Not all synthetic brushes are awful

I heap abuse on synthetic brushes. But some synthetics are not too bad–for oils. I haven’t found any synthetics that can replace sables for watercolor painting. Not even close.

These synthetic rounds from Winsor and Newton are OK. Monarch brushes are made from “synthetic mongoose fibers,” whatever that might be. Winsor Newton claims that they are more durable than natural mongoose, which in my experience is accurate.

They handle OK as well. They are too stiff for fine or close work but for broad work, they handle as well as my high-end bristle rounds from Isabey. Actually, they might handle a little better.

For medium to large passages, these brushes are serviceable. What is medium size? The 3 brushes in the photo are 10s, which is certainly medium. In general, medium starts at size 6.

Is the performance upgrade enough to change from natural bristles? When the Monarchs’ prices are significantly lower than the bristles, the Monarchs are an easy choice. When the prices are similar, the choice is not so clear.

On Blick, size 8 Monarchs are $12.68; the comparable Isabey is $12.88. The size 12s are $17.13 for W&N, and $23.66 for Isabey. (No Isabey 10s are listed.) If I was buying a 12, I would unhesitatingly choose the Monarch.

Here’s a painting that is seeing a lot of Monarch brushwork.

You can see from my palette that I mix tones as I need them. The only premade colors I use these days are 3 values of gray and 3 values of burnt sienna. The premade colors provide me with a color-mixing headstart. I used to prepare more tones but these colors provide enough of a boost that I don’t need any others.

  3 comments for “Not all synthetic brushes are awful

  1. I know this article is from a while ago but I have found Silver “Bristlon” pretty durable.

    They are expensive but last longer, so……

    Much more durable than Taklon fibre brushes, which seem to be more for WC than oils, (but not according to Silver)
    Silver – “Ruby ” series, are fantastic for the first two weeks then slowly go floppy.

    The Silver bristlons can do pretty fine work with ease.
    I have only used 3/4″ and smaller so can t comment on the larger brushes.
    The Silver Bristlons keep their taper and shape for a long time, even with solvents. They also don t get stray hairs poking out at odd angles like other brands ( I have found).
    Found W and N and Princeton not that good a couple of years ago. Used to be negative about synthetics but the more expensive brushes can match it.

    I have also used Escoda Bristlons for fine work and have found them very durable – keep their shape for a LONG time.

    The Escoda modernista Tadami I have found are bullet proof and last and last.
    Just noticed that ESCODA are pretty expensive on Blick ($39 USD for # 14 bright ) but much better priced on Jackson’s UK site.

    About USD 17 for #14 flat…… UK has CHEAP shipping charges compared to US ( for export)

    I have nt found any Natural bristle brush that keeps it shape for fine lines , including some of the expensive brands. Let me know if there is one.

    Just an opinion based on small sample size ( 30m-40 brushes?)

    For AU/NZ readers The Sydney Art store has a good range of SILVER at discounted prices ( I m not affiliated)

  2. Good information. I’ve used the Escoda synthetics and they’re very good. While they’re among the best synthetics I’ve tried, they wear out fast. My experience is WN Monarchs and Escoda black sables are closest to real sables for fine work.

    Isabey natural bristles support fine work pretty well.

    Sadly, I still haven’t found anything close to real sable for detail work. Last year, Blick was selling the excellent Old Holland sables for a good price. I bought about 30 of them. The prices have risen shockingly since then.

  3. Try Princeton Catalyst “polytip”

    they’re supposed to mimic bristle, with “flagged ends” and all. they market them as the first flag tipped synthetic. all I know is, they can hold/move a lot of paint around while still feeling “precise”.

    Escoda’s “Versatil” or “Prado” lines are synthetic sable and while pricy, come fairly close to the real deal. Rosemary’s “Red Dot” line also come pretty close.

    Anyways, try out a Princeton Catalyst if you have a chance.

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