A few weeks ago I was in the market for some new Windsor & Newton Series 7’s. I was perusing DickBlick.com and noticed that the W&N Series 7’s were mostly out of stock with no expected restock date. That was obviously very troubling, so I took a look at my other options. Obviously Raphael 8404’s are a great option, but I was curious about the DickBlick Studio (not to be confused with their Master line!) brushes so I bought one. Over the last couple weeks I’ve been using a DickBlick Studio size 0 round sable for most of my work to compare with the Raphaels and the W&Ns.
For a very inexpensive brush, the DickBlick brush is pretty nice. It holds a tip very well. I can’t speak for long-term use, but over a couple weeks it’s kept its ultra-sharp tip as well as I’d expect a Raphael 8404 or W&N Series 7 to with the same care. The only thing about its shape I’m not completely happy with is that if you use warm water to clean it that is maybe the hotter side of warm (but still something you can keep your hands in), it may become slightly deformed. My brush now leans to one side a little after the first time I cleaned it. That has not happened with any of my Raphael’s or W&N Series 7’s.
I typically use a Raphael 8404 for blending. It holds a ton of paint, and the bristles are fairly firm, but soft enough to allow for very smooth brush strokes. The DickBlick bristles aren’t nearly as firm as even the Raphael 8404, but the brush is still more than capable of smooth blending. The bristles, however, are very short in comparison and don’t hold very much paint. In retrospect, I probably should have purchased a size 2 instead as that’s a size I use a lot anyways and it would hold a bit more paint.
For everything except blending I typically use a W&N Series 7 because the bristles hold a super sharp point and they feel a lot more firm than the Raphael 8404. This affords me the most control, and overall these brushes have my absolute favorite feel. For very fine detail, such as tiny eyes, this is absolutely necessary.
For basecoating, the DickBlick brush was fine, just not what I was used to. It also held less paint than the W&N Series 7, which means you can’t get as much coverage from each time you fill your brush. This does slow you down a bit.
When doing tiny details the DickBlick studio brush is also capable, but I still prefer the firm feel of the W&N Series 7’s. I had a more difficult time than I’m used to painting tiny things like eyes, but in the end they still got done.
Overall, if you aren’t able to invest the $12-15/brush for Windsor & Newton Series 7’s or Raphael 8404’s, the $6-9 DickBlick kolinsky sable brushes are probably your next best bet. They are certainly much better than synthetic brushes, and those typically run about the same price. They are also far and away better than the cheap-o “sable” brush sets you can find in any craft store, and those are a similar price as well.
DickBlick kolinsky sable round brushes: http://www.dickblick.com/products/blick-studio-sable-brushes/
Windsor & Newton Series 7 brushes: http://www.dickblick.com/products/winsor-and-newton-series-7-kolinsky-sable-pointed-round/
EDIT: At this time it appears that all of their Kolinsky sable brushes are running out of stock with indefinite backorder, and as far as I know this is due to THIS unfortunate bit of bureaucracy. There are still a few sites you can get W&N Series 7 brushes and Raphael 8404 brushes at, but not the DickBlick studio brushes. Hopefully this will be resolved soon.