Many painters struggle with their brushes, and have as many questions as there are types and brands of brushes. What brand is the best? What kind of hair should it have? How do I take care of them? How long will they last? Are the high quality brushes worth the price? I’ll attempt to answer all of these questions in this review.
In order to give the most objective opinion on which brushes I find to be the best, I placed an order for several different brands, and in several price ranges. I opted to include the ‘Big 3’ that all the professional miniature painters suggest; Windsor & Newton, Raphael, and Da Vinci. I have also included in this compaative review one less expensive brand, which is the same hair (Kolinsky Sable) as the ‘Big 3’; Rosemary & Co.
My brush for measure is the Windsor & Newton Series 7. I have used these brushes for over 5 years, and they are the standard against which all brushes I have used since are compared. I will concede that I used little else in my time painting professionally. But I found that I had no need to use anything else, as they were available locally, albeit expensive.
You’ll have to excuse the large pictures in this post, but it is imperative that the review focus on the tip the brushes hold, and thus, the photos must be large in order to see the detail.
I also wanted to provide an educated opinion on the different brushes. So, I have used all of the brands extensively; a minimum of two miniatures were painted with each brand over several weeks. All of these brushes have seen constant use over the past several months, and it will be easiest to see which are more durable as long as proper care is taken to preserve the hairs, and remove any paint from the ferrule. Read This article for a guide on caring for your brush.
Above is a comparison in sizes and lengths of all of the brushes I will cover in this article. All the brands are made of the most recommended natural hairs; Kolinsky Sable. Beginning at the top, the brushes and sizes are:
- Raphael 8404 – Number 2 Round
- Windsor & Newton Series 7 – Number 2
- DaVinci – Number 2 Round
- Rosemary & Co. – Number 2 Round
- Raphael 8404 – Number 1 Round
- Windsor & Newton Series 7 – Number 1
- Rosemary & Co. – Number 1 Round
All of the back ends of the brushes are lined up, and as you can see, the Rosemary & Co. brush handles are much shorter than the Raphael, and Windsor & Newton (W&N), with the DaVinci handle being only slightly shorter. If having a longer handle is more comfortable for you, then perhaps this might rule out the Rosemary & Co. brushes.
The prices of the brushes are roughly equal, except for the Rosemary & Co., which are by far the least expensive than any of the other brands.
I bought most of these brushes from Dick Blick’s online, and had them delivered to my door. The W&N’s are available to me locally, but they are significantly more expensive than Blick’s, and all are available on Blick’s web store. None of the brushes were damaged in transport, and all were in perfect condition when they arrived. The shipping cost was negligible, costing me under $6.
Every brush was less than $17, and my W&N’s locally cost me more than $25 per brush. If you want a good deal, I highly recommend Blick’s Art Supplies.
I mention the amount of ‘snap’ that a brush will have. This is my definition of how firm the hairs are, and how quickly they resume their shape after laying down a brush stroke. A high amount of snap means that the hairs are slightly stiffer, resume the shape of the brush quickly, and have better control of the amount of paint you’re putting on a small area of the model. A low amount of snap will result in a softer brush hair, and the shape doesn’t return as quickly. Depending on if you prefer a softer hair, or stiffer hair, simply pick a brush I define by it’s amount of snap.
Windsor & Newton Series 7
From left to right, there is a Number 1, a Number 2, and a new Number 2. The two brushes on the left have been used daily for the past 2 years. As you can see, compared to the newer brush, they have held up exceptionally well.
Let’s put the amount of use the older brushes have seen into perspective. I paint for a minimum of 1 hour a day, and more often, 2 or 3 hours per day. These brushes have been used for no less than 7 hours per week, and over the past two years, have seen a minimum of 728 hours. I don’t use either of these brushes any longer, as their points don’t hold very well anymore.
I have heard rumors that the newer W&N’s have lost some of their quality and durability. Since I have not used my new W&N yet, I cannot confirm these rumors. One thing I did notice is that the diameter of the ferrule is slightly smaller, and the hairs are slightly longer than my older brushes. This is an obvious sign that the manufacturing has changed, but whether the quality has been reduced, I can’t really say.
Windsor & Newton brushes are durable, hold a very sharp point, and have a high amount of snap. They are the second most expensive of all of the brands I have used for this article.
If you want a high quality brush that has become pretty much the industry standard, and aren’t afraid of spending a bit of money on your brushes, then Windsor & Newton Series 7’s might be for you.
The Raphael brushes are very close in ferrule size to the W&N’s, have a slightly shorter handle, and have slightly longer hairs.
These brushes have seen the most use out of all the brushes in this review, aside from the W&N Series 7’s. The Raphael are slightly less expensive than the W&N’s. They have a high amount of snap, hold an extremely sharp point, and being slightly wider than the W&N’s allows them to hold a slightly larger amount of paint. This is helpful in my climate, as it’s very dry in Calgary, and this helps my brush stay moist without dipping back into the palette.
The size correlation between a Raphael 8404, and a Windsor & Newton Series 7 is almost exact. The difference is negligible. If you’re used to a number 2 W&N, then a number 2 Raphael 8404 will fit you almost perfectly.
If you want a brush that has a slightly higher amount of snap than a W&N, holds an amazing point, and costs a little less, then the Raphael 8404’s are the brush for you.
For this review, I was only able to get a single size of DaVinci brush, and that was a number 2. The rest were out of stock when I placed my order. On the left is the DaVinci, with the gold ferrule, and on the right is a number 2 Raphael 8404.
As is quite obvious in the photo, the DaVinci brushes are less than half the size of brushes of the same size. The hairs are also much shorter, as is the handle, although not by much compared to a W&N Series 7.
The DaVinci has a low amount of snap, and holds a sharp point. But the point is not quite as sharp as the W&N’s. The hairs are very soft, and the number 2 DaVinci brush was much smaller than I would have suspected; it was closer in size to a W&N and Raphael number 1. They were almost as expensive as the W&N’s, and considering that they are about half the size of an equivalent W&N, this puts them at the highest price point of all the brushes in this review.
If you want a smaller, softer hair brush that holds a good point, and aren’t put off by the high price tag, then a DaVince brush might be your perfect choice.
Rosemary & Co.
The Rosemary & Co. brushes are by far the lowest priced of all the brands I sampled. They are $10 cheaper than the W&N’s, making them a huge bargain.
The Rosemary brushes are slightly smaller than the W&N’s, but not by much. The sizes are similar enough than you won’t feel much of a difference. The hairs are slightly longer, and the handles are significantly shorter as well.
The Rosemary & Co. brushes have the lowest amount of snap, and hold a fairly sharp point. The point on these brushes is the dullest of my sample brushes, and the hairs were the softest of all the brushes in this review. I also found that the Rosemary brushes were the least durable, and they wore out fairly quickly.
But, despite these slight drawbacks, I would highly recommend them for painters on a budget, or novices wanting to upgrade to a kolinsky sable brush whom are afraid of destroying a $20 brush.
If you want a good, soft hair, a low snap, and a great bargain, then Rosemary & Co. brushes are definitely for you.
My former favorite brush, the Windsor & Newton Series 7 has been relegated to second place as a result of my review. The Raphael 8404 has become my new favorite. The 8404 has a higher snap, holds a better point, and the hairs are more durable than the W&N’s. The slightly smaller price tag sealed the deal. The Raphael’s have seen the most use since I bought them, and I will be using them from now on, until I find something better…if that’s even possible.