Gel Vs. Liquid Vs. Pencil Eyeliner—Which One Is Best?

Pencil, gel, liquid…the options are overwhelming. But which eyeliner is your eyeliner?

It can feel like eyeliner product descriptions say the same thing. 

Stays all day! 

Rich color! 

Easy to apply! 

How can you tell the difference when they all claim the same things?

How is gel vs. liquid eyeliner? Or liquid vs. pencil eyeliner? Do you have to try them all to find the best fit?

Thankfully, no. We’ll give you the scoop on each eyeliner type so you can decide what matches your lifestyle best.

Here’s a quick overview:

Eyeliner pencil

Eyeliner pencil is like using—you guessed it—a pencil. Fans of the pencil liner love the fast, easy application. It’s also super versatile, allowing you to apply defined or blended lines. Plus, it’s super user-friendly to apply to your waterline.

Pencil is perfect if you’re not confident with the less predictable consistency of liquid liner or gel. Compared to its alternatives, pencil liner isn’t as strong when it comes to definition or boldness.  It’s a great fit if you enjoy subtle lines and color. 

Gel eyeliner

Gel eyeliner gives you high control of your design. Fans of the gel liner rave about the glide-on precision they have when applying it. Thin lines, thick lines, ultra-sharp tips…gel is the weapon of choice when it comes to chiseled lines and designs.

With a gel liner, your precision can totally depend on the brush you use. The more precise the brush, the better application you’ll get. It’s also easy to clean up and shape with a cotton swab as you go.

Liquid liner

Liquid eyeliner is like using a quill or ink pen. Fans of the liquid liner enjoy the formula’s fine lines and flicks. The precision you get from liquid eyeliner gives you extremely clean, sharp lines and points.

Is liquid eyeliner easier than pencil? Well, it can give you incredible customization—if you’re willing to practice. The runniness of the formula takes some practice to master. As liners go, it’s the least forgiving. It can be messy to apply and take a while to dry. Thankfully, liquid liner comes in different applicator options. Eyeliner pens, micro brushes, and felt tips are a few of the common ones.

Want the easiest option to use? The one that will give you the best cat eye? The one you don’t have to replace so often?

To compare liquid eyeliner vs. pen vs. gel, think about what’s important for your makeup routine and lifestyle.

     1. What eyeliner is most user-friendly

Want something easy? Don’t want to take up unnecessary time in your makeup routine? Then stick with the pencil eyeliner. The ergonomic tool mirrors the writing utensils we use every day, making it great for beginners (or anyone who doesn’t want to waste time).

Squeamish about accidentally getting eyeliner in your eye? With a pencil, there's no risk of running, like liquid ink eyeliner.

If you want to step up your eyeliner skill (but still don’t want to screw around with the messiness of liquid liner), try gel eyeliner. Plus, a cotton swab and makeup remover work perfectly as an eraser to clean up your eyeliner as you go.

     2. What’s the best ultra-thin eyeliner?

If you enjoy razor-thin, barely-there eyeliner, opt for a liquid eyeliner. While there’s a learning curve to mastering the runniness of the formula, practice will give you unmatched precision.

A gel liner with a precision brush will also give you extra-fine lines. Whether you use a liquid liner or a gel liner, the control of your eyeliner thickness will depend on your applicator.

     3. What eyeliner has the richest pigment

Is bold your goal? Want your black liner to be as inky as you can get? For the richest pigment, opt for a liquid liner or gel liner.

A liquid liner will give you intense line contrast, which gives the color more oomph. Gel eyeliner will give you super-rich pigment, whether it’s smudged or defined.

     4. What’s the most customizable eyeliner? 

Like to get creative? Or are you a cat-eye fanatic? Try a gel liner if design control is your priority. It will give you the most flexibility with different line thicknesses. That’s why it’s a fan favorite for users that love unique tips and flicks. And like we mentioned before, a cotton swab with eye makeup remover will easily let you fix up mistakes.

If you’re up for the challenge, liquid eyeliner in the form of a fine-tipped pen can also give you a ton of range.

     5. What eyeliner doesn’t have to be replaced often

Don’t want to worry about having your liner dry out or expire quickly? Then pencil eyeliner is the way to go. The shelf life of gel or liquid eyeliner is around 2 to 3 months. But with an eyeliner pencil, you can use it for 1 to 2 years. Or until it runs out!

You also won’t have to worry about accidentally forgetting it, then finding it dried up on your bathroom counter or melted in a hot car. The solid formula withstands air, heat, and time better than its liquid or gel counterparts.

     6. What eyeliner is best for lining your waterline & tightlining

Enjoy definition all around your eye? Use a pencil or gel, skip the liquid liner.

The harsh definition of liquid liner can look cheap. It also turns back to liquid when moisture from your eye gets on it. Liquid liner used on your waterline or around the inner corner of your eye tends to end up as a goopy black mess.

A pencil will give you a definition without looking harsh. Plus, since it’s a solid piece, the formula can’t fall into your eye, making the application WAY less risky.

A gel can also be a great fit for its application control. After all, there’s no cosmetic that gets you closer to touching your eyeball! A gel can also be gently smudged for a smokey or blended look. You may even prefer a combo of pencil and gel if you want to round out the ease of the pencil with the customizability of gel.

With any specific product, make sure that it’s safe for your waterline. While pencils and gels are typically safe for waterline usage, it entirely depends on the formula.

     7. What eyeliner stays on your face all day?

We all want our liner to stick with it all day long. But what’s the longest-wearing eyeliner formula? It’s going to depend on how well your lids and eyeliner play together. 

If your lids have lots of folds, a pencil or gel may be a better bet than liquid. If you deal with sweaty or oily lids, a gel may help you out best. With any eyeliner, using a primer will help give you that all-day staying power.

Which will you love more? Liquid eyeliner, pencil, or gel?

Eyeliner is gorgeous around your eyes—but is your eyeliner as gorgeous-looking on your vanity? Pretty Vulgar eyeliners have been gracing makeup collections with their top-notch performance and iconic packaging. 

  • Enjoy the tiny inkwell gel liner of The Ink paired with the buttery-smooth application of The Wingmaster brush.
  • Add a vintage-inspired fountain pen to your makeup bag with the On Point liquid eyeliner pen.
  • Or keep it simple and stay golden with the Writing On The Wall eyeliner pencil.

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