Friday, July 19, 2013

X-acto Z series comparison

X-acto is one of the most ubiquitous tools in a modeler's tool box. It's such a common tool that the x-acto name has become genericized, similar to band-aid or kleenex.

If you have purchased a x-acto handle and blade set chances are you will have a #1 handle, and a #11 blade. Although x-acto does sell a variety of blades, chisels, nose pickers, waffle makers, etc... for their handles the #11 is the mainstay within the western modeling world.

Today I'm going to compare the classic #11 blade with the new Z-series #11. Both #11 blades have the same dimensions and can be used interchangeably with a #1 handle. Aside from the differences in packaging you can tell the Z series apart from the classic by the gold color of the blade. X-acto says that the gold color is the result of a zirconium nitride coating that's applied after sharpening.       

Price comparison 

Let's get the easy stuff out of the way first. This is a price per blade break down of each blade series by pack sizes. All prices and pack sizes come directly from X-acto's website.  

The 15-pack of Z series blades is highlight because I couldn't find it for sale anywhere, also considering the price per blade deviates quite far from the expected value; it's listing on the x-acto website is likely accidental. 

Classic Series

Chances are that if you're a modeler this blade is loaded into your handle right now. It's a sharpened high carbon steel blade. The #11 classic is available in a number of pack sizes: 5, 15, 40, 100

Z Series

According to X-acto, the Z series is an 'atomically sharpened' blade with a special coating. The zirconium nitride mentioned earlier leaves the edge of this blade with a light golden color. According to Wikipedia zirconium nitride is a hard ceramic material, often used on materials exposed to high wear and corrosive environments. Additionally according to IonFusion Surgical, the zirconium nitride coating makes the cutting surface 5x harder than steel.

So what does this mean to us? It means the cutting surfaces should be resistant to corrosive chemicals, and that the blades should be sharper and retain their edges longer than an uncoated blade. It also means that we're paying a higher price per blade.

The #11 Z-series is available in a number of pack sizes 5, 100, 500


Without a microscope, or some other method of measuring the sharpness of the blade after repeated cuts, it's impossible for me to give you an empirical comparison. Instead I'm going to give you my impression of Z series compared against the Classic series.

I used three Z Series blades to remove the nubs from every piece of the MG Sinanju. I swapped blades whenever the blade felt like it was losing it's edge, visibly stressing the plastic more or requiring more force to remove the same amount of material.

I noticed a few things about the Z-series during this process:

The tips of the Z series are just as delicate as the classic, the tips (maybe 2mm down from the point of the blades) snap off as easily on the classic as the Z. 

The Z series looks like it it develops a burr along the cutting edge after repeated cutting. I was able to remove the burr easily by running another Z-series blade perpendicularly against the blade. After which the cutting ability of the blade seemed to improve. 

The Z series blades seem to be at least as sharp as the Classic series. However it's difficult to say if they're any sharper. 

The Z series blades maintain their edge about as long as a Classic series blade.


For the best apples to apples comparisons let's compare the prices of 5, and 100 packs. In a 5 pack set, a Z series blade will cost 16 cents more per blade than a classic; and in a 100 pack a Z series will cost 11 cents more per blade than a classic blade. While 9 and 11 cents may not seem like much per blade, keep in mind that you're paying 30-33% more per blade at that price point.

So then the question is: "Are Z series blades 30-33% better than classic?". And my answer is that's they're no worse than a Classic series blade, but they also don't seem to be any better.  It's entirely possible that the Z-series blades are better at cutting paper, fabrics, woods or other materials than Classic series. But after using the entire 5 pack, I don't think I would recommend the Z series over the standard Classic for model building.   

I hope this article has been informative; please keep in mind that this review is just my opinion based on my experience with these products. If you have had a significantly different experience using these products please leave a comment below! I'm really interested to hear what other modelers have to say.  

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