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The good ones are very good indeed; ultra reliable lather producers which work equally well for face or bowl lathering. I like the Yaqi synths a lot, because of their balance of good density, decent backbone, nicely soft tips and attractive handles; their low cost is a nice bonus. However, others are almost as good, and might be preferred by some, such as the Muhle STF, Simspons and Razorock. It's difficult to know which you will like, without trying them.
Are they better than high end badger brushes? They are a bit different, and some say they lack character, but that's a very subjective thing.
Synthetic brushes are great because they have good values for what they do. They perform well and feel great on the face. However, the face feel is a bit different than the natural hairs; it feels bit more springy and unnatural at times. However, this is not much of a problem for some and they love synthetics for what they are. I certainly learned to love the soft and springiness and I enjoy them every time.
There are some thicker bristled synthetic that I do not enjoy. These will poke your face and probably give you brush burns, as happened to me before. In my experience, if you stick to well known brands like Yaqi, Stirling, and Maggards, you'll have a great experience with synthetics. Hope you can snag one and enjoy your shaves with it!
My understanding - synthetics don't absorb water (like boars) or hold it in the same way as a badger brush, so they can dribble water initially when they first splay. Aside from that and needing to dip the tips a bit more often, I find that they are excellent brushes (and in some cases are superior to my boar and badger brushes for making a creamy lather quickly). I strongly prefer brushes that splay easily for face lathering, so my 2 favorites are (from APShaveCo) the 30 mm Cashmere knot and the 30 mm SynBad knot. The SynBad has a bit more backbone, the Cashmere a bit softer tips. Both are great in my opinion, though. I really didn't care for the Muhle STF 4th gen brush, as it is too springy/resistant to splaying for me.
I like my Fine angel hair synthetic so much that it's my go-to brush. Soft enough for face lathering, with good spine. My father's 1950s era nylon brush is rougher with more spine, and not for face lathering at all. Are there modern synthetics like that? Don't know. Just be aware that it's a possibility.
How does my Fine brush compare to badger? Don't know. My only badger brush left much to be desired, and was actually scratchy to the face. I take it this isn't usually the case with badger.
I recently got a kick out of synthetics and have gone a little overboard since and have purchased many different kinds. It is true that the bristles are not absorbent like natural hairs but they still hold water in between the bristles. I find it is easier to just dip the tips in water as needed as opposed to soaking the whole brush. Not many cons other than lack of heat retention in my opinion. I have tried the great Plissoft and a couple of the black knots available from West Coast, Stirling, Yaqi and my current favorite brush is actually a new one from Claus Porto which imho beats them all. I believe the Claus uses Muhle Synthetic Fibre Tips and I find it amazing and super easy to use. Although some may not like it for its size as it is a smaller brush I find it perfect for face lathering. I also own the Jack Black synthetic shave brush which is very similar to the Claus Porto and also uses the same Muhle Synthetic Fibre Tips. These brushes splay easily and allow plenty of flow through, I have no problems lathering hard soaps, soft soaps or creams. You will find many people disagree on the Muhle Synthetics but I find them to be the best as I am a strict face latherer so a case of YMMV indeed. Of course you wont know until you try it for yourself. Good luck and happy shaving!
I haven't used my synthetics since getting a couple of nice badger brushes, but I'm still a big fan of the Razorock Bruce for both the handle and the plissoft. I also really dig the Fine Stout (some days more than the Bruce).
I would suggest you maybe try to get in on the Synthetic Brush Pass Around if possible. There are some brushes in there that are a little dated but there is enough of a selection that you should get a really good idea as to what you may like or dislike. There have been some newer brushes like Yaqi and APShaveCo that have been added in the past year so there are some up to date items in there too.
!!Welcome To The Synthetic Shaving Brush Pass-Around!! Rules/Regs/Fine Print 1. Please keep the box for no longer than 2 weeks. 2. Please allow a full 24 hours for the last brush you used to dry before sending the box off to the next person. Dry brushes by gently squeezing out the water and...
I started with boar and badger like most here several years back but in 2017 I tried my 1st Whipped Dog synthetic and it was game over for any brush with natural hair!! I have finally settled in after my 2yr search with a 24mm Whipped Dog and 3 different knots from Milton @ TurnNShave that I set in custom handles and am set for the duration of my life...
Synthetics are great. Like some have said, they don't absorb water the way boars do. Badgers don't absorb water but they have their own way of retaining water in the knot. Same for synthetics. They retain water but in a different way. I think my experience is that synthetics tend to retain more water than badgers and as a result, before I begin to lather a synthetic brush, I give it three hard shakes rather than the two shakes I give my boars and badgers. But get one. And they are really pretty cheap. So you can get two for the price of one badger. I've got 6 synthetics and 5 of them are RazoRocks. They have a wide variety of knot sizes. I'm a bowl latherer and they all work well for that for me. Even with that I do tend to spend a great deal of time lathering and working the lather into my beard, almost doing a face lather after my bowl lather. I find them all to be silky smooth although I've heard others say they don't like the scritch. I don't get that from them but as with everything, YMMV.
I used my cheap no-name eBay synthetic today to lather Weishi shave cream and it worked great- it lathered in a quarter the time it would take me to lather a boar brush and soap. It's not quite as luxurious as some of the newer synthetic knots (which are really not much different from makeup brushes), but it's a far cry from pure badger in terms of the scratchiness.
There are a lot of different synthetic brushes. They can vary significantly in softness, backbone, density, shape, diameter, etc. One excellent vendor of synthetic knots is Turn n Shave on Etsy. He makes complete brushes, but also sells knots. You can find his knots here:
Bulk orders get a discount, send me a message prior to placing order. !!!INTERNATIONAL!!! has a flat rate for knots. Please send me a message prior to placing order. This is to describe different knots available! Please see pictures for reference. Thanks a lot everyone for the great support!
On the page, click on the link in the right hand column for +Learn more about this item to reveal descriptions of each of the knots. Milton does an excellent job of describing the characteristics of each of the knots.
I have three of Milton's brushes. I find the original Boss knot to be soft, but a little scrubby for my liking. I love both the SilverSynth and Tuxedo knots for my sensitive skin.
Depending upon what you are looking for in a brush (type of synthetic, shape, diameter,etc.) you should be able to find something you like. Others sell similar knots, so even if you purchase a brush elsewhere, Milton's descriptions should be useful.
Synthetics are really all pro and very little con.
Pro: inexpensive, low maintenance, easy to build lather with, no need to soak brush
Con: its not real hair and may not feel as luxurious as an expensive badger brush