I’ve had this post brewing for months and finally dusted it off in light of the recent controversy with Z Palette. If you don’t know about it, read about it here, here, and here. Um yeah… total gong show. 😮 Z Palette is probably the most well-known of any major custom palette systems, so their social media misstep has certainly opened the door for other players to secure a larger share of the market. People are now looking for Z Palette alternatives – let’s have a look at what the options are:
I’ll be showing what I own and also list some that I know about but do not own. All prices are shown in Canadian dollars unless otherwise noted. Warning: long post and lots of photos! 😎
Anyone who knows me, knows that I’m not a big fan of large format pre-made palettes (any palette with more than 5 colours, I consider “large format”). I won’t go into too much ranting but, typically I end up liking less half of the shades included in a pre-made (ie. “you take what we give you!”) palette. I feel like it’s such a waste when I only end up using 2 or 3 shades in any given pre-made palette. Enter LIBERATION, in the form of custom palettes! 😀
I’ll break down this overview into 2 categories:
1) Free-form custom palettes
2) Brand specific customizable palettes
Free-form Custom Palettes
These are basically flat magnetized surfaces that you can put any brand, shape, configuration into (provided they fit, size-wise). Some are made of cardboard, some plastic, some are metal. Anything goes!
Z Palette – $7 (mini), $19 (small), $23 (medium), $27 (large), $34 (dome), $38 (extra large), $59 (double sided)
The most famous of them all. These are made of sturdy cardboard material in a variety of solid colours and prints, with a clear window lid.
The Z Palette has a wide distribution including Sephora and Makeup Geek collaborations. It is one of a few brands that only offer empty palettes, and no makeup to refill them with.
The full consequences from the IG fiasco remains to be seen, but I’ve read that Makeup Geek is planning to discontinue ties with Z Palette.
Pros: lightweight, readily available, can see what’s inside, comes with metal stickers
Cons: not as travel friendly, expensive for what they are, being an ass on social media
Etsy – $20 – $60 depending on size, style, and material
This one I have is from the seller anothersoul who was the first and only seller of handmade customizable palettes for ages. Now there are a few of them but I can only vouch for anothersoul’s Book Of Shadows – this palette is well-made and the magnet is strong. And how cute is this mushroom pattern?! 😀
At one point I considered trying my hand at making my own palettes but eh… more effort than it’s worth!
Pros: lightweight, lots of unique design options
Cons: not as travel friendly, can’t see what’s inside, quality will vary depending on individual seller
Inglot Freedom System Flexi Palette – $32
Inglot falls in the unique category where they offer both free-form and pre-form palettes.
The one I own is the predecessor to the Flexi version – I bought it online from Poland (where Inglot is based) so I’m not sure if it’s still available. I like that this version has a mirror and snaps shut like a regular palette.
Pros: very sturdy construction, very strong magnet
Cons: not readily available, only one size, expensive
Make Up For Ever Metal Palette – $12 (S), $13 (M), $14 (L), $16 (XL)
MUFE also offers both free-form and pre-form palettes. The free-form ones they offer are made of metal (like Altoid tins) and come in various sizes. I own the largest size which I use for blushes. MUFE does sell foam inserts for the palettes with cut-outs for round refill pans but I opted not to get one so I can fit any size or shape of pans.
Pros: sturdy construction, inexpensive, strong magnet, protective sheet
Cons: online only, can’t see what’s inside, large palette not travel friendly
UNII – $29 USD
This is probably the most hardcore, nearly bullet-proof palette I own. It’s made of thick durable plastic with a secure locking clasp closure. Just think of it as the OtterBox case for makeup. However, I suspected the company stopped making these as every online source is “out of stock”.
Pros: very sturdy construction, strong magnet, large mirror, secure closure
Cons: expensive, only one size, bulky, can’t see what’s inside, may not be available anymore 😦
DIY – varies
I like re-imagining uses for various things and these are a couple of DYIs I made for my depotted shadows:
Version 1: I found these plastic palettes from Ardene’s (accessories store) for $1 each and proceeded to depot the crappy eye shadows out of them and replaced them with my own. I added a magnet strip onto the palette and pans placed all of my depotted Revlon Wet & Dry shadows in them.
Version 2: I got these metal hinged flat tins from Solutions (aka Container Store) and they’re perfect for storing depotted pans. All I needed to do was add magnets to the back of the pans.
A few other free-form palettes worth mentioning but I do not own:
Nars Pro Palette – $14 USD (small), $18 USD (large)
When it was announced in 2015 that Nars was releasing these customizable palette system, I was so excited! Imagine my deflated excitement when I learned that these aren’t available in Canada.
Tarte Tarteist PRO Custom Magnetic Palette – $22
This is made of cardboard like the Z Palette and holds 16 eye shadows which is quite a bit. I like that it has a mirror inside – I just wish it was offered in solid colour covers.
Morphe Empty Magnetic Palettes – $5 – $18 USD
Also made of cardboard and looks very similar to the Z Palette but without the clear window cover.
Makeup Geek Travel Vault Palette – $13 USD
I only recently learned about this and now I want it! It looks well-made and fits a fair amount in there. When I finally place my order for MUG stuff, I’ll be sure to grab this. [Edit: I got this! Check it out here]
Ittsē Customizable Magnetic Makeup Palette – $22 USD
These look well-made and feature leatherette covering in different colours – on the outside they look like classic novels!
And, there are lots of un-branded ones online through Amazon and eBay – quality and price varies.
Brand Specific “Pre-Form” Customizable Palettes
These palette have slots / casings to hold each pan securely. Under this category, there are 2 sub-categories: palettes that ONLY work with its own brand of refill pans, or ones that can “jail break” from the brand. 😛 I’ll indicate which brands fall under each.
MAC Pro Palette – $6 (2 pan), $10 (4 pan), $10 (medium or large or double sided), $1 – $4 (inserts)
Probably the earliest customizable palette system available to the masses. I own both the old and new Pro Palette styles.
The old ones were much more compact but were more susceptible to breaking. The hinge on my 15 pan is broken. But the old palette had a hack – removing the insert allowed them to be used as a free-form palette. MAC wised up and changed their palettes to be sold without the insert, and allowed customers to buy whatever style of insert they want. For the medium and larger palettes, one can opt to leave out the insert altogether and it becomes a free-form palette. 🙂
MAC dropped their prices for both their refills and palettes significantly in 2016, making them one of the more affordable palette options available on the market currently. A filled 4 pan eye shadow palette from MAC costs $42 ($8 x 4 + $10). See the 4 pan in action here when I reviewed 4 of my favourite MAC shadows.
One thing to note: MAC palettes themselves are not magnetized, they have a metal base – the refill pans they sell is what contain the magnets. This is opposite of most other custom palette systems. So in order to use non-MAC refills with MAC palettes, one has to adhere magnets to the refill pans.
All of these brands’ eye shadow refills fit MAC palettes (26mm pans): Makeup Geek, Morphe, Ofra, old E.L.F. singles, Coastal Scents Hot Pots, NYX, Anastasia Beverly Hills, Rouge Bunny Rouge, Ittsē, Ben Nye, MUD, and the new ColourPop pressed.
These eye shadow singles can be depotted and put into MAC palettes: old Milani, old The Body Shop, Annabelle, Smashbox, and Lancome. And I’m sure many more – the 26mm is pretty much the standard pan size for most single shadows.
Pros: Readily available, inexpensive, sturdy construction, slim size, can see what’s inside, can be used with other 26mm pans
Cons: Need to add magnets to non-MAC refill pans
Inglot Freedom System – $7 (1 square w/ mirror), $8 (1 square), $9 (1 blush), $10 (3 squares or 1 XL square), $11 (4 square), $12 (5 squares), $18 (4 blushes or 10 squares), $28 (20 squares), $42 (40 squares)
Inglot took the makeup world by storm with their Freedom System. The pre-form palettes have permanent dividers in them so users are restricted to use Inglot-sized rectangular pans in them.
Inglot used to sell round pans ages ago but they were phased out.
What’s great about the system is that palettes of the same dimensions are stackable to create a cube of palettes. Relative to other refills, the Inglot prices are a bit higher at $12 for an eye shadow and $14 for a blush. So a 4 pan palette filled with 4 eye shadows would cost $61.
I’d say the magnet in Inglot palettes are the strongest that I’ve come across. And please, for the love of all things holy, do not use anything to dig the pans out of the palette. Use a strong magnet to remove them, or else you will ding your pan! 😮
Pros: very strong magnet, can see what’s inside, sturdy construction, stackable
Cons: only fits Inglot pans, difficult to remove pans, bulky thick plastic, not readily available
Make Up For Ever Artist Custom Palette – $1 (Mono, Duo, Trio)
These plastic palettes only fit MUFE’s Artist pans (both eye shadows and blushes) which are larger than the standard 26mm pans. I find the rounded bulbous shape of the palette a bit odd – they’re not stackable and they’re difficult to store.
The pans pop out through little holes in the back – I use a nail dotting tool for this task. I love that MUFE is basically giving the cases away – it’s $1 for any size empty palette.
However, the refill pans cost a whopping $25 each if purchased individually but Sephora offers discounts if buying filled Duo or Trio palettes ($41 and $52 respectively). See this palette in action here where I reviewed the eye shadows.
Pros: sturdy construction, strong magnet, can see what’s inside, compact case, inexpensive
Cons: odd shaped palette, only fits MUFE pans
Urban Decay Nirvana Build Your Own Palette – $13
Urban Decay is probably the leader in pre-made eye shadow palettes but did you know that they do offer a customizable option? It holds 4 eye shadows – all of UD’s eye shadow singles made after 2012 can be popped out of the individual casing and put into this palette.
UD eye shadow singles cost $22 so to create a filled custom palette would cost $103! 😮 I don’t see any discounts to be had to build a quad now, but when I bought this palette originally, it came with 1 free shadow as an intro offer.
Pros: Eye-catching, mirror inside
Cons: Bulky and cumbersome system, can’t see what’s inside, only works with UD singles, expensive to fill
Anastasia Beverly Hills Refillable Eye Palette – $10
Fairly new player in the customizable palette game. A filled 4 eye shadow palette is a bit pricey at $56, and that’s only if you purchase 4 refill pans at the same time. Sold separately, it would cost $74 ($16 x 4 + $10). The refill pans are the same size as MAC’s.
The ABH empty palette is nearly identical to the MAC 4 pan and the same price – the key difference is that the palette itself is magnetized, not the refill pans, MAC is the reverse. I am testing my Anastasia palette right now and will do a review soon. 😉 [Edit: review is up, here]
Pros: Inexpensive, sturdy construction, slim size, can see what’s inside, easy to remove pans, strong magnets, can be used with other 26mm pans
Cons: Not as readily available, only one size
Shu Uemura Atelier Palettes – $9 (Mono), $11 (Duo), $17 (Quad), $29 (Octo)
Very compact and great for creating curated palettes – the palettes can fit either eye shadows or blushes. They did at one point offer a free-form palette but they revised their palettes a few years ago and it’s no longer available. There’s no magnet or adhesive to hold the pans in place – the pans sit in a tray which slides in, and is held securely by a groove in the palette.
I only own the Duo 2 pan palettes but they sell a larger pans including a new Octo palette which can hold 8 eye shadows or 4 blush pans. Refills cost $19 for an eye shadow and $22 for blush.
Pros: Sturdy construction, slim & compact size, can see what’s inside
Cons: Expensive, can only use with Shu Uemura pans
Note: Many Japanese brands offer customizable / refillable palettes (and that’s one of the reasons why I love Japanese cosmetics!) On my trip last year, I picked up Addiction, Majolica Majorca, and Esprique which are all custom palettes.
Surratt Beauty Artistique Custom Palette Case – $18 (Petite), $24 (Grande)
I reviewed this here. It’s not my favourite system due to its lack of locking mechanism for the pans – it’s not magnetized nor do they snap in – they will just fall out if you turn the palette upside down unless you apply an adhesive.
Mine is the Petite size and can fit 4 shadows, or 2 blushes, or 2 shadows and 1 blush. A filled Surratt Petite case would set you back ranging from $88 – $106 depending on which products you choose to fill it with.
Pros: Compact, includes mirror, pretty holographic shimmer cover
Cons: Not secure for refill pans, thinner plastic, expensive for the quality
Buxom Customizable Eyeshadow Bar Palette
I reviewed the “Look All You Want” version here. I couldn’t find the empty palette casing selling separately but a filled case which includes 6 shades costs $50 which is great value (Sephora claims $105 value and each refill costs $15 so the case would be worth $15).
Pros: Sturdy construction, mirror, good value
Cons: Can’t see what’s inside, bulky packaging, can only bit Buxom refills
Coastal Scents Custom Palettes – $3.95 (4 pan), $5.95 USD (12 pan clear lid or mirrored), $9.95 (28 pan clear or solid lid)
A great inexpensive option – I just wish it doesn’t have the Coastal Scents logo on the cover. 😛 These fit all of the 26mm pans mentioned under MAC. My rating below is pertaining to the 12 pan mirrored version which I own. Coastal Scents sells their own refills which are called Hot Pots – I own a few of them and they’re decent quality for the price: only $1.95 USD each.
Pros: Sturdy construction, large mirror, inexpensive
Cons: Can’t see what’s inside, weak magnets
Morphe also offers a pre-form custom palette, which holds 28 eye shadow pans. It’s made of plastic just like the Coastal Scents one – probably made at the same factory.
Anna Sui Makeup Palette – $17.60
The one on the left is the previous model to the new version on the right that was released in the Fall of 2016. I suppose you could say the new version is free-form, but I tried to fit some of my 26mm refill pans in it without much success. It’s much better to buy the Anna Sui pans to use with this palette, which can hold 6 pans (refill pans are ~$13 each).
Pros: Sturdy construction, mirror, compact, pretty design
Cons: Can’t see what’s inside, expensive
ArtDeco Beauty Box – $13 (Duo), $15 (Trio or Quattro), $19 (Quadrat), $26 (Magnum)
These can hold any of ArtDeco’s pan products including eye shadows, blushes, cream concealers, brow powder. If you haven’t seen ArtDeco refill pans in person, know that they’re TINY – small ones (eye products at 0.8g) cost $9 and large ones (cheek products at 5g) are $15.
Pros: Sturdy construction, mirror, very compact
Cons: Can’t see what’s inside, only fits ArtDeco pans
E.L.F. Elements Custom Compact – $1
This has been discontinued but I’ll mention it because I’m sure they are still available at discount stores and online. They fit the standard 26mm pans and cost only $1.
Pros: Sturdy construction, mirror, inexpensive
Cons: Can’t see what’s inside, discontinued
Sephora Colorful Eyeshadow Custom Palette Case – $15 (3 pan), $18 (6 pan) [now on clearance for $11 – $15]
It used to be that when you purchased 2 of the Sephora Colorful single shadows, Sephora gave you the smaller case for free.
The configuration of the larger palette is fairly compact but the smaller one is silly – there’s so much excess space – why only 3 pans and not 4? 😕
These are being phased out, but Sephora is continuing to sell the single refill shadows. I guess they just expect people to buy their collab version of the Z Palette – notice how they include the little key to dig out the palette from the original casing:
Pros: Sturdy construction, large mirror, easy to remove pans
Cons: Can’t see what’s inside, bulky container, discontinued
Maison Jacynthe Compact – $17 (Medium), $29 (Large)
This is a Canadian brand and it’s worth mentioning as they have an Inglot-esque refill system, only it is made of wood and aluminum. I reviewed the case and the products here.
Pros: Sturdy construction, distinct looking
Cons: Can’t see what’s inside, bulky container, expensive
I do not own these but worth mentioning:
Bobbi Brown – $12
A very minimalistic interlocking system with options of 2 to 6 pans. Her eye shadow and blushes are the same size so either will fit. It’s kind of weird that no matter what size the empty palette, they’re all the same price.
I’ve always wanted to build my own BB palette – I only have one eye shadow so far (hey, everyone starts somewhere… 😉 ) and last time I asked about the palette at Nordstrom, they were all sold out. [Edit: I finally got my hands on it! Check it out here]
NYX Custom Pro Palette – $11 (4 pan eye shadow), $17 (9 pan eye shadow) $18 (6 pan blush / highlight / contour)
The palette is made of cardboard, and eye shadows are offered in a wide selection of shades and finishes (refills range from $5 – $8 each depending on the finish).
I own the Highlight & Contour Pro Palette (which came filled) – I love the idea that each of the pans can be replaced if I were to use up 1 shade.
ColourPop Pressed Powder Shadow Palette
Brand spanking new and generating a lot of buzz. As far as I can see, ColourPop doesn’t sell the empty palette alone. The filled palette with 4 pre-selected shades cost $18 USD which is a very good value. The pans can be popped out – refills are only $5 each. [Edit: according to Amy of TheMakeupCase, if you purchase 4 refill pans, ColourPop gives you a free empty palette! Limit 2 free empty palette per order.] [Edit 2: I won this in a giveaway!]
Here’s a cost comparison between some of the pre-form palettes mentioned:
Here is a comparison of some of the palettes mentioned in this post to show relative palette sizes, as well as a look at the various refill pan sizes.
So you’re probably going to ask me which custom palette system I’d recommend! 😛 For the free-form palettes, I still really like the Z Palette – I use mine daily. But I won’t buy any more palettes from them now. If you’re boycotting Z Palette, I would say the MUG, Tarte and Morphe ones are good alternatives. For the pre-form customizable palettes, MAC is still the best all-rounder for me. Overall, I’m encouraged that makeup brands seem to be moving toward offering customizable palette options. I would love to see drugstore brands start offering custom palettes (Annabelle did at one point) – wouldn’t it be amazing to see Maybelline customizable palettes?
Are you a fan of customizable palettes? Have I missed any custom palette systems that you know of?
* Hoping no one asks me what shade is in so-and-so palette…