Chikuhodo Z-Series Brushes — Z-10, Z-5, Z-4, Z-1, Z-9
Chikuhodo Z-Series Brushes are a luxurious brush indulgence. There are ten brushes in the range, and for the past few weeks, I’ve been testing five of them: the Z-10, Z-5, Z-4, Z-1, and Z-9. (Other brushes include the Z-2, Z-3, Z-6, Z-7, and Z-8.) Chikuhodo is a Japanese brush manufacturer under their own brand as well as working with such brands as Shiseido, SUQQU, and Kanebo through original equipment manucaturing (OEM) (you can see their client list here). If softness is one of the key metrics you use to determine how much you love a brush, Chikuhodo’s Z-Series are the softest brushes I’ve experienced using. They don’t even feel like individual bristles, as they move and feel as one. The Z-Series is made out of gray or blue squirrel hair, and they’re designed to be used with powder products.
All five brushes I tried have held up well to multiple washings; they’ve retained their overall shape (but the face brushes are a little fluffier than they look initially), haven’t shed, and the larger face brushes didn’t take as long to dry as I expected (but overnight is still best). The ferrules on the Z-Series brushes seems very, very well-connected (almost like one-piece), which is different from a lot of the other brushes I have (Hourglass #2 was the only one at a glance that seemed similar). The major difference I found between gray squirrel and goat hair applications were that gray squirrel brushes tended to naturally diffuse and soften edges while applying the initial color/product, whereas goat gave a more precise, harsher edge, but both can blend and diffuse the product (so the end results were the same regardless of the hair type). I always do a blind test with several brushes (in this case, five different brands) with each brush with my husband–he closes his eyes, and we spend far more time than he’d like having him tell me what seems the softest to him, and yes, these brushes tended to come out on top, but the degree of softness is still very comparable to high-end brushes like Hakuhodo and Tom Ford.
Z-10 Eyeshadow Brush ($45.00) is a small, tapered brush that comes to a very fine, pointed tip. Its shape is much like a pencil brush, but it’s a little larger and feels a bit more like a tapered crease brush. The brush head is made using gray squirrel, and it is 10mm in length, 5mm in thickness, and 5mm in width. It had a total length of 5 inches or 12.5 centimeters with an open, round ferrule. The handle is well-balanced but lightweight, and the handle is shorter than the average brush. The one characteristic about that stood out to me about this is is it never felt sharp, whether held vertically or horizontally, at an angle or straight-on. It’s dense but not too firm, so it has some give, which means that despite its very fine tip, it is not as precise as a firmer, denser pencil brush. I really loved it for applying crease color, blending out crease colors, and applying color to the inner tear duct/inner lid with more precision than my typical dome-shaped go-tos.
NARS #12 ($27.00) is a little skinnier, and it is more of a small, tapered crease brush in overall shape, but I felt like it applied and felt similar in terms of density, though it isn’t as soft as the Z-10. MAC’s 226 ($26.00) is larger with a more severe tapered edge and a greater variety in lengths, and it is, unsurprisingly, has a rougher texture (and there is a lot of variance in the shape, density, and texture between versions of the 226).
Z-5 Eyeshadow Brush ($56.00) is a large, dome-shaped brush. The brush is made out of gray squirrel hairs, and the brush head is 16mm in length, 19mm in width, and 6mm in thickness. It had a total length of just over 5 inches or 13 centimeters with a lightly pinched ferrule. I think the larger size will make it great for some, but then a shape others would rarely reach for; I fall into the latter camp. If you were applying a single color all-over the lid, it absolutely works well for that. It picks up color well and applies a lot of color from the get-go, and it’s particularly nice for those sub-par eyeshadows in one’s stash, as you don’t have to pack on the eyeshadow for quite as long. It also seems to diffuse the color along the edges where it’s been placed, as if you blended it, but all you did was pat it on. The bristles aren’t all the same length, as they shorten as you move to the sides of the brush, it also works well to blend out edges and fade colors upwards towards the brow bone. I also liked it for patting on setting powder underneath the eyes (to set concealer).
Inglot #27P ($21.00) is the most similar in shape, size, and density, but it is wider and has more rounded edges. shu uemura #11 ($140.00) is slightly narrower and significantly longer, but it has a somewhat similar density (not quite as dense throughout), and because it is longer, it has more give. OCC #007 Large Shader Brush ($22.00) is smaller, more tapered along the edge, and half as thick. MAC 252 ($32.00) is similar in shape along the edge and at a glance, but it is significantly less thick and dense. Tom Ford #11 ($55.00) is a little more flared at the edge with a more rounded dome shape, and it is also less thick and less dense.
Z-4 Cheek/Highlight Brush ($92.00) medium-sized, blush brush with a domed edge and tapered bristles (so the lengths get shorter as you move outward from the center). It’s not a rounded brush, more flattened, but it is not really thin or flat. The brush is made out of gray squirrel, and the brush head is 35mm in length, 28mm in width, and 15mm in thickness. The brush had a total length of just under 6 inches or 15 centimeters with an open ferrule. It’s excellent for applying soft, even color along the cheeks with minimal blending required. Sometimes, after swatching five or six blushes on my cheeks back-to-back, I pay for it the next day with irritated, reddened skin that can result in drier patches, and this brush is very forgiving on the skin without further irritating it–and it manages to make color apply more evenly than many other brushes I own despite the rougher surface. It feels like silk, and it feels like a single swish across the face; you never feel the individual bristles. It’s dense without being too heavily packed with bristles but doesn’t feel wispy against the skin; just right for versatility, so it can be used with heavily pigmented blushes, sheerer ones, and it can work well with highlighters and bronzers, too.
Hakuhodo G5545 ($48.00) is very comparable in terms of softness and general application, but it is flatter and wider with a more feathery, lighter feel against the skin as it is not as dense. shu uemura #20 ($50.00) is a little more square-ish in shape and flatter, not quite as soft. Sephora #73 Pro Precision Brush ($32.00) is more tapered at the edge, a little squatter, and it is not as soft, though I wouldn’t describe it as rough either. MAC 116 ($35.00) is thicker and more rounded at the edge, and it is a lot less soft.
Z-1 Powder Brush ($226.00) is a large, rounded, slightly tapered brush. It is one of the larger brushes I’ve come across and have in my brush treasure trove. The brush is made out of gray squirrel hair, and the brush head is 45mm in length, 35mm in width, and 35mm in thickness. It had a total length of just over 6 inches or 16 centimeters with an open ferrule. The lightly rounded, large edge makes blending powder products a breeze. I used this a lot like a kabuki brush but with a longer handle; it does a fantastic job of just finishing and setting everything into place. To that end, it also works well with finishing and setting powders, and even powder foundation (which I only tried a few times just to see how it performed). I really liked applying all-over highlighting powders with this (think Hourglass Ambient Lighting Powders or Guerlain Meteorites, the latter was particularly lovely with this, as the brush fits well into the container). It’s incredibly soft and feels nice against the skin, but it is very effective.
MAC 138 ($53.00) is slightly skinnier and much more tapered. This was the only comparable brush I could think of, aside from the Z-9 below (which is not really the same shape but more similar than not).
Z-9 Powder Brush ($226.00) is large, rounded, slightly flat brush with medium-full density. The brush is made out of gray squirrel hair, and the brush head is 55mm in length, 40mm in width, and 26mm in thickness. It had a total length of 6.5 inches or 16 centimeters with an open ferrule. When it came to apply setting powder, I preferred this slightly more than the Z-1, because of the flatter shape, which enabled me to press the setting powder against the skin, rather than with more sweeping motion. For setting powders, I prefer pressing and patting, and for finishing powders, I like the more feathery, sweeping motions. The end result is very similar, though, regardless of the brush used. The Z-9 can be used in sweeping, patting, or pressing applications, and it feels like silk against the skin.
Compared to the Z-1, the Z-9 is larger, more dome-shaped, longer, flatter, and has more spring and give (so it is less dense and firm). Otherwise, I didn’t feel like any brushes I have were all that comparable in shape–most were significantly flatter. I feel like I should mention Tom Ford’s Bronzer Brush ($115.00), but the shape is significantly wider and the brush much denser and firmer, so I don’t think they’re comparable.
Chikuhodo brushes can be purchase at Now-e Project. Brushes ship from Japan, so shipping isn’t cheap ($35), but there is free shipping on $300+ purchase with code VALENTINE2014. Or you can save 10% with code TEMPTALIA (so orders under $300 would benefit best from this code). All valid coupons cannot be used with other coupons (one per order), discounts, or special value offers.