Over the years I have worked with a large variety of brushes of varying quality and purchased several new brushes a couple of months ago to test for this column.   The photo above shows the current selection of brushes I have at the bench at the moment.   Many of them have been used extensively, some only recently, and a few not at all.   And some of them have twins off camera that look like they have been badly beaten. 

My goal in this month's column is to share my knowledge and experience about many of these brushes to help you decide which, if any, brushes you should buy for your hobby.   Of course, no one needs 30+ brushes to do quality miniature scale work, including me.  But having a suitable variety can make an easier and more enjoyable process of painting miniatures and terrain.   At the end of this column, I'll let you know what selection of brushes I recommend for stocking your paint brush cup to get almost anything done in the hobby.

For each brush I'll provide: 

Bristle type (assume sable is 'red' and synthetics are toray/taklon unless specified)
It's price (links to purchase page -- price as of 4/2017)
It's actual brush head size (l x w)
Amount of use it's seen in the studio
It's paint holding and flow
My thoughts and notes on the brush.  

So, let's start from smallest and work our way up, shall we?

Top to Bottom for all photos:

  • Da Vinci Harbin Kolinsky  #1 - $8.99 - (8 mm x 1.5 mm) 

Sable brush,  extensive use,  reasonable paint holding but good flow, soft feel and spring.  It's still pointing well, even with a little paint in the ferrule.  It's been a go to for miniature painting for a while and the paint flow is nice.  I feel it's been a good sable brush for it's price.  

  •  Army Painter Wargamer Brush Character - $4.99  - (9 mm x 2 mm)

Synthetic, extensive use and recently resurrected with heavy cleaning,  limited paint holding and medium flow, points well since cleaning.  Surprising that tip isn't showing curling.  It did have one (two?) long tip hair which I trimmed.  Shows weak quality control in head assembly. (see Loel below)     Was retired after too much paint in ferrule but back in service.  Not sold on triangle handle since I rotate brushes a lot.  Good synthetic brush head durability-wise and so good purchase if handle isn't a problem for you and you don't get a long tip hair.

  • Escoda Prado #1 - $7.37  -  (10.5 x 2 mm)

Synthetic, heavy use, still pointing o.k but showing tiny tip curl, paint flow a little sluggish for its size.  I've really enjoyed using it and keep wanting to pick it up rather than test other brushes.  Escoda  seems like a solid brush company and offers  a variety of natural hair and  stiffness-es in their synthetics - Prado feels similar to sable in stiffness.  Catalog . Gleaned a rating from a posted email - synthetics, softest to stiffest:

  • PERLA (White Toray) series 1430,1510,1532,1570

  • BARROCO (Gold Toray) series 1410,1500,1512,1580

  • PRADO (Tame) series 1460,1461,1462

  • MODERNISTA (Tadami) series 1480,1481,1482

  • PRIMERA (Teijin) 1950,1960,1975

 

  • Loew-Cornell Soft Comfort Brush #18/0 -  $7.79  - (5 mm x ~.75 mm)

Synthetic, unused, unknown.  Bought for eyes and the like but haven't needed yet.  Tip shows two hair problems - one bent hair (likely my fault) and one extended tip hair.

The long hair is hard to see in the photo but it's there.  I've seen this on other brushes and it ruins the tip since paint can't flow down it.  I'll trim it -- carefully (nail clippers have been suggested) -- but it shows weak quality control.   Can't recommend since I haven't used it but glad to have a brush in this size in my collection.

  • Pro Stroke Full Bellied Round #12 - In "Explorer Set" - $31.79  - (21 mm x 4 mm)

Sable, fair use, very soft with huge paint holding and exception flow (with very thin paint or washes).  I've used it extensively for all my washes lately and it's amazing.  A little big for individual miniatures so a #10 or#8 might be better but for large areas...  It's nuts.

  • Blick Studio Synthetic #2 - $4.66  - (15 mm x 3 mm)

Synthetic, moderate use, good paint holding but fair-ish paint flow.  Not confident about tip durability.  Not pointing well with tip curl showing early.  Bristles are not set with longest in middle.  I've not seen this before and it's really noticeable when dry.  When wet and flattened it looks like this:

It should form a straight line or taper in the middle.  It's an 'economy' brush so I've moved it to washes (my recent use), or possibly drybrushing if nothing else is suitable.

  • Princeton Snap #2 - $2.89  - (12 mm x 2.5 mm)

Synthetic, extensive use, good paint holding but can't remember flow.  This brush was utter and completely trashed and not used for anything for a long time except mixing paint or similar.  I've given it a huge cleaning (it is a focus in the Cleaning and Care of Brushes column) and it's mostly back to life.  Tip shows a lot of curling and was likely reason for early retirement.  Low cost = low pointing life.

  • Vallejo P54 #001 - $3.79  - (9 mm x 3 mm)

Synthetic, light use, fair holding and flow.  Never want to pick it up.  The point is more blunt than other brushes.  Not confident pointing will last.  Relegated to apply bulk paint to large miniature areas to preserve better brushes.  I know it's a low cost brush, but feels terrible when I use it, so I don't.

  • Blick Masterstroke Rounds #1, #2/0 - $3.22, $3.35  - (10 mm x 1.5, 8 mm x 1.5 mm)

Synthetic, light use, fair paint holding and flow.  They don't form the finest points so I haven't wanted to use them much -- but did for testing.  More concerning is that their tips are starting to curl after very little use.  Disappointing but maybe should be expected from their cost.  Still feels awfully fast to curl and wouldn't purchase again.

Close up of #1 (top) and #0/2 (bottom)

  • Silver Monza 1/4" - $8.04  - (7 mm x 7 mm)

Synthetic (mongoose?) - used once, no paint holding.  Mongoose is supposed to be a stiffer bristle and this brush matches that.  It holds so little paint I find it not useful.  It's better suited to heavy bodied paints I suspect.  Bought it with dry brushing in mind but it holds so little paint I never pick it up..

  • Princeton Select Liner #1 - $1.65  - (17 mm x 2 mm)

Synthetic, some use, exceptional paint holding but flow heavily depends on viscosity.  Best $1.65 I've spent!  Points very well and seems like it will last for a while.  My first liner.  It allows for a lot of painting before going back to palette, but needs paint thinned to almost water color for good flow.  Can handle thicker paint, but clogs half way up the bristles.  If you need to make a lot of thin lines like glazing highlights, it's fantastic.   Size feels good for most applications for me. Love it!

  • Princeton Angle Spotter #0 - $3.45  - (9 mm x 2.5 mm)

Synthetic Sable, limited use, poor paint holding and flow.   Only used it once and I needed it.  A skull tucked into the recess of a wood structure couldn't be reached without this brush.  (If I planned ahead I might not have needed it.)  It's a squat round so it doesn't hold much paint.  It's a little fat for detailed work as well.  But a #5/0 is also available.  Princeton has a 10/0  available so that is another option.  I recommend having one in your kit.

 

  • Pro Stroke Bright #12, Filbert #8, Round #6, Round #2 - in 'Explorer Set' $31.79  - Round #2 (8 mm x 2 mm),  Round #6 ( 13 mm x 2 mm)

Sable, light use for #6 and #2, good paint holding and flow.  Grouping these since Bright and Filbert haven't been used.  Soft brushes really best suited to watercolor so washes are a good use for large areas like a vehicle.  #6 is a nice brush and will see use.  Odd that it has a crimped ferrule but still points great:

The #2 is a big disappointment though.  Wanted to use it for eye's and other tiny details but point is messed up.  Had long tip bristle that I've trimmed, but has a bad hair that sticks out when not loaded with a heavy paint.  

I'll go in and trim it out and brush should be usable then.  But two bad bristles might mean more will poke out or otherwise behave badly.  Overall set seems fine but for it's medium price point for sables I'd like to not see a problem with the detail brush.

  • Blick Economy Flats - $1.79 - $4.04  - Size varies and is listed on site.

Synthetic, used extensively, medium paint holding and flow.  I've used several of these over the years and they get the job done.  Good for drybrushing when new, painting larger areas and have fair durability.  Having a small flat can make drybrushing tiny areas more manageable.  When the tip has gotten a bit frayed, I just trim it with scissors and put it back into use for rough work.  A basic, inexpensive utility brush with a good build.

  • Blick Masterstroke Golden #4, (#6)1/4" - $4.89, $5.50  - (5 mm x 4 mm, 9mm x 7 mm)

Synthetic, light use,  medium paint holding.  I've used the angle shader for drybrushing and I like it.  Holds more paint than the Silver Monza (above) and has a nice spring.  I think they will hold up moderately well, though drybrushing is hard on a brush so I'm taking that into account.  My first angled shader and I love the feel.  Approximately worth the price I think.

  • Artist's Loft Shaders - ? - Varies

Synthetic, some use on smaller brushes, good paint holding and flow.  I cannot find these brushes sold anywhere?  I bought them a long time ago and they might be discontinued now.  Surprisingly, DickBlick doesn't carry any Artist's Loft brushes?    Artist's Loft has a variety of sets of brushes for sale elsewhere but none that include a size #6 or #12 or look to match this quality.  It's a shame since I like the build of these brushes.  The heads feel full and the bristles have a supple feel.  I expect a decent life from them.  I wish I could tell you where to get them.  

  • Princeton Snap White Stroke 1" - $6.29  - (33 mm x 25 mm)

Synthetic - unused - unknown (but should be very high for thin paints).  This brush is silky soft.  White Taklon is the softest of the colors. Designed for water colors, I purchased for dusting of weathering powders over a large area.  I might use it for applying large areas of wash, but I love it so much I want to save it exclusively for weathering powders.  Might never get used.  *smile*  I love the feel of it.

  • Princeton Snap Golden Oval Wash 3/4" - $7.05  - ( 40 mm x 17 mm)

Synthetic, unused, unknown but should hold exception amount of thin paint.  Purchased it a long time ago and still haven't used it.  I think it would have been perfect for applying wash to the large cliff on the Orc Display Board.  I think I just always forget it.  I'm looking forward to using it next time.

  • Royal Langnickel Classroom Value Pack - Chubby set of 24 - $15.97

Hog Hair - extensive use - good paint holding and flow for heavier bodied paints like latex or tempera.  I've used many of these over the years, particular the rounds.   They are extremely durable and are superb for scrubbing paint into rough textures or slopping paint into areas without regard for the ferrule or mashing the bristles.  24 is too many since I still have about half the box left, but they are a testament to the durability of hog bristle.  You can't kill them.

  •  Royal Langnickel Classroom Value Pack - Golden Large Area set of 12 - $15.97  - 1" , 2" , 3"

These have been the most versatile and most used terrain brushes I have owned.  I'm on my second box of 12 and they have served me through many, many modular board projects, and small house projects as well!  They have a medium soft feel, hold enough paint to be useful and are durable enough to use over rough surfaces for an entire board set - though the brush is pretty tired by the end.   When they get really tattered at the tip, I trim them and put them back in service, though they don't hold up long after that.  After a lot of abuse the ferrule can come loose from the handle, but I just glue it back into place.  An incredible value at $15 for 12 brushes!  I can't say enough good things about them.  

  • Royal Gold 180 Triangle #12 - $13.30  - (20 mm x 9 mm)

Synthetic - never used - should be a lot for thin paints like water colors.  Included more of a novelty, I've had this brush for quite a while and I have absolutely no idea of where it came from.   Neither does Tawnya.  I've never used it since I have no idea what I would use it for.  :)  I did find a YouTube video showing it's possibilities and if your curious you can check it out .  I could see myself using this similar to my liner, but for larger strokes since it will hold a silly amount of paint, all be it very thin paint.

But I also include it to point out that there are a wide assortment of styles of brushes beyond the 'normal'.  A deerfoot, tiger stripe, or needle point brush might have a use for special techniques.  Just something to mention for the more daring.  

*********************

That's a lot of brushes!  Some good, some bad, some unneeded, some redundant, some cheap and some more expensive.  If someone came today and stole all my brushes and I had to start fresh, what would I buy?

*** Caveat: 

I'm going to be honest here.  I won't recommend a natural hair brush.  I don't believe that animals should be killed for my art.  It's a personal stance, and sometimes difficult to adhere to.  I received the the set of Pro Stroke Sables from my Aunt-In-Law as a holiday gift.  I purchased my Da Vinci Kolinsky a few years back because I thought I should try a sable to see if its as awesome as people say.  Some of my other sables came from somewhere...  Not sure really.  But going forward, it's strictly synthetics for me.  

Hopefully though, I've given you enough information about natural hair brushes that you can make a more informed decision for yourself.  I'll also be honest and say that sables hold more paint, flow much better and point better then any of my current synthetics.  

However, I wasn't aware of the technology improvements in some synthetics and wish I had some for this column.  So you will see brushes in my list I haven't used, but they are from brush makers I trust and are the latest developments in synthetics.  If I didn't have so many brushes right now, I'd be ordering them.  :)

*** End Caveat

I'm a frugal shopper so price is a concern for me.  But where I think it's worth paying more I will.  So my list for both miniatures and terrain would be:

Da Vinci Nova Synthetic Sable for Oils Round  #3/0, #0, #1 (Untried but their bristles feature ridges to hold more paint. )

Princeton Catalyst Polytip Round  #0, #2 (These bristles are flagged and should hold and flow paint better. The low price makes me squeamish but I would have to get it to try it out, and it's not much of a cost risk.)

Princeton Series Mini Detailers Tight Spot Detail  #5/0 (For when you need it!)

Prineton Catalyst Polytip Bristle Liner  #1 (Untried but I'd want a liner and this looks better than my current.)

Blick Scholastic Golden Flat Wash  1/4" (Washing minis.  A wash brush has more belly than a typical flat.  Save your other brushes from getting paint in the ferrule.)

Blick Masterstroke Angle Shader  #6, #12 (Drybrushing minis, and small terrain areas)

Princeton Snap! Golden Angle Shader #1/2", 3/4" (For larger areas that need quality drybrushing)

Blick Economy Golden Flat  Set of 6 (General Purpose - just gets the job done)

Royal Langnickel Golden Taklon Classroom Set (Can't get in smaller number.  Might share with friends or keep since you'll find other uses for them.  The best brush for money I've found, bar none.  Covers all your larger needs and could eliminate larger Snap! Golden shaders if cost is an issue.  Use the 1" for washes for vehicles and terrain.) *****

Why so many rounds?  I always want to have some rounds with light use on them for that time I need a good point.  I've also dropped brushes and have them land perfectly on the tip blasting out the bristles.  Twice I believe...  I want a couple I can move to, even if they're not the perfect size when accidents happen.

 Tight on budget, drop a round or two, drop an angle shader or two, and just get a couple of the Economy Golden flats.   

A quick comment on drybrushing detailed areas.  Don't use old tattered brushes.  Just don't.  A fresh supple brush will give you much better results that will look smoother.  If your brush is too tired out for painting, it's too tired for drybrushing anything other than rock walls and soil.  

With these brushes you can handle any painting needs you might have with confidence.  

Now that you have all the brushes, how do you keep them in good shape?  That's up next so stay tuned!

***** If you found this column informative, I encourage you to talk it up on social media or in forums.  I don't 'do social media' so any extra exposure is super appreciated! *****