A Guide to Brushes: Part 1 - Hair, Hair, and more Hair - fddlstyx
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A Guide to Brushes: Part 1 – Hair, Hair, and more Hair

The world of miniature brushes is a vast, wondrous, and often confusing place. With so many brands, materials, sizes, and types of brushes available, finding the right ones can be quite a daunting task for newcomers to the hobby. In the first part of this (hopefully) multi-part series on miniature paint brushes, I’ll talk about the different types of brush hairs most relevant to the miniature painting hobby, and the considerations that one should make during selection.

Types of Brush Hair

The bristles of a paint brush are made using natural hair taken from some sort of animal, synthetic fibers, or a mixture of both. There are a ton of different hair types out there, but we will focus on the the most popular category within the hobby, sable brushes.

Sable hair is derived from the tail hairs of members from the weasel family, and is a highly valued bristle material due to its exceptional snap characteristics (ability to hold its shape). Originally created for watercolors, sable brushes have become the favorite for miniature painters due to the brush’s naturally sharp point, which is absolutely key when painting small objects.

Kolinsky Sable

Considered the gold standard when it comes to miniature brushes. Kolinsky hair was originally sourced from the Siberian mink, but is now sourced from Asian varieties due to a dramatic reduction in Siberia’s mink population. These brushes are becoming harder to come by in the US due a number of seized shipments by Fish and Wildlife and the inclusion of the Kolinsky into CITES (source).

When should I consider Kolinsky Sable?
When you are committed to the hobby, paint frequently, and/or want the best of the best in terms of brushes.

High End: Windsor and Newton: Series 7 (~$17)
Midrange: Raphael: 8404 (~$12)
Budget: Rosemary & Co: Series 33 (~$7)

Red Sable

A large category of brushes that include lower quality Kolinsky hairs, and hairs from other species of mink/weasel. Red Sables are generally stiffer, less snappy, and have duller points then Kolinsky’s, but high quality Red Sable brushes can perform similarly to Kolinsky’s at a fraction of the price.

When should I consider Red Sable?
When you want sable, but don’t want to spend a lot.

High End: G&G: Ichiban Pro Studio (~$12)
Midrange: Da Vinci: Series 36(~$9)
Budget: Rosemary & Co: Series 101 (~$3)

Synthetic Sable

The cheapest “sable” brush option, synthetics are brushes made using nylon or polyester fibers, and are commonly given names such as: Taklon, White Sable, or Golden Sable. Synthetics have very high spring (stiffness) and are generally less absorbent then their natural counterparts. Synthetics are also very durable, and unlike natural Sable can handle solvents/metallics without being damaged.

When should I consider Synthetics?
When you are on a budget, or painting with harsh mediums/metallic/solvents and do not want to damage your other brushes.

High End: Windsor & Newton: Cotman Series 111 (~$6)
Midrange: G&G: Ichiban Synthetic (~$5)
Budget: Rosemary & Co: Series 301 (~$3)

Blended Sable

Many Sable brushes are manufactured with different hair blends in order to improve brush performance, or to reduce cost. This tends to result in a brush that has a mixture of qualities from both synthetic and natural sable brushes. For example, the Windsor & Newton Sceptre Gold II combines Sable hair with synthetic fibers in an attempt to reduce price while maintaining a relatively high level of performance.

When should I consider Blended Sable?
When you are new to the hobby and not ready to make a large investment, or when you want a cheap general purpose workhorse brush.

High End: Windsor & Newton: Cotman Series 111 (~$9)
Midrange: Raphael: 8394 (~$5)
Budget: Rosemary & Co: Series 401 (~$3.5)



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