When it comes to providing kids with open-ended, explorational and even educational play, nothing really beats free-building toys.
If you are a parent of a child who is a bit too young for a Lego set or a hands-on electronics kit, magnetic tiles can be an easier to use option that can let them build whatever their imagination comes up with, while letting them hone their planning and design skills.
Magna-Tiles and Picasso Tiles are two excellent and highly-rated choices in the world of magnet tiles and have a lot of different sets and variants available for purchase.
Although similar, the two brands do have some subtle differences.
To help out, we’ve compared the two so that parents can make a more informed decision before purchasing a set.
But First: What are Magnetic Tiles?
First introduced in 1997, magnetic tiles are a kind of toy whose engaging and open-ended nature has made them quite popular in homes around the world.
The tiles themselves are made of plastic and come in a variety of colors and shapes.
Their edges are lined with small magnets, which let the tiles connect to one another and be formed into pretty any shape that a child can think of, from towers and buildings, to cars and even jet airplanes.
In this way they are a lot like stickle bricks, lego and other building toys, only being made with large plastic shapes and magnets they are a lot larger and easier for younger hands to handle, connect and pull apart.
They also don’t hurt quite as much when stepped upon, something that parents should be happy to hear.
Magnetic tiles can also be quite educational, and many schools and homeschools have used them to supplement a child’s learning and development, helping students hone their motor skills, develop their planning and critical thinking skills, and work on their creative thinking through guided play.
What Are Magna-Tiles?
Magna-Tiles are the makers of the first magnetic tiles in this form, introducing them to great fanfare in the late 1990s.
Starting with relatively simple rivet-sealed, magnet-containing plastic shapes, the company has since grown and expanded its line to include 3D objects, dinosaurs, animals, glitter shapes and more.
What Are Picasso Tiles?
Created by PicassoToys, Picasso Tiles (or PicassoTiles) are also a series of open-ended toys made of plastic shapes lined with small magnets and are fairly similar in function to Magna-Tiles, being able to be connected and configured into a nearly infinite variety of builds.
A popular alternative to Magna-Tiles and one of its main competitors, PicassoTiles has also expanded quite a bit in recent years, with kids containing everything from regular plastic tiles to fun diamond patterns, from lego-connecting kits to race car tracks and marble runs.
Magna-Tiles vs. Picasso Tiles: Construction
Both Magna-Tiles and Picasso Tiles are made of BPA-free, food grade ABS plastics.
This means that both brands of magnet tiles are non-toxic, lightweight and durable enough to be handled by kids everyday.
As might be expected, both products are also CPSIA (Consumer Protection Safety Improvement Act) compliant, meaning they are safety-tested, phthalate- and lead-free and generally safe enough to be used by children 12 or younger.
By and large, Magna-Tiles and Picasso Tiles are quite similar when it comes to their overall construction.
Both products are made of two halves of plastic and have a series of magnets running along their edges that serve to hold the tiles together when stacked.
The magnets are both pretty standard ceramics and both tend to do an excellent job at holding the pieces together so that kids can build without being too hard for small hands to pull apart.
One difference to note is that Magna-Tiles tend to have steel rivets on each corner, which can serve as an extra bit of security holding the two halves of each piece together compared to the traditional and non-riveted adhesive methods used by Picasso Tiles and others.
Both Magna-Tiles and Picasso Tiles also have reinforcing plastic “bracing” on the inside, which adds a bit of extra rigidity to their construction and prevents them from getting too damaged when pressed.
Magna-Tiles are a little different and more extensive when it comes to this interior bracing, usually some kind of “star” pattern, as can be seen below.
Weight and Size
For all intents and purposes, PicassoTiles and Magna-Tiles are very similar in size and weight.
This makes sense, as they are both made of similar ABS plastic with some only minor differences in overall construction (a little more plastic here, a tiny rivet there).
They are also limited by the requirements of their intended users, who might be as young as 3 or 4 years old.
Young children do have to be able to handle and use these tiles without difficulty or danger and without needing to use a million pieces to build anything of substance.
Tiles for each brand tend to weigh about 30g (+/- a couple grams here and there), and are about 3 inches at the base (for most shapes and tiles).
Both Magna-Tiles and Picasso Tiles tend to offer a wide variety of shapes that kids can build with.
There are a lot of basic shapes that are common to both sets, such as triangles (equilateral, isosceles, and right), squares and rectangles, and these can be configured into many different types of objects with a little creativity.
By and large, these pieces tend to form the core of each company’s product lines and are the general, day-to-day tiles that most kids will use.
Each company also offers a number of special pieces that come in certain sets, such as car or truck chassis, ladders, plastic frames and decorations, arches and so on.
These unique or special pieces can be a difference between the companies, as they tend to go with certain sets that one company or the other may offer.
For example, at time of writing Magna Tiles offers a set of polygon magnet tiles (pentagons, diamonds and such) that PicassoTiles do not, which can be used to introduce some math connections or just to help with more offset constructions.
Similarly, Picasso Tiles offers tubular shapes, which can be used in a number of ways, including building pillars or marble runs.
Both Picasso Tiles and Magna-Tiles are very durable, as might be expected of a plastic toy aimed at kids that contain magnets.
Largely due to their use of higher quality ABS plastic, the tiles themselves are very rigid and stand up well to being handled, bent or squeezed, even by adult hands.
Handling a square, for example, we were unable to bend it with our bare hands using a moderate amount of force, which is good news as it means that kids will be unlikely to snap them by accident.
As we’ve mentioned, although engineering testing is a bit beyond the scope of this website, Magna-Tiles do have rivet fastening in their corners which users say adds a touch more reinforcement to them.
As both Magna-Tiles and Picasso Tiles are made of translucent plastic they can scratch over time.
Magna-Tiles are designed with a finish (which they call Super Color Technology) that is supposed to make them a little less prone to scratches, but by and large parents can expect both sets of magnet tiles to develop minor scratches over time.
That said, this is a cost of having such an open-ended plastic building toy and scratching has no effect on play or functionality and isn’t something parents should really be concerned about in the grand scheme of things.
One thing parents should note is that neither Magna-Tiles nor PicassoTiles are waterproof.
While the magnets shouldn’t really be affected by the water, it’s important to keep in mind that these tiles are enclosed and can develop mold and mildew over time.
As a result, they shouldn’t be submerged in water and are best kept away from bathtime.
Magna-Tiles and Picasso Tiles are fairly simple toys, being plastic tiles with magnets in them, and are relatively similar in size and weight.
Although not always precisely a 1:1 match, they are broadly compatible with each other and the basic shapes tend to fit together pretty well, giving parents a good amount of flexibility and choice when it comes to purchasing sets and mixing and matching.
Sets and Options For Play
Being very successful, both Magna-Tile and Picasso Tile have really taken the magnet tile concept and run with it, introducing a wide variety of new product lines and lots of fun specialty sets.
Magna-Tile, for example, offers interesting options such as:
- Farm animals
- Construction sets
- Safari/jungle/arctic sets
- Clear “ice” sets
- Glow in the dark tiles
- Glitter-filled and mirrored magna tiles
- And more
Magna-Tiles also offers what it calls Qubix, which are like magna-tiles but that are offered in 3D shapes such as prisms, cubes, pyramids and more for more sophisticated builds and use stronger neodymium magnets to hold them in place.
Picasso, too, has some interesting magnet tile sets, including:
- Windmills and wheels
- Ferris wheels
- Glow in the dark
- Schools, hospitals and police stations sets
- Spinner and gear sets
- Coded letter games
- Race car tracks
- Marble runs
- Click in sets for adding decorations like windows
- Glittering diamond magnets
- Extra large tiles
- And more
In addition, Picasso Tiles also offers 3D magnetic puzzles and even offers magnet tiles that are compatible with lego and other brick toys, which expands the possibilities for building quite a bit.
Overall, there are a ton of available variants and sets for both Magna-Tile and Picasso Tile, although in our opinion there seems to be a few more tile and non-tile options for sale with Picasso Tile.
That said, it is important to note that very often both companies have very different sets available for purchase with different specialty pieces included in each and so it is worth taking a look periodically at both companies if you’re looking for something unusual or special.
Note: All prices current as of writing, all prices in USD.
While Magna-Tiles and Picasso Tiles are very similar, there is one area where they do differ quite a bit – their price.
Although it does really depend on where and when you buy these toys (and what discounts and sales are going on), for the most part Magna-Tiles tend to be more expensive to buy than Picasso Tiles.
A classic 100 piece set of Magna-Tiles, for example, costs about $120, while a similar set of Picasso Tile costs about half that.
Both Magna-Tiles and Picasso Tiles are popular and well-made magnet tile brands that offer safe, fun and educational open-ended construction toys for kids 3+.
The tiles that each company offers are fairly similar at first glance but do have slight differences when it comes to their construction and the various types of specialty sets available for them.
By and large, parents will do well with either brand and it is really a matter of choice, taste and budget when it comes to which they might prefer.
About the Author
David Belenky is a freelance writer, former science and math tutor and a tech enthusiast. When he’s not writing about educational tech, he likes to chill out with his family and dog at home.