This short review compares the round 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 and Raphaël 8404 for some time now so I feel that I have a pretty good basis for comparison. However, it is also worth noting that Raphaël make several other shapes of brushes alongside the 8404 range but that the 8404s are most common as they are a good all-rounder. The Series 7 size 2 is very slightly wider at the ferrule than a Raphaël 8404 size 1 (I estimate less than half a millimetre) but is almost a millimetre narrower than the 8404 size 2 so for this comparison I have taken the closest in size which are also the largest brushes you’ll want to use for most general painting.
Winsor & Newton Series 7s have black lacquered handles with gold printed lettering and seamless nickel plated ferrules, whereas Raphaël 8404, which also have black lacquer and seamless nickel ferrules, have recessed (either milled or stamped) lettering painted gold, which looks a little messier, and the tips of the handles have been dipped in orange paint so that you can easily distinguish them from the other Raphaël round series but I feel that this takes away from the look of the product. 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 7s tend to be a pale yellowy brown whereas the 8404s 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 brushes differ very little in diameter between each size, however, the 8404 handles, which are a little narrower than their equivalent sizes in Series 7 anyway, have a greater difference in diameter so that the size 0 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 8404 (top) has a broad belly and then comes to a fine point. Remember that the Series 7 is very slightly wider at the ferrule so has a few more hairs than the 8404.
The Series 7 (bottom) has a similar belly but with a less well defined point. The Raphaël 8404s come to a finer point allowing you to paint very fine details, like eyes, on most miniatures, even with a size 2. This makes the larger Raphaël brushes more versatile as you can cover and blend large areas quickly and paint very small details with the same brush, which is something that appeals to me as I move between areas don’t like changing brush every time I switch.
By splaying the tips it’s possible to see further differences between the shapes. Though they come to a point, the Series 7 (bottom) is actually made with straight hairs in a rounded shape and the point is created partly by this shape, the hairs in the middle being slightly longer than the hairs on the sides, and partly relying on the natural taper of the hairs. In contrast, the 8404 (top) is made in a point with a few much longer, straight hairs in the middle and slightly curved hairs around the outside, which makes the belly rounder. This means that the 8404 both holds slightly more paint and has a finer point. The added bonus of the hairs curving in is that, if you look at the photo on the far right, when pressure is put on the hairs, they don’t splay as much as the Series 7 below it. This results in the painter having more control with this brush.
I have heard it said that the Raphaël brushes have coarser, springier hairs than Series 7 and after pushing these two brushes against each other, I can confirm that this seems to be true but it may just be that the fuller belly and curved hairs of the 8404s makes them stiffer, however, the Series 7 does feel slightly softer and looking at some of the stray hairs in these photos, they do look slightly finer. I find that the extra stiffness aids most blending techniques.
The recommended retail price (RRP) for a size 1 Raphaël 8404, which is a good size for most miniature painting, is £9.60 whereas a size 2 Series 7, roughly equivalent to the size 1 8404 is RRP £14.00. Given that the 8404 is only slightly smaller than the Series 7 and has been imported, this is a clear saving, in fact even the size 2 8404 is RRP £10.85. 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 the cheaper hobby store equivalents so 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 8404 are now my brushes of choice for the majority of my painting. Their more versatile shape and lower cost makes them much better in my view, however, I still use the Series 7s I have knocking around especially for very fine work because the handles are more comfortable than the smaller Raphaël brushes and the narrower belly doesn’t obscure my view as much or find its way to touching other details in tight spaces. The rounder shape of the series 7s also makes them better for smoothing down putty when sculpting than the Raphaël brushes. However, the ideal brush for you is always going to depend on your style, technique and preferences.