Posted by: Codfish - 03-24-2013, 10:26 AM - Forum: Features - Replies (78)
Have Synthetic Brushes Come of Age?

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When I took up wet shaving seriously several years ago, I gave little thought to acquiring a synthetic brush. Based on the reviews I read of them at the time, they were easy to dismiss. They seemed to be at the low-end of desirability, but adequate for shavers with allergies to animal hair or shavers who objected to using animal products. They also had notable drawbacks that were well-documented in reviews at the time.

I built a small collection of badgers and boars over the next year or so while I looked for a razor that would suit my needs. In 2011, I found the razor I wanted, and discovered a German company called Mühle. Their catalog described a synthetic brush with Silvertip Fibres® that were claimed to closely imitate badger. I bought one of these early versions, and was very impressed. My curiosity about modern synthetic brushes increased.

The New-Gen Synth Project

In March of last year, I heard from other shavers that they were trying new synthetic brushes that showed improvements over older synths. I invited a team of experienced shavers to join me to collect and test as many new synthetics we could get our hands on. The team included Gary Carrington, Wim Bouman, Teiste Brito, Mark Herro and myself.

In most cases, we purchased the brushes we tested and then traded them back and forth as we could. Not all of us tried every brush given time constraints, but we trusted each other's evaluation skills. In all, we tested 15 different brushes from nine manufacturers. We also looked at a few pre-production prototypes that we could not report on. We did the best we could to give each member the broadest exposure possible.

During the course of our 100-day testing period, we collectively conducted over 400 tests. All of us found significant improvements over earlier generations of synths. The team did identify differences between the brushes that were part of our tests, and drew contrasts with synths we had collectively tried in the past.

I asked that the team to consider two questions:

Have synthetics brushes come of age?

Do they have qualities that are as good, or better than their natural counterparts?

Team member Gary Carrington developed a classification system to categorize the different generations of synths. It is summarized here with his permission:

Generation 1 knots were made of base Nylon which was developed in the late 1930s and early 1940s. One examples is the Omega White Syntex Line.

Generation 2 came out in the early 2000s. Taken from the cosmetic industry, these nylon brushes were flagged more at the tips to allow a softer feeling and some were dyed to approximate a more natural look. The early MenU, Body Shop, Parker synthetics used this fiber type. They are prone to "doughnut holes" while wet and are not strong performers.

Generation 3 knots came out in the mid-2000s. Also derived from the cosmetic industry, these nylon brushes were flagged more at the tips to allow a softer feeling and some were dyed to approximate a more natural look and feel. Closer to badger but not exactly like badger. The fibers tended to be thinner so that more hairs could be packed in a bundle for a denser brush. The performance of brushes using this version improved dramatically. The Jack Black, TGN, Omega Syntex, and a variety of other makers use this fiber to create high performing brushes.

Generation 3.5 arrived when Mühle began to crimp and adjust the lengths of the fibers to create a brush that looks and behaves more like natural hair. These brushes are now commonly referred to as V1 versions of the Silvertip Fiber. This is a much higher performing brush than brushes using Generation 3 fibers. These came out during the 2010-2012 time frame.

Generation 4 knots became available this year. These are found in the Mühle V2 Silvertip Fibre brush series and are believed to be in current synthetic brushes offered by Edwin Jagger. These fibers are flagged even more at the ends to increase softness and to improve lather application. The fibers are also more flexible than what is found the third generation knots, and this allows lofts to be shorter and provide excellent backbone and face feel. Brushes by H.I.S. also have a similar, if not identical fiber with different dying, finish and lofts. Here is the full text of Gary's work.


I won't attempt a detailed summary of our findings here, but readers who are interested can find the three-part series here. I will say that we all found significant improvements in the following areas: attractiveness in design, more natural appearance, softness of tips, overall performance, higher density, better backbone, faster drying time, and economical use of soaps and creams.

We determined that several manufacturers were producing synths that were significantly improved from the previous generations. Among them were Omega, H.I.S., Edwin Jagger and Mühle. There may be others, and I would like your opinions on this—we were limited to the 15 brushes that we were able to acquire during our limited testing period and personal budgets.

Best of the New Synths—Mühle V2 Series

After our findings were published and the project ended, we saw new and exciting synthetic brushes become available. In my opinion, they are the finest synths ever made. They are commonly referred to as the Mühle V2 series of brushes, and they differ in several ways from any previous synths. I believe the current generation of Edwin Jagger brushes shares the same knots.

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These new V2 fibers are thinner than in any previous synthetic brushes, as well as being more tapered. Thinner fibers allow more to be packed into a given knot size, and result in improved density, backbone and face feel. There is an experience of luxury when using these brushes, like no other synth on the market. They feel soft and silky both dry and wet.

Thinner fibers are also more flexible, and do not require the characteristic high lofts of other synths. The V2 lofts more closely resemble natural hair brushes due to Mühle's fine-tuning and engineering.

Finally, the V2 series so closely resembles natural silvertip badger hair that they are difficult to distinguish from natural-hair badger brushes visually. Their handles and overall quality make them even more appealing.

I won't attempt to review the new Mühle V2 series brushes here. Teiste Brito will be doing that here on ShaveNook in a separate thread. I will contribute my review points there.

When this project began, I asked two questions. A year later, with the introduction of Mühle's V2 series of brushes, the answer to both questions is a resounding YES!

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A special "Thank You" to Gary Carrington for allowing me to draw liberally from his writing, and for all his work on synthetic brushes and other contributions to the shaving community. I am also grateful to Teiste Brito for allowing me to use his excellent photos.