December 14, 2016

TRENCH RUNNER Nathan Hutchison takes a look at AK & Flex-I-File Brushes & Recent Brush Cleaners

In this review I’ll look at the qualities of AK Interactive's Synthetic taklon brushes in sizes 0/2, 1, and 2. I will also relay the qualities (or lack thereof) of Flex-I-Files Synthetic blend in sizes 1, and 2. Additionally, there will be a small review of brush cleaning/preserving products. The Abteilung 502 Magic Potion and Magic Gel, and Deluxe MaterialsBrush Magic cleaner.

All the handles are wood, have a nice finish. Both brands are comfortable in the hand. The fatter, triangular, grip of the Flex-I-Files is comfortable, but nothing game changing.

The close up shows that all of the brushes have a good point. However, at the time of the photo, the brushes had a water-dissolvable glue on them. This is meant to maintain their form while packaged and handled. In this form, the points are deceptively sharp. 
You’ll notice that the 0/2 AK is not necessarily a thinner bristle overall…just a shorter one. I find this a little strange. Because larger brushes are meant to cover more volume than smaller ones. But, from the look of it (and from testing), the 0/2 is thicker at the base. So it deposits a similar amount of paint, but holds a duller point. I found it to be very strange, and am hoping its not an over-arching issue with the brush line, and just a manufacturing error. Because of this, I found the 0/2 useless. The 1 and 2 allowed for more control, held more paint, and a sharper point.

Now, before I continue with the review, I must express an opinion to my fellow hobby enthusiasts. I found the Flex-I-File brushes to be practically useless. They fray almost immediately after one stroke, have poor snap back (less control), and an awful point. They are just really bad.  Its for this reason that I removed them from the rest of the review. I would not recommend them to anyone. For a cheaper price you can get AK’s. Which are of much higher regard, personally.

This is the model I tested the brushes on. This little dwarf is a true 28mm, with plenty of fine detail. The base has real rock, superglued to an very small Andrea wood plinth. I tested all the brushes on this piece, along with a Winsor and Newton Series-7 00, and 0. I used the W&N to compare and contrast with the synthetics. 

Below is the AK Interactive #2 loaded with water and the one with paint. Both of the brushes swell after the manufacturer glue has worn off, and consequentially, the point dulls. But, the point is still rather nice.  Both have a tiny “snaggle hair” at the top. This is the guiding hair used to guide the placement of the other bristles during the manufacturing process. Better brushes have this hair well formed into the whole brush. Lesser quality seem to have it point like Alfalfa’s hair. I usually trim this small hair down. Because paint can trickle to the little tip and hit the model before expected, causing an unwanted error.  However, I have been told—by credible sources—that trimming can be detrimental to the function of the brush. So maybe do a little research before performing this surgery on your own brushes. 
Here is the brush #1 with the manufacturer glue worn, loaded with water only, and shaped to a point by swiping on a paper towel. Pretty nice.

Ok here is the completed model
The model above is a Fantasy Dwarf from Red-Box-Games. The snow is Games Workshop (do NOT buy. Overpriced and poor quality). The tree branches, and the little flower plants are Scenic Factory products. Both can be found at MTSC. The tree trunk is from my backyard!
During painting, the AK brushes suited all of my needs, with the exception of small detail. They just could not hold a fine enough point. However, everything else, from blending to glazing, went well. The bushes have good snap back, push and pull the paint well (as most synthetics do), and are very durable. I was very impressed with how they returned to their profile after being abused on the rock. Being porous, the rock would eat a-lot of paint. So I spent a lot of rime bringing up the highlights on it…sloppily. Despite that, all the brushes came back to a nice point after. I was very pleased.
After all the abuse, the brushes looked like this…
Paint in the ferrule (whoops). Bloated from use. Paint stained. Just beat-up. So, let’s test some cleaner on them, shall we? 
First up is Deluxe Materials: Brush Magic.  All-purpose paint remover. This stuff has no odor, is clear, and very viscous. The directions recommend to steep and swirl in the solution for a small amount of time. Then remove the solution with water. Repeat as necessary. They do not recommend having the brush in the material for an extended period of time. Personally, that’s a little unsettling because the “time” is not specified. And unless this is a miracle product, some stubborn paint will still be visible, prompting me to try and remove it….which means more time in the solution. A bit counterintuitive, no?

I poured a bit in a plastic up, dipped my W&N-00, and AK-2. I gently tapped the brushes against the side of the cup to irritate the paint into the mixture. The removed paint became visible in the solution immediately. It is pleasant to watch the product work, so you know where exactly the cleaning process is going. The solution did remove a fair amount of paint, but the stubborn paint in the W&N ferrule was not coming out. So I worked my fingernails in it the try and remove it, no dice. The solution had not penetrated that paint yet. Now normally I’d let it sit and soak, BUT, since it is recommended not to let it sit in the solution, I decided to give it a rest. It might have gotten more of the paint, but I was not about to risk my brush and find out. The AK-2 came out clean, but wasn’t that bad to begin.

Here is the W&N brush after the Deluxe Brush Magic treatment. Good, but not great.
So next up is Abteilung 502: Magic Potion & Magic Gel for Brushes. Right off the bat I'll point out that Abteilung 502 makes oils for modeling so it may be that these products are to be used specifically for cleaning oils paint brushes but I decided to give them ago on brushes using acrylic paint. 
Characteristically, this is much different than the Deluxe Material's cleaner. Yellow tint, low viscosity, smells like menthol. They recommend that you steep the brush in the solution for 24 hours, with more hours needed if required. Now I don’t like this method for two reasons. One, you have to find a way to submerge the bush, but not have the hairs touch any surface. Two, your brush is out of commission for 24 hours. I configured a makeshift brush suspender using tape and a mason jar, then steeped the AK-1. After 24 hours, I removed the brush to find that most of the paint was removed. I was pleased because not only was 95% of the paint removed, BUT I could also put it in for seconds, if needed. That’s reassuring. Since this test was successful, I decided to steep the W&N with paint in the ferrule, to see if it would remove that paint. And, after 24 hours, it did. I pulled it out, rubbed it on some paper towel, and scraped the last bits of paint out. Success. 

Now Abteilung 502 also makes a hair-gel…erm *cough* a Magic Gel for Brushes. Meant to restore and sustain the point of your brush after use.  Its claims to maintain the tip, as well as condition the brush. Well…It does one of those things. 

Here are the brushes all done up with their gel! Now. I understand that natural brushes are hair of some sort. But, I never found contemporary hair gel to be beneficial to the hair health. So this stuff made me skeptical immediately. It stiffens the brush to a significant hardness. When the gel is removed the brush hair is not any softer, or suppler than before. Meaning I don’t think it conditions the brush very well. I personally don’t like this product. The blue color tints the brush slightly, and I don’t like having my brushes hair stiffened like a 90’s teen with a backwards visor. Personally…for cleaning, point, and conditioning, I recommend B&J's Brush Cleaner & Preserver. It’s the total package!

Lets summarize

In my opinion, Flex-I-File brushes are garbage. The AK brushes have many nice qualities (snap, hold, point, durability), but cannot handle fine detail work very well. A great all-round brush, especially for the price. I’ll continue to use these.

Deluxe Materials and Abteilung 502 are both decent cleaners, with slightly different applications in my opinion. Deluxe for that quick cleaning. Abt 502 for the overnight deep-clean. It may be the the 502 cleaners are more suited for those using oils but I'll leave that for another article.Both decent, both not as good as Masters.

Winner = AK brushes, and Master Brush Soap.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for these reviews! Any thoughts on whether the 502 Magic Potion would work with enamels?