Tool Tips 08 – Brushes

Tool Tips 08 – Brushes

Last time (Tool Tips 07) we went over the incredibly useful wet palettes. This time around we talk about brushes, brushes, and brushes!

Paint brushes – Whew, the day has finally come where I write about brushes! I can’t really recall what I first used back in the 1880s when I painted my first miniature. I know I had some Testors stuff. So it was likely a cheap plastic brush.

My first brush, was likely one of those above


Look at those bristles!! *runs away screaming in horror*


Then I heard about Sable brushes, and got a cheap Sable brush. Even though it was cheap, and not the best brush in the world, I used that thing a lot.

“Ol Trusty” on the far left

As you can see, the enamel paint started to chip off from the brush over time as well. The funny thing is that I used that brush to paint everything back then. Got a large figure with some big flat plates of armor? Ol Trusty! Got another figure to paint? Ol Trusty! Got some eyes to paint on a 25mm figure? Ol Trusty! Likey Ol Trusty dry brushed 1 or 2 minis too. Baffles me how I managed for so long.

I had picked up some other brushes later on, but with Ol Trusty, the key thing was I could coax it to hold a point (one hair would eventually spring out, but I just lived with it). The other brushes just never held a point like that one, so even when I started using other brushes, I tended to break out Ol Trusty for some detail work.

Flash forward to last year. People quit riding stage coaches and I hear there is something called Instagram which must have replaced the Telegram. Ol Trusty was decent, but since I was interested in picking up new hobby tools, I looked around at what else I could find.

Ol Trusty on the bottom!

I browsed through a local art store, and bought me some (blue handle) brushes. I also shopped around on Amazon. The ones I bought on Amazon, are the in the middle. They have black or silver ends. They came in a bargain set with quite a few brushes. I almost never use them, and if I do, have to go through and look at the tips to figure out which one is decent enough. Too many frayed tips in the pack. The manufacturer was nice enough to send me a second set when I complained about the frayed tips, but the second batch wasn’t much better. Still, if you’re really, really looking for cheap brushes and are maybe new to the hobby, you could give these or these a try.

Synthetic Brushes

I tend to use the Princeton Selects as work brushes (meaning for the majority of my painting), nowadays. They work quite well and my only complaint is that they take some searching on Amazon and it’s tricky finding the sizes/shapes that I need. The two below have been my go-tos lately.

Flat Shader Size 2

Artiste Dagger Striper, ¼”

Now most people will immediately notice a big difference between these and Ol Trusty. Ol Trusty was a rounded brush, these are wider and flat. I immediately noticed a big difference in how to use them. With a flat, wide brush, like the Shader, I could cover more area by drawing the wide part across the miniature surface. On the other hand, I could also use the corner edge or run it edge wise to make lines and paint smaller details. Very nice indeed! With the Artiste Dagger, I tend to use it to paint larger areas. It’s a ¼” brush tip, which is a bit large, but that helps when base coating larger plates of armor. It cuts down on overall painting time and reduces brush strokes showing up on larger, flatter areas. On the other hand, if I get sloppy with it, it will increase painting time, as I have to cover up the mistakes.

The variety of shapes in the Princeton Select line is really nice, and I’m sure I will add more to my toolkit down the line. Unfortunately, they aren’t cheap and they don’t seem focused on smaller miniature painting. It’s difficult to find smaller brushes in their line. I’ve found it useful to play around with different shape brushes to find out how they work for brushing different areas. I tend to stick to 1-3 brushes during a painting session. Alternating as the amount of detail or needs change.

So I dabbled into the realm of synthetic brushes and found a nice brand. Maintenance of synthetic brushes seems quite easy. The bristles tend to stay in place throughout each painting session. They don’t cost as much as some brushes (though individual Princeton Selects are not cheap). Everything should be bright and shiny now, right?

Sable Brushes

As it turns out, Sable is the stuff that Ol Trusty was born of. As I continued to research painting stuffs, I would come across mention of the fabled “Winsor & Newton Series…blah, blah, blah….”. Yea, whatever. Still, it kept coming up and got stuck in my brain. At nights I tossed and turned “Winzzzzzer….Newwwwwwton…”. Not really, as my Wife probably would have some complaining to do in the morning. At any rate, I looked them up. They are a finely made Sable brush and I know that “Sable” is supposed to equal good.

One day on Amazon (yes, I shop way too much online) I saw one at a good enough price that I decided “Hey, why not!?”.


“Your first and last defense in the war against bad miniature painting!” (no guarantees, some skill required, please check manufacturer listing for side effects, including obsessive desire to paint)


The only problem, is that it was going to take a few days longer for the brush to arrive (I think Amazon was experiencing some delays with shipping around that time, at least in my area). In the meantime I wandered through the local art store again to look for some smaller Princeton Select brushes. There was some sale going on and they had a store brand Sable brush for a decent price, so “Hey, why not!?”. I tried out the brushes I had picked up, and could immediately tell the difference between the Sable and Synthetics.

When the Winsor & Newton Series 7 brush arrived in the mail, I could certainly feel the difference between that and the storebrand sable brush that I got. From what I’ve read online, they are very selective about what types of hair they use for the W&N. I’ve definitely noticed differences in sable brushes over the years and the price ranges can vary quite a bit. So it’s obvious that not all sable brushes are created equal. My goto brush right now is the art store brand sable, as the W&N is considerably more expensive and I don’t want to ruin it in everyday use. I think I will gradually begin using the W&N more as time goes on though. I wouldn’t say there is a huge difference, but if you add up slight improvements in all the tools we use in this hobby, it adds up to something bigger in the end.

Sable vs Synthetic Brushes

I already mentioned that synthetic brushes are cheaper than sable brushes. It makes sense, because sable brushes are made from the fur of a weasel (not Sable). Synthetics are likely some manufactured plastic. When wetting a synthetic brush, it will typically return right back to its original shape. When you wet a sable brush, you usually have to reshape it. Maintenance, care, and quality of the brush will be a factor in the brush keeping its original shape.

The most notable difference is in the way they perform. Synthetic bristles are a bit stiff. When people talk about Winsor & Newton (and other brushes), they will often throw out descriptors like “spring” or “snap”. It’s a bit difficult to describe, and something you really need to feel. With the sable brush, I noticed right away that it will give a little (bend) with pressure. This gives you some more flexibility in how you use the brush. You could use just the pointed tip for small details. However you can also push a little more or use the sides of the brush to make wider strokes. So there is more flexibility with the brush and you don’t have to switch brushes between something pointy and something flat so much. I also found that paint tends to flow pretty nicely off the sable brush.

“Okay! So I need to run out and buy a Winsor & Newton Series 7 brush?!”. Not necessarily. If you’re new to the hobby, I would say (as I did way back in Tool Tips 00) buy some cheap brushes just to get the hang of it. You’ll likely be pretty happy with a good set of synthetic brushes. I just bought a pack of cheap brushes at Walmart for $6 (USD), mainly because I wanted a cheap/throwaway wide brush for dry brushing. Most of the brushes were crap, as expected. But one smaller pointed brush actually turned out to be pretty decent and I’ve since used it a few times for some smaller detail work. It doesn’t have much spring, but the point stays sharp and no errant bristles. Just goes to show that you can really get by with a super cheap brush, no problem.

If you’ve been painting for awhile though and are really happy with sable brushes, you might want to add a Winsor & Newton Series 7 to your wishlist.


Well, we made it through brushes! Next up Tool Tips 09 – Paints.

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