Pencil Pornication: The Sequel

To those new here, you might want to read this post first.


Without much further ado, here is your :


First thing to remember is that BRAND NAMES DON’T MEAN SHIT.
Your brands do not manufacture your pencils. They all source from the same suppliers.

So if you think that you have to buy a particular brand to get quality- you are mistaken and are only spending unnecessarily more.

What happens is this :
  1. Brands give a brief to suppliers specifying the characteristics they want from their liners. 
  2. The suppliers then propose a gamut of textures that fulfill the brief.
  3. Brands choose a texture and the colors from that texture.  
  4. If the colors they want are not yet available in that texture, the suppliers will color match according to brands' specification.
  5. The brands will specify how they want the pencils decorated.
  6. Suppliers are free to propose the same texture in the same color to any other brand out there.
There is no exclusivity.  Because there is no need for it.*
Once the pencils are branded, we will all think they are different.

I have mentioned that the biggest suppliers come from Germany, Italy, France.  They are all good suppliers.
  • Germany is the biggest supplier/s (there are at least 3 manufacturers there) and they are reliable factories which is why so many brands buy from them.
  • Italy is very good, very innovative but smaller capacity and does not have as much clients. But i say, quality and innovation wise, I like my Italian supplier better .
  • France is third in line. Good innovation, reliable supplier, decent quality. Though their innovations are less than the Italians, their innovations are very marketable.
There are other suppliers elsewhere and perhaps they are good.
But as I have no personal experience working with them, I cannot say anything about them though I encourage you readers to contribute your experience.*

That out of the way, these are what you have to know when evaluating a make up pencil- the same criteria that brands use.

1) PENCIL LENGTH.  Go for standard.

All the suppliers get a standard size of wood for the pencils. This is why your pencils all come in almost  the same size. (around 12-13cm if i remember right)

However, some brands decide to deviate from the standard to look premium (they go extra longer  for example), it will mean more wastage and thus higher cost- not very wise.

So standard length gives you best value for money.

2) DECOR.  Go for simple.

What I mean by decor is the paint finish outside, the thing that makes it pretty. It is as useless indication of quality as the brand name.

The fancier the decor (matt or shiny paint, special effects, brush or sponge tips, shrink wrap protection), the more needlessly expensive.

This is one way a premium brand can distinguish themselves from mass brands but it is no indication that the textures used are better. So, try not to be swayed by fancy decor if what you really are after is good value for money.

I know that it is important that products be pretty (it is, even to bullshit averse me). But think about it, you apply liners in the comfort of your home and will tend not to reapply it at midday, so why pay extra for nicer packaging?

3)  SPECIAL CAPS AND TIPS. Must you really?

A way to make you think that the pencil is special is to add a special accessory either at its base or  in the cap- like a smudger or a brush applicator.
If you are semi serious with make up, you know that this is pretty lame.
So, better to avoid if you can and spend less.
(photo nicked from i don't know where anymore)

3) PENCIL CROSS SECTION SHAPE.  There is more to this than round.
  • ROUND is standard and easy to work with.  It is also logistically easier for brands to adapt.
    Disadvantage: you only have one point and have to sharpen accordingly if you want finer point
  • OVAL is a rare shape but is very handy.  It is available with suppliers but very few brands order it (because they lack imagination and daring and want more sales with more classic formats).
    But it is excellent to work with - specially for eyebrow liners- One point can give you a fine and thick line (line and fill) depends how you angle the pencil (like a calligraphy brush). Great for semi experts out there.
    Disadvantage: you have to buy its own oval sharpener and that’s a major decision point for brands because it means they have to convince consumers to buy the sharpener or give it away as part of package.
  • TRIANGLE can be surprisingly easy to control as it rests well between your fingers. But also quite rare for same reason as oval shape.

4) PENCIL THICKNESS. Size matters.
  • STANDARD is the ideal size for most eye and lipliners
  • JUMBO is a good size if you use your lipliner for filling or your eyeliner as shadow
  • ULTRA JUMBO - this thickness is used for multi usage products that gets applied to cheeks/eyes or cheeks/lips.
  • MICRO- extremely good for eyebrows

5) MUST YOU REALLY GO AUTOMATIC? Sharpening has its advantages you know.

Automatic pencils have their obvious advantage that you do not have to sharpen them.  Which is fine if that is your priority.  

But remember that with this, there are three major disadvantages:
  1. In general, the packaging itself of automatic pencils costs more than the packaging of wooden pencils
  2. If lead breaks inside- even if you have not consumed all the lead, it is a goner- you have to throw it away.
  3. The lead texture is limited in hardness
    In automatic pencils, the lead hangs inside the plastic container unlike in wooden pencils which is totally embedded/supported by the wood.  This has an implication to the texture.  That means that the texture should be hard enough so that even if it is thin, it will not break inside the plastic encasing.  This is acceptable if you have want a fine hard line especially with eyebrows.  But if you want a softer, smudgeable texture-  automatic pencils are not the best.
Important to note that there are two types of automatic pencils- the retractable and the non-retractables.

Non- retractable means, that once you have twisted the lead out, you can not untwist it to get the lead back in.
Retractable, you can twist it out and then untwist it back down.

We marketeers tend to promote retractable as a big selling point.  
BUT- retractable is more expensive and texture wise, requires even a harder lead!

So, personally, i see no real advantage in retractables and would not recommend it. 


Wooden pencils are not what they used to be.  
A lot of them are in fact- PLASTIC.  

And this is where you will LEARN - a lot.

Come on now, take a look at your pencils-
Some are still real wood, 
(this photo is shamelessly nicked from shutterstock)
some are plastic with natural wood or black color

Also look at the base tips and the caps.
Do you notice ones with capped bottoms like these

or special shaped caps with an indention like this:

Nifty innit?  

Well, the reason for this is not just decorative.
And here is how to interpret them.
Do you want more performance from your liners, something like -
A liner that can be drawn fine but is also smudgeable?
Or perhaps, a liner that stays put throughout the day?
Or what about a water resistant, transfer resistant liner?
Or a soft liner that has super adherence?
The better textures like these have sophisticated ingredients like silicons, (polymers, resins) or volatiles

(Ok, think what you want to think, but silicons are great when used in cosmetics.  They are expensive yes, but the performance is worth the price.  Gawd I drool when i evaluate silicone enhanced formulas- that is of course just in my head, as a professional, i am not supposed to show that i am peeing in my pants over make up)

Thing with these fancy ingredients are that they sometimes tend to be too soft to be in automatics.
So they have to be embedded in a "wooden" pencil.  

Another thing with these, some actives react with wood, so they might need something that is less reactive to the formula, and for this, we have different types of plastics to the rescue.

To get good adherence in our formula, we often employ "volatiles" as ingredients.
How they work- the process of you applying the liner, the volatiles escape from the formula and this process of escaping helps to fix the texture to your skin and makes it stay there for a long time.

Thing with these volatiles is that they have to be kept in air tight containers.
If you see those caps at the bottom tip of your liner or that specially shaped cap, your formula has volatiles which will make them have good adhering properties.

Important thing to remember is to always close the cap.  If you don't you will see that your textures will shrink indicating the evaporation of volatiles.  Formula is not toxic, you can still use them, but they are no longer as adherent as they should be.

Anyway, this might be a hasty generalization but a good rule of thumb is that the more sophisticated read, better) formula will be in a plastic "wooden" pencil with airtight caps.  


BUT, of course after the packaging has given you an indication, YOU still have to test the formula and the color that suits you.

Great that pencils can be sharpened off so you lessen the risk of contamination when using store samples.  As well, if you want a long lasting pencil, test them first in a store, do your shopping and what not and check if it really lasted before you buy.  You will be surprised how much money you will save this way.

If you find what you liked in an expensive brand, take note of how it is packaged and look for a similar formula by taking a cue of the packaging used.  You may not stumble upon the exact same texture and color but you can have a close approximation at a much cheaper price.

And so there you have it.
Beauty without the Bullshit.


  1. Gosh, I've feel exactly the same!!!

    I've been testing out eye pencils from 3 different Greek brands (cause I'm Greek), all of them made in Germany. The packaging is EXATCLY the same, the formulas seem identical. Only thing that changes is the pattern/typewriting. Oh, and the price tag, of course...

    I'd also like to add that all my Body Shop pencils are made in the UK... So there's another small supplier for you ;)

  2. very interesting!
    I really hope you can keep the blog alive, you have a unique insight and tone of voice in the beauty blogosphere.

  3. I love this post as all the others on this blog. so informative and fun to read! This is one of the very few blogs I read regularly :)

  4. I loved this post. I have always maintained that cheaper products are occasionally as good or even better than more expensive ones and it's great to see this confirmed by someone who knows what they are talking about.

    I would definitely like to see more posts like this. :)

  5. AWESOME post!! Thank you so much for writing this! I'm a big eye pencil user, meaning I spend a lot of money on them, because I convinced myself ArtDeco are the best ones ... and now I know what to look for in cheaper penciles, because now I got the info on what I like the most about the ArtDeco ones (they are soft, plastic wannabe-wood like pencils). This really helps!

  6. Definitely something to think about. When I found your blog, I couldn't stop reading it. I really hope you keep blogging!

  7. This is brilliant, thanks so much xx

  8. Your blog is seriously necessary reading. I would love to read more posts like this.

  9. AWESOME! i would love more post like this.

  10. I really enjoy these posts. Please continue with them!

  11. I always squee when I see you have made a post. You always are reshaping my views on products and I love the insight.

  12. You are know!?
    i always kind of knew that they must be the same manufacturer because they all look bloody the same.
    It's all about the cheeky packaging to disguise the eye I guess....but they don't know that we have you!
    So off goes the bullshit and let's buy drugstore!
    Have a fab Friday! XXX

  13. Love this post. Didn't realise there was so much to think about with pencils!

    Your blog is amazing for cheeky insider info and getting us the consumer past the bullshit. Please don't stop!!

  14. FINALLLYYYYYY!!! I've been waiting for this post!!!!

    This was SOOO informative. I loved the style and all the info on the formulations and how the packaging type can affect them!

    One of my fave posts so far I think. I learned a LOT.

    One random question, Can the general public buy directly from the supplier? (I totally may have asked this from the preview pencil post I can't remember. lol) My gut says, no.


  15. Wow, thanks for your no nonsense explanation! I loved this.

  16. No bullshit! That's what I like! Tell me the truth!

  17. Thank you so much for this post! Now I can save money by finding good quality, cheap pencils!

  18. Love, Love, Love theses kinds of posts. Please keep the blog up!

  19. I looooooove your blog and this post! Please keep them coming. You really are an unique blogger with a unique tone of voice! :)

  20. I'm an avid fan of your blog and feel that you have a very up front and honest way of engaging with your readers.

    I would hate for such a rare find to disappear so please don't stop writing, even if it's only once every so often ;)

    P.S This post was most informative, thank you for sharing it with us!

  21. My dearest Rowena,

    This is by far your most informative and concise post, I believe. And thanks so much for all the posts you've written, I now make wiser choices in cosmetics purchases. Also that's why I'm using Milani eyeliner pencil now. Love, love, love your blog!

    But one thing: I can't really find a pencil with an airtight cap. Don't they all come in non-airtight caps (the one without a 'click' sound)?

  22. Love, love, love your blog. Especially the no bullshit. That's hard to find.

    Is there a particular brand you prefer? I am confused (and a marketer's dream) because I *love* the Urban Decay fat shadow liners and have bought several.

    Then on a whim I bought NYC's fat liner in 'Milk' thinking I'd just use it for the corners of my eye - I didn't even look at their other colors. I'll be damn if this product wasn't spectacular for 1/4 of the price.

    I wonder what your thoughts are on this? What 'brand' do you like? Am I pissing my $$ away on Urban Decay when NYC's the same deal?

    Thank you!


    (Hopefully this has appealed to your vanity and you will continue to post further fascinating entries.)

  24. Is nail polish/varnish considered cosmetics? If so, do you have dirt on them? Hmmm?

  25. R- OMG, yes!!! Post about nail polish bullshit!! That would be beyond awesome! Because all the duping of colours lately makes me thing there has to be some dirt there too ...

  26. This was amazingly helpful, thank you! Despite being a bit budget challenged lately I've been in the market for a new black eyeliner, and I know I'll be returning to this post in order to get the best product for value. If you do decide to do more posts along these lines, I'll be right there eagerly looking for them.

  27. Late to the party but I found this post extremely informative!!! Can you tell me a good price range that you would pay for a pencil as a consumer???

  28. the nerd in me loved all the volatile details :-) ... nerdy chic!

  29. I truly appreciate how you present the reality of the beauty world, it's marketing strategies and ploys used to keep us intrigued enough to keep buying new products that most of us don't need or will probably never use to their capacity.

    It confirms a lot of the sneaky suspicions a lot of us have had all along, but did not want to buck the trend or run the risk of missing out on "the next big thing".

    Thank you so much for your honesty & lack of bullshit. I always look forward to your posts and their refreshing presentation that usually makes me either laugh out loud or nod my head in agreement. I never leave your blog feeling gypped of the truth.

    Please keep up the good work of keeping us all informed :)

    A big fan of yours in Canada.

  30. I love reading your posts! I hope you don't go back to the beauty industry so you can keep on dishing out the bullshits to use mere mortals. I would buy your book if you ever decided to write one, perhaps something like in the style of Hotel Babylon (a book revealing what happens in various hotels).

  31. I love this post... now I know what to look for when shopping for pencils.
    I'd really appreciate more posts like this. Good job!! :)

  32. Dear all,
    WOW! I am overwhelmed! Thank you! Thank you!
    I normally answer each and every comment but i hope that this time you forgive me if i do a general response and answer your questions as in one big post-
    @yvonne- yes anyone can order pencils straight from the supplier. MOQ (minimum order quantity) is normally 5000pcs and leadtime is at least 16weeks
    @cathy lee- airtight caps in pencils do not have a "click". they either are just simple caps that fit snugly on a plastic pencil or those caps as above that go with wooden pencils. in any case, wood or plastic, they would have a cap at the bottom
    @gidget- for pencils, i buy the cheap and based on criteria IF i will buy. But as an insider, i get free samples from suppliers which are usually 1-2 years advanced before they hit the market. Working for the industry has its perks. And though, some images of some brands appeal to me, since i know that all products are from the same sources, i do not buy so much into their BS
    @R & Ulmiel -as you suspected, nail polish goes by the same bullshit- just a handful of suppliers out there What some cheaper/bigger brands do is set up their own filling plant- but formula is not their own. I will do a post on this if i can get through this blog.

  33. Wow, this should be essential reading for everyone who buys pencil eyeliner! I have a great pencil by Smashbox (came in a set I received as a gift, actually has a sharpener attached to its lid), so now I'm going to try to find cheaper versions of it.

    This blog is great. You are great!! :D

  34. Oh, another great post, you're so informative as always!!!
    I had never heard of oval or trangular shaped liners before, who would have thought?!


  35. Sheeeeeeeeesh! Should have read this before I went and got myself 3 eye pencils yesterday DOHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!

    Thanks for all the useful blog posts. Dayum! I wish I worked in your industry - because there seems to be so much BS!!!!

    Love ya

  36. loved the post, keep on blogging won't cha?

  37. Oh noes!
    I recently purchased a retractable eyeliner (my gel one was becoming way too old).

    Anyway, thanx for the great post, I should translate this to my mom, she still thinks that "higher brand, higher quality"...

    I didn't know manifacturers are from Italy also! I'll have to check next time for something made in "home" :P

    (PS thank you so much for linking to my blog too... may I ask you to correct it to Euforilla? It's something along euphoria lines, nothing with Europe XD)

  38. Great post as always. I went and looked at my pencils, sure enough most were from the 3 countries you mentioned. I always suspected this was the case anyway.

    PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE give us the dirt on nail polish! Although I think I can predict what you will say after reading about the pencils lol.

  39. Hello new readers, eighteighteight, euforilla, honeyjr, lingtung, new outlook fitness and dear regular tina!
    Thank you for the comments of appreciation.
    Euforilla- changed it, thanks for the mention as well!
    By May 15, i will be posting like a madwoman (not that my posts aren't mad at the moment).

  40. G'day, Rowena: I just found your blog and I think I want to marry you, you're just that refreshing...I am a journalist by trade and thus a fact freak; your blogs meet and indeed exceed my need for the truth. Hooray! There's so much crap floating around the blogosphere, and Youtube, that sometimes I feel like like I'm choking. Literally. I look forward to reading more of your writing in the future, and will now content myself by reading your previous posts.

  41. Dear Anne- thank you for the very nice comment! I am so flattered!
    Though i am tempted to marry you back, i know my mum will freak out if i turned lesbo, so what a bout a single brother of yours? Heehee!

  42. I have two of them, single brothers, that is. But as I like you, I will not foist either of them on you.

  43. Hey, Rowena; I have a logistics question. How the heck do you sharpen the pencils that are plastic but made to look like wood? Thanks.

  44. Anne- haha! i feel the same way about my brothers!

    Sharpening plastic pencils is a bitch. You need those cosmetic pencil sharpeners- nothing else works! I know as I had the most difficult time trying everything when i had a Sunday product photoshoot in Madrid, forgot my cosmetic pencil sharpeners and cosmetic shops are closed.

  45. Thanx. I still have a dull pencil tip, but now at least I don't feel quite as doltish as before your answer. The package should carry a warning or something.

  46. A warning? heehee! That is too transparent for the beauty biz!

  47. Great post! I always look at the eyeliners a my local indoor market and just think no they will be shit, now I am going to give them a chance x

  48. i love this. i heard rumors from professional artists here that a local brand's supplier is same as MAC :D i will not be surprised if it were proven true... if it can ever be proven true haha

  49. Hello The Beautiful Blog!
    Why, thank you! Happy to be of service to womankind one pencil at a time:-)

  50. Hi Rowena,

    Can you list the names of those major manufacturers, or have resources where I can find out who they are?

  51. i was just checking my Lakme (an Indian brand) twist up pencil. Voila! Made in Germany. :) No wonder its fabulous... thanks !


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.