What Brushes do I use?

Hey guys, I figured I could share this info with every one since I'm sure many of you have wondered this. I have talked about it from time to time, but here is a summary of all the brushes that I use.  First of all, here is the email I got today:

Howdy JawaBalls,
  I was wondering about paint brushes.  Took a quick search on your site and didn't see anywhere you discussed what brushes you use, prefer, and what role they serve in your mind.  If you would be willing to take a moment and share a bit of your wisdom I would be most grateful, as well as hopefully improving my skills at the same time!

Mark Dieter

Thanks Mark for sending in your question!  Pretty much the only brush I use for painting models is a Reaper Kolinsky 10-0 brush.  You can find them on amazon or at Spikey Bits.  They are without a doubt the best brush I have tried, and i tried em all.  Call rob at http://www.spikeybits.com/servlet/StoreFront and tell him I sent you.  Get yourself a couple Reaper Kolinsky 10-0,  a 10-20, a 0, and a GW tank brush and dry brush.  That is all I use!  For dirty jobs that don't matter, I have a bunch of cheap brushes from Michaels.  The Army Painter makes a selection of brushes that are fairly good too, and more affordable.  Hope that helps!  jawaballs

That was my emailed response, but allow me to elaborate here on the blog.  The biggest issue with brushes is this:

Image stolen from Michale Hogan and his blog

We have all had this happen to us. Our pointy little brush gets stray hairs that makes painting fine details next to impossible.  I tried a lot of brushes and of all of them, the one that in my experience does this the least, is the Reaper Kolinsky.  That is not saying that Reaper makes the only Kolinsky Sable brushes that are good. They are the only Kolinsky Sable brushes I have tried, followed by a bunch of different camel hair or synthetic brushes.  I am sure there are other more expensive and better Kolinksy Sable, or other sable brushes out there, but the Reaper is the best bang for the buck that I have found.

Click this link and call Rob and ask for Kolinsky Sable
Tell him I sent you.

What is Kolinsky Sable?  A Kolinsky Sable is a breed of Russian Fox.  It is the hairs from this fox that are used for making the bristles on the brushes.  Typical manufacturers will use a variety of different materials to make the bristles ranging from plastic fibers to camel hair, to well, the underbelly fuzz of Russian Foxes! Most student brushes that you find in a standard school art room are either plastic fiber or camel hair.  We all have memories of school brushes that clump, spread out, bend at weird angles, fall apart or whatever else. I doubt any of us who have tried to paint a picture in high school or middle school had many good experiences with the brushes we were given. That is because Art Teachers buy cheap brushes in bulk. I can get a canister of 100 cheap plastic and camel hair brushes for my classroom for like 60 bucks.  I put the canister on the shelf and when the bristles fall out, we throw them away.  Bristles fall out because cheap quality glue is used to attach them to the brush. The way around theses problems is to buy high quality brushes. But not all high quality brushes are made the same.

I tried a sable brush, (it was not a Kolinsky sable brush) from another manufacturer, and while I was happy with the brush itself, the bristles all fell out through use.  Ok bristles, bad glue, bad brush.  I tried other brushes like Windsor and Newton which is a prestigious brand offered at Micahels art supply, but their expensive brushes had synthetic bristles! Some had camel hair.  The short of it is that I was not happy with a single brush, for an extended amount of time, that I bought at Michaels.  I was using their cheap 2 dollar ones with the pink handles, and buying them in bulk and just throwing them away when they started to suck, but there had to be a better way.  

So any way, I don't want to make this an article about what brands suck.  Simply assume that I tried a variety of brushes in my experiences as an art teacher and model painter.  In terms of quality of bristles, and strength of glue, and price, the Reaper Kolinsky are the way to go.

If you are looking to save a little money, I would say The Army Painter would be the way to go. They have a line of white handle brushes. Definitely not their red handled ones!  But the white ones have decent enough quality bristles to make them not a bad investment.  

Here is what I use, and why:

Reaper Kolinsky Sable 10-0:

The 10-0 is a measurement of the size of the brush. I don't know what they measure, but it goes like this.  The higher the first number, the smaller the bristles.  I have tried 10, 20 and 30.  Frankly, 30 is just too small. I do use 20s, but rarely.  The 10 has a small enough tip to paint any details you will encounter on 40k models. I use it to do the highlights on my space marines eyes, and highlighting armor plates on tanks.  It is a versatile and useful brush.  

Reaper Kolinsky Sable 0 (zero):

This one is a larger version of the 10.  It has a sharp enough tip to do highlighting on infantry, but is not much use for detailing. I use it to do blending on bigger armor plates on tanks and termies. I also use it to highlight broad armor plates where detail is not such a conern.  I use it to lay down lots of paint to cover large areas on models, like when painting Boltgun Silver over a black space marine bolter.  It is good at covering space, but being precise enough to not get the paint on the rest of the model.  

Games Workshop Tank Brush:

I use this big boy when I need to lay down vast amounts of color on flat surfaces.  It is a large, round bristle brush that caries a lot of paint, and has bristles that are stiff enough to dig the paint out of crevaces, yet soft enough to minimise brush strokes.  

Games Workshop Large and Small drybrush:

I have tried lots of substitutions, but the drybrush I keep coming back to is the GW one.  Drybrushing is a horrible thing to do to a brush. I have found that the GW brush handles it the longest, and provides the nicest results while doing so.

It can be noted that the single worst brush I have ever bought was the GW fine detail brush.  If you have never bought one, don't. If you are using one, switch to the RKS brush I am describing here, and you will see a whole new world of painting develop right before your eyes. Don't believe me? Try it.  

That is it!

I do have a selection of other brushes I buy cheap at Michaels.  Round points, chisel points, all of them larger than the zero Kolinsky.  I use these for various parts of tanks, applying washes to models, etc.  

Other advice?

Well, the other reason why I like GW dry brushes is after the bristles have separated so much as to make them useless for their purpose, I give them a new life. I cut the bristles pretty much in half. This leaves me with very short, and stiff bristles. This new brush is now great for stippling!  Dip the tip of the brush into some paint, then dab it onto the surface of your tanks.  The paint will thin out as you go from the edge towards the inside of the armor plate, leaving a "fade" look.  

Finally, know when to throw a brush out.  Even the Reaper Kolinskies separate. After enough use, no matter what you try, every time you dip the model into the paint then try to use it to detail a model, one of the bristles will pop out and annoy you.  You can stave off having to replace your brush for a while by using an xacto blade to prune off that offending bristle.  But sooner or later, you will need to just make the decision to junk the brush.  Without being too precise, I would say a 10-0 RKS brush lasts me about 6 months of heavy painting.  

Be sure to rinse your brush every time you use it, and occasionally use some sort of soap or brush cleaning agent to wash your brushes and they will last longer.  

There you go!  I hope that helps.



The Inner Geek said...

Nice post. I'll have to try the Reaper brushes. I know you get what you pay for with brushes, but I still find myself trying to get out cheap... to the detriment of my painting!

Jawaballs said...

The single biggest improvement to my painting was switching from the GW Fine Detail brush to the Reaper Kolinsky Sable 10-0. Give it a shot!

douglas said...

Your right I have used the sable kolinsky for about 4 months and it has made a world of difference. I will second using a brush cleaner. I use Masters brush cleaner and restorer and it has helped keep my brushes alive and well. If you paint with red just try it and see how well your brushes didnt get clean LOL. I got mine at micheals but you can get a small thing from amazon etc for around 6 bucks.

Richelieu said...

Thank you very much for the in depth answer. A lot of good information, and I will have to do some brush shopping now that isn't a Michaels/Hobby Lobby but one get one special.

Michael Hogan said...

I feel embarrased to be used as a bad example, but hell, at least I got a picture for you. A bit of a funny thing is that I had difficult time getting to have my brush to do this the one time I wanted it to!
I believe that was the Army Painter Character brush, and I have that issue a lot. Not as much as my old GW brush, but still a decent amount. They work well for someone like me, whose skill doesn't warrant a nice brush, but I do want to pick up a Reaper one soon and give it a spin.

Humorously, I do mention hearing great things about these brushes a paragraph above the picture of the brush.

sircarp said...

I use W&N sable brushes, as well a several cheap taklon and sable brushes I get from craft stores. I find a world of difference between the two.

There are a number of discount art suppliers online where you can find these for a lot less than retail price. I got W&N series 7 brushes for less than $10 apiece this way; it's still pricy, but you get a high quality product for less than half price.

An Enemy said...

I used to use GW's brushes. Switched to a Raphael 8404 #1 and a Winsor Newton Series 7 Miniature brush size 00. They work great and I bought on Dickblick.com so they were pretty cheap.

I still use GW's drybrushes.

Flekkzo said...

I've switched to using Raphael 8404 for my main painting and they are a big different to paint with. You need a softer hand and a properly thinned paint (don't thin with straight water. Go find a good article about thinning your paint and use some good mix to thin with. I borrowed Jennifer Haley's mix which has been leaps and bounds better to paint with.).

Next time I think I will try a W&N series 7.

Jawa, you need to try the Raphael and the W&N s7. Even a total amateur like myself gets something out of it after all and you owe it to yourself to try it out. Check with mister justin for the Raphael brushes (his page also have a review). I am sure someone would send you a free brush for some free exposure :)

thepaintingshopworld.com said...

I moved from synthetic bristle brushes to GW detail and fine brush, least they are of the cheaper kolinsky sable bristles. So far, they are still great to paint with. Well, brushes are still you get what you pay for, never really could convince myself to switch to W&N brushes or those more expensive kolinsky sable brushes. Cheers!

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