Now. There, that was simple, thanks for reading!
...I should know by now that I can never get away with the short answer. Let me go into some specifics that include not just when to buy better brushes, but what to buy and how I use each size and style brush.
When to Buy Quality BrushesNow.
Why now? Because no matter where you are in your quest to paint scale miniatures, all the time and effort you put into painting, you deserve to use good tools. When I first really started painting miniatures, I was using some okay brushes purchased from whatever my local art store had in stock. I didn't want to shell out the money for the GW brushes because of the cost, and I figured so long as I didn't buy from the cheapo rack, I would be fine. Fast forward a half dozen years or more, and here I am at Adepticon, taking a painting class taught by Mathieu Fontaine. I asked this very same question and got some pretty silly looks thrown my way. Not because they were being rude, but because the answer was actually very obvious. Why wouldn't I use quality brushes now? What was I waiting for, to become a better painter before I spent more money on brushes? What if using a better brush actually made painting easier? It does, by the way.
What Brand Quality Brush to Use
Rewind back to that class I took at Adepticon. One of the most important lessons I took with me was what brush I should be using. Mathieu, and about half the class, all used brushes from the Raphael brand, specifically their Kolinsky Sable 8404 series. After a great discussion on the whys of using a quality brush, the first thing I did when I got back home from the con was to order a custom set of Raphael, series 8404 brushes.
Now I'm not saying that the end all, be all brush is made by that company, and in that series. Well...okay maybe I am. I personally will continue to buy from this manufacturer, and in this series. Does this mean I use this brand for everything? No. I actually purchase a lesser quality brand sable hair brush for larger brushes for large area coverage as well as brushes for washes, and a synthetic series of brushes to use for weathering powders. Why do I buy lesser quality for those tow applications? Honestly because I beat up brushes with weathering powders and don't want to ruin a good brush, large brushes for vehicle applications are seriously expensive, and brushes used for washing get too much paint in the ferrules and ruin that way faster as well.
Why Buy a Better Brush
Ask any tradesman, handyman, or people who spend any time in a hardware store if they would rather buy cheaper tools to save some money, or invest in quality tools to begin with. I'll let you guess at their answer. The same applies here. We are using a specific set of tools to do the job and there is no reason to not invest in a quality too to do said job. A quality brush will hold paint better, retain a sharper point to its bristle shape and help the paint flow better onto your figure.
Surprise, surprise, but GW doesn't label their brushes like every other brush manufacturer out there. So what sizes do I recommend? Let me go form smallest to largest in my 8404 series.
Size 2/0 and 4/0: These are my fine and tiny detail brushes. I'm not Mathieu, and I prefer painting my eyes with a size 4/0 because it helps me.
Size 0: This is your go-to brush for pretty much everything. I've seen Mathieu paint eye with this size brush, so it stands to reason that the better you get, this brush can handle most every application for your standard 28mm figure.
Size 2: Yes, I skipped size 1. Why? Because I actually own one, and never use it. Go straight to size 2. I use this for larger areas like cloaks and banners to give my size 0 a rest. The larger brush helps me out in these areas for less brush strokes.
Size 6: This is the largest brush I buy of the Raphael series 8404, past this they get ridiculously expensive. I use this for things like Dreadnought plates and smaller vehicle areas after a proper base coat and the like.
Who's ready to take the plunge and shell out the cash for some quality tools to get the hobby job done? Have you already invested? I have, and I will never go back.