The world of Hakuhodo
Hakuhodo is a world famous Japanese high-end make-up brush manufacturing company based in the make-up brush capital of the world, Kumano, where renowned high quality calligraphy brushes have been produced for over 200 years. Hakuhodo’s speciality is award-winning make-up brushes, but they also make high-quality calligraphy, oil painting, menso, design and other brushes. Interestingly, Hakuhodo not only manufactures their own brand brushes but also the brushes of many leading cosmetic companies worldwide.
To produce their brushes Hakuhodo uses traditional Japanese brush manufacturing technologies – all of Hakuhodo’s brushes are handmade. Hand-assembling the brushes allows the hair used in their brushes to remain uncut at the tips (with hair naturally tapering off at the ends). This results in soft to the touch brushes with superior product distribution qualities. Hakuhodo uses only the best quality materials to produce their brushes (no filler hairs here!), filtering out any less-than-perfect hairs. The brush-heads are very high quality – even and silky feeling, they retain their shape over time and are not prone to shedding. Nothing about these brushes feels less than perfect – from brusheads to handles to weight, they are well designed and thoroughly thought over without any corner cutting.
My journey into the world of Hakuhodo brushes started in 2014, after NARS came out with their Yachiyo brush. It caught my eye and I was considering buying it, but I always do a bit of research before buying more expensive make-up brushes. I found that it was in fact a traditional Japanese brush – which lead to the discovery of Hakuhodo brushes, because it made sense for me to go ‘to the source’ – a company who would know how to make such brushes best. From then onwards I have been building my Hakuhodo brush collection, carefully choosing and selecting which brush to buy to suit my needs best.
I personally found the process of choosing quite confusing. The company’s website is more than a little overwhelming, with more than 350 make-up brush choices (divided into various puzzling categories). The wide range of brushes is excellent for getting that perfect brush for your needs, but it can also be somewhat paralysing. Since I was just beginning to discover Hakuhodo, I knew nothing about what brush series would be most suited to me or what the differences even were! So I’m here to share my knowledge and hopefully help you orient yourself in the world of Hakuhodo make-up brushes.
Firstly, let’s look at how Hakuhodo divides its brushes. There are 11 series which use various bristles (both natural and synthetic), ferrules (nickel brass, matte black brass or 24-carat gold plated brass) and handles (all of brush handles are made of wood, however the wood used and finishes vary across series).
I’ve found that there is plenty of code-sharing across the series. This means you can often find the same brush in several variations, such as with different bristles or a different handle. For example, the brush 116 is found across 4 different series (S100, S100 Black, Basic and J). The S116, S116Bk and B116 are all made of dark Blue squirrel hair (no, the bristled are not blue!) with the differences being in the brush ferrules and handles, whereas J116 is made of white Goat hair and shares a similar handle to B116 (see pictures of the mentioned brushes below).
These are high-quality brushes and their price isn’t cheap. However, Hakuhodo has a very wide price range and I’m certain that almost everyone looking to invest in mid-to-high-end brushes will find suitable options among Hakuhodo’s large selection. Price comparisons between Hakuhodo and other brands change from brush to brush, as the pricing for various Hakuhodo series differs quite substantially.
That said, I have found that Hakuhodo seems to be slightly more affordable than a lot of other similar brushes. For example, Hakuhodo J5543 (priced at 63 USD) is quite similar to Tom Ford cheek brush 06 (priced at 78 USD), but the price differences get even bigger with smaller brushes. Tom Ford eye shadow blend brush 13 (56 USD) is quite similar to Hakuhodo J143 (19 USD); even Hakuhodo priciest version of the brush S142 is just 42 USD in comparison.
To compare further, Hakuhodo large pointed Yachiyo brush (priced at 50 USD) is quite similar to NARS Yachiyo kabuki brush (priced at 55 USD). The difference here isn’t too big, but I find it quite interesting that some of the world’s highest-quality brushes cost less than those of well known make-up companies.
What I was most surprised to find was that pricing for certain Hakuhodo brushes is even lower than that of similar MAC brushes (this works best for smaller brushes). For example, Hakuhodo J5523 (19 USD) is very similar to MAC 217 (25 USD); Hakuhodo J004 (20 USD) is similar to MAC 239 (25 USD). The quality, however, is incomparable! (Hint: Hakuhodo wins that race.)
The cost of brushes in the Hakuhodo range differs widely, from a staggering 225 USD for a large Kokutan Kinoko face brush to an affordable 14 USD J series eyeliner brush. Of course these prices aren’t comparable to each other because the mentioned brushes are completely different, but it should give you and idea of their price range.
There is a general pricing policy for each of the series and is determined by two things: the type of bristles used and the decorativeness of the brushes themselves. Series with the softest, rarest bristles and ornate handles will be the most expensive while series with the same brush head but simpler handles will make for more affordable brushes.
Hakuhodo brushes use a wide range of bristles and choosing the right ones for the right brush and the right use is of great importance. Hakuhodo brushes use both natural and synthetic bristles, sometimes combining two types of natural bristles or natural and synthetic bristles in their brushes.
Overall natural bristles are porous (and often delicate) and thus can pick up powders very well. They also tend to soak up oils and liquids into the bristles, which isn’t good for the brush and increases the amount of product you need to use. Meanwhile synthetic fibres are non-porous and can’t hold on to powders well, however they are excellent when used with liquid products.
- Blue squirrel – wonderfully soft and fine, these bristles deliver a sheer and diffused application of colour for a natural look. Squirrel bristles are quite delicate and are excellent to be used with highly pigmented products. They also tend to soak up some oil and glide rather delicately over the surface of the skin so they’re better suited for those with dry and normal skin types.
- Goat – soft and durable, goat bristles pick up just the right amount of product. Goat hair is neither overly soft or stiff, but undyed bristles are softer than dyed ones. Hakuhodo uses several different types of hairs from Japanese goats, so there is quite a bit of variation in the properties of the bristles (see the above links and here for more information).
- Horse – one of the most common natural bristles used in make up brushes, these are stiffer than goat and squirrel hair (but become softer over time). Horse bristles are more elastic and durable than goat or squirrel bristles. They offer great pigmentation and are most often used for eyebrow and some eyeshadow brushes.
- Weasel – similarly to horse bristles, weasel bristles are quite elastic and durable, but softer. These bristles are most often used in eyeliner, lip and concealer brushes.
- Water badger – quite thick at the base and thinner at the ends, these bristles are very stiff. They are most commonly used in brow brushes.
- Synthetic fibre – synthetic fibre bristles are less porous than those made of natural hair so they soak up less oil. They don’t pick up powders too well and are best used with cream and liquid products.
So which bristle brushes are the best? Ultimately that depends on your skin type and brush needs. Stiffer bristles tend to hold shape better (which translates to preciser application) and softer ones tend to splay out more (which gives a sheerer and more diffused application). Natural hair is better for powders whereas synthetic fibres are better for liquids and creams. Squirrel hair is better for dry skin and goat hair is better for oily skin. When choosing between brushes you should think on what your specific needs are and go from there.
As confusing as the selection of Hakuhodo brushes may initially seem, it can certainly be made sense of. Plus, it makes you really think about what you actually need (quite possibly in more detail than you have ever done before) – and whatever it is, they’ve got a brush for that!
S100 Series is Hakuhodo’s flagship brush range – and it undoubtedly contains the most luxurious of all of Hakuhodo brushes. The brushes all have a bright orange-red handle (apparently vermilion is a traditional Japanese colour) with a diagonal cut off on the bottom and a 24-carat gold plated brass ferrule. Naturally, the brushes in this collection also have some of the most expensive price tags, ranging from 30 USD for a synthetic spooley brush to 148 USD for a blue squirrel hair finishing face brush.
S100 Series (Black)
The brushes in this range are similar to S100 Series, however the bright stand-out handles have been replaced by more down-to-earth black glossy wooden handles. The brushes still sport the eye-catching gold plating on their ferrules and have the same brush heads. This series currently holds only 7 brushes, ranging in price from 24USD for a blue squirrel eye shadow brush to 84USD for a blue squirrel blush brush.
As one of the newest Hakuhodo brush ranges, J Series stands out with many of its brushes sporting pure white bristles. All of the brushes in this series are made with undyed natural bristles (most often goat, but horse hair bristles are also used) which makes them very soft to the touch. The white goat bristles certainly give these brushes a luxurious high-end feel, since undyed bristles are softer (and quite possibly prettier) than dyed bristles.
This collection also contains a fairly large selection of duo fibre brushes, meant for applying both face and eye make-up. The natural bristles used in these brushes are similarly undyed and the synthetic fibre bristles mimic the look and feel of the natural bristles (e.g. soft white goat bristles will be joined by equally soft fine white synthetic fibre bristles).
Let me also put some doubts to rest. As pretty as white bristles look, they immediately make me worried about staining. Thankfully these bristles are made to be quite stain resistant and I can attest to that. I’ve used some of my brushes regularly for over a year with both liquid and powder products and I notice the tips of the brushes have become slightly more ivory-toned, but the difference in colour is minuscule and not really noticeable unless I’m searching for it.
This is one of the largest brush collections with almost 90 different brushes available. It is also one of the most affordable series, with prices ranging from 14 USD for a horse hair eyeliner brush to a 115 USD duo fibre (goat and synthetic fibres) powder brush.
This is a great series for anyone who wants to start discovering Hakuhodo brushes and own luxurious feeling high quality make-up brushes without emptying their entire bank account.
According to Hakuhodo, brushes in K Series are specially selected for ease of use, meant for both professionals and beginners. With the exception of brush K006, these don’t code share with any other Hakuhodo series brushes and include some unique (and excellent!) face and eye brushes. There are also quite a few fairly specific brushes (such as eyebrow and eyelash combs in various shapes).
The brushes in this series are mostly made from a wide range of natural bristles, including several kinds of squirrel, goat, water badger, horse and hog hair. The pricing ranges from 15 USD for a hog eyebrow brush to 83 USD for a blue squirrel powder brush.
With 84 brushes G Series is almost as large as J series and offers a wide range of brushes. The G Series uses both natural (most often blue squirrel, goat and horse) and synthetic bristles; it also contains several note-worthy duo fibre foundation brushes. Few of these brushes can be found in other collections, making them quite unique.
The price ranges from 15 USD for a small horse eye shadow brush to 150 USD blue squirrel and goat blush brush.
Brushes in Kokutan Series are equipped with unique ebony handles, making them a little heavier than brushes in other Series. Due to the luxurious wood used in the handles, this series is on the pricier side of Hakuhodo brushes. All of the face brushes in this series are duo fibre brushes, with the exception of fan and kinoko brushes. Each of these brushes has its own name, so they don’t code share with any other brushes – although the face brushes are not necessarily completely unique. For example, a duo fibre Kokutan finishing brush JLAG (goat and synthetic fibres) closely resembles S100 (goat) in brush-head shape, size and natural fibres used.
The pricing for this series ranges from 28 USD for a synthetic spooley brush to 225 USD for a large goat Kokutan kinoko brush. The kinoko brushes found in these series are the most expensive brushes of the entire Hakuhodo range, however the rest of the series are less costly (though by no means cheap!) than similar brushes in S series.
Basic (or B) series offers a selection of around 50 most useful Hakuhodo brushes, which all code share with brushes in other series. The name of this series would suggest that these brushes are the most basic in build, but that is far from the truth. In fact, bristles used in these brushes are often of the softest and most luxurious variety amongst code sharers (the price of these brushes also reflect this). That said, the handles and ferrules don’t draw any extra attention and are quite similar to J, K and G series, with silvery brass ferrules and black lacquered handles.
The pricing of this series goes from 17 USD for a synthetic fibre eyeshadow brush to 138 USD for a blue squirrel powder brush.
This series contains only a few eye shadow and lip brushes (in addition to these there are currently some highlight and blush brushes, but they are soon to be discontinued). The brushes are made of both natural and synthetic bristles. For those brushes that code-share with J series, prices are slightly higher than their J series counterparts. Prices range from 19 USD for a pahmi and horse eyeshadow brush to 43 USD weasel and synthetic fibre eye shadow brush.
This is a very unique brush collection with no code sharing between other series whatsoever. This series includes traditional Japanese brushes (as the name would suggest), such as Yachiyo and Itabake brushes. All of the brushes have delicate looking yellow wooden handles and a unique design, clearly marking them as traditional Japanese brushes. A thing to note is that due to the delicate wood used, the brushes feel a little top-heavy.
Prices range from 33 USD for a small goat Yachiyo brush to 150 USD for a goat and synthetic fibre Gidayu Bake brush.
The Yachiyo brush I own and have used for over a year (including travelling with it!) is wrapped in very light cane and I was initially worried the handle would snap, fray, unwrap or get otherwise damaged, but the quality of these brushes is top-of-the-notch and the handle still looks brand new.
This series contains a variety of kabuki and fan brushes in many shapes, sizes and finishes. The brushes use both natural and duo fibre bristles. Their pricing ranges from 27 USD for a small goat fan brush to 188 USD for a large goat and synthetic fibre maple kinoko brush (or to 255 USD for the previously mentioned kokutan kinoko brush).
In addition to the aforementioned series, there is another category of brushes. These are portable brushes which are either retractable or smaller (and thus easier to carry on the go) brushes. This series contain mostly face brushes with a few eye shadow, eyebrow and lip brushes in the mix. The design of brushes in this series is unique and unlike that of any other series. All this makes it quite an expensive series, considering these brushes are usually on the smaller side for portability. Pricing ranges from 28 USD for a synthetic fibre lip brush to 97 USD for a blue squirrel and synthetic fibre face brush.
As top of the line make-up brushes, to me my hakuhodos are absolutely worth their price (and more!). These brushes (and the products they’re used with) do the bulk of the work for me when I do my make-up. And who doesn’t want to fool-proof and elevate their make-up game? They are certainly an investment (as are any other mid-range or high-end brushes) and you can certainly do without them in your life. But if you’re serious about make-up and can afford the price, you really can’t go wrong with a Hakuhodo brush. And you’ll feel like a queen every time you pick one up.