This post discusses how to use brushes, hobby knives, and more!
I used to always use the cheap Testors brushes that come in a 3-pack for about a dollar. They last forever, and they don’t shed very much. But about 10 years ago, I switched over to some sable haired brushes. They are a bit more expensive, but they definitely help the paint go on smoother. Plus they make some ridiculously small sizes that are great for small details. You can clean them with just water, but I learned to use both soap and water and to reshape the point of the brush, otherwise it would get permanently frizzy.
There are other types of brushes made from hair, such as squirrel hair and hog hair, but they are usually either lower quality, or only used in larger brushes. Avoid these in smaller, detail brushes. There are some synthetic brushes that can be almost as good as sable hair ones, but the quality is all across the board, so I would be wary of those as well. If you plan to do any dry brushing on your customs (not usually done on Minimates, but some customizers have created some cool effects with it) you can use cheap brushes for that, since it is hard on the brush.
I have several larger brushes for painting large areas, such as 3″ minimates. You should choose a brush size that is appropriate for the area you are painting in order to minimize the appearance of brush strokes. I have five or six tiny brushes for fine details (brush sizes 00 and 000). These brushes do not hold very much paint, so its important to “reload” often. You don’t want to run dry halfway through a nice crisp line. I have one 1/4″ square brush as well. These brushes work really well for doing straight lines across a minimate body.
I suggest buying brushes from a hobby store, and just buying one of a certain brand to try before buying more. Art stores also sell brushes, but they are not as likely to carry the smaller sizes that are great for Minimate details.
There are times when you can use a toothpick instead of a detail brush. It is hard to do straight lines with them, because they don’t hold very much paint at all. They are better for doing eyes and metallic highlights. It is hard to judge how much paint is on the toothpick. Sometimes I need to use a detail brush to clean up the edges of details I have made using toothpicks. The best part is that toothpicks are the cheapest tool you will ever find.
I used to use sharpies for straight lines, but I have stopped using them. The problem with sharpies is that the ink fades over time, and two years down the road that crisp black line is now a faded light blue. Instead, I use a detail brush, or stickers whenever possible.
I use hobby knives for helping shape clay when I am sculpting, modifying existing minimate pieces, and shaving down the mold lines on the front of minimates legs before I paint them. Also, if I am supergluing two pieces together, I will scratch both sides with a knife to make the bond stronger.
I have a kit with about a dozen different blade shapes, but I use the one pictured above the most often. After about six months the blade starts to get dull, so I replace it then. My wife is a nurse, and she got a few scalpels for me to try. These are even sharper than a hobby knife, but they broke really easily. You can also use box openers, but their bulky size makes them harder to use on something as small as a minimate. So I say stick with hobby knives.
Remember these knives are all very sharp, so stay safe!