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The 17 Best Drugstore Liquid Eyeliners, According to Makeup Artists

Photo-Illustration: The Strategist; Photos: Retailers

They may both be called eyeliners, but that’s where the similarities between liquid and pencil versions end. “A liquid liner delivers a sharpness and density of product that a pencil simply cannot,” says makeup artist Suzy Gerstein. And liquid liners offer a different level of precision. “Pencil liners, while they can draw on much like a crayon, they still have a diffused edge, no matter how crisp you try to make the shape,” says fashion and celebrity makeup artist Katie Mellinger. Which makes them ideal for a smoky eye, less so for high-drama graphic wings. “A pencil won’t achieve the boldness of a liquid eyeliner,” adds makeup artist Carola Gonzalez.

There are many examples of the bold transformative effect a liquid eyeliner can have in your makeup routine: See Diana Ross, Sophia Loren, Brigitte Bardot, Audrey Hepburn, or, perhaps most famously, Amy Winehouse. As dramatic an impact as they promise, though, wielding a liquid liner (at least for the average nonprofessional makeup artist) can feel intimidating, even impossible. But nowadays, there’s a liquid liner for every skill level and niche need, and many of the best options across the board happen to be available at drugstore prices. We tapped a dozen makeup artists to share the drugstore liquid liners that hold a place of purpose in their kits, and they offer up their best advice for how to wing it.

Best overall

This slender, waterproof felt-tip liquid eyeliner is long-lasting, intensely pigmented, smudgeproof, sweat-resistant, vegan, and cruelty-free. Makeup artist Bobbie Riley has yet to discover another that stays put as well: “It’s literally the most smudgeproof drugstore eyeliner I’ve found.”

That’s true even if your lids are oily, says makeup artist Joseph Carrillo. His go-to liquid liner M.O. is the stamp method: Hold the liner horizontally, tilt your head to a 45-degree angle, and gently stamp along the lash line outwards. Besides “drying fast,” says makeup artist Sarah Uslan, the NYX Epic Ink Liner also has “a precise applicator tip and glides on with truly, opaque seamless color,” says makeup artist Sean Harris.

Best metallic

“Metallics can sometimes be a little easier to apply than black,” says Uslan, specifying that black is less forgiving and spotlights any mistakes. NYX Epic Wear Metallic Waterproof Liquid Liner is a great option for exploring metallic effects. It comes in black metal, gunmetal, silver metal, brown metal, teal metal, and fuchsia metal, and Harris says, “The applicator tip is very fine, so you will have maximum control of the placement.” He recommends pairing metallic eyeliner with shadow brushed across the lid as a backdrop to really help it stand out.

From $5

“The felt tip is soft and flexible, they’re really long-lasting, and they come in unique shades with beautiful molten-metal color payoff,” makeup artist Kierra Lanice Wray says of Revlon’s liquid-eyeliner pens, which are available in a bronze, gunmetal, and ultraviolet foil. They also look lovely as an accent: “Apply them on the inner corners of your eyes or along the lower lash line for a subtle pop,” Wray says.

Best colorful

This slender brush-applicator liquid liner comes in a range of fun colors (like fuchsia, fatigue green, and yellow) that are highly pigmented, says Gonzalez. The vibrant colors are “long-wearing and the tip is small for precision and detail,” says Wray.

There is no right or wrong way to play with them, Gonzalez adds. “Apply a vibrant color along the crease line, create dots all over the eye, draw shapes, line with one color and then top with a line in another color, ” she says. “The possibilities are endless.” Gerstein agrees that there are no rules when lining in color: “Pick whichever colors call out to you and bring joy.”

This ultramatte formula with a teensy brush applicator comes in a literal rainbow of colors, from aqua to lavender (the light-pink Peony is Mellinger’s fave). Because this is an inkwell-style with a small brush applicator, says Mellinger, you want to lay the length of the brush along the lash line and pull out toward the outer corner of the eye. “If you go in with the tip of the brush, your line is going to come out squiggly and blotchy,” she adds.

Best for beginners

The precision brush tip that mimics a felt marker makes it easy to hold, says Uslan. And the attachable tiny stencil “helps you achieve a wing tip if a steady hand isn’t in your wheelhouse,” says makeup artist Lucky Bromhead. Harris, who says “it’s great for a bolder line look,” suggests first drawing a line along the lash line and then going back and dragging the tip from the outer eye inwards. Shaky hands? Keep your elbows close in toward your ribs for support, advises Gerstein, who also finds it helpful to hum a familiar tune while doing liquid liner. “Something about being otherwise occupied makes for an easier, more deliberate line,” she says.

Best brush tip

The soft brush tip that bends and glides across the lid sets this liquid eyeliner apart. It “helps you control how big or small you want the line,” Carillo says, adding that the sharp tip is “perfect for precision.” And, says Riley, for creating a smooth and seamless line that doesn’t smudge. “The pen style has an ease of application and the flexible tip allows this liner to work with many eye shapes,” says Harris. Plus, the shade — “a black that’s a little softer” — is pitch perfect, says Wray.

Best classic

This isn’t a pen-style liquid liner, but an inkwell and brush, which is the more traditional format that predates pen technology. This one has a “very fine applicator,” and it is “highly pigmented and never smudges,” says Riley.

And, while the inkwell style may intimidate at first glance, the old-school brush style has its benefits. “I find that they give more control than the felt tip,” says Gerstein. “The right brush should do 90 percent of the work for you.” In addition, the applicator tip is sharp, says Harris, which will prevent gloopy buildup after dipping back into the well for more product.

The matte inkwell-and-brush-style eyeliner tops Bromhead’s favorites list “because the color payoff is bold, consistent, and doesn’t budge.” Plus, crucially, “the little brush that comes with it makes it a breeze to apply.”

Best long-lasting

Celebrity makeup artist Amy Zdunowski-Roeder loves this liner from Milani (a classic paint-pot-and-brush version), calling it “immovable” and a product that really “goes the distance throughout the day.” Makeup artist Kasey Spickard is also a fan, but notes that it does require a little more skill than a felt-tip liner. But, he says, the payoff is worth it. “The payoff is worth the work. Once it’s locked in, it won’t move for the rest of the day,” he says. To add an extra level of staying power to your makeup look, remember to prime your eyelids first. And because waterproof formulas can be tough to get off at the end of the night, opting for an oil-based makeup remover, like Glossier’s Milky Oil (a favorite of Rio’s), is best.

Best felt-tip

A penlike wand that will provide even, controlled application is how Harris thinks of a felt-tip liquid liner. To Mellinger, it’s “like a Sharpie, but makeup.” A Sharpie that can conjure hyperfine lines or really fat ones, that is. “Felt tips are more versatile on the width of the line you want to achieve,” says Gonzalez. Of this Blk Opl liner, Wray appreciates its effortless easy glide. “From a simple flick to super-dramatic lines, it gets the job done every time,” she adds.

Best high drama

It was makeup artist Talia Shobrook who created the thick-eyeliner look that became Amy Winehouse’s signature (Winehouse’s preferred product was reportedly Rimmel’s Exaggerate Eyeliner) and a huge breakout trend, says makeup artist Andrew Sotomayor.

To replicate it, he suggests using a chunky, felt-tip eyeliner: “Use soft pressure to create a thinner point in the inner corner, then a bit more pressure to add the dramatic thicker line.” What sets the NYX That’s the Point Eyeliner apart, says Mellinger, is its girth, which is highlighter-esque: “It’s super-thick, which isn’t common in liquid-liner applicators, and is great for doing a wider shape.”

Best for mature skin

For more mature skin, Gonzalez usually sticks to thinner versus thicker liquid eyeliner and often opts for browns over black. “A brown or dark brown accentuates the eyes to achieve a softer look,” says Gonzalez. She likes this Physicians Formula liner “because it has a very fine point that allows a more precise application.” And one that is less likely to travel into fine lines. A bonus: The formula also has a conditioning serum designed to strengthen lashes.

Makeup artist Vincent Oquendo takes a cut-crease approach with mature clients: First, he uses a pencil along the lashes to make a tight line; draws a dot where he wants the liner to end; then has clients level their chin so he can see where their crease cuts their lid. “Then I simply connect the dot and create a sideways triangle connecting it with the tight line on their lash line,” says Oquendo. “Like a little plane wing. When the eyes are open, it looks like a lifted straight winged eyeliner, and when closed, it looks like a graphic shape but flattering.”

Gerstein’s all-time favorite liquid liner for clients of any age is a Korean drugstore hallmark (also available on Amazon) and an industry-pro essential for those in the know. “I love that it comes in variations on black, like black brown and soft black, so I can tailor the tone to the client,” she says.

Her trick for lines that look too severe on more mature lids: wetting a cotton swab and running it over the liner. “This helps soften the shape so it frames the eyes in a way that tends to be more flattering,” says Gerstein, adding that you can also go over with brown shadow to further diffuse it.

Best for mono or hooded lids

Liquid eyeliner for mono and hooded lids should be waterproof, fast-drying, and not smudge, like this Wet n Wild one, which Mellinger says “is a great waterproof liner.” Uslan is also a fan of the long-lasting, smudgeproof formula, particularly for mono or hooded lids, which are more prone to product transfer.

As for application, Gonzalez says to make sure to hold the lid until the liner dries and keep the lines thin to prevent it from smearing and traveling to the lid. And, if you’re going to wing it, make it subtle. For Bromhead’s own hooded lids, she says, “I like to cheat my liner by not applying it over the whole line and instead I sneak a little wing at the outer edge only.”

Best for double duty

A liquid liner that doubles as lash glue is one of Sotomayor’s favorite makeup tricks. “You simply draw the black liquid liner across your upper lids, and the unique formula is also your lash glue,” he explains. Once it’s tacky after a few seconds, you just press a set of your favorite lashes on.

Best mistake-corrector

Working with liquid eyeliner can come with a lot of trial and error, oftentimes more error. To straighten a wobbly line, Sotomayor dips an angled gel-liner brush, like the Dual-Ended Angle Brush from Prados Beauty, into this micellar water, which he likes because it’s not greasy. Another trick he relies on for liner adjustments (or to pick up fallen shadow) when grease is less of a concern: a pointed cotton swab dipped into a bit of eye cream or moisturizer.

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The 17 Best Drugstore Liquid Eyeliners, According to Experts