Are you looking for the best brush for painting miniatures? Painting models is an amazing hobby. Paint brushes are an essential tool for miniature painting. If you’re serious, you’re looking for the best tools. What is the best brush for painting miniatures and models? Well, it’s personal. The general consensus is that the best brushes are the pointed round size #1 or #2. These brushes have a bristle length of about 8-12mm, and a belly diameter of 1.5-2mm. This brush shape and size allows you to paint miniatures efficiently, helping you to apply paint and blend colors on large surfaces. With a high quality sable or synthetic brush that holds a sharp point, you can also paint details with precision.
In this article, I show you what to look for when you’re shopping for the “right” brush for your miniature painting needs.
What you’ll learn in this post:
- How to determine the best brushes for painting miniatures
- What reasons you should choose synthetic or natural hair brushes
- Why Winsor & Newton Series 7 and other kolinsky sable brushes are a top choice by professional painters
- When it’s time to get a new brush
- Where to buy brushes for painting miniatures
If you’re on a budget, or simply want the best brush money can buy, this post is for you!
In a hurry? Check out my top 3 picks! 🏆
What is the best brush for painting miniatures?
Here’s what I recommend you look for in the best brush for painting minis and models (25-35mm scale):
- A brush with a pointed round shape
- Size #1 or #2 for all-around use
- Bristle length of about 8-12mm
- A belly diameter of 1.5-2mm
These brush shapes and dimensions will provide you with a brush that will be efficient for applying paint over large surfaces. This is great for base coating or priming. With a higher quality bristle, you will also find these brush attributes useful for blending acrylic model paint colors.
If the brush can hold a sharp tip and springs back into shape after each stroke, you’ll have a much easier time painting details. Both quality synthetic and natural hair bristles in the range of sizes above will be the best go-to brush for a majority of your miniature painting work.
Good snap or spring (see details below) will help you paint with more control and confidence.
Keep reading below for more details about how to find the best brush for painting miniatures.
What are the 5 key brush attributes you should look for?
- Flow and Release
This determines how much paint a brush can hold. More capacity means you won’t have to reload your brush with paint as often. This is great for base-coating or applying paint over large surfaces. For blending, having good capacity also means you can use some more advanced paint blending techniques.
This feature determines how well the brush comes to a sharp point after it is wet. This is the first thing you notice when you buy a brush: how sharp the brush point is.
Any good quality pointed round brush, sable or synthetic, should have a sharp point when brand new. The key is finding a brush that can keep that point over a long period of use.
This is a brush feature that I personally need for my miniature painting work. Snap determines how easily a brush will return to its straight shape (e.g., lengthwise along the brush handle). Good snap will allow you to have the most control over your paint work.
Winsor & Newton Series 7 brushes have excellent snap. They are famous for it. On the other hand, Raphael 8404, another great paint brush for miniatures, has a less snap, but awesome capacity. Check out a great budget alternative to the expensive kolinsky sables.
Spring is related to the resilience of a brush to change shape. It’s the bounce when you press your bristles to a surface. A brush with good spring will help you wet-blend acrylic model paint.
A brush with excellent spring will help you move paint around in a controlled way. You’re not fighting the brush. It’s working with you. You can sweep paint where it needs to go. Another great technique with a brush with good spring is loaded brush blending.
Flow and Release
This brush attribute refers to the ability of a brush to release paint from its bristles onto a surface medium. For miniatures, a good amount of flow and release will help you get that tiny bit of paint applied to details, e.g, eyes, raise edges.
The best brushes will have a predictable flow and release. Natural sable brushes are some of the best brushes for providing painters with controlled paint release. It’s one of the reasons why watercolor painters love using kolinsky sable brushes.
What are the best brushes for painting Warhammer 40k or other gaming miniatures?
This is a very common question: What brush should I use for painting Warhammer 40k, 30k, or other popular gaming models?
I recommend you buy Winsor & Newton Series 7 paint brushes. The best shape and size are a pointed round size #1 or #2.
W&N Series 7 brushes use high-quality kolinsky sable, which provide you with all the best brush features for painting miniatures. They have great snap, spring, tip retention, and paint capacity. Because they are made of natural hair, these brushes also have predictable flow and release characteristics.
Even if you’re a new miniature painter starting out in the hobby, getting a Winsor & Newton Series 7 brush will help you grow the fastest. You’ll learn how to use the brush in all sorts of techniques and paint applications. More importantly, you’ll learn how to properly care for a brush that will last you a very long time.
Of course, a Winsor & Newton Series 7 brush won’t be cheap. It is at least 3 times more costly than a standard hobby brush, e.g., Citadel base or layer brush. But, with proper care, a W&N Series 7 paint brush will last you a very long time. I still have a daily W&N Series 7 brush that is in great working condition after two years of heavy use.
My brief journey to find the right brush for me.
When I did my initial research online, everywhere really, I wanted the tool that could do the most work (versatility) with precision and control.
I wanted a paint brush that would allow me to freehand or paint details of a miniature without frustration.
In other words, I was looking for specific qualities of paint brush size, shape, and bristle quality that were ideal for painting miniatures.
Finally, I needed a paint brush that was efficient. This means that the brush needed to hold a good amount of wet paint so I didn’t have to refill/dip it into my paint pot/bottle after every stroke.
When it comes to pure painting speed, getting the job done quickly, I discovered my favorite workhorse brush: the Citadel Medium Basing brush.
Things I look for in a good brush for painting models:
- Paint capacity
For more fine detail painting, however, you will need something a bit more delicate.
What brushes are worth your money?
It depends on what you want to do. Are you painting a horde army of models? In other words, are you trying to paint fast across a lot of models as fast as you can?
Speed painting an army of miniatures will destroy any brush. In this case, I would recommend synthetic brushes for your speed painting needs.
Even painting to a tabletop standard doesn’t require expensive brushes.
But, if you want to win miniature painting competitions, you’ll want brushes that give you the most control over paint. You want brushes that let you blend paint smoothly and accurately. For high quality, display level painting, I would suggest you look for the best natural sable brushes you can buy.
Pay for the quality you need.
Of course, I know some professional miniature painters who are able to paint amazing work with cheap, synthetic brushes. They are the exception, not the norm.
Good quality tools will help you learn and grow faster in the miniature painting hobby. They won’t get in your way as you struggle through some painting challenges.
Don’t let crappy instruments slow you down.
What brush type do you need for miniature painting?
Well, paint brushes are diverse. They are like people.
Some help you. Some don’t. In fact, trying to work with bad tools will hurt you.
Look at it this way. Brushes are unique tools, each with a different behavior and dare I say personality. There are so many types of brushes out there, it can be hard to even decide on the special few (or one) that you’ll need for painting miniatures.
If you are like me when I first started painting miniatures, then you’ve probably chosen the kinds of brushes that you saw at your local game or craft store.
Or, maybe you’ve watched others paint in videos using various brushes.
As someone who is learning, you may have already been to a local art store.
Have you seen all the types of brushes there are? So many! It’s like shopping for shoes. You only need one, but the choices are endless.
Unlike shoes, of course, brushes generally have more uses than simply protecting your feet.
Brushes are an invention older than recorded time. Just look at cave walls.
Do you wonder if your painting could improve if you had one perfect brush that could do it all?
This is how you find the perfect brush for you. Define your goal.
As I mentioned, determine what you want to do with your miniatures. For tabletop quality gaming quality, low cost is fine. For more advanced display level painting, then you’ll need more precision tools.
So, our goal is easy, right?
Yes and no.
I think the problem starts with nailing down what you actually are trying to do with your miniature painting project.
Is brush shape and size important?
Here’s a little summary of the kind of shape and sizes you’re looking for in a brush for painting miniatures.
The best brush shape is a pointed round. This shape gives you the most surface bristle area to apply paint (using the sides of a brush, in a swishing or feathering motion), whilst the sharp tip provides for the precision to perform controlled line work required for applying details.
The best brush size for miniature painting is a brush with bristle lengths of about 10mm (0.39 inches), and a belly diameter of 2mm (0.79 inches).
For most 28-35mm miniatures, this brush size allows for efficient paint retention in the “belly” of the tuft (see below).
The length is long enough to provide good belly (where most paint would be held for a period of time over a series of applications on larger surfaces), and short enough to keep bristles “snappy” or “springy” so they reform after deforming after a brushstroke.
Brushes have numbers to define their size.
But, the brush size number of a particular brand may not mean the same thing for a different brand.
Manufacturers all have slightly different standards for brush sizes. This is part due to the fact that really high-end brushes are made-by-hand. Inherently, there will be variation in the product.
For example, a pointed round size #1, does not mean it will have bristles of the length or diameter that is ideal for your miniature painting needs.
Here is an important overview of brush parts.
Paint brush anatomy 101.
Here’s the 3 parts of a brush that you should keep in mind:
- The handle
- The ferrule
- The tuft (or bristles)
- It’s usually wood. But, I’ve seen some plastic ones.
- But, it doesn’t matter what the brush handle is made of as long as it’s comfortable for you.
- Control of a brush in part from being able to manipulate the handle, which is connected to the bristles.
- If the brush is comfortable you’ll likely use that brush for longer periods of time.
- I’ve said this elsewhere, there is no substitute for good miniature painting than a lot of in-the-seat experience with your tools.
- The ferrule is that metal part that connects the brush to the bristles or tuft.
- I never knew why, but knowing about the ferrule is an important for determining a good brush from a bad one.
- I’ve discovered that a lot of the high quality brushes have ferrules that don’t have crimps on them. A crimp is a bend or crease formed in the metal ferrule.
- Good quality brushes have ferrules that are smooth near where the tufts/bristles come out from under the metal.
- Crimped ferrules low on the brush, near the tufts, on cheap brushes usually fall off after a while.
- My suggestion is to look at the ferrule and find brushes that have smooth metal attachments near the tuft. These seem to be the better assembled miniature brushes.
- Often poorly made brushes feel a bit wobbly when you have a good grip on ferrule. It can be quite unnerving when you’re painting details.
- The tuft is the bristle end of the brush.
- There are many configurations of bristle bundles or tufts attached to a brush.
- You’ve got the pointed round shapes (the primary shape for miniature painting), flats, fans, mops, liners, pin-stripers (which are fun), and all kinds of other funny names.
- At the end of the day, of course, the attributes of the tuft are what determine the overall ability for you to control the paint application to a miniature.
What is better? Natural or synthetic for painting miniatures?
In choosing the best brush for miniature painting, I generally recommend that everyone start with a natural hair brush.
Here are some advantages of why you should choose natural bristle brushes for painting miniatures:
- Natural hair brushes of good quality hold their shape much longer than their synthetic relations, and yield a more subtle (dare I say smoother) paint application feel.
- Until recently, natural hair brushes also have had better water retention attributes than compared with synthetics that make paint stay consistently wet while painting.
- Finally, natural hair brushes also have another advantage in that they are generally easier to clean.
Of course, more expensive synthetic brushes may close the functional gap with natural bristle brushes, e.g., have similar working properties, but these synthetics aren’t as easy to find.
Best natural hair brushes for painting miniatures?
There are broadly two kinds of natural hair brushes I recommend you should consider for painting miniatures:
Red Sable – This is your bog-standard, best-bang for your buck natural hair brush.
- A problem with deciding to buy a red sable paint brush is that their origin varies, a lot.
- Many don’t realize that red sable can come from any animal within the weasel family of mammals.
- It’s hair taken straight from their bodies.
- So, as you can imagine the quality and characteristics of red sable may behave differently across different brands and paint brush lots.
Kolinsky Sable – This is the premium, top-of-the-line, mink tail hair; the highest quality red sable available.
- Kolinsky sable is the go-to for professional watercolor artists, and now in recent years, the most popular among commercial studio artists for miniatures in the gaming/modeling community.
- Kolinsky sable is soft, but holds its original shape. It is also durable and long-lasting.
- I’ve had quality Kolinsky sables (of the famed “Winsor & Newton Series 7” brand) last years before needing to be replaced, and I have painted for hours on a daily basis.
There are other kinds of natural hair brushes; including, horse hair, squirrel hair, sabeline ox hair, or even camel hair. These all have their special uses and applications. But for painting miniatures, red sable and kolinsky sables should be the top choices.
Best synthetic brushes for painting miniatures?
Synthetic hair brushes are great for many reasons.
Although they may not be as durable, or feel as nice to paint with than a good kolinsky sable brush, synthetic brushes have a strong place in a mini painter’s toolset.
In general, synthetic brushes are less expensive, and sometimes are even mixed with natural materials.
Synthetic brushes are an excellent choice for the miniature painter who isn’t looking to break their budget.
Modern high-end synthetic brushes have many of the qualities found in natural brushes. They can hold their shape, are resilient to abuse, and can be great for controlled application of paint.
The biggest issue I’ve found in my experience with synthetic brushes is that even the high quality brushes tend to have bristles that form into “hooks”, “curls”, or “curved” tips that won’t go away.
You can work around these permanent deformation in the synthetic tufts, but if you have a tad of obsessive compulsive tendencies like me, then this will get on your nerves very quickly.
There are a few things you can do to prevent or try to restore the curve hook tips on a synthetic brush:
- Don’t stab or jab the tip of your synthetic brush while you paint.
- Rotate the sides of your brush as you paint, so keep the forces evenly distributed around the bristles
- If a tip or curl has formed, clean the brush thoroughly, and dip the tip in boiling hot water (don’t dunk the entire brush otherwise you’ll melt the glue within the ferrule). Reshape the bristles back into their original shape. Rinse and repeat until you’re satisfied. It probably won’t go back to the true original, but you may get the brush back to a tolerable state.
Starter buying guide for miniature painting brushes?
I recommend buying a brush with a tuft made from pure Kolinsky sable.
Purchase a high quality brush such as a Winsor & Newton Series 7 or Raphael 8404’s.
I’ll add that you should try and find these brushes in a local art store so you can try them out in-person.
I buy all my brushes from BLICKS Art Materials. They have brick and mortar stores in my area, but their online store sells everything you can find in-person.
Because good paint brushes are assembled by hand, and with hairs that come from animals (which themselves may have hairs that are diverse, even with family species), you’re never quite sure what you’ll get until you get up close and personal.
Every brush is looks good from afar until you get to know them.
If you’re unsure you can do this, and are only able to purchase brushes online, then you may want to buy a brush with synthetic tufts. Synthetic brushes are generally less expensive, and they are manufactured through factory machines.
This provides a better guarantee of quality control and consistency across a brush line. A synthetic brush from a good company has the least risk of being a lemon in the mailbox.
How can you test the quality of a sable hair brush?
Sable brushes are expensive.
I’ve spent hundreds of US dollars on good kolinsky sable brushes over my miniature painting career (…err hobby).
You should test your sable brushes before you buy them.
Most art stores and craft places that are reputable will let you test-drive a brush before you buy it.
Here’s 5 things you can do to make sure the brush you are buying is a good one:
- Dip the brush in clean water. Ask the sales representative nicely to let you do this. Be gentle, you didn’t buy the brush, yet!
- Swirl the bristles around to remove any of the powder/binder that was used to hold the shape of the tuft. A brand new brush will have bristles that are tightly held together with a powdery substance. Wash that off.
- Flick the brush against your hand, then swirl the bristles again.
- Remove the brush and snap the handle against your wrist to get rid o the extra water.
- Did the tip of the bristle come back to a perfect round point?
- If yes, this is the sign of a really good brush.
- If you have to use your fingers to reform the bristles back into a fine tip, then this particular brush doesn’t have the “spring” or “snap” you’re looking for in miniature painting.
- If the bristles do not form into a sharp tip that is uniform around the entire circumference of the brush looking down the handle, then be wary.
- Some of these flaws reveal themselves only a little, and when you get home, rear their ugly heads when really put the brush to the test by painting.
If you got to #5, and confirmed the auto-tip reformation properties of the wet-flicked natural hair brush, and the presence of a fine-sharp bristled tips that uniform all around, confidently pull out your credit card or wad of cash and hand it over.
How do you care for a sable paint brush?
Follow the professional tips below to properly care for your kolinsky sable or synthetic paint brush (source):
- Rinse after every paint session and in-between color changes.
- Try not to let paint dry too long, too far up the bristles near the ferrule.
- Acrylic miniature paint polymerizes very fast and forms into an incredibly hard and durable product after the liquid medium dries up.
- If bristles are trapped in an unnatural shape, they will become damaged at the microscopic level.
- Yes, there are ways to restore brushes, but they really won’t behave the same after this kind of neglect.
- Store your brushes flat on your table or upside down with the bristles down. Excess water that seeps up into the ferrule toward the handle will cause the wood and hairs underneath to swell.
- Swelling will pop glue and binders out of place and accelerate brush deterioration. A bald brush isn’t very functional.
When to use each kind of paint brush for miniature painting?
For most uses, go for a brush with good snap.
Simple as that. The material doesn’t matter. What do I mean by “snap”?
A snappy brush has a tip that holds its vertical shape after it is wet with paint and following application to a miniature.
After applying paint, a snappy brush will have bristles that literally spring back into their original position, and preferably back into a sharp tip.
Brushstroke after brushstroke, you want a brush that can automatically return to its original shape.
This lets you apply paint consistently and predictably during a painting session.
When do I need a soft brush?
You need a soft or “floppy” brush when you want to be gentle to your working surface. Or, if you’re trying to create smooth blends of paint.
A soft brush is useful when you need to apply heavy coats of wash over a delicate layer of airbrushed acrylic paint. Without varnish, under paintings are easily damaged. A floppy brush can help you paint more gently.
What is my recommendation for choosing the best brush for painting miniatures?
The best brush for miniature painting can significantly affect the overall appearance and quality of your painting work. If you’re looking to achieve a professional look, investing in the right tools goes a long way.
I’ve come to the conclusion that the best brush for miniature painting will have the following specific qualities:
- Natural, Kolinsky sable tufts
- Metal ferrules that do not use crimping to attach the tuft to the handle (crimping is a sign that the assembly isn’t of very reliable quality)
- Bristle or tufts should be shaped with a pointed round configuration
- Bristles with about 10mm in length, and dense enough to form a circular even diameter of around 2mm
- The total responsiveness of the bristles should be snappy or springy enough to return to their total original shape following deformation after paint application, and while still wet (this should be tested in-person before purchase)
- The tips should be sharp and uniform without many stray hairs in a brand new brush (which could be a sign of underlying issues that arise later after real miniature painting use)
You can expect the cost of a brush with all of the above qualities to be between $15-35 USD.
Although this may seem expensive compared to many craft level brushes, or those brushes you find in your local game store, getting the right brush for miniature painting can make learning the hobby more fun.
This is article is based on my experience and time with painting hundreds of models, for many years. I’ve scoured the internet, e.g., forums and social media, trying to see what the most popular brush type, size, material composition, and brands the professional artists use.
My two favorite brushes for painting miniatures:
|Winsor & Newton Series 7 size 1|
|Check Price on Amazon|
|Check Price on BLICK Art|
|Check Price on Jackson’s Art|
|da Vinci Watercolor Series 10 Maestro size 1|
|Check Price on Amazon|
|Check Price on BLICK Art|
|Check Price on Jackson’s Art|
Examples of models I painted with just one kolinsky sable brush (Winsor & Newton Series 7 Pointed Round #1)
(…excluding the base coat paint application, which I generally do with a bigger brush or airbrush)
Still not sure? Here are 3 of my favorite brushes for painting minis:
Do you have a favorite brush for miniatures that you constantly reach for?