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  • Stila Stay All Day

  • NYX Matte Liquid Liner

  • How We Tested

  • How Do I Apply Liquid Eyeliner?

  • Other Liquid Eyeliners We Tested

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The best liquid eyeliner
Credit: Reviewed / Jackson Ruckar
best felt-tip liner
Stila Stay All Day

Colors available: 11, from white to blue to black.

The bottom line: A water- and smudge-proof felt-tip liner that's easy to apply and really stays all day.

The details: There's a reason why this liner is a mainstay in makeup artists' bags—I would trust the Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner on tropical (i.e. humid and sweaty) vacations and during allergy season. This liquid liner has earned its moniker, as well as its cult-favorite status. The slightly glossy liner is easy to apply, with a slightly flexible felt brush tip, and a formula that doesn’t budge on watery, sensitive eyes or greasy lids. It’s a deep black, so you don’t have to apply multiple layers, ensuring your liner stays nice and sharp. Be aware that the super-skinny tip can bend out of shape and run dry with time, making it hard to draw a perfect wing.

Pros

  • Easy to apply

  • Flexible felt brush tip

  • Liner stays sharp

Cons

  • Tip can dry out over time

The best liquid eyeliner
Credit: Reviewed / Jackson Ruckar
best brush-in-pot liner
NYX Matte Liquid Liner

Colors available: 1, black.

The bottom line: Tricky to apply, but goes on inky-black with insane lasting power.

The details: This liner isn’t for beginners, but if you’ve got a steady hand and a little extra time, this NYX brush-in-pot liner is a standout. It doesn’t settle into fine lines at all: The line you draw will stay inky black and starkly sharp. It also is truly waterproof and won’t budge until you scrub with soap and water. The trade-off is that it’s a little difficult to remove and comes off in flakes. The formula also takes some time to dry, so you will need to be careful with your blinking while the liner sets. Yes, it’s a little high maintenance since it takes extra care, finesse, and time to apply, but once it's on, it doesn’t quit: I accidentally fell asleep in it and woke up at 2 a.m. to a still-perfect cat-eye.

Pros

  • Truly waterproof

  • Will last a long time

Cons

  • Tricky to apply

  • Difficult to remove

The best liquid eyeliner
Credit: Reviewed / Jessica Teich

The photo at right was taken at 2:30 a.m. after several hours of face-plant sleeping.


How We Tested

The Tester

Hi, I'm Jessica. I'm Reviewed’s resident beauty expert—I also love an inky-black liquid eyeliner that can make a razor-sharp cat eye with minimal effort, wears comfortably, and comes with a reasonable price tag. To find this unicorn liner, we scoured best-seller lists across retailers, beauty blogs, Reddit threads, and best-of lists to round up the best black liquid eyeliner pens on the market, from $2 to $40. Then, we pitted these top-rated brands against each other to find the winner.

The best liquid eyeliner
Credit: Reviewed / Jessica Teich

We tested for pigmentation, transfer, fading, cracking, smudging, and ease of removal.

The Tests

How? The same way you might: Each morning, I drew on a cat-eye with a new liner and wore it until bedtime, without touching up or re-lining. Unlike the way you might test, though, I teamed up with Reviewed’s senior scientist to score and weight results on a scientifically calibrated rubric. I also swatched each liner on my arm and ran it through durability tests.

To find which liquid liner really is best, I answered and weighted questions like:

Application: Is the eyeliner easy to apply, or does its design make application difficult and time-consuming? Does the eyeliner go on easily in one smooth stroke, or does it skip or run out of product?

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The best liquid eyeliner
Credit: Reviewed / Jackson Ruckar

Wear: Is the formula deeply pigmented, or do you have to trace over the line to get a true show of color? Does your drawn line feather or bleed before drying? Throughout the day, does the eyeliner flake off, smudge onto lids, or rub off at all? Is it waterproof, or will it run when your eyes tear up, or if you sweat?

When I ran the results from each liner test through the same scoring rubric, it was easy to see which were the best—and which to skip, like the five below.

How Do I Apply Liquid Eyeliner?

If you're new to applying liquid makeup to your lash line, it's best to perfect your technique using an eyeliner pencil—they're typically less expensive and more forgiving. Take your time getting used to applying eyeliner with a pencil and see what works and more importantly, what feels comfortable to you.

When you're ready to practice, sit down in front of a mirror or your tablet or laptop's front-facing camera. Tilt your head back and look into the mirror or camera: your eyes will be almost closed in this position, but not so much that you can't see your eyelid. Use the pinky finger of your free hand to draw the skin next to your eye taut, so that there is less of a chance that you'll twitch or move while you apply your eyeliner.

Start to apply your eyeliner in the middle of the upper lid, drawing along your lash line, towards the side of the eyelid, closest to your ear. Once you've done this, begin drawing from the middle of your lash line, towards the inner corner of your eye. Once you're comfortable with the basics, move on to using one of the liquid eyeliners we've suggested in this guide. We stand behind their quality. Of course, there are many ways to accentuate your peepers using eyeliner, so don't be afraid to experiment: ask your friends or catch a few YouTube videos for tips on how to find an eye-lining style that works for you.

Other Liquid Eyeliners We Tested

Tarte Sex Kitten Liner

Colors available: 1, black.

The bottom line: Smooth felt-tip liner that creates a velvety line that doesn’t flake or fade.

The details: The applicator on this Tarte liner is similar to Stila’s, but its tip is a little more firm for additional control (but slightly less precise lines). The line you draw onto your lid won’t budge at all: Think of how permanent marker looks on a laminated folder. It has a reasonably deep pigmentation that’s nice and matte, so you won’t have to waste time (or thicken your precise line) with additional coats. It also won't move until you take it off.

Pros

  • Deep pigmentation

  • Matte finish

  • Firm tip

Cons

  • None that we could find

Essence Waterproof Pen

Colors available: 1, black.

The bottom line: A budget liner that’s easy to apply, has a waterproof formula, and lasts all day—but is not pigmented enough.

The details: This inexpensive liner’s waterproof claim is watertight: at just $3, I was shocked that it had the longest staying power of any liner we tested, and faded evenly instead of flaking and crumbling. It has an easy-to-use marker tip with very little flex, which is great for beginners since it functions more like a marker. Unfortunately, it’s just not heavily pigmented, which means you have to repeatedly trace over the line to get true-black impact, which tacks on time and stress. If you have the patience to go over your handiwork a few times, we still recommend it—it’s the best felt tip budget liner we tried.

Pros

  • Waterproof

  • Fades evenly

  • Long staying power

Cons

  • Light pigmentation

Kat Von D Tattoo Liner

Colors available: 2, black and brown.

The bottom line: Draws a super-sharp line, but lacks true black pigmentation.

The details: If you need a super-precise line, this liner is probably for you. The marker tip produces a razor-thin line, the thinnest we saw by far for the sharpest cat eye in the game. It also has great lasting power and won’t budge until you remove it, though it will fade a bit. For that reason, it’s great for anyone with heavy lids or oily skin. However, the pigmentation is more gray than true black—it requires about three layers to get the color as dark as it should be, which inevitably ends up in a thicker line.

Pros

  • Very precise

  • Great lasting power

Cons

  • Light pigmentation

Revlon Colorstay Pen

Colors available: 1, black.

The bottom line: A Sharpie-esque tip that’s easy to apply, but doesn’t go on pigmented and transfers easily.

The details: This marker-tipped Revlon liner goes on pretty easily, but the pigmentation is gray and requires three coats, so your carefully-drawn line gets thicker. It’s also hard to be precise with the wide-ish tip, and it smudges and cracks easily on contact with water. It’s just fine—we much prefer the similarly performing (and longer-lasting) Essence liner at half the price.

Pros

  • None that we could find

Cons

  • Smudges easily

  • Lightly pigmented

avoid
Maybelline Master Precise Liner

Colors available: 1, black.

The bottom line: A well-designed pen, but formula doesn’t stay put and flakes quickly.

The details: This liner is easy to apply with a heavily tapered felt tip, but the ineffective formula sunk its score. Draw a line on your lid, and it will feather and spread before it dries, eliminating any hope for a sharp look. Once dry, it flakes quickly, rubs off at the first sign of a watery eye, yet it's difficult to remove. Even its well-designed applicator can’t save it—skip this liner.

Pros

  • Well-designed

  • Easy to apply

Cons

  • Ineffective formula

  • Difficult to remove

avoid
Lancôme Artliner

Colors available: 8, from purple to gray.

The bottom line: A pricey formula that acts like a drugstore brand.

The details: This formula costs a pretty penny, but is difficult to apply, flakes off almost instantly, and easily disappears with soap and water. It can’t stand up to teary eyes or a day of wear. Even so, it’s better than well-rated Lancome Grandiose liner, which we also tested. Save your hard-earned cash and pass on these liners.

Pros

  • None that we could find

Cons

  • Difficult to apply

  • Flakes easily

  • Expensive

avoid
L‘Oreal Voluminous Noir

Colors available: 1, black.

The bottom line: A hard-to-apply grayish formula that requires 2 to 3 coats and gives raccoon eyes.

The details: This liner was difficult to apply: The tip of the applicator was so thin that it didn’t deposit any formula onto the lid, so I had to repeatedly trace over the line. Even then, the color was gray, requiring numerous coats for true pigmentation. The liner quickly transferred onto my upper and lower lids, but was tough to remove. It was frustrating to use and never really looked good.

Pros

  • None that we could find

Cons

  • Difficult to apply

  • Too thin applicator

  • Light pigmentation

avoid
E.L.F. Expert Eyeliner

Colors available: 4, from caramel to black.

The bottom line: A difficult to use brush-in-pot liner that goes on like watercolor and fades almost immediately.

The details: This liner was a nightmare to use and wear. The brush-in-pot design makes the liner tricky to apply, and the formula is so watery that it slips all over your lid like watercolor instead of permanent marker. Lastly, it faded badly within three hours of wear. It was almost completely gone by the time I washed it off, and looked really bad when I did.

Pros

  • None that we could find

Cons

  • Difficult to use

  • Fades quickly

Meet the tester

Jessica Teich

Jessica Teich

Former Editor

@jessicarteich

Jessica covered lifestyle and beyond at Reviewed. Her work has appeared in publications including The New York Times and The Boston Globe.

See all of Jessica Teich's reviews

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