A Synthetic Brushes Update and Overview – Generations

brush groupLast year Mark (Mantic), James SanSouci, Wim Bouman, Teiste Brito, and I, conducted a test of synthetic brushes.  The final results of the testing can be seen at the link HERE.

In addition I developed a series of articles in which the origins and history of synthetic brushes over time.  The summary of this series (which provides links to the other sections) can be seen HERE.

During the last years some additional changes and updates have occurred.    This led to an issue of how to identify synthetics against each other based on performance and fiber composition so users can have a “common language” to make the comparisons easier.

The various brushes were reanalyzed and placed into categories based on fiber development, sophistication of technology, feel to the skin, and other areas such as springiness, splaying, lather generation, etc.    The following is the current view of synthetics by what is now known as “The Generations.”   This is important because all of the brushes that will be discussed are on the market today and it can lead to confusion. The generations are really based on the development of the fibers and are the changes significant to group them together for comparison. The second concerns the strengths of synthetics as compared to naturals. The third concerns the weaknesses of synthetics as compared to naturals.

The Generations of Synthetic Shaving Brushes:

The first generation knots 1940s – 1990s.

omega nylong brushThese were made of base Nylon fibers (used in early toothbrushes and mono filament fishing line) which was developed in the late 1930s.

These were / are white and are like lathering with a bundle of fishing line or a super boar that never gets soft. They are still available in cheap disposable travel brushes and in the Omega White Syntex. I do not recommend these unless your face needs a very good scrubbing.

 

The second generation knots came out in the early 2000s.

parker brushTaken 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 versions of the MenU, Body Shop, and Parker synthetics used this fiber type. The were prone to doughnut holes when getting moist and were not strong performers but some people enjoyed them more as an alternative to naturals than on performance. These behaved more like a cross between horse and boar hair brushes. These improved and more usable fibers helped to begin the quest for better versions of synthetics.

 

The third generation knots came out in the mid 2000s.

fs brushTaken from the cosmetic industry, these nylon brushes were flagged and / or tapered 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.  Earlier Two Band Generation 3 fibers such as the early FS, TGN 23mm Nylon, Omega Synthetic (not the white nylon) were a major step forward in terms of softness and allowed many users to see synthetic brushes in a different light than the older Generation 1 and 2 offerings.

kent brush

tgn brush

As time went on, the later Generation 3 fibers were improved to become softer, and allowed for greater variations in loft and density to improve performance even more.   The Jack Black, Three Band TGN,  Kent Silvertex, and a variety of other makers use this class of fiber to create higher performing brushes. There are some major (at one time all natural) brush makers that have also introduced their first offerings using Generation 3 fibers.  More than likely they either used a knot maker that specializes in synthetic knots or are making their own knots using the Generation 3 fibers to establish a presence in the marketplace.

A half step up from the third generation (Generation 3.5) came out when Muhle took the Generation 3 fibers and began to crimp and adjust the lengths of the fibers to create a brush that looks and behaves more like natural hairs. This is what is known as the Version 1 of the Silvertip Fibre. This is a higher performing brush than brushes using Generation 3 fibers.

muhle brush

The Generation 3 and 3.5 fiber class really allowed synthetic brushes to become more popular and accepted in the traditional shaving community.

The fourth generation knots came out in the early 2010 – 2012 time frame.

Brushes that so far have been released using this class of fibers are three which are, in chronological release order, the H.I.S. brush, the Version 2 of the Muhle Silvertip Fibre, and the Frank Shaving Pur-Tech. These fibers are flagged and / or tapered 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 that can allow the fibers to be shorter yet retain excellent backbone. These have a reputation for being softer at the tip than other synthetics and are the “state of the art” fiber at the moment.

The question that stands now is when will a new generation type of synthetic fiber become available given that there are more players entering the market both in terms of making their own knots or using knots supplied by larger producers.

brush group

The strengths of synthetic brushes

The synthetic fiber is solid versus naturals which have very small pits and pockets when viewed up close. The naturals are also based on protein. So the solid fiber will not absorb water and product while the naturals will. So a synthetic will create more lather with less product because it will not absorb or hold water. For this same reason, the synthetic fiber will dry faster than the natural product and will resist issues with product calcification, etc. You will use less soap and cream and still get the same amount of lather with a synthetic over a natural.

The synthetic fiber is stronger than the natural fiber. For example, when I want to do strong circular motions with a brush, I will grab a synthetic over a natural because I can make hard circular motions without worrying about fiber damage. In fact, if taken care of properly and under equal conditions a synthetic will outlast a natural in the long term because the protein fibers will break down over time quicker than the synthetic fibers. I have unboxed synthetic fiber brushes made in the 1950s that looked and felted like the day they were made, whereas equivalent natural brushes the knots had deteriorated even under NOS situations (color fade).

Consistency is greater in a synthetic. If you have two brushes with the same knot, handle and loft, there is almost no variance whereas the naturals have variance even with the same hair grade.

Synthetics can handle higher temperature (not extremely hot or boiling) water than naturals which will damage the hairs.

The weaknesses of synthetic brushes

Feel at the tip. Good synthetics (Gen 3) are soft and great synthetics are really soft at the tip (Gen 4), but they are not the same feeling as a natural badger.

Water retention. The strength becomes a weakness because the synthetic does not retain water, you must modify your lather development to accommodate the lack of retained water that can be used with a natural. Once you learn the proper technique of gently shaking the brush to remove excess water and generating a proto-lather, you simply add a slight bit of water and then produce the lather. It should lather well when you develop that technique.

Heat retention. Synthetics will lose heat faster than naturals, so if you like warm lather a natural may be more your preference.

Backbone variation. Synthetics have one backbone setting whereas you can variate the backbone in a natural brush by the amount of time you soak the brush in water. Shorter soak, more backbone, longer soak less backbone. Soaking is not needed with a synthetic since it cannot absorb water.

Cache and tradition. Naturals have a higher cache than synthetics and have a long tradition of use.

Conclusion:

Personally, I use synthetics as often as I do naturals and enjoy them as much based on the strengths they bring to the table.

In a follow-up article James SanSouci will provide more details into the brushes that have been developed since the original test articles last year.

GDCarrington GDCarrington (13 Posts)

I am a single male who leads a quiet life (I hope). I am from Texas and am a multi-generational native of Texas. I am into Electronics, Music, History, Reading, Cooking when I am able, and of course Shaving equipment. I am a active member of The Shave Den, The Shave Nook, and The Shaving Room. Primary areas of interest, Razor Restoration, Blade Evaluation, New Brush Evaluation and Old Brush Restoration.


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Comments

  1. There shouldn’t be a break in period for a synthetic, but daily use has turned this brush into a lather monster. It can be good at home, as well as for travel. Great with soaps, and with creams. For the price it cannot be beat.

  2. Love the Kent Infinity, but it remains my travel brush.

  3. GDCarrington says:

    To the readers of this column and postings.
    The H.I.S. 3D shaving brushes have not been reviewed by any member of the team that has reviewed brushes in the prior year, or myself and I cannot give any determination to their handling characteristics.

  4. Here are two new H.I.S 3D shaving brushes that we have just added to the marketplace.
    http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=beauty%20strokes%20his%203d%20shaving

    • I’ve been trying to reach John Waters, but his account messaging leads me to a large corporate site that makes personal communications impossible. I wanted to offer an alternative to the practice of hijacking existing brush threads for advertising purposes.

      There is an existing team of individuals who have been testing synthetic brushes for some time, [url=http://shavenook.com/thread-the-new-generation-of-synthetic-brushes-%E2%80%93-part-i]and which is collectively responsible[/url] for much of what as been published about them during the past two years. I believe that I speak on behalf of Teiste Brito, Wim Bouman, Gary Carringto and Mark Herro when I offer the services of the New-Gen Synth Team to evaluate the FM Artist Brushstrokes 3D brushes. Team members were among the first to review the H.I.S. brush, and I believe would welcome the opportunity to review the latest FM offerings.

      If Mr. Waters wants to educate shavers about these brushes, there is an effective and ethical way to do it. I invite his response to the team through [url=http://shavenook.com/private.php?action=send&uid=323]this PM link[/url].

  5. Thanks for the great article! Very well written and spot on as always.

  6. Can one find knots in Gen 4 fibers? I’ve accumulated a few handles and I’d like to try putting a Gen 4 knot in one of them.

  7. GDCarrington GDCarrington says:

    Thanks, Gents.

    Jim, I look forward to your article on the new synthetic brushes that have come along since the initial testing.

    Something I failed to mention about Generation 4 brushes, the fiber is what is making the difference and the tips of the fibers. The effective lofts can be shorter with Gen 4 fibers. Example the FS Pur Tech has a larger glue bump than Muhle V2 which reduces the effective loft against the total loft. The Gen 4 fibers started at first with the original H.I.S. brush which used a very long loft which was not needed with that fiber. Muhle and FS have used shorter total and / or effective lofts, which improves the overall performance.

  8. I disagree regarding Pur-Tech being Gen4 fibres. Having owned and compared multiple synthetic brushes myself, Pur-Tech behaves more like older Muehles (V1), and is different from the current V2, at least in Muehle’s execution. The feel is different, the loft is higher, and the tips aren’t as soft.

  9. This is the best synopsis I have seen to date, along with excellent illustrations. I hope to have an assortment of mini-reviews that will be coming soon of the Muhle V2 series of brushes, the Omega HI-Brush series, the Whipped Dog synth, Frank Shaving PUR-Tech series and Kent Silvertex Infinity–all of which have come to market after the publication of the “New Generation of Synthetic Brushes” articles were published here in Sharpologist.

  10. Great article, as always . Gary.

    I have the little Kent and I’m fairly pleased, especially considering the price. Great value. Still I prefer my 2-band badger brushes. Maybe I will give a 4th generation synth a shot one of these days.

    I’m looking forward to part #2 of the series.

    • The 4th gen V2 brushes by Muhle are simply superb. You would not be dissapointed. I own the 21mm V2 and really enjoy alternating with my 2 band brushes. These new 4th gen synthetics by Muhle are heads and shoulders above the rest, in my oppinion.

    • GDCarrington says:

      The Kent Infinity is to me the best dollar for dollar (or pound for pound since it is a British company) synthetic value on the market, but Attila is correct that the Gen 4 fibers are excellent.

      The Kent Infinity though is the one synthetic that seems to be patterned after Boar performance rather than Badger like the other Gen 3 and 4 brushes are. That also make it a stand out from the crowd brush.

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