Wednesday, August 29, 2012

When to Buy a Better Brush

In the comments of my recent article on competition and tabletop painting, I was asked some questions on the brushes I choose to use. More specifically, I was asked when should someone be serious about buying good brushes. My answer?

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 Brushes


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.

I Use GW Brushes, What Brush Sizes Should I Buy?

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.

- Tim



  1. Once upon a time when I did a lot of display quality stuff it wasn't uncommon for me to drop $30+ on one brush! Now I don't really enter comps or do commissions so it's all slightly above table top quality paint jobs - GW is good enough for that, though if you are going to spend that much even why not drop a few more bucks for some Windsor and Newton? A bit more expensive than GW but cared for properly will last for much longer. Once you get above a certain skill level the tools really do make a difference!

    1. Last I checked, GW used a natural/synthetic blend on their brushes. Now, with their new brush line from last year, I think they changed that to completely natural hair, but I don't know to what quality due to their proprietary naming convention. My whole point? Why pay for something that expensive when I don't have the confidence in it's quality. I agree with you completely. If I'm going to shell out the money for the GW stamp of approval on a set of brushes, why shouldn't I spend a couple dollars more and buy brushes I can have complete confidence in!

  2. I wholeheartedly agree with this article. I used to buy the cheap brushes from a local hobby store. After a few uses (sometimes just one) I'd have to throw them away.. and buy more.

    After awhile I finally settled on getting 3 Windsor and Newton's. That was a year ago. My painting ability went way up now that I can actually control where the paint is going and these brushes last. I've painted about 60 miniatures with these so far with no signs of trouble.

    1. You folks keep talking about the Windsor and Newton brand. Maybe I need to give these guys a shot and do a comparative article between W&N and Raphael. for thought.

      Glad to see you took the plunge and invested into a solid set of brushes though, and even happier for the difference they made for you!

  3. I've been looking for something as clear as this article for three years. Thank you!

    1. You're very welcome :) If you have any questions I can answer, or direct you to another article or source of an answer, don't hesitate to ask!

  4. Amen, brother. With Blick's prices on W&N Series 7 there is no excuse to buy crap brushes. They really are the right tool for the job. I use a 1 for basic work, a 0 for most detail and a 3/0 for eyes. My only problem so far is that my brush cleaning technique (spinning against the side of the rinse cup) has destroyed my brushes over time. I now swish and blot, hopefully prolonging their lives.

    1. That is one thing that will discourage anyone from spending money on good brushes, destroying them prematurely!

      See, I 'swish and swipe' to clean and dry my brushes. I swipe them so that the water is pulled from the end of the bristles closest to the ferrule out to the tip, so that the water gets pulled out of the brush in a natural direction.

      Good luck prolonging their life! It is possible, we just have to train ourselves in the proper cleaning and care of them :)

    2. If your going to use good brushes like W&N and Raphaels you need to invest in masters brush cleaner soap, it reconditions the bristels and you use to shape the tip. Expecially these brushes, but you can also use it on your cheaper brushes to form the tips and clean them also. I had a brush that I've had for 20 yrs and used as a dry brush it was pretty messed up, paint all dried in the ferrel and bristles all over the place used masters on it and after about 7 or 8 cleanings it was like a brand new brush!!! This stuff is a must have!!!

    3. Agreed. That stuff is like shampoo and conditioner for brushes! A VERY worthy investment!

    4. You know I've never used that before. I'm going to have to try it.

  5. What would one expect to pay for the several brushes you mentioned above? Pricehasbeen a big thing for me.

    1. From Dick Blick's site:

      Size 3/0 (they aren't listing 2/0 for some reason): 10.30
      Size 4/0: 10.30
      Size 0: 11.65
      Size 2: 16.38
      Size 4: 24.31 (Recommending this instead of the size 6 for the beginner buyer as the size 6 is 42.48 and I don't want to scare you off)

      For the larger brushes I just go with the Dick Blick brand Sable brushes. they are significantly cheaper. But don't cheap out on the ones above. those are your heaviest used and most valuable.

    2. $70+ ?

      That's a lot to sneak past the budget. I believe the more expensive brushes perform better so maybe I'll start off with a couple of the smaller ones..?

    3. Totally understandable. If you need to pick say, 3, that you want to start with, I'd go with the Size 2, 0 and 4/0. that's a total of about 38 bucks

  6. The sticker shock of good paint brushes can be overcome by answering one simple question, do you want a brush or a price?

    If you buy a brush rather than a price you'll get a tool to help you paint, otherwise, all you have is a good price that approximates a brush.