I got my hands on my first MAC brush. I’ve actually had it for a couple months now but have waited to share (I do that). In truth, I expected my first MAC brush to be a 242; you know, all that pigment-packing glory? Oh well.
So I finally got what many consider to be the Holy Grail of blending brushes – I was able to use Plenti points at the MAC counter in Macy’s to get a few bucks off it. Let’s put MAC 217 vs bdellium 776 (what I’ve been using and have been just OK with) – and see which is better.
Side by side, you can tell immediately that the MAC 217 head is fuller; the density of bristles is far greater. The length is more consistent as well; uneven, inconsistent length is noticeable with the 776. Being fair, the 217 is brand new in this photo, whereas the 776 is two years old (and has shed – but not enough, it was thinner than the 217 when I bought it). But from what I understand, I shouldn’t see much, if any, shedding from the 217 during use and care.
There’s another look at the bristles from another angle:
You can get a slightly better look at the ferrules as well, there; the MAC ferrule is shorter, but seems pinched in a bit better on the handle side. The overall shape of the bristles created and reinforced by the ferrule is slightly better (but this is a matter of opinion!) for blending, as well. The base of the bristles is about even in width, but not quite in breadth; I think the looser arrangement of the 776 is one of its flaws, and is probably a contributing factor to its shedding.
Things I cannot depict for you, though, as much as I would love to, are weight and softness.
The MAC brush handle is about a centimeter shorter than the bdellium. The MAC brush seems slightly heavier than the bdellium – but while it is the case that the handle is more dense, the weight discrepancy is an illusion of weight distribution. I weighed them, and they are identical in weight, 0.22oz each.
I am not really sure how one can quantify softness (I’m sure there’s a way, but I’m not equipped), so my test is a bit subjective. I brushed each over a section of the underside (the tender side!) of my forearm, and the 217 brush was noticeably softer. This is even after the 776 has been broken in, washed, conditioned countless times.
Performance-wise, the 217 blends things out smoother; I spend less time blending with it than I do the 776. I attribute this to higher bristle density, but it isn’t the difference between giving yourself blending-induced carpal tunnel.
The Bottom Line
MAC 217 vs bdellium 776 – which is better?
Without a doubt, the MAC 217 ($25). That said, I don’t think you need one. Yes, it is softer and blends better, but it is still definitely an investment brush. I do believe in investing in quality tools, but it’s entirely realistic to say, “I can’t swing that yet, but I’d like to start somewhere.”
If you need brushes and you’re starting with nothing (and, I assume, don’t have an unlimited tool budget)? Get the bdellium 776 ($11). Use the difference to flesh out your brush kit. Given the functionality of blending brushes, if I managed to lose all my brushes tomorrow, I’d probably buy two 776s rather than one 217 to get me by.
The third, and perhaps best (but unconfirmed by me) options: Sigma’s E25. I haven’t tried it, but it is said to be identical and is a whopping $11 (retail) cheaper than the MAC 217. It’s also only a couple dollars more than the bdellium 776, and from all I’m seeing, absolutely worth it. I’ll pick it up at some point to give you a real comparison between the three.