A friend recently asked me to recommend a good inking brush, so I told him about my two favorites: The Winsor & Newton Series 7 and the Raphel 8404. I have loved and used both these brushes for a while now and they're both terrific.
Winsor & Newton Series 7
The W&N has a reputation for lacking quality control at the factory, but mine's been pretty good. Maybe not perfect — it tends to start to splay a bit during long inking sessions — but still one of the best brushes I own. And really, is there such thing as the perfect brush? I'm starting to think not. But the Series 7 is as close as I've seen.
I've liked the Raphael nearly as much — and on certain days more — than the W&N. It doesn't hold quite as much ink, but it has great snap and holds a point for longer than the W&N. It was my go-to brush for a long time, but lately I find myself using the Series 7 a lot as well. Go figure.
My friend got back to me a while later with some additional recommendations, courtesy of a terrific brush log. After reading the list I decided to try out all the brushes that got an A. For the most part I agree with what's said in the brush log, with some additions and one exception. Here are my thoughts as well as some examples of these brushes in action.
The Isabey 6227z is an odd brush and something of a surprise. It's a bit longer and thinner than the inking brushes I'm used to, almost somewhere between a rigger and a round. At first I hated it. It doesn't hold much ink and it doesn't have much snap. But eventually I discovered that this brush, when held more perpendicular to the paper, is particularly good for detail work. For tiny lines it just can't be beat. It's not a brush I'd recommend for general inking, but if you need to do fine brushwork, this brush will be your friend.
Escoda Tajmyr 1212
I've seen the Escoda recommended before. I have to say, I don't get it. This brush doesn't hold much ink, has no snap and can't keep a point to save its life. In my notes I wrote, "Has character," which I later realized meant, "Sucks." I also realized I'd bought an Escoda once before. Didn't use that one either. I honestly don't see why people continue to recommend this brush. Aside from its slightly larger handle, I don't like it.
Kalish Series 1
The Kalish was the real revelation for me. What a great brush! I've only played around with it, but I'm really looking forward to doing some real inking with this thing. It's got a great feel, holds lots of ink, has excellent snap and seems to keep a point for quite a while. Kalish sizing is pretty weird — they use milli-inches as their unit of measurement — so I accidentally bought one that was way too big for me. After ordering smaller ones — a # 2, which is comparable to a W&N #2, and a # 3 — I was quite pleased. Not only do they have everything you want in an inking brush, but it seems to me that the handle is slightly fatter than the W&N and the Raphael, and I really like the way they feel.
All in all, the Kalish Series 1, the Winsor & Newton Series 7 and the Raphael 8404 are all wonderful brushes for general inking. I'd be hard pressed to pick a favorite at this point. The W&N is the gold standard, though, the brush by which all other brushes are measured. Still, after doing these tests I was amazed at how much I enjoy using the Raphael. And the Kalish promises to be a real contender for the throne.
Any way you slice it, it's a good time to be an inker.