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10 best eyeliners: Liquids, pencils and gel formulas that are easy to use and won't smudge

Whether you're a cat eye pro or a newbie to the smokey eye, invest in one of these life-proof liners that actually deliver

A gel eyeliner will give you that smudged, smoky effect, whereas a liquid liner is ideal for sharp wings ( The Independent/iStock )

Whether it’s liquid, gel and brush, twist-up or traditional pencil, the sheer variety of eyeliner formulas available may be overwhelming, but it also leaves space for great creativity and experimentation.

If you’re not confident in applying a liner, start with a soft pencil, as you can get away with being less precise when creating a smudged, smokier look, before graduating to gel or liquid liners. 

Whichever you choose, it should be soft enough not to drag or scratch your eyelids, pigmented enough that you don’t have to go over the line multiple times, and long-lasting enough that it doesn’t flake or transfer while wearing. 

We’ve suggested shades that cover everything from the everyday – black, grey – to evening and party-appropriate, such as pink and bronze, but most of our picks come in at least five colour choices.

Invest in one of these eyeliners and before you know it, you’ll be a pro at the wings and flicks.

Charlotte Tilbury rock ’n’ kohl in ‘veruschka mink’: £19, Charlotte Tilbury

There’s no dragging too-hard on the eyelid here thanks to Charlotte Tilbury’s Rock ’N’ Kohl. This eyeliner is super soft and richly pigmented, so there’s no need to go over your line multiple times. Our favourite shade is “veruschka mink”, a dark, taupe-y grey that’s a perfect softer swap-out for black.

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Mac pro longwear fluidline in ‘blacktrack’: £17, John Lewis & Partners

It takes a fair amount of practice to apply gel liners with a brush, but once you master it you’ll find it feels far more natural than using a pen. It also doesn’t dry with the same speed as a liquid liner, so you’ve got more time to get it right, and it can be smudged to give a smokier look. Mac’s “blacktrack” shade is pigmented and stays put well. We suggest applying with an angled brush such as Suqqu’s eyeliner brush D or a bent brush, such as Laura Mercier’s angled eye liner brush.

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Rimmel exaggerate waterproof liquid liner: £5.25, Amazon

This has been a go-to since our teens for no-frills reliable flicks at a quarter of the price of other similar liners. It has a dipping pot and foam brush (which is a little thicker and more unwieldy than some other premium offerings), dries to a matte black and doesn’t flake.

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Nars kohline in ‘minorquer’: £20, Nars Cosmetics

There’s no need to cart around a pencil sharpener with Nars’ twist-up kohl in “minorquer”, which is the perfect shade of matte black. It has a narrow but rounded tip, so there’s no chance of it scratching or dragging, and the pencil is soft and easily smudged with a fingertip or brush for a less defined line.

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Bobbi Brown long-wear liquid liner in ‘carbon black’: £24.50, Bobbi Brown

If you loved Rimmel’s exaggerate liner as a teen but feel the need to graduate to something a little more luxe, Bobbi Brown’s long-wear liquid is just as reliable, producing matte black, long-lasting, zero-transfer flake-free flicks. It’s our favourite combination of applicator and formula: a dipping pot and long, sweepy brush (rather than felt tip). Note that you’ll need a oil-based remover to get it off at the end of the day.

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Hourglass mechanical gel eyeliner in ‘obsidian’: £16, Space NK

Perfect for anyone who wants a foolproof winged eye, this twist-up, deep black liner is very thin, with a rounded tip, allowing for total precision. It also doesn’t budge throughout the day. Doing a liquid liner look with a pencil is more forgiving as the lines are a little smudgier, whereas liquids show up every bump in your technique (and eyelid!).

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Tom Ford eye defining pen: £46, Selfridges

There’s no point pretending that this is anything other than ludicrously expensive, but it’s worth every penny. It’s double ended, with a longer, wider brush tip on one end and a shorter, thinner felt-tip on the other, for ultimate precision and control. Our only quibble is that we inevitably use one end up before the other; a shared cartridge wouldn’t go amiss.

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Laura Mercier caviar stick eye colour in ‘burnished bronze’: £24, John Lewis & Partners

They may not technically be eyeliners, but Laura Mercier’s much-loved caviar sticks are soft and creamy and highly pigmented – everything you want in an eyeliner. Run along the lash line straight from the tube for a thick wash of colour (no need to be precise) or use a liner brush to press on the pigment. Our shade pick, “burnished bronze”, is a warm, shimmering deep brown.

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Clarins 3-dot liner in ‘intense black’: £22, Clarins

If you find eyeliner application of any sort tricky, or you just prefer a natural, minimalist look, Clarins’ 3-dot liner is a gamechanger. It’s a liquid liner pen, but instead of a brush it has a tip with three tines. Simply press it along the lash line, keeping it really close to the base of your lashes (if you’re feeling brave, look straight at the mirror and press through them), for a defined, thicker-lash look.

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Glossier Play colorslide in ‘candyland’: £13, Glossier

Glossier Play is the recently launched colourful, fun arm of Insta-cult brand Glossier, and is perfect for a party. The colorslide liners are simply soft, well-pigmented pencils that come in a fun range of colours. Our pick is Candyland, a rose-gold pink with shimmer; it’s gorgeous with bare lids and mascara, plus a bold red lip.

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The verdict: Eyeliners

If you aren’t confident with eyeliner or you don’t have the time in the morning for the precision required by a liquid, Charlotte Tilbury’s kohl pencils are perfect: soft, smudge-able and highly pigmented. For classic flicks you can’t do much better than the ever-reliable Bobbi Brown long-wear, while those with a little more to spend won’t regret splashing out on Tom Ford’s double-ended pen.

IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.

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