Proper Paintbrush Care


Wait a second! This brush costs how much? If you have ever thought this when you went to buy new brushes for painting your tabletop miniatures you are not alone.

One or two brushes are not too bad when you are spending that much money. But when you consider how many brushes you really want to have in order to make your hobby time more enjoyable, you are making a sizable investment into your craft.

Start with a quality brush

I say buy nice or buy twice. This doesn’t mean that you need to go overboard on spending, just good quality. If they come twelve to a bag they are probably not the brushes you are looking for.

A good quality paintbrush can be an expensive, quality tool for painting your tabletop miniatures. If properly cared for, your brushes can last for several years. If you try to go cheap when purchasing a brush you may not get the longevity that you would have with a quality brush.

The bristles on cheap brushes tend to be thicker than higher quality brushes, this results in having fewer bristles on brushes of the same size. Coarser bristles result in less precision on your projects and can often lead to a streaky paint job. They also tend to lose their point more quickly than good, high-quality brushes.

Take care how much paint you load onto your brush

One of the easiest ways to ruin a paintbrush is to get paint wedged into the ferrule, the metal portion that holds the bristles together. If the paint dries in that area it will force the bristles apart ruining the shape of the tip. When loading paint onto the brush, I try not to get paint past the middle of the brush. That is usually the fullest part of the brush and will maximize the paint that it can carry without jeopardizing the long-term health of your brush.

Cleaning between colors during your paint session

During your paint session, you will most likely change colors several times. The simplest way to rinse the paint from your brush at these times is to dip them, tip first, into your clean water pot and swish it around. Many new painters will try to press, or rub the bristles on the bottom of their water cup to loosen stubborn paint. Avoid doing this because it can damage the bristles and make them lose their shape. I will sometimes use my finger to gently rub the bristles to loosen any stubborn paint. This will help force the paint out from them. repeat this process until you stop seeing paint come out when you squeeze the bristles. Use a paper towel or lint-free cloth to blot the water from your brushes and check that they are clean.

Brush Cleaner

Clean your brushes thoroughly immediately after you finish painting

Never let the paint dry on the brush

As the paint dries it hardens. Acrylic paint becomes non-soluble when it completely dries, and as it hardens on the bristles of a brush it becomes more and more difficult to clean it off. Paint that has only been dry for a couple of minutes will clean off more easily than paint that hardened over night. Allowing paint to harden on the bristles can turn that nice expensive brush into a crappy expensive stick.

Use something more than just water

When you finish the painting session and are cleaning up, taking some time to properly care for your brush will prepare it for the next painting session. After you clean it with water using the method described above, you should use some type of brush cleaner. Personally, I use General Pencil Company The Master’s Brush Cleaner & Preserver. It tends to clean the bristles well and also applies a conditioner that protects the bristles and helps preserve their shape.

To use a brush cleaner you add some clean water to the surface of the cleaner. Work the fibers of the brush into the cleaner and the paint will come out. Use some clean water to rinse the cleanser from the bristles. I prefer to rinse the bristles under softly running water in my sink, I just never feel like the brush gets really clean if I put it back into the dirty rinse water.

Draw the clean brush over some paper towels or a clean cloth. Twist it to form a sharp tip. When the brush dries it will be a little stiff and the bristles will hold into the shape you formed. Some other products that can be used are shampoo and soap.

Give special care to the base of the bristles

The metal part of the rush where the bristles attach to the handle is called the ferrule. If paint gets into this area it can force the bristles to separate. Over time paint buildup here will prevent the tip from reforming accurately. When paint gets into this area you can use a small tool like your hobby knife to pick out the dried bits. There are also solutions designed to dissolve dried acrylic paint, such as Winsor and Newton’s brush cleaner and restorer. These can get rid of the build-up but need to be used with care so that it does not harm the rest of your brush. It is better to care for them with preventive measures than to resort to these treatments that are harsher.

Don’t leave your brush in the cleaning water

The bristles of your brush absorb liquid in order to transfer paint to your models. While they are waterlogged they are susceptible to deformation from being bent to the side and held there for a long period of time under its own weight. Even if your brush isn’t bent to the side the bristles can become frayed from prolonged exposure to the water.

When you are actively using more than one brush you should store the brushes that you are not currently using in such as way that the tips are not in contact with paint and not in your water. You can rest the brush across the top of your water pot horizontally. I put them on a paper towel laying flat so that the moisture can be wicked away from the bristles.

You ruined a brush, now what?

There are several things that you can use old worn-out old brushes for. Anything that you need to do that may end up ruining a brush calls for one that you don’t care about anymore. Spreading white PVA glue around on the base of a model to attach sand or other finishing touches. You can also use them for spreading washes over a model when you are going to cover the entire surface and precision isn’t needed.

Store your brush properly

When you are finished with your brush it is important to store it properly. Lay the brush flat on a paper towel until it is dry. Store your brush either flat or with the tip pointed up. Many people have a large cup that to keep brushes in while storing them. Just remember to store them handle down. This was the way that I stored my brushes when I first got into the hobby. I have since purchased a nice stand that holds my brushes point up and keeps them separated.

The most important thing to remember is that your brushes represent a significant investment in your hobby. Caring for them will not only increase their useful life but also their performance over that life. Investing just a little time now to maintain them will bring you a lot of enjoyment in the future.

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