attention-grabbing. For example, green eyes paired with red or purple eyeliner or blue eyes paired with a yellow or orange hue are going to stand out.
But, of course, you don’t have to choose colors based on the color wheel, says Tariq. “Sometimes people think if I have blue eyes, then I should wear orange eyeliner because that makes my eyes more blue, but that can also look like too much depending on how the rest of the makeup looks,” she explains. If you don’t want a look too out there, consider a liner’s undertone. A warm, reddish brown will give a subtle pop to everyday brown liner and is less in-your-face than a neon hue, for instance. In general, Tariq recommends experimenting with color, taking lots of selfies, and giving yourself a chance to get used to colored eyeliner, because let's be real—the payoff is so worth it.
Meet the Experts
Antoinette is a self-taught freelance makeup artist turned beauty content creator. She's always loved experimenting on herself with makeup and started doing make-up on others around 2015 and began to take it more seriously in 2018 when she moved to Germany, which is when she started creating beauty content more frequently as well. She's really enjoyed creating content and being able to share that. In addition to makeup being a tool to accentuate your features, it can be used to blow them out, push limits and completely transform you. Makeup is her favorite medium for self-expression and she loves the process of seeing her glam or alien-like vision come to life. Antoinette is known for her fun, colorful eye makeup and regularly posts her looks across her Instagram and TikTok pages.
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.