Brushes are kind of a big deal in painting.
Okay, let me elaborate. When it comes to painting miniatures, you’ll want a nice selection of brushes to work with.
They don’t have to break the bank. I have plenty of cheap brushes around that I use all the time. What I’m going to do here is break them down into Tiers.
Since brushes have different properties, “Best” is a subjective question. You might prefer longer bristles or a thicker belly. The quality of the brushes is the main determination of rank in this article.
- Rankings are based on years of personal experience as well as input from the miniature painting community via message boards and forums.
- We rank the brushes from S Tier which is Superior, A, B, and down through C Tier which is Average
- Main Rankings are for brushes used in detail painting, not other work like base coating, dry brushing or stippling
- The Best Brushes for Painting Miniature Terrain, base coating, stippling, and other rough work are inexpensive Synthetics.
- The Best Brushes for Dry Brushing are inexpensive makeup brushes, though there are high-performing options.
This question comes up all the time in forums, Facebook, and other places that talk miniature painting. It’s usually phrased as “What brushes should I get?” Or, “I’m looking to get a set of brushes for miniature painting, any suggestions?”
If you’re a relative beginner, my answer is you should get a set of cheap brushes and one nice synthetic brush to try.
- The Best Detail Paint Brushes for Miniature Painting
- C Tier Miniature Paint Brushes – Citadel, Army Painter
- Best Brushes for Painting Miniature Terrain
- Best Brushes for Drybrushing Miniatures
- How to Start Your Paint Brush Collection:
- Synthetics & Sables – Why You Want Both
- Parts of a Paint Brush
- Styles of Brush Tips
- Common Brush Sizes For Painting Miniatures
- Synthetic Hair Brushes
- Kolinsky Sable Brushes
- Drybrushing Miniatures
- Why You Should Get Good Brushes
- Why You Should Also Have Cheap Brushes
- The Best Paint Brushes for Miniatures and Models
- Recommended High-Quality Brushes for Miniature Painting:
- Wrapping up!
The Best Detail Paint Brushes for Miniature Painting
Before we dive in, here’s the ranking system I’ll be using to categorize the brushes.
- S Tier: The best of the best. Widely used by painters. An absolute 100% recommendation based on quality, cost and utility in miniature painting.
- A Tier: An excellent choice. These could possibly be your best bet depending on what properties appeal to you.
- B Tier: Good choices, might be very solid value but better options are available.
- C Tier: These brushes are of average quality and value.
S Tier Miniature Paint Brushes – Raphael 8404 and Rosemary and Co Series 33
These are the brushes that will really make a difference in your painting. They hold paint well in the belly, are capable of fine lines, hold a point, have a nice “snap” to the bristles. They are both a great addition to your hobby, and well worth the investment.
Here’s my take on each.
My Raphael 8404’s get a LOT of work! This brush stands out for its ability to hold a sharp tip while also having a large belly to hold the paint.
All the sizes have these properties, but I find the size 2 to be a nice mix of size and precision. I’ll use size 0 or 1 for things like painting eyes, or very fine lines. Size 3 for bigger surfaces, although for things like that you might go with synthetics too.
It’s a fantastic brush and I can’t recommend it enough.
I have multiple brushes from all the brands mentioned here, and I’m very confidently recommending the Raphael 8404’s.
Again size 0,1 or 2 is where I’d start, and if it were down to just one, I’d pick a size 2 brush.
A fantastic tool for painting. The long thin bristles make this one stand out. They have a great feel to them and I would say they’re superior for getting into hard-to-reach spaces.
Brushes with thicker bellies seem tougher to squeeze between close pieces. They all have a sharp point, great feel, great snap and stiffness of the bristles. I love these.
Again I have multiples of these in various sizes. This might be my most often reached for paint brush.
A Tier Miniature Paint Brushes – Winsor and Newton Series 7
The sole entry in A Tier is the venerable Winsor and Newton Series 7. These are highly ranked among painters who have been at it for a while.
My problem with them is that these brushes are a complete gamble on quality. In my experience and for many others, you can either get a great one or a brush that splits and frays immediately.
Maybe it’s just an Amazon thing, maybe they are not “real” Winsor Newtons? Maybe I had extraordinarily bad luck getting 3 out of the 5 I bought being terrible? I don’t know the answer but I’ve heard enough from others to make me think I can’t fully support them right now.
All the above said, the good ones are absolutely S Tier brushes. Excellent quality, point, snap, and durability. I like them a lot, when they work.
If you want to take a chance I wouldn’t blame you. Amazon has a good return policy.
B Tier Miniature Paint Brushes – Monument Hobbies Pro Set, Artist Opus S Series, DaVinci Series 10 Brushes
The only thing holding these up from A or S Tier is widespread use. I’ve tried one and it’s great! I’d rate it A Tier, but it’s the only one I’ve tried and it’s only been for a few weeks as of this writing.
No idea if it will hold up, and not enough people have told me they’ve tried it for a long time. Definitely a brush to keep an eye on.
These are very good brushes, but not as good as my S Tier choices. They’re also double the cost of a Rosemary and Co, so they fell to B Tier for me. Again it should be noted that a lot of this is subjective. These are worth trying if you are in the market for something new and they catch your eye.
Another solid paint brush. I also backed Squidmar’s Kickstarter which I believe are DaVinci brushes.
C Tier Miniature Paint Brushes – Citadel, Army Painter
Citadel brushes are solid and good quality. In fact, I really love their base layer brushes. They’re a great shape and they have a stiffness to them that I can’t find in other brushes of this type.
I love them for getting a lot of paint on quickly when I don’t use my airbrush.
The regular brushes are also solid, but expensive for the level of quality you get. Ultimately it’s just a matter of not being as good as my S Tier brushes.
Similar to the Citadel, these brushes are good quality and do the job. Also like the Citadel, there are better options if you want a very nice brush.
I also am not a fan of the handles, although that might be something that really works for you.
Next, we can cover Terrain and Dry Brush options:
Best Brushes for Painting Miniature Terrain
Large, Cheap Synthetics
You want big surface area and inexpensive, these fit the bill. They’re solid and will hold up to some rough treatment.
You’ll also get some round tips for more detail or mixing, stippling, and the rest.
Citadel XL Base Brush
I just love the Citadel base brushes. They are a bit expensive for what you get, but I haven’t been able to find anything quite like these.
So I use them the most. XL size for big models or terrain.
Best Brushes for Drybrushing Miniatures
Cheap Make Up Brushes
There are many dry brush options now, but if you’re asking me the best… I still go with make up brushes. Just for the value and amount of options you get. Once you’ve tried these, you can consider the specialized brushes like the ones below:
Citadel Dry Brush
My first dry brush and still in my brush holder. They’re good! Not the best, but for rocks and sharp edges they work well.
Army Painter Dry Brush
Honestly, I have these and only tried them once. Seemed to be fine and did the job! You get 3 sizes which is nice.
The high-end boys. If you’re really into this technique, then it’s worth investing in them. If not, one of the other options are plenty good enough.
How to Start Your Paint Brush Collection:
For miniature painting, you’ll want to get yourself ONE SET of inexpensive synthetic brushes, AND at least ONE nice Sable brush. Then build from there.
So, a multipack of cheaper brushes and a single nice sable brush.
This will cover you for just about any task you’ll come across in miniature painting. You can build your collection from there:
Multipack: This set of synthetics, which come in packs of 10 or so for around 10 bucks.
These packs have all different sizes and shapes of brushes in them. A great variety and very inexpensive. The synthetic brush set below is the one I use.
PLUS, one single sable-hair brush, which run around $15 to $20 per brush.
Here’s What You Need:
- Synthetic Brush Set (Variety Pack)
- Sable Brush: Raphael 8404 (Size 1 or 2)
- Sable Brush: Rosemary and Co Series 33 (Size 1 or 2)
More About Sizes…
A quick note on sizes. For synthetics, don’t worry about it. They come in a variety of sizes and you’re well covered with the set I have up there.
For the Sable, I highly recommend getting a size 1 or size 2 brush. Anything smaller is really not needed as a starting brush.
What you really want is something that holds a sharp point and can hold a decent amount of paint.
Be sure you’re using the right kind of paint though. Learn which paints are best here.
Very small brushes don’t hold much paint, and the paint dries very quickly. A sharp point is preferred to a very tiny brush head.
I personally use a size 2 the most, but size 1 is a bit better for really fine detail and sharp lines. Either size is a good start!
Synthetics & Sables – Why You Want Both
No matter what you’re painting, you’ll always want a set of good, inexpensive, synthetic brushes. As mentioned above, I personally bought these.
They definitely get the job done.
You get a range of brushes and you’re in good shape for painting, spreading out glue on a base, priming, mixing, stippling, dry brushing, and anything rough you do with a brush.
Parts of a Paint Brush
Here’s a quick rundown of all the basic parts of a paint brush It will help you understand what makes the nicer brushes worth the cost.
- Bristles: The hairs of the brush, made of either natural or synthetic fibers. The bristles hold the paint and apply it to the surface you are painting. I use both natural and synthetic.
- Belly: The belly is the thicker, middle section of the bristles. So right under the tip where it flairs out. The paint is sucked in here and flows to the tip as you paint.
- Heel: The bottom-most part of the bristles, or the point where the bristles meet the ferrule. Try not to let the paint get down here. It will clump up and the top bristles will flair out and lose shape.
- Toe: The top-most part of the bristles. On a round brush, the toe would be the pointed tip.
- Ferrule: The ferrule attaches the bristles to the handle. It is most often made of metal.
- Crimp: A deep set of indentations (or crimps) in the metal ferrule that form a firm attachment to the handle.
- Handle: This is… well, it’s the handle. Everyone is familiar with handles. Paint brush handles are made out of wood or plastic.
Styles of Brush Tips
Paint brushes come in a wide variety of tips. These different styles can be used to create a wide variety of different effects, textures, and details on a miniature.
- Round: This is the go-to, daily driver, workhorse brush. You’ll mostly use round brushes when painting miniatures. A round brush features a pointed tip and a wide belly. The belly carries a lot of paint and the pointed tip is great for fine details. Round brushes are very versatile and a popular brush style.
- Flat: A flat brush features long bristles with a square end or toe. This brush style creates flat, straight, strokes. You can use it to make controlled lines, defined edges, and flat areas of color.
- Fan: As the name implies, the bristles of a fan brush are arranged in a wide and flat fan shape. You can uses these guys for dry brushing techniques. They are most often used to blend colors but are also used to make fine marks to indicate fur, or grass, for example.
- Filbert: A filbert brush is similar to a flat brush, but with a rounded toe. This brush can create a variety of kinds of marks and holds a lot of paint.
- Detail: The detail brushes are the smallest of the paint brushes. They come in a variety of handle shapes and bristle lengths. Detail brushes are round, feature a very fine point, and come in a variety of bristle lengths.
Common Brush Sizes For Painting Miniatures
Artists’ brushes come in a range of sizes from 4/0 (less than 1/64”) to 24 (1 1/16”) for round brushes, and 0 (1/32”) to 24 (31/32”).
Of course, the choice of brush size is personal. However, for miniature painting, you’ll most often use brushes from the small end of the spectrum or size 00 through 3.
Many miniature and model painters use pointed, round brushes, either size 1 or 2. The bristle length ranges from 8 to 12 mm with a belly diameter of 1.5 to 2 mm.
This size and shape is small enough for detail work but also great for applying paint and blending on larger areas.
Synthetic Hair Brushes
When it comes to bristle fibers for miniature and model painting, you’ll find there are two main types that people use: synthetic and sable.
There are also die-hard fans of each. The truth is that there are good uses for both bristle types.
For example, sable brushes are not ideal for painting with enamels; the fibers can’t hold up against the paint and thinners.
Synthetic brushes can handle enamel paints and thinners, which make them a much better choice for enamel paints.
Synthetic brushes try to simulate natural fibers, like sable, hog, or squirrel. They range in texture from coarse to fine.
The pros of synthetic brushes are their lower cost and ability to withstand enamel paints and thinners.
(If you’re unsure about thinners and how to use them, no worries. Head over to this article.)
The main drawbacks are they wear out faster and are harder to clean compared with natural fiber brushes.
Kolinsky Sable Brushes
The most popular high-quality brushes for miniature and model painting are Kolinsky Sable Brushes.
People invest in good brushes because they make a huge impact on their ability to paint.
A high-quality Kolinsky brush has tension and spring that is unmatched by any other fiber. We cover Kolinsky brushes extensively in this article.
The tension and spring of the brush are what give you the fine control you need to paint details with precision.
The sable brush also has a much longer life span, the tip retains point, the fibers keep their spring and tension.
Unlike a synthetic brush, natural brushes can be cleaned and conditioned to extend their life span.
The reason to use the dry brushing technique is that it adds layers of detail, complexity, and texture to your model or miniature.
Drybrushing is what gives models realistic shadows and highlights.
Drybrushing is done by using a lighter color than the base color; for example, black with silver or gray dry brushed over the top to create the look of metal.
Dry brushing is also useful for painting terrain features like rock or brick.
Why You Should Get Good Brushes
A good quality brush will have a significant impact on the quality of your painting.
The quality of your painting directly depends on the quality of your gear. Check out My Favorite Miniature Painting Gear to see what I use and personally recommend.
You’ll want to try a few different kinds to find the spring and tension that works for your painting style.
Softer brushes work for delicate painters while brushes with more tension and spring are good for painters who are rough on brushes.
High-quality brushes should be reserved for detail painting, like fine highlights, linework, shading, controlled shadows, and glazing.
With a high-quality brush, you can really take your work to the next level.
Why You Should Also Have Cheap Brushes
To help preserve your high-quality natural brushes, you want to keep a good selection of cheap brushes.
These brushes are your workhorses. Keep them around to use for rough work, like mixing paints, dry brushing, textures, and bulk painting.
They’re also good to use for metallic paints, which contain shreds of metal that will chew up your more expensive brushes.
The Best Paint Brushes for Miniatures and Models
Here’s my recommended progression:
- Starter Kits for Beginners
- Synthetic Brush Set
- High-Quality Brushes
Starter Kits for Beginners
If you are starting at nothing… no brushes, paints or anything.. choose from one of these two sets:
They both come with brushes, paints, and miniatures. Enough to get you going but not much further.
Synthetic Brush Set
If you have a brush from the sets above or wherever else but it’s not enough, pick up some synthetics and then grab two nice brushes from the list below. A size 1 and size 2.
Recommended High-Quality Brushes for Miniature Painting:
Raphael was the Ninja Turtle with the red mask. He also makes paint brushes. Cowabunga! Not really, but these are an excellent option for you.
The 8404 size 2 is easily my most used brush. It’s big enough to get a lot done and has a sharp enough point to do fine details. No hesitation recommending it.
The Raphaels are a no brainer brand of Kolinsky sable brush for miniature painting. Widely used, high quality, and I dig the orange on the bottom of the handles!
They are a HUGE improvements from the cheap brushes.
I first learned of these through Sorastros Youtube channel. He has a great series on how to paint various things, and he uses these brushes.
I went ahead and got them. They’re phenomenal. Long, thin, sharp. I love that they hold paint well and are perfect for running the edge of the brush on a corner.
They are UK-based and only available from the website as far as I know!
Here’s the thing with Citadel… they are really good and expensive. They are pricey but you end up buying their stuff because you know it’s good quality and well designed.
They find ways to stand out… for example, in this case, the brushes are not numbered, it’s Small Medium Large. Medium Dry Brush. Small Detail Brush. Large Base Brush Etc.
But… is this essential set worth 54 bucks? I mean… yeah? If you are committed to painting and you’re into it… yes.
They are quality brushes and you’ll get specialized brushes. You won’t have to think about it.
If you’re testing the waters, as I mentioned in the beginning, I’d grab a Raphael and some cheap synthetics and away you go.
On My Short List
Rosemary and Co
As I write this, I’ve ordered brushes from Series 22 and 33. I can’t report firsthand, but I’m ready to love these brushes! So fingers crossed.
I have a set of these and they are indeed very good. I have one I only use to paint eyes on miniatures hah.
That said, I do like the 8404 and Series 33 just as much, so I’m sticking with them for now, and they get all my paint time.
If you need tips on other miniature painting tools and techniques, you’ll find all of that here (a treasure trove of more than 50 miniature-related articles).
For anyone just starting out with miniature painting, I’ve been there and know how easy it can be to get confused and overwhelmed by all the product choices and different techniques.
To save yourself time and frustration and make sure you’re having fun while learning, grab a copy of my comprehensive book – The Miniature Painting Level Up Guide.
What does it cover? Well, everything that beginners and those who already have their feet wet need to know to get started:
- A complete starting guide.
- Tips to immediately improve.
- What tools and products are a must and which ones you can skip.
- DIY solutions.
- Advanced gear and techniques.
- Where to buy miniatures – good deals, hard-to-find ones, and create-your-own options.
- What to watch and whom you should follow.
All of that and more in one place for quick reference when you need it most. Exactly what I could’ve used back when I was just figuring everything out.
This guidebook is a must-have for anyone even remotely interested in the hobby.
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Once you have the synthetic set, and a size 1, and size 2 of the nicer brushes recommended above, start to fill out your specialized brushes. Here are a few I suggest you check out:
Shading Brush: While it’s totally fine to use synthetics, a Citadel Shading Brush comes in this set.
If you don’t already have these washes, it’s definitely a great addition to your set.
Drybrush: You can use anything for this, including your synthetics. However, Citadel does have a nice set of dry brushes. I would start with the medium.
Remember that you’ll find more great info like this and so much more in The Miniature Painting Level Up Guide – the most comprehensive resource out there!
From there the sky is the limit! Have fun painting your miniatures!!