This short review compares the retouching brushes from what are widely regarded as the top two brands of kolinsky sable or red sable brushes. I have been using Winsor & Newton Series 7 Miniature and Raphaël 8400 for some time now so I feel that I have a pretty good basis for comparison. This is a type of brush with which most hobbyists will be less familiar but it is essentially a round with shorter hairs, which makes them stiffer and easier to control for fine detail work. The Series 7 Miniature size 1 is roughly the same diameter at the ferrule as the Raphaël 8400 size 3.
Winsor & Newton Series 7 Miniatures have black lacquered handles with gold printed lettering and seamless nickel plated ferrules, whereas Raphaël 8400s, which also have black lacquer and seamless nickel ferrules, have recessed (either milled or stamped) lettering painted gold, which looks a little messier. However, unlike the other Raphaël 840x series, the tips of the handles haven’t been dipped in coloured paint presumably because the shorter hairs make them more distinctive. While you may not feel that the look of a brush is important, I feel that manufacturers who think about the presentation of their products have often also thought about other aspects of it.
Another point worth noting is that the bristles of the Series 7 Miniatures tend to be a pale yellowy brown whereas the 8400s are slightly darker and redder in colour. This suggests that they use hairs from either a slightly different breed or a different part of the Kolonok.
Both brush ranges have almost cylindrical handles, which widen slightly and then narrow again just before the ferrule. This creates a bulge for comfort roundabout where you will normally hold the brush. The Series 7 Miniature brushes differ very little in diameter between each size, however, the 8400 handles, which are a little narrower than their equivalent sizes in Series 7 Miniature anyway, have a greater difference in diameter so that the size 2 and smaller brushes feel a little too small to handle comfortably (for my hands, anyway).
The main difference is in the shape of the brush head. In the photo to the left, you can see that the 8400 (top) has a broad belly and then comes to a fine point. It also has longer hairs than the Series 7 Miniature below it, which has an almost conical shape and is fuller at the tip with a less fine but stiffer point.
Both brushes retain their shape better than the rounds when dry (near right), due to the shortness of the hairs. The Series 7 Miniature (bottom) especially is almost identical both wet and dry. By splaying the tips (far right) it’s possible to see further differences between the shapes when in use. The hairs of the Series 7 Miniature (bottom) do not splay further than being roughly parallel with the ferrule, whereas the 8400 (top) splays almost as far as its 8404 counterpart.
The recommended retail price (RRP) for a size 3 Raphaël 8400, which is a good size for most miniature painting, is c. £10.75 (estimated because these are less commonly available in the UK so I can’t find the RRP quoted anywhere) whereas a size 1 Series 7 Miniature, roughly equivalent to the size 3 8400 is RRP £11.75. It’s worth noting that you can buy both brands for less than this but the Raphaëls will normally be a pound or two cheaper and both brands, if looked after, will outlast cheaper hobby store sables, though I’ve never seen retouching brushes in hobby store ranges so these are well worth the investment.
Winsor & Newton rave about quality, especially when it comes to Series 7. Generally, I would agree and when compared to the Raphaël brushes, they look nicer and feel nicer in the hand, though both ranges are handmade and both companies have a renowned history. However, I have had one Series 7 with the lacquer cracked on the handle and a Series 7 with a hair sticking out and a Series 7 Miniature with a couple of hairs broken halfway down but I have not yet had a bad Raphaël and I think that I have now bought more Raphaël brushes.
Raphaël as a brand have become my brushes of choice for the majority of my painting especially as the 8400s have such a fine point with the added bonus of the stiffer hairs, however, the extra stiffness that the shorter haired Series 7 Miniatures give is very useful for very fine details like eyes on 28 mm true scale figures so I think the two brands have their place and I will likely continue to keep some of each on my desk.