The first time we added black eyeliner to our makeup routine was a life-changing moment. Ever since that initial awkward, hesitant, shaky swipe, we’ve counted our trusty black eyeliner as one our closest beauty companions — there for us during our grunge phase (shudder), cat-eye obsession (still going strong) and all the crazy makeup mood swings in between. So we decided to poll some of the top makeup artists to see what black liner they count as their closest confidant, and to learn which textures they recommend for each effect. Here’s what we learned.

The Pencil

Like the LBD of your makeup wardrobe, a black pencil should be on hand for just about every occasion. “It’s the easiest for beginners because its straightforward formula and packaging is the least intimidating,” says pro makeup artist Ashleigh Ciucci. Drag a rich black line along the waterline and close and squint your eyes to create a natural smudge. Or, keep it simple: Draw a cat eye that extends out and upwards toward the tail of your brows.

Our Favorite: L’Oréal Infallible Pro Last Eyeliner Pencil

Perk: Longwear, Waterproof

The Precise Liner

For the perfectionist crew, the name really says it all; if you want the most targeted application, use a tool with the words “precise” or “extreme definition” on the label. The stiffness of the tip — and fine point — makes drawing an arch over eyes a cinch.

Our Favorite: YSL Couture Liquid Eyeliner in Deep Black

Also Try: Maybelline New York EyeStudio Master Precise Liquid Eyeliner in Black, L’Oreal Paris Infallible The Super Slim Precise Liquid Eyeliner in Black

Perk: So spot on, the precision will even make amateurs look like they’ve been using liner for years.

The Praise: Perfect lines your thing? Celebrity makeup artist Melissa Walsh loves this type of liner. “It’s incredibly easy to apply,” she says, “The pen is like a tapered felt tip that is firm and not too long, so it’s easy to control.” If you tend to end up with raccoon-eyes at the end of the day, this liner will give you a “beautiful, shiny, deep black line that literally won’t budge until you take it off with eye makeup remover.”

The Soft and Bold Liner

Want to master a smoky eye? This combo is your new BFF. The soft texture allows for simple smudging before the bold layer sets it all in place. And the fact that it’s waterproof is like icing on the cake for those with hooded or oily lids, says Ciucci. “While the most effective waterproof formulas can be hard to remove (duh), look for oil-based eye makeup removers to get the job done.”

Our Favorite: L’Oréal Paris Super Liner Blackbuster in Black

Also Try: YSL Eye Marker in Black

Perks: You can ease into it with an easy-to-craft base and turn up the volume with a bolder finish.

The Praise: When it comes to creating a smoky eye, makeup artist Brandy Gomez-Duplessis uses L’Oréal Paris Super Liner Blackbuster liner for an “intoxicating flirty eye. It gives you eight hours of rock star glam.”

The Blendable Liner

An all-in-one pencil that delivers a soft, pliable feel for just about any look (read: a simple line, wing, or edgy crease definition). The easy-to-grip tool makes it suitable for just about every level of user.  Take advantage of the layering capabilities and draw a sleek streak a top — and below — the lash line. Go over the outer corners for a second and even third time to build the thickness, and draw the line up and out. The bold, isolated sideways “Y” shape adds a little drama to the traditional winged swoop.

Our Favorite: Maybelline New York EyeStudio Lasting Drama Waterproof Gel Pencil Eyeliner in Sleek Onyx

Also try: IT Cosmetics No-Tug Waterproof Anti-Aging Gel Eyeliner in Black, L’Oréal Paris Infallible Never Fail Eyeliner in Black

Perk: It’s easy to smudge but sets like a powder.

The Praise: “This is such a versatile pencil,” said celebrity makeup artist Gabriel Almodovar, “It’s essentially a cream liner in a pencil form.” He raved about this pigmented pencil’s ability to glide on smoothly and stay moist long enough for him to blend and smudge if needed. The best part? It dries to a matte finish for all-day wear. Take heed, smudge queens.

The Gel Liner

Feel free to draw outside the lines with gel color (a light gel formula that’s packed into an open jar). The rounded opening makes it easy to plunk an angled or fine-tipped brush in to use the color. “Dip into the pot and dab the brush onto the back of your hand,” advises Ciucci. “This will allow you to control the consistency.” Or, wet a larger shadow brush and scoop up the gel formula for all over shadow.

Our Favorite: NYX Gel Eyeliner & Smudger in Betty

Also try: Maybelline New York EyeStudio Lasting Drama Gel Eyeliner in Blackest Black

Perk: It never pulls on skin, or fades away, and is exceptionally fun to apply!

The Praise: Makeup artist Elle Leary raves about gel liner: “It’s not only really, really long-wearing, smudge-proof, but it’s also really easy to use. Plus, it goes on so softly.”

The Liquid Liner

Often the underdog of the liner lineup since it’s a hair trickier to apply, liquid liner should not be avoided since it has the best payoff for a cat eye, urges Ciucci. “There are definitely hacks to create the perfect wing that anyone can take advantage of,” she said rattling off this as the first of ‘em: Use the natural extension of your lower lash line and up as the guideline for the angle of your wing. “If you’re nervous about the angle, apply a piece of tape from your lower lash line up to the outer edge of your brow as a stencil,” she adds. Draw the point and once dry, remove the tape.

Our Favorite: IT Cosmetics Superhero Liner

Also try: L’Oréal Paris Infallible Paints Liquid Eyeliner in Black Party

Perk: The smooth and fluid delivery creates an artwork-like eye, probably the reason this liner is spotted in every makeup artist’s kit at fashion week.  

The Praise: If liquid liner stresses you out, listen up: “Liquid liner can be intimidating to use,” says makeup artist Tiffany Hall-Scarmana, “but it goes on in one fluid motion, is easy to control and stays on until you’re ready to take it off.”



Let's Stay in Touch

Get our top stories straight to your inbox!