Back in February I backed Games & Gears Kickstarter for their ‘Pro Studio’ brush set and true to their promise they delivered in April, a set of new double-ended brushes arriving in the post a few days back. Although I missed the ‘early bird’ special at £15, a set of nine natural sable-hair brushes for £25 is a great price in anyones book so even if they turned out to be “average”, it’s still a good deal. What Games & Gears described however is far from average. “High end, high quality, Kolinsky sable duel end brushes” (according to the description), featuring:-
- A uniquely designed handle grip which enables high volume, fatigue free painting
- Longer ferrule for more precision painting and control
- Sable Kolinsky hair for the best quality results
As far as painting goes I’m no professional, just a half-competent amateur. But what I have learned over the years is a decent quality brush that can hold a good point really helps extract the best out of your painting, whatever your skill level. Bottom line, a high quality brush won’t turn you into a pro-painter, but a poor quality one will sure as heck hinder it. Manufacturers like Rafael and Windsor & Newton are popular for a reason.
So how do Games & Gears Pro-Studio brushes stack up in relation to the competition?
High volume, fatigue free paining
One of the most noticeable features about the majority of the brushes in the set is the extra length in comparison to other miniature hobby brushes. Possibly this may suit other painters more than me as I hold the brush roughly mid ferrule and find the additional length and all the extra weight that goes with it ungainly. With the centre of gravity being set further back rather than near the front the balance is a bit disconcerting, which ironically for me means having to hold the brush tighter rather than lightly.
The other minor issue (for me) is other than the shorter PSS1 and PSS2 none of the brushes fit into my brush case. Being double ended brushes storing them horizontally in a case or stand is going to be essential as I really would not rely on the brush caps provided to protect your investment in the long term.
Longer ferrule for more precision and control.
I’ll be honest, I don’t really quite get this? The precision and control for delivering the paint is predominately through the quality and shaping of the hairs. What you are looking for is a generous belly the will hold enough moisture to allow the paint to flow, a well shaped point that delivers the paint precisely where you want it and a good snap which returns the hairs back into shape ready for subsequent strokes. It’s one of the reasons that the tail hair from a Kolinsky or Red Sable is a popular choices for natural bristle brushes. I’m not really convinced how much extra precision and control is delivered through the ferrule being longer and I certainly can’t believe it would overcome any deficiencies in the brush tip. Anything else is really down to how you hold the brush and that varies from painter to painter. I know some who hold the brush high on the handle, others, like me who prefer tighter to the brush end or somewhere more mid-ferrule.
On the upside, I found the ferrules on all of the brushes to be comfortable, well constructed and nice and tight.
I’m going to get this out of the way now because if there was one thing I really would like Games & Gears to change on their brushes, it’s the end caps. For a company that purports to supply “High end, high quality” Professional Studio brushes, the choice of material and quality of the brush protectors provided is a really poor one. The flimsy and thin clear plastic tubing offers very little in the way of meaningful protection compared to the more robust translucent tubing you find on the likes of Games Workshop or W&N. With the Games & Gears brushes being double-ended, the need for decent end protectors is even more important. And I would strongly recommend ditching the ones provided for something more effective long term in order to protect your investment. Several of the caps I had simply fell off every time I picked up the brush as there just isn’t enough substance to them to keep them on the ferrule. If I could make one recommendation to Games & Gears it would be to rethink the quality of the tubing used for the brush protectors for subsequent batches.
Painting wise, I tried their Size 1 and Size 2 brushes alongside a fairly new Games Workshop Besecoat brush and a Windsor & Newton Series 7 size 2 which I have been using for just over a year. All three brushes were given a good wash to remove any residual shaper or brush soap and brought back to a point to give a baseline starting point.
Having spent a little time with each of the brushes I’m just going to jump right in and talk about the elephant in the room; how do Games & Gears brushes compare to the likes of W&N Series 7. Based on the quality of the brushes I received, the answer I am sorry to say is, they don’t. Games & Gears Pro Studio brushes, whilst decent enough for the cost are not producing for me the same degree of performance I regular get from my W&N. A close up look at the unshaped splayed out hairs shows where some of these problems probably originate. Wetted and re-shaped the Series 7 more reliably holds a single point, whereas what I found with several of the Games & Gears brushes is after a short period of painting the hairs start to stray. There was also a lack of consistency from brush to brush (or even end to end) in the shaping.
Most of these issues are probably ones of manufacture as opposed to quality of materials and can certainly be addressed easily enough.
Amongst the range are also a few what could be termed specialist role brushes, such as the flat and wide bellied. These broadly do what you would expect them to, whether it is dry-brushing, softening filters or applying washes. Having these included in the set as part of the Kickstarter is generous and they certainly add to the range. The flat brush is one I am particularly fond of and the Games & Gears 3LX version certainly compares very favourably with others of its kind. The wash brush, if that is what the 4RX is designed to be has a decent full belly (don’t laugh, that’s exactly what you want in a wash brush) and a good length to the hairs. Overall it should perform nicely as a wash brush. Ironically my 4RX has been holding a tighter point than any of its smaller kin, go figure?
That leaves the two brushes which are being targeted specifically at ‘wet blenders’; the PSS1 and PSS2. Although not a regular wet blender myself, I really quite like these brushes. The shorter handle and double end is nicely balanced and I can see these being very popular. Again, their performance will depend on the quality of the brush shaping if they are aiming at professional or experienced painters. Out of all of the brushes in the set, it is these and the flat flush which for me stand out.
As new entrants to the brush market I think Games & Gears have gotten off to a decent start and clearly they offered a lot for a very cheap pledge level via Kickstarter to get them going. They also delivered to schedule, just as they promised. Considering what I received for the outlay I made I’m not at all dissatisfied; the brushes are a decent quality and I would compare them favourably with what I have used from Games Workshop after their last brush overhaul. The problem for me is that isn’t the competition Games & Gears are liking themselves to in their marketing blurb. The brush they promise is a high end, high quality professional standard product and that places it firmly in comparison with sable-hair brushes from Rafael or W&N Series 7. For me, based on the brushes I received they are not comparable.
Does that make them bad brushes? No, far from it. But they are what they are and if they are competitively priced to reflect the standard they are at when they go to full retail I cannot see anyone being unhappy.
However, if you’re either a professional painter, or an experienced amateur (like me) I think you’re going to be a little disappointed because I really don’t feel they live up to their billing. And ultimately it’s the billing I think that’s the problem. In many ways I feel Games & Gears are a bit of a victim of their own Kickstarter success in that they created a lot of buzz about the product and perhaps set the bar of expectation unreasonably high. If they can sort out their quality control and consistency issues and do something about those abysmally poor end protectors there are far worse sable-hair brushes on the market. Unfortunately, there are also better and for me at least the Pro Studio brushes aren’t in any danger of replacing my W&N series 7’s just yet.
Obviously this is only a short time using them, but as brushes dont tend to improve with age I’m not expecting them to change my opinion anytime soon. I will continue to put them to good use however, especially the shorter PSS1 (which does fit in my brush case … just) and report back in a few months after they have spent a little more time carrying pigment.
You can find out more about Games & Gears brush range including their forthcoming other products on their Facebook Page here
Until next time, have a great week.