The Different Types of Eyeliners Explained

Eyeliner is a one of the best ways to make any eye look pop. Whether it’s a sharp wing, a darkened water line, a smudged out lash line, or a graphic coloured addition, eyeliner will always give your eyes that piercing look. Although it turns out gorgeous, it can still be really overwhelming to apply, especially for makeup newbies. If you feel like you fall into that category, then this article will help you figure out which type of eyeliner would be best for you, or the look you’re going for.

Liquid eyeliners

Liquid eyeliner has a water-like formula, so it can take some time for it to dry on the lid which is why it is better for those with more experience with eyeliner. For those who prefer the liquid eyeliner, remember the key is to keep your eyelid low or closed until it dries. On the other hand, liquid eyeliner, (unless waterproof) is great for beginners because it can be easy to fix a mistake with a wet cotton swab, just wipe away any mistakes to reveal a crisp line. Liquid eyeliner comes in many different types of brushes, sizes, colours, and formulas, so it’s always best to experiment until you find a favourite!


Here are some of liquid-based eyeliners explained…

Dip Pot

This is the most common type of liquid eyeliner. It usually comes in a small bottle, with about 2.5 ml of product, with a screw on top that has the brush attached to it. The wand is usually covered in product, which can get very messy especially for those with long lashes. This type of eyeliner is great for a fully pigmented wing but not so beginner friendly. Here is an example from NYC:


Pen type

There are many different types of applicators with pen-shaped eyeliners. These types are very beginner friendly when it comes to liquid eyeliner. The pen-shaped liners come with a felt tip, which is like a fine marker. The tip can get a bit frayed or soft with use over time, and lead to an imprecise application. This is why they tend to be less popular in comparison to the classic dip pot, but they’re perfect for every beginner that’s still learning how to perfect their eyeliner. The NYX eyeliner is a perfect pen-shaped line to experiment with:


Brush tips are like the marker, but with a paintbrush tip. It uses a bunch of hair-like bristles that form the applicator of the eyeliner. These eyeliners offer great precision and adding pressure to change to the desired thickness, but they tend to dry out quickly due to their formula and packaging. Here is an example from Kat Von D:

Cushion liner

This is a newer type of liquid liner that’s currently much more popular in the Asian countries. It’s basically a small container that has a fully saturated sponge in it, which you use by simply pressing your liner brush into the sponge to pick up product. Cushion liners are great for those who want the same effect as a dip pot liner but without the messiness of the wand. A good cusion liner product to try out is the glossy eyeliner available at Sephora:


The cream eyeliner is known to have a thicker formula, which is great for pulling off those big and dark eyeliner wings, and use on the waterline. Unless it’s waterproof, cream eyeliner does tend to rub off more easily than liquid. However, it is harder to fix any mistakes with a cream formula, which makes it tougher for beginners given the product will most likely smudge than wipe away.


One of the most popular types of cream-based eyeliners is the pencil type of formula. This one works just like any basic eyeliner, except it also has a pencil that you either need to sharpen with a special makeup only sharpener, or a twist-up mechanical eyeliner. This eyeliner is great to smudge, or to pull off that classic smokey eye look, by applying it along your waterline.


Another popular type of cream eyeliner is a potted formula. This usually comes in a glass jar about the size of a toonie with a twist off cap. For this formula, angled or small rounded eyeliner brushes are best to apply the cream-based liner. If you’re going for the sharper-looking wing, a good tip to follow is always wetting your brush before dipping it in the eyeliner, so that it picks up the product better. Remember to also wipe it down with a tissue after using it to avoid build up, especially if you know you most likely won’t clean it properly every day. A good product to experiment with for the pot type of eyeliners is from e.l.f.:


The gel eyeliner has a very similar formula to the cream one, it glides on easily, but it isn't as easy to smudge, and it lasts much longer on the eyes. It tends to be lighter than the cream ones, and sometimes a bit less rich in its formula too. This product is great for people who love using angled brushes to create the wing look, and also perfect to use along the waterline too.


Pencil-gel liner is the best for use along the waterline. The Gel formula applies easily and doesn’t tug on your waterline. If you happen to naturally have watery eyes, then this is the best product for you. An awesome pencil eyeliner that you can try out is from It Cosmetics :


The gel-based pot eyeliner is great for pulling off an easy, sharp winged look that easily glides on. It does tend to dry out faster than cream potted eyeliner though, so make sure to always keep the lid closed tightly when applying the product. Using an angled or small rounded brush is best for this gel-based product, since it usually comes in a small jar. Also remember to wipe your brush very well after using it, because a gel eyeliner can get very hard to clean after it’s dried. A good gel-based pot product to try is from Mac:



The kohl eyeliner is well known for its incredible black pigmentation. It’s usually used for darkening up the waterline or for smoking out the lid. The kohl-based eyeliner is drier formula, so it’s best cleaned up with a dry tissue. As kohl is not best for precise eyeliner designs, nor long lasting, avoid making any sharp winged looks with it.


The kohl pencil eyeliner is a very easy and mess-free product. This product can be applied along the water line to darken the eye, or applied on the lid and smudged out for that classic smokey eye look. A good kohl pencil product to try out is from Rimmel: 


The cone packaging usually comes with a handle and a pyramid shaped block of kohl eyeliner at the tip of it. This type of kohl packaging is best to rub on the lid as an eyeshadow or as a smoked-out line over the lashes. The Physician’s formula is a great product to experiment with to start out:



The powdered kohl eyeliner product comes in a loose and very black shadow. This is the best type of product for creating a smokey lash line, as the applicator helps with precision, and the powder helps with blending and smudging out. A great starter product for the powder-based eyeliner is from Guerlain:

Even with the help of this guide, there are still some types of eyeliners that have their own category altogether. This is because a lot of companies come out with their own unique designs like, Tarte’s clay paint liner, which is a hybrid that resembles cream/gel liner, and Benefit’s Push up liner, that has a gel-based formula with a pen-based packaging:


It’s also important to remember that every type of eyeliner has a different use, and choosing the right one is all about which product type you’ve mastered prefer overall. All the different types mentioned above can come in a rainbow of colours, and some of the eyeliner also have glittery, glossy, matte, satin and metallic-based formulas, like this new one from Fenty beauty with a rub-to-glitter formula:

The key things to remember when picking eyeliners are; liquid is good for a sharp wing, and can be a bit messy, but can clean up easily with a wet tissue/cotton swab. The cream-based eyeliners are good for smudging either on the lid, or are good to use on the waterline, but may also smear and get in your eyes. Gel-based formulas glide on and stay put in the water line, which makes them good for winged liner looks. The kohl-based eyeliners are good for pigmentation, and are great for smudging and darkening the water line. The liquid, potted cream, and gel-based formulas that come with angled brushes are best for the winged eyeliner looks. The kohl, gel and cream-based eyeliners that come in pencil packaging are best for use along the waterline, while the cream and kohl are best for smudging or a smokey-eye look.

The best tip to keep in mind is that practice and preference is always key to mastering any eyeliner look. To take it a step further, you could also use eyeshadow with a precise brush as a substitute for eyeliner. There are no “rules” when it comes to makeup, so experiment as much as you like!