Proper Care and Feeding of Paint Brushes


Proper Care and Feeding of Paint Brushes

Hello, readers! While many games come with pieces pre-assembled and pre–painted, such as the HeroClix and Axis & Allies lines, there are many others that require you to put your own personal touch on each piece. Games like Warhammer Fantasy and Warmachine will add many hours of painting to the time you spend learning the rules and playing the game. Both types have their ups and downs; for example I’d love to have a custom Drow army for D&D Minis but the figures are not really designed for it, but every time I buy a new GW product my heart sinks at the work I’ll need to put in before it’s a playable piece. One day soon we will be discussing these types in more detail, but my recent focus on painting a Warhammer 40K Ultramarines army has focused me on a topic never near-and-dear to a painter’s heart: cleanup.



I recently learned an important lesson on this when I went to pull some previously used paint brushes I had in storage (GW supplies are expensive…more on this in future posts as well) and was treated to the sight of caked paint, broken tips, and coloring that had managed to work its way into the base of the paint brush itself. I’m sure any long-time hobbyists are both wincing and fondly remembering their early days, but that’s what caused me to focus my energy on caring for the paint brushes I had to purchase, to ensure they would last as long as I could make them. Here’s what I’ve learned, so you don’t have to do it the hard way.

While painting, do not leave your paint brush resting in the water. Wetting it and applying pressure like this will cause the paint brush head to lose shape faster. Also, pressing it down while rinsing it will force paint into the ferrule (the fancy word for the part where the bristles connect to the handle, thank you Wikipedia!), which is a dark nether region from which paint never returns and will warp your paint brush head even more. Also, it probably breaks your mother’s back and causes cavities. The proper way to clean paint from your paint brush is to stir the paint brush in the cleaning solution, whether using paint thinner of some sort or just water, flick the excess from it, align the paint brush head back into place, and lay it down. A small amount of water left on the paint brush will generally not hurt it, and assuming it isn’t saturated it will actually help latex-based paints stay wet on the paint brush itself longer; using stronger solvents you may wish to gently dry the paint brush while ensuring it maintains its shape. If a paint brush starts to show stray bristles that won’t conform back into place, it’s perfectly acceptable to CAREFULLY trim them down, and really is necessary because stray paint brush bristles lead to stray paint on your models.

There’s another point to consider regarding metallic flake and chunky effects paints. These typically have sediment mixed into them that can contaminate your paint brush, and from there other paints you try to use. Any time you are using one of these paints, you will want to thoroughly rinse the paint brush before switching to another color and especially non-flake paints. More experienced hobbyists sometimes use two sets of paint brushes to avoid possible issues, but as long as you’re ensuring consistent cleanliness between paint switches, you shouldn’t need to go that far.

When you do finish your painting session, something a bit more strenuous than a quick rinse is called for. For latex-based paints, warm, very slightly soapy water should fill a small cup about 2/3 of the way. Swish the paint brush, flick it off, lay it aside, dump the water, fill/rinse/repeat until the water shows clean. For oil-based paints and shellacs, simply substitute a solvent for the water, and use the same process. Oil-based paints tend to come cleaner with solvents, and shellacs should be cleaned off using alcohol. After a good rinse, flick the excess of thoroughly, and comb your paint brush. This will both help you shape it so it retains its contours, and remove any dried paint caught in the bristles or near the ferrule. Make sure after combing the paint brush is correctly shaped, pat it dry (it doesn’t have to be perfect), and most importantly put the protector back on! These should never be discarded, as they will help prevent incidents like accidentally crushing your bristles. Put the paint brushes themselves into a hard-back container, to prevent it from deforming and undoing all your hard work, and the next time you pull them out they’ll be as good as you could hope for, and should last many more painting sessions as well.

Something that must be stressed at this point – do not dump your paint-tainted cleaning solution down the drain. To dispose of cleaning fluids properly, water filled with latex paint can be dumped into an open-topped container. Let the water evaporate, peel off the leftover latex, and discard it. Oil-based paints can be a bit trickier, but it will save you money as you can reuse the stripping solution. Simply pour the used fluid into a bottle, and let the sediment (i.e. stripped paint) settle to the bottom. Pour the now-clean thinner back into its container, and you can use it all over again. Simply discard the bottle when it starts to fill up with sediment, and get a new one.

If you have any other paint brush care experiences or tips you’d like to share with us, please leave it in the comments below!

“Do’s” and “Don’ts”, a.k.a. TL;DR

  • Don’t let paint brushes stand in rinse cup.
  • Don’t press the paint brush down when rinsing. Stir, flick excess off, and lay flat.
  • Do store your paint brush in the protector you found on it if possible.
  • Do make sure your bristles are fully clean before storing.
  • Do dispose of waste fluids properly.

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