Brushes are an essential part of being a wargaming hobbyist (or just painting miniatures in general).
When you buy your first brushes, go for something that is cheap and readily available. You will almost certainly ruin your first set of brushes, so make it sure it did not cost you a fortune.
When you have painted your first few models (like 20+ or something) you might be ready to upgrade to something better.
But remember this: expensive brushes will not make you a better painter. Quality tools are important but in the beginning, you cannot feel the difference between a good tool and a crappy/mediocre tool. Go for cheap quantity first and expensive quality later.
Two Different Types of Brushes for Miniature Painting: Synthetic vs Natural hair
In general, you have 2 kinds of brushes. 1. Brushes where the bristle is made of natural hair. 2 Brushes where the bristle is made of some kind of synthetical material.
Advantages of natural hair:
- Retains water and paint a lot better while painting (it can hold more paint inside the bristles/belly). This means longer working time and less time spent getting the paint back in the brush.
- The natural hair is more durable and will hold the point better (it can hold a point for many years with proper care). A good natural hair brush will last way longer than a synthetic brush.
Advantages of synthetic hair:
- Less prone to damage from paint (acrylic paint is actually quite hard on natural hair)
- A lot easier to clean than natural hair
- Less expensive (since you do need to get the hair from a rare mink or some weird stuff like that).
6 Things to Look For In a Miniature Brush
- The Ability to Hold a Point and Retain the Shape Over Time: The point/tip on your brush is super important. Over time the brush can wear down, and the point of the brush will start to split. I have some brushes that I can paint with a for a few minutes and after that, the point insists on splitting in two (making it unusable for fine detail work and just a real paint).
- Size of the body: If you are painting with a very small brush with almost no body, you will have to reapply paint to the brush almost constantly. Also, it is very easy to accidentally damage a brush with a very small body. Having a decently sized body is important (at least when you basecoat or blend)
- Spring/Snap: The more bristles in the brush and the wider it is, the more snap and spring the brush has. When you bend the brushes while painting, the hair should immediately “snap” into its normal shape afterwards. If not, you lose control when painting (it will feel like painting with a wet spaghetti).
- Durability: An expensive awesome natural hair brush can last for years (at least with proper care). A cheap, inexpensive synthetic brush cannot last very long (but on the other hand, you do not have to worry about brush care that much).
- Feeling: The feeling of a brush is very hard to quantify, but the brush should feel right for you. I have painted a lot with the Winsor and Newton, so this means they feel “right” for me. Trying to paint with brushes that are not made in the same way feels very off to me. A lot of the feeling with a brush depends on your habits and needs, but some of it also depends on hand size and various other factors.
- Price: we cannot get around that the price of the brush is also something that you need to consider.
Quality natural hair, mostly from a Kolinsky Weasel (also called a Kolinsky Sabel brush) will win on a lot of these parameters. They hold a point longer, they have a big body that can retain paint well, they snap back in place quickly, the durability can be amazing and the feeling is great. The downside? They cost a lot…
What Sizes of Miniature Brushes Do You Need?
The size on the brushes will usually range from “000” (very small) up to a big “12”.
For painting miniatures the size “0” and “1” will most likely be what you are looking for.
A size “2” can be good for bigger basecoat and a “00” can be good if you do very fine detail work. I have a single size “3” brush and have almost never found a use for it. Some brands have a unique naming scheme (like the Citadel brushes where they try to call the brushes something understandable for beginners).
There is no uniformity as to how big a size 1 is when you look across the different manufacturers. This means that the size 0 from one company can be as big as a size 1 of another company. You just have to try them out to figure it out.
When it comes to how big the body is, it can also vary wildly from different brush sets. You have to learn by experience what suits you. A rule thumb is that too small a body is not that great. Only on my very, very fine detail brushes, I want a small body (I do not need a lot of paint to paint eyes or similar details). Basecoating, edge highlights and blending requires a bigger body to move the paint around in the required way. A lot of the brushes made specifically for miniature painting have, in my opinion, too small a body on the brush.
Buying a 0, 1 and 2 from the company's brush set will give most of what you need. If this is your first time buying quality brushes, maybe just go with a 0 and 1. Those two types are by far the ones that I use the most, and the 00 and 000 is only used very sparingly (if at all) on a model.
Where to Buy Your Brushes?
I have tried out different webstores (since the selection of quality brushes in my local brick and mortar stores is subpar) and have run into a few different problems with quality control, poor customer service and so on.
Lately, I have been getting my supplies from the webstore Jackson's Art. I have been very happy with both price, shipping times, quality control and customer service. They have the quality brushes I want as well as cheap brushes and the brush cleaner I use.
They ship internationally and I can highly recommend them. It is also there all the (affiliate) links in this post will go to.
As a bonus for using my links, you get 10% if it is your first order with Jackson Art. Does not sound like much, but 10% on expensive brushes can also be something!
3 Different Good Quality Natural Hair Brushes
You can get cheap and efficient synthetic brushes from hobby stores everywhere (Citadel, Army Painter and random non-miniature hobby stuff). I find the difference in quality to be minimal so try different cheap stuff out until you are ready to upgrade. Be warned that Citadel brushes are neither cheap nor of very high quality, but they can do ok in a pinch.
3 different series of quality brushes that are commonly recommended:
- Winsor & Newton Series 7
- Raphael Series 8404
- Davinci Maestro Series 35
I have tried all of the above and all of them could become your favourite brush in the end. The difference between is quite small and you cannot go wrong with any of them.
Winsor and Newton Series 7 (get the normal brushes made for watercolour, not the miniature stuff that has too small a body) is what most people will recommend. It is by far the most used “pro” brush, but that does not necessarily make it the best.
Raphael Series 8404 might be just as good as the Winsor and Newton AND it is cheaper. I only have a single one of these right now (bought after a few too many Winsor and Newton brushes had issues on arrival because of poor quality control).
Davinci Maestro Series 35 is a solid brush, but not for me. The body was too thin and I found that it could not compare with the other two when it came to retaining a sharp point with extended use.
What I Think Is the Best Miniature Brush for Warhammer and Miniature Painting
When I started out looking for a good brush, the Winsor and Newton series 7 was the one that most experienced painters recommended. After 5 years of using it, I have never regretted that choice. In fact, I have my very first size 1 Winsor and Newton and still use it for some detail work. In my opinion, you cannot go wrong with a good Winsor and Newton Series 7 brush.
That said, I have lately run into different quality control issues. I bought a fresh batch with a 00, a 0 and 1 and they were ALL broken on arrival (the plastic tip made to protect the bristles had been jammed into the bristles, making them unable to hold a point). I have seen others commenting on different bad brushes from them, so if this continues I might shift to the Raphael instead.
Maintaining and Getting the Most Out of Your New Brush Quality Natural Hair Brush
If you buy a quality and expensive brush, you NEED to take care of it. The natural hair will get damaged if you neglect to clean it and then you would be much better of just using a cheap synthetic brush instead.
I suggest buying some Master Brush Cleaner. It has been around for ages and comes highly recommended. I have used it on my brushes since I started using quality stuff and it has done very well. It can even extend the life on your cheaper brushes, helping to avoid that annoying splitting issue (check the price of the Master Brush Cleaner on Jackson's Art webstore)