Thursday, January 9, 2014

Big fucking eyeliner comparison (also: an excellent alternative to expensive liners from brands like Urban Decay or Tarina Tarantino for significantly less than $10)

Disclosure: This post contains Amazon affiliate links (ULTA links are not referrals).
First thing first: This post is loooong. I'm long-winded. You should be used to that by now. But gird your loins or steel your . . . buns, or something.

I've said it before, and I'm sure I'll say it again, until everyone is sick of it: ULTA brand makeup is underrated. They have some good shit, and it goes on sale very regularly for very cheap. There's no reason why you should ever have to pay more than $4 for most things, and often you'll get them for less than $3. (To be clear, I am in no way affiliated with ULTA. In fact, they kicked me out of their affiliate program a long time ago, because of the foul language, I'm sure. I've just been repeatedly impressed by their in-house line.)

But for whatever reason, it's relatively hard to find useful information on makeup blogs about this brand (maybe they don't send out press samples). Plus the photos on the ULTA site are not always very informative or accurate. I just went ahead and bought some of their gel eyeliner pencils on the basis of some good experiences with their other liners. I hope the swatches below will be helpful. I was also curious how these would compare to some other, more expensive favorites, like those from Urban Decay or Tarina Tarantino. You remember that all makeup pencils come from the same few suppliers, right? So these could actually be manufactured by the same supplier as those fancy brands. I got out all my pencil liners (i.e. ones that need sharpening) to compare (see above photo).

I'm not going to review or even show swatches of all of those. Several are from the same brands, so it would get a little redundant. I've included swatches of the ones that are similar in color or finish to the ULTA pencils, as well as examples from various brands to compare wear. I have used all of these, however, so you'll just have to take my word for it when I describe the texture, etc. That's not something I can show in photos.

First up, here are swatches of all the ULTA brand pencils I have:
ULTA eyeliner pencil swatches (in natural light). Left to right: Gel Eye Liner in Copper, Mink, Olive Oil, Peacock, Halo. Far right: Kohl Eye Liner in Moss.
ULTA eyeliner pencil swatches (in natural light). Left to right: Gel Eye Liner in Copper, Mink, Olive Oil, Peacock, Halo. Far right: Kohl Eye Liner in Moss.
ULTA eyeliner pencil swatches (with flash). Left to right: Gel Eye Liner in Copper, Mink, Olive Oil, Peacock, Halo. Far right: Kohl Eye Liner in Moss.
ULTA eyeliner pencil swatches (with flash). Left to right: Gel Eye Liner in Copper, Mink, Olive Oil, Peacock, Halo. Far right: Kohl Eye Liner in Moss.
The first swatch is just one single stroke, and then I scribbled a little on the second one to show the finish better. All of these but the last one, Moss, are the gel formula. All of them have at least some shimmer/sparkle, except for Mink and Moss, which are totally matte. Peacock (my favorite) and Halo are more on the shimmery/pearly side, while Copper and Olive Oil have some actual sparkle in them. Not much, though, and nothing gritty like the NYX liner I didn't like. (I've since given that one away, so it's not included in the comparison here, but it was very close in color to ULTA's Copper).

All of the gel liners apply beautifully. Really, they are fucking wonderful. Smooth and very pigmented in a single stroke. Olive Oil is the least opaque, but still pretty easy to work with. I have no idea what to do with Halo. I really just bought it because it looks cool. It's kind of a goldish-pearl. But it looks weird as regular eyeliner, and it also looks odd on the lower waterline, which I thought might work better. It's a little too white to use as a highlighter. I'm stumped.

The kohl liner, Moss, is not so wonderful. I mean, it's functional, but it's harder and more difficult to work with. If this was the only eyeliner you owned, you'd probably be cool with it. But once you tried the gel version, you'd be spoiled. I don't think ULTA even sells that format anymore, but you might see stragglers in the stores.

Here's some comparisons with other eyeliners in my hoard:
Comparison swatches of ULTA Gel Eye Liner Pencil in Mink and Urban Decay Glide-On Eye Pencil in Whiskey.
Comparison swatches of ULTA Gel Eye Liner Pencil in Mink and Urban Decay
Glide-On Eye Pencil in Whiskey.
These are not exactly the same shade, but they are pretty damned close. Whiskey is a little warmer and lighter. The texture and pigmentation are also almost identical. The ULTA one might be a touch smoother.
Comparison swatches of ULTA Gel Eye Liner Pencil in Peacock, and Revlon Grow Luscious Lash Liner in Emerald.
Comparison swatches of ULTA Gel Eye Liner Pencil in Peacock,
and Revlon Grow Luscious Lash Liner in Emerald.
Allow me a short tangent, if you will, since this post is already a million fucking pages long. This Revlon eyeliner is the most amazing and perfect eyeliner I have ever got my grubby hands on. It's super pigmented and smooth and crazy shimmery, without being gritty. It's like the eyeliner version of Zoya Charla/OPI Catch Me In Your Net and their many dupes. MY FAVORITE. Now for the horrible news: this eyeliner seems to be discontinued (but it's still available on Amazon). I got it on clearance at CVS last year for like $2. If I had known how spectacular it was, I would have bought ALL OF THEM. I was hoping Peacock would be a dupe, but it's not. Still pretty, though. Again, formula is very similar. Both smooth and lovely.

Overall, the texture and application of these ULTA gel liners is on par with the best eyeliners I already own, namely those from Urban Decay and Tarina Tarantino. It's better than the crappier, discontinued Urban Decay liners I own, like Ransom and Gunmetal. 

But how about wear? One of the things people like about those more expensive liners is that they set well after you apply them, and they don't smear or fade all day. How does ULTA compare?

I did two smudge tests. For the first one, I smudged them within 3-5 minutes of application. This is important. You don't necessarily want the liner to set instantly, because often you'll want to tidy it up or smudge out the edges or something. For the second test, I waited 15 minutes before smudging. At that point, it should be pretty much set for the day.

TEST 1 (before):
TOP ROW (left to right): ULTA eyeliners in Copper, Mink, Olive Oil, Peacock, Halo, and Moss. BOTTOM ROW (left to right): Urban Decay Zero, Urban Decay Whiskey, Urban Decay Ransom, Revlon Emerald, Starlooks Topaz, Tarina Tarantino Cute Robot
Smudge test (two swipes, moderate pressure, 3-5 minutes after application).
TOP ROW (left to right): ULTA eyeliners in Copper, Mink, Olive Oil, Peacock, Halo, and Moss.
BOTTOM ROW (left to right): Urban Decay Zero, Urban Decay Whiskey, Urban Decay Ransom, Revlon Emerald, Starlooks Topaz, Tarina Tarantino Cute Robot
TEST 1 (after):
TOP ROW (left to right): ULTA eyeliners in Copper, Mink, Olive Oil, Peacock, Halo, and Moss. BOTTOM ROW (left to right): Urban Decay Zero, Urban Decay Whiskey, Urban Decay Ransom, Revlon Emerald, Starlooks Topaz, Tarina Tarantino Cute Robot
Smudge test (two swipes, moderate pressure, 3-5 minutes after application).
TOP ROW (left to right): ULTA eyeliners in Copper, Mink, Olive Oil, Peacock, Halo, and Moss.
BOTTOM ROW (left to right): Urban Decay Zero, Urban Decay Whiskey, Urban Decay Ransom, Revlon Emerald, Starlooks Topaz, Tarina Tarantino Cute Robot
Results: First, an important thing to keep in mind is that I swatched these starting at the upper left and finishing at the lower right. That means that the first few swatches were probably in place 1-2 minutes longer than the last ones, and might explain why they smudged less. That said, the smudgiest after 3-5 minutes were Peacock, Zero, and Cute Robot. Emerald really didn't smudge at all. Topaz pretty much just wiped off. In general, I see no real difference in performance between the cheaper ULTA liners and the more expensive or rare ones.

TEST 2 (before):
Smudge test (two swipes, moderate pressure, 15 minutes after application). Left to right: ULTA Peacock, Urban Decay Zero, Tarina Tarantino Cute Robot.
Smudge test (two swipes, moderate pressure, 15 minutes after application). Left to right: ULTA Peacock, Urban Decay Zero, Tarina Tarantino Cute Robot.
TEST 2 (after):
Smudge test (two swipes, moderate pressure, 15 minutes after application). Left to right: ULTA Peacock, Urban Decay Zero, Tarina Tarantino Cute Robot.
Smudge test (two swipes, moderate pressure, 15 minutes after application). Left to right: ULTA Peacock, Urban Decay Zero, Tarina Tarantino Cute Robot.
Results: As you can see, I chose three of the smudgiest liners from the previous test to test for longevity. Cute Robot really didn't smear at all. Peacock smeared very faintly, but didn't lose much opacity in the swatch. Zero smeared a tiny bit more, but lost the most opacity in the swatch. Overall, they are all very close, with the Tarina Tarantino liner coming out slightly ahead, and the Urban Decay one slightly behind.

I've also worn all of these eyeliners on my actual eyelids, and they perform there just the way you would expect based on these tests. The ULTA liners are a solid contender, with really no disadvantages when compared with the more expensive eyeliner pencils. The ULTA liners come in 23 really cool colors, which is an edge more expensive brands often have (i.e. wider selection than drugstore products). The regular price for these ULTA gel liners is $8, compared with $19 for Urban Decay or $15 for the Tarina Tarantino Eye Dream Hyperliner. Still, you really should never have to buy ULTA makeup at full price. Wait a week, and it will be 50% off or better. In fact, right now these pencils are on sale for $4 each.

The ULTA pencils are very likely manufactured by the same supplier as many of the more expensive brands, and so absolutely the only difference is labeling. If you didn't click on the link above, I really urge you to read this post from Beauty and the Bullshit on cosmetic pencil sourcing. The ULTA, Urban Decay, and Tarina Tarantino pencils are all labeled "Made in Germany". (The Revlon one is from Italy.) There's really no reason to spend 2-4x as much to get an UD pencil, especially if you're getting a black or brown one. Even the fancier colors are not necessarily exclusive to UD (check that link above, again). See if you can find some swatches online that are better than mine and look for the super-fucking-special UD shade you want. It might be in the ULTA batch. (Sorry that my swatches are not great. Low winter sun + mediocre camera. Plus cultivated non-glossy aesthetic? Let's go with that one too.)

Finally, here's what this ULTA stuff looks like on my face. I lined the upper lid as closely as possible to the lash line with Peacock, and then used a small, stiff liner brush to smooth out the upper edge of the line and wing it out slightly at the outside corner. I used the residue that was on the brush to add a little color to the outer half of my lower lash line. It wore perfectly all day (even through a nap).
ULTA Gel Eye Liner Pencil in Peacock.
ULTA Gel Eye Liner Pencil in Peacock.
ULTA Gel Eye Liner Pencil in Peacock.
ULTA Gel Eye Liner Pencil in Peacock.
I hope that's useful to someone. I'm a huge fan of these liners. I really can't see the appeal of spending more on another brand again.

(I'm thinking of doing a similar post to this one some time in the future, but comparing all of my twist-up liners.)

8 comments:

  1. Thanks for the swatches! I should pay more attention to the Ulta brand, cheap + testers + high quality = win.

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    1. Yes! I can't think of anything I've tried that I didn't really like. Except for some of the crappy stuff they put in their "gift with purchase" goodie bags. Those aren't very good representations of the line.

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  2. Ooh the Revlon one looks magical! If you ever have a desire to try a new pencil liner, I'd recommend the Jordana 12-hour "liquid" eyeliner pencils. The name makes no sense but they're nicely pigmented, easy to apply and CHEAP.

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    1. Thanks! I've heard good things about those. I think I have to actually finish up a pencil now before I buy anything new. I've heard good things about the big Jordana shadow pencils too. I'd like to get the white one to wear under bright eyeshadows. Even though I rarely wear bright shadows . . . I totally would if I had a good base, right?

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  3. I really need to start checking out Ulta brand stuff more. I've been using Milani's liquid eye pencils, and as much as I love how creamy and pigmented they are, they're so soft that it's hard to get a precise line out of them. I can hear these gel liners calling my name!

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    1. You might find that's the case with some of the ULTA ones too. The Peacock shade was quite soft. The others are a bit firmer. I wonder if they would work better if you refrigerated them?

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