Escoda released a new range of synthetic brushes in 2014 called the Versatil series. The Versatil series of watercolour brushes are created as an alternative to the Kolinsky sable brushes. I've heard good things about them and so I decided to get them and see how they compared with the real Kolinsky sable watercolour brushes that I have.
In the photo above, you see the two real sable brushes, the Escoda Reserva, below and the three Versatil brushes at the top.
Like other Escoda brushes, the Versatil line is beautifully made. There are long and short handle versions. They come with many brush tips, namely bright, filbert, round, fan, flat and rigger. They also have the pocket travel brushes which are the ones that I bought.
I can only speak for the travel brushes for this review. The design is collapsible and you can attach the cap to the back to form the body. The height is that of a standard short handle Escoda brush. They use a silver metal body as compared to the gold colour one for the Escoda Reserva.
I'm not sure what type of synthetic material they use for the hair bristle, but there are variation in shades for the bristle colour which make them look like natural hair.
The Versatil definitely feels like a true Kolinsky brush from the way it handles. The brush tip is springy and snaps back to shape easily after each stroke. It is definitely not as stiff as synthetic brushes like the Escoda Perla. It's soft enough but not as soft as real Kolinsky sable brushes.
The bristle is flexible enough so you can still flick the brush hard to get rid of the water — something typical synthetic brushes cannot achieve easily. After the water is gotten rid of, you can use it to collect pools of water on the paper, or mix new pigment.
In this photo above, I've placed three big drops of water. I've flicked dry three size 10 brushes, the synthetic Perla, Versatil and Reserva, in preparation to absorb the droplets.
The Versatil and Reserva pretty much absorbed all the water, while the synthetic Perla brush manages to do by half.
Here's a test of the water carrying capacity.
For the first six columns, the brushes are:
- Reserva sable size 6
- Versatil synthetic size 6
- Barroco synthetic size 8
- Perla synthetic size 8
- Reserva sable size 8
- Versatil synthetic size 8
The paper size you see above is 9 by 12 inches.
A Reserva brush still holds more water than a Versatil brush. When the brush size gets bigger, the difference gets smaller. Hence the water holding capacity of larger Versatil brushes do not differ by much compared to sable brushes.
A Versatil brush that's one size small than synthetic brushes hold the same amount of water. In the photo above, the size 6 Versatil holds as much water as the two size 8 synthetic brushes.
The wash on the last three columns are created by a 1-inch flat Versatil brush. That flat brush holds a lot of water.
I repeated the test and the result is similar.
When using the brush, I really felt like I was using a sable brush. It's quite amazing. I prefer the feel of a sable to stiffer synthetic brushes, but synthetic brushes have their own uses as well.
Picking up pigment and laying down washes feel wonderful. The Versatil is able to create sharp edges quite well, depending on paper also of course.
It holds enough water to complete a wash without needing to repeatedly reload a brush. I find that quite convenient especially when you're painting big pieces.
Value for money
For this section, I'm comparing about the prices of Escoda Perla, Versatil and Reserva listed on Jackson's Art Supplies (UK).
The Perla is around 25% of the Reserva. The Versatil is about half of the price of the Reserva. When the brush sizes get bigger, the price gap is also larger. E.g. Size 6 Versatil cost US $15 while Reserva cost $18. Size 16 Versatil cost $30 while the Reserva cost $134.
At larger brush sizes, size 10 and above, the Versatil is a terrific value for money. At brush sizes under 10, I might be tempted to fork out some extra dollars to get the Reserva.
The Versatil watercolour brushes are certainly very impressive, much better than I expected. I can definitely recommend them, especially for larger brushes.
The only thing I'm not sure about would be the durability and life of the hair. I've sable brushes that last for years, but I can't be certain how well these new synthetic ones from Escoda will do.
Sizes 6, 8 and 10 would be good for drawing on 12 by 9 inch paper sizes.