Are you looking for a cheap alternative to Winsor & Newton Series 7 brushes for painting miniatures and models? For the mini painter, the Winsor & Newton Series 7 line of paint brushes are the gold standard. However, the Series 7 line of kolinsky sable paint brushes are expensive, often more than $20-30, per brush. For someone who paints miniatures, this cost can add up quickly. For most day-to-day painting, you don’t need that level of brush quality or brand.
In this article, I review my recommended low-cost alternative to the Winsor & Newton Series 7 paint brush: the Blick Masterstroke Pure Red Sable Brush (short handle).
Here is a list of low-cost alternative sable brushes to Winsor & Newton Series 7 brushes for painting miniatures and models:
Okay, I know many of you are wondering about the other popular alternative brushes, like the Rosemary & Co Series 33, Broken Toad, and Warcolours brushes. I will be writing more head-to-head comparisons in future articles. Join my mail list and check back often for these upcoming posts.
I hope this article gives you some useful insight into paint brushes for mini painting. If you want to see some of my work, check out the gallery.
Read on for more thoughts and a review of my favorite alternative to W&N Series 7 kolinsky sables brushes.
Why are W&N Series 7 paint brushes so popular?
My opinion about this topic.
Winsor & Newton Series 7 brushes have become the gold standard for many painters because they are fantastic for painting detail. Series 7 brushes have awesome snap and spring, two attributes that give you a lot of control. Better control also means more confidence for you.
More confidence = more fun.
Series 7 brushes also tend to last a long time with good brush care. It is true that the quality varies with W&N Series 7 brushes from time to time, which is why you should try out your brushes before you buy them. More about this below.
In my opinion, painting miniatures with pure natural sable brushes is a whole different experience than working with hobby branded brushes, i.e., Citadel brushes or other game company brands, which usually have mixed synthetic-natural hair bristles.
Are there reasonable and low-cost alternatives to the expensive kolinsky sables out there? I’m including Raphael 8404, DaVinci, and the W&N Series 7 in the “expensive” category, as these are high-end artsy brushes. When I mean low-cost or cheap, I mean natural sable brushes that are less than $8 per brush (compared to $25+ for the “good stuff).
As a commissioned painter, I use my tools a lot. They must handle abuse and continue to serve my needs reliably. Failure is not an option. Products that fail to last are useless to me. I can’t afford to constantly stop my work for repairs or replacement.
For the longest time, I found Winsor & Newton had the most reliable brushes for working on miniatures.
For this review, I focus on Blick’s Masterstroke brush, because it is the one I use the most nowadays. I will have a rollout review of the other brushes as I gain more experience with them. I tend to use only a few brushes at a time for my work. I’ve learned that too many tools make me slow and bogs down my productivity.
Buy your brushes local for the best experience (test them out)
If you’re a mini painter, professional or otherwise, good tools the key to a good experience. Don’t you hate it when your crappy airbrush clogs or breaks down right in the middle of a project? Get the good stuff.
As you can read in another brush article, I like buying my brushes in-person so I can test them before buying. This is especially important for high-quality natural sable brushes because they are hand-made. Different batches of brushes may differ slightly in quality.
If you buy online from Amazon or any other art store, make sure the store has a good return policy. After using your brush and you find they split or don’t hold a good, sharp point, you can return them for a replacement.
Here’s what you should do before buying your brush
Ask for permission from the sale associate at the store if you can test the brush. They will usually give you a cup of water and let you play around on a blank sheet of paper. I’ve done this nearly every time I visit the art store to buy brushes. This is especially important for the more expensive kolinsky sables, which are hand-made and could vary in quality batch-to-batch.
Here’s what you do to test a brush:
- Dip the brush in clean water.
- Swirl the brush around in the water. Be gentle, you didn’t buy the brush, yet! You want to remove any powder/binder attached to the bristles. Wash all of that off.
- Take the brush out and flick the brush on your other hand. Swirl the brush in the water again.
- Remove the brush a final time and flick the brush against your wrist to remove the excess water.
- Did the brush come back to a fine point again? If yes, then this is likely a good brush. Did it splay (e.g., split into two parts)? If this happens, find another brush.
What you’re looking for by step #5 is a brush that can reform back into a fine tip without much help from you. Its natural shape should be round and come back to an even circumferential point. The bristles should be uniformly arrange around the entire ferrule.
The miniature painting hobby can be expensive. This is especially true if you’re always using the top-shelf equipment and paint a lot. Sometimes it’s better to avoid the best brushes and other hobby hardware.
But, when you’re shopping, there are certain things you should look for.
Take a look here.
The 5 key brush features you should know for painting miniatures
- Flow & release
Not all of these features are necessary for a good mini painting experience. I personally use anything that’s close by for most tabletop display level work. But, a few will come in super handy if you’re serious about getting to the next painting level for your paint jobs.
How much paint can a brush hold? This is brush capacity. This is primarily determined by bell size and bristle material. Natural sable (or hair) is intrinsically the best material for capacity. Belly size, which is usually determined by the circumference of the tuft (the bristles form together into a tuft), also helps hold more paint in the brush. A large capacity brush won’t require you to reload your brush in paint as often.
This attribute is the one you notice first when you look at a brand new brush. The point attribute determines how well the brush comes to a sharp point after it is wet.
As mentioned above, you should test your brushes in clean water to check for this feature. All pure natural hair brushes will likely splay open when they are dry, even the expensive ones. This is normal. Synthetics or mixed-natural/synthetic brushes may behave differently when wet or dry.
A natural hair brush of good quality should correctly come back together into a point when it is dipped into water (may require a few dips). But, a brush that is dysfunctional will have a problem returning to its original shape.
Snap determines how easily a brush will return to its straight shape (parallel with the handle) after being bent sideways. For miniature painters, you want brushes with good snap, because it will give you the most control. You can paint more accurately and quickly using a brush with good snap. Snappier the better! As an example, Winsor & Newton Series 7 brushes have awesome snap potential. Raphael 8404 have less snap, but still great.
For most advanced paint blending techniques on small surfaces, a brush with good snap is almost a requirement.
As a general rule, short haired brushes have much better snap than long haired brushes.
The “Miniaturist” DaVinci brushes are popular for this reason. The other miniature-sized brush with amazing snap is the W&N Series 7 Miniature Round Size #1. I’ve used both a lot for free-handing designs on model capes and cloaks.
Spring is related to the resilience of the brush to change its shape. In contrast to snap, which is the amount of ease a brush will “return to a straight angle”, spring refers to the force required for the hairs to splay outwards. Simply, spring refers to the stiffness of the belly of the brush to keep its shape. Good quality brushes always have good spring.
A brush with excellent spring make some of the best wet-blending brushes, because they give you the ability to quickly move paint around in a controlled fashion. You’re not fighting the brush, and you can use more force to sweep paint where it needs to go.
For example, although Raphael 8404 brushes have less snap than Series 7 brushes, 8404’s have excellent spring. Raphael 8404’s are great brushes for blending because they have great capacity and spring. I have a comparator example of this brush below and in this article review of the Artis Opus S brush line.
Flow & release
Flow & release refers to how paint behaves in the brush upon application to a surface. On a miniature, good flow/release will help you get that tiny bit of paint onto those small surfaces (instead of sticking to your bristles or flooding everywhere). More importantly, the best quality brushes for painting miniatures have the flow & release that is predictable. You want a constant flow rate of paint from your brush to your working surface.
Natural hair brushes are way better than synthetics for providing you with an even and consistent flow rate.
Paint brush control is #1
If you haven’t noticed already, good brushes are all about control.
Control, control, control.
All you need for painting miniatures well is control. This comes with practice and knowing your tools.
Expensive brushes may have great capacity, but poor flow/release.
A budget brush may have a balance of all the features you need.
I’m an advocate of the belief that tools don’t matter as much as many people think. You can use almost any paint brush with enough experience and skill. Good technique and experience trumps expensive tools and gadgets.
What money can buy is time. With tools that do the job at-hand, you can flatten the learning curve.
This is also why I may not recommend buying the budget brushes until you know what you’re doing. You’ll have more fun learning to paint miniatures when you’re not fighting your brushes to get them to do what you want.
Expensive, high-quality brushes are reliable. They do things in a way that you understand and can predict. Budget brushes on the low-cost side will require your patience and willingness to learn their nuanced behavior with paint.
Review of the Blick Masterstroke Brush for Painting Miniatures
The reason I recommend Blick Masterstroke short handled brushes is because they are a balance of quality features (e.g., predictable brush behavior) and cost. They require a bit more understanding of how brushes work and how they won’t. For example, Blick Masterstroke brushes have a bit less spring than any of the more expensive kolinsky sables I’ve worked with, e.g., DaVinci, Raphael, Series 7.
You’ll need a lighter touch to work quickly with Blick Masterstroke brushes.
Keep reading for more about this.
I paint a lot of miniatures and models for tabletop wargames and board games. I also have kids and work on commission so I don’t have time. to waste with stuff that doesn’t work. I also can’t afford to use materials that are expensive for no reason.
I stumbled upon the Blick Masterstroke brushes when I walked into the art store and they had gone out-of-stock of my normal W&N Series 7 brushes. They also had low stock of my other alternatives, e.g., Raphael 8404.
Suffice it to say, I test drove the Blick Masterstroke brushes (using the method above), and walked out of the store with 5 brushes: a size #0, #1, and #2. I grabbed an extra #1 and #2 for good measure.
Look and feel
Alright, so they are brushes. They’ve got a wooden handle that’s similar in size with equivalent brands, such as the Artis Opus S, or Winsor & Newton Series 7.
The barrel is black lacquer. The coating is more matte.
This does make them “grippier” than say the Artis Opus. The barrel diameter is thinner than either the Series 7 or Artis Opus, which some might prefer.
I have no preference myself as I usually hold my brushes close to the metal ferrule. As you can see in the image above, my size #1 Masterstroke has cracked paint from months of use and cleaning (nearly a year). I think some water got into the wood and expanded it a little, which made the barrel paint peel.
Either way, this appears cosmetic and the brush is still going strong, holding its sharp tip well after so much time.
Ergonomics and handling
Okay, so the brush isn’t pretty, but how do the brushes perform? How do they feel in your hands?
For most of my miniature painting (check out some of it here), I use the pointed round size #1 the most. Others like the #2 for the larger belly and longer bristles. I prefer a snappier brush for control.
In either case, the weight and balance of the size #1 Masterstroke brush is the same as the W&N Series 7. The center of gravity is right above the ferrule as the barrel thickens near the label “BLICK”.
If you’re a pincher, like me, who holds the brush near the bristles, then the length of the barrel won’t matter so much. The end of the barrel will rest comfortably in the fleshy crook of your thumb and forefinger.
The metal ferrule is about the same feel and look as the Series 7 and Artis Opus (both size #1’s). Though I would note that the Artis Opus S series of brushes have slightly thicker barrels in the middle, which is more in-line with Rosemary & Co Series 33 brushes. But, for all intents and purposes, this doesn’t come into play for brush handling. As you’ll notice below, the bristles have slightly different but significant behavior with paint.
If you’re wondering about any of these barrel/ferrule dimensions for handling, you’ll notice that the Blick Masterstroke is nearly identical to its more expensive brush brethren.
Brush bristle character
All natural sable brushes have a specific character.
If you’ve painted a lot of miniatures, you start to pick up on these subtle things. For example, Winsor & Newton Series 7 brushes are snappy brushes with good spring. Whereas, the Artis Opus S has a good balance of spring and snap. The Raphael 8404 have incredible capacity and good spring.
All these features come into play when you are painting miniatures. What brush character you prefer will be different than your neighborly painter.
For myself, I like the feel of Winsor & Newton Series 7 because they their snap keeps me from losing that point that I love using. Although the brush holds less paint than Raphael 8404, I don’t mind reloading my brush often. I’m more of a layer and glaze painter when it comes to blending.
The Blick Masterstroke is closer to the Winsor & Newton Series 7 in terms of brush character.
In terms of snap and spring, this character similarity of the Masterstroke brush compared to the Series 7 comes from the the quality of the bristle hair and bristle length.
The bristle length of the Blick Masterstroke size #1 pointed round brush is almost the same as the size #1 W&N Series 7, if not a tad shorter. The Blick Masterstroke brush has bristles that are about 10mm in length, and 2.5mm in diameter (i.e., the belly circumference). In the image below, you can see the side-by-side of these brushes in a close up.
After dipping the brushes in water, I checked their point. All of my expensive kolinsky sables, Raphael 8404, W&N Series 7, DaVinci Maestro, and Artis Opus S came back together into a point, as expected.
(I’m really a stickler for this)
Checking this feature in the Blick Masterstroke was important for me when I was buying them.
Well, what happens after a few flicks in clean water?
A fine tip, indeed. The Blick Masterstroke after so many months still does what it naturally wants to do: prepare for battle.
The tip of the spear must be sharp and ready for the job. This is the reason I bought and recommend the Blick Masterstroke brushes. For a $5 natural hair brush, I am excited to say that this thing does what it’s supposed to do.
Now does it keep the point when it’s painting a miniature? Does it deliver with actual paint?
This is the real test and where things require a bit more finesse on your part. In other words, this is by no means the perfect brush. Your experience needs to comes into play.
Before I get into the real-world test, here are a few more head-to-head comparisons with some of the best brushes I’ve used over the years painting models and miniatures.
Blick Masterstroke vs. Raphael 8404
The Blick Masterstroke brush is a shorter brush than the Raphael Series 8404 line. Of course, they both handle differently because of this. The 8404 takes the cake for belly capacity. It holds a huge amount of paint (or ink, whatever). This means less reloading between paint application.
This has the real-world effect of making the Raphael 8404 the king of painting more efficiently over larger surfaces. The Blick Masterstroke in my opinion, however, has better snap. It snaps back into it’s vertical painting position after each brush stroke, as compared with the Raphael 8404.
For you loaded-brush blending folks, this makes the Blick Masterstroke a very useful alternative. For glazing, where you have to keep your layers thin or move things around quickly, the better snap on the Masterstroke is also advantageous.
Blick Masterstroke vs. Artis Opus S
If you compare the Artis Opus to the Blick Masterstroke (of the same number size), you’ll find that they are both similar in the length and belly size. Over the years, I’ve read varied reviews on the Artis Opus S series of brushes for painting miniatures.
I like the Artis Opus brush a lot.
I own several sets of the Artis Opus S. See my rolling updated review here.
In terms of usage, however, you’ll notice that the Artis Opus brush is nearly 4x the cost of the Blick Masterstroke. And, I’m not 100% sure that extra cost adds much more value to the Artis Opus compared with the Blick Masterstroke.
Both brushes are comparable capacity to hold paint. They also have similar snap. In terms of durability, both brushes have performed well. In my hands, both have kept up with months of painting work.
I will say that the Artis Opus has had a few stray bristles and it’s belly seems to have shrunk over time. I’m not sure why this is, but I have not noticed a big effect other than a slight loss of spring-y feeling in the belly.
The Blick Masterstroke has less spring than the Artis Opus to begin with, but with a lighter touch, the brush shape holds up to normal mini painting. The tip comes back to a fine point with little effort.
Blick Masterstroke vs. Army Painter “Regiment”
Okay, some of you will balk that I put the Army Painter Regiment on my list of best brushes for my use. The Regiment isn’t even a pure natural hair brush!
But, I use the Army Painter Regiment brush a lot. It’s one of the better all-around paint brushes for miniatures. Versatile and reliable, I’ve used the Army Painter Regiment (which is close to a size #1 for other brands) for base coating, detailing, and blending on all sorts of models.
However, one of the problems I’ve had with the AP Regiment brush is the somewhat poor spring. If you have a light touch, the shape of the brush will hold up and you can continue painting as normal. But, if you’re a bit of a heavy handed painter (who likes to press their brush into the surface a bit more), the Regiment might be a tad too squishy.
The snappy point and capacity of the Army Painter Regiment are excellent, however, and continue to please many painters, including myself. You can check out my full review of the Army Painter Regiment brush here.
For some reason, it’s that triangle brush handle. It just feels great to use… and the Army Painter brush won’t roll off your table when put it down.
The Blick Masterstroke surpasses the Army Painter Regiment almost every level and at slightly less cost.
Blick Masterstroke vs. Winsor & Newton Series 7
For the final comparison, I placed the Blick Masterstroke next to the W&N Series 7 and the Artis Opus S brush (all pointed round size #1).
You’ll notice that these brushes all have bristles of similar length. But, the belly capacity size of the Blick Masterstroke is surprisingly larger than either the W&N Series 7 or the Artis Opus S.
In fact, the Artis Opus in real-world use has a fairly low capacity for paint (in my experience) than any other size #1 brush I’ve used. Why this is true, I’m not sure. Maybe it has to do with the density of the bristles, or how thick each hair is. In either case, here are some other thoughts.
If I rated them in order of best snap, it would be: Series 7, Artis Opus S, and Blick Masterstroke.
For best spring, I would order them in this sequence: Series 7, Blick Masterstroke, and Artis Opus S.
All of the brushes I’ve written about have good flow/release. Acrylic model paint comes off these bristles in a predictable fashion. I’ve tried all sorts of hobby paint brands with the Blick Masterstroke brushes, including Vallejo Game or Model Color (as well as Model Air), Citadel/Games Workshop stuff, Reaper Master Series paints, Scalecolor, and Privateer Press P3 paints (I’m probably missing a few others that I use frequently).
At the end of the day, the Blick Masterstroke brushes have really good value for what they cost!
Real-world testing of the Blick Masterstroke brush
Here’s my video review of the Blick Masterstroke brush. If you want to read a more detailed review, scroll on below.
The goal here was to use the Blick Masterstroke brush (size #1) in a normal painting situation. Now, this is only an example. I’ve been using this brush for a long time.
In this case, I’m filming, so I’m at a bit of a disadvantage. But, basically, I want to paint this sword on this Barbarian miniature using varied approaches of paint blending. I use wet-blending, loaded brush blending (sort of), and a bit of glazing.
By doing this, I hope to show you the utility of the Blick Masterstroke brush and how it holds up when you want to get good results.
The snap of the Blick Masterstroke brush is excellent.
The brush has enough spring when it is wet for the point to retain its shape.
When the brush is loaded with paint, however, the bristles do splay out a bit and soften.
This is normal, though. All you need to do is wipe off the excess moisture on a paper towel.
Basing with the Blick Masterstroke brush is super easy. The belly holds a good amount of paint and it all releases well from the bristles, as you might expect with pure sable.
There are many ways to blend acrylic paint on a mini. To start blending on swords and other flat surfaces, I like using the loaded-brush technique (more about this technique here). You can see how I do this in the quick video below. I load two colors on the brush (one dark, one base color), and slide sweep them off in a zip-zag motion.
This blending technique is similar to wet-blending, but has a twist that you only use one brush for applying and mixing the wet paint at the same time. It’s fast, but takes some practice.
Using the Masterstroke brush with this technique is great. The snap and flow/release characteristics are good enough. I can control the paint as it comes off the tip of the brush.
Alright, so you have your blended shadow over a base coat. How does the Blick Masterstroke brush handle glazing?
To glaze a model, I simply mix a bit more water with my paint until it’s “runny”. If you want more control, you can add a glaze medium.
The Blick Masterstroke holds a great point, snapping back into place after each stroke. This is awesome for glazing into small areas. For the glaze, I used Lava Orange (Reaper Paint).
Okay, to really finish up a sword like this (tabletop quality speed painting), you do have to dark-line and highlight edges. Again, the fine tip comes in handy.
To get really fine lines, like the highlights on the edges of a model, paint needs to come off the brush without too much bristle pressure. This is where using natural hair brushes is superior to synthetics.
With the Blick Masterstroke brush, you can really get the paint flow rate to do this kind of fine-line painting efficiently. When you’re painting a lot of models, but don’t want to sacrifice quality for speed, a good brush will help you a lot.
To finish up any tabletop quality paint job, I like tying my hasty blends together with accent colors. I use inks or glazes (the kind I make with water and regular paint) that add warmth and coolness to the surface.
Well, what do you think?
I love experimenting with different art materials. In this case, I stumbled upon the Blick Masterstroke by accident and decided to give it a try.
READ MORE: 7 REASONS WHY YOUR BRUSHES FALL APART
A few years later, I’m still using this awesome brush regularly. At $5 a brush, I’m not too worried if I abuse it a little (I don’t). Knowing that I’m not potentially ruining an expensive kolinsky sable, because I neglected to keep the ferrule clean of paint is peace of mind.
Of course, I care for all my brushes. But, there are times when you just want to use whatever you’re holding to wash a model. You want to dip your brush in that pot of ink or shade, submerging the ferrule….just to get the job done. D-O-N-E.
If I’m holding a W&N Series 7, then I’m constantly keeping that mental note not to do certain things.
When you’re painting a horde army, or just want to turn your mind off of being careful all the dang time, but don’t want to lose out on the control you had with W&N Series 7, an Artis Opus, a Raphael or other expensive pro-level brush, you pick up your budget sable brushes.
|Blick Masterstroke Sable Brushes for Painting Miniatures (short handle)|
|Buy Blick Masterstroke Size #0|
|Buy Blick Masterstroke Size #1|
|Buy Blick Masterstroke Size #2|
Simplicity, I guess is the word when you want a brush that just works. It’s not perfect, but it does almost everything you want good enough.
I hope this article was helpful!