Citadel STC Synthetic Brush Range Review

Last Updated on June 16, 2021 by FauxHammer

As we try to move towards a more sustainable and cruelty-free world, it’s only right that mainstream retailers of paintbrushes look to find suitable alternatives to sable. As such, it was only a matter of time before big-brand brush manufacturers muscled into the synthetic market. But how do Citadel’s latest additions to their brush range measure up against their much-loved classic range?

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Citadel STC Brush Range Review – Summary

Whilst Citadel’s STC range isn’t going to dethrone sable as the go-to material of choice for high-end paintbrushes, they make a superb alternative to many mid-range competitors. Intended to be used by miniature painters for miniature painting, they hit the proverbial hobby nail on the head with almost every aspect of their thoughtful design.

The Best Brushes for Miniatures & Models

This article is part of our series looking at the Best Brushes for Miniatures & Wargames Models.

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If you want to check out what the best brushes are for your projects, please check out our Best Brushes for Miniatures article by clicking the image above.

Citadel STC Brush Range Review – Introduction

Sable versus synthetic brushes is a contentious topic in the hobby community. Why? Because sable is an animal product.

It is more than likely that your current favourite brush is made from sable or something similar. The sable in your best brush may even come from the tail of a male Siberian weasel. Considered vermin in their native Russia and China, Siberian weasels don’t do well in captivity. They are, thus, killed for their fur.

It’s not a particularly nice business, and it causes some serious division in the hobby community. Many people do not wish to use brushes made from animal hair. No one wants to have to feel guilty about their new brushes. However, there is a noticeable difference in the quality of sable/animal hair brushes when compared to synthetic fibre.

By and large, synthetic brushes simply aren’t anywhere near as good. They don’t offer the same level of control or shape and paint retention as sable. On our top ten best brushes list, only one of the entries is synthetic. In my experience, I’m afraid to say I haven’t come across a single synthetic brush that is better than the worst sable brush I’ve reviewed.

It’s an uncomfortable hobby evil. No one really wants to use a brush an animal had to die for. At the same time, no one wants to be stuck using sub-par synthetic brushes. As a result, many painters will grimace against their conscience and keep using animal hair brushes.

Even in their current range, which is as eponymous to miniature painting as the Space Marine is to Warhammer 40,000, Citadel’s brush range feature purely synthetic brushes, partially synthetic brushes, as well as 100% sable brushes.

It’s safe to say, then, that Citadel have quite a task ahead of them. Rehabilitating the synthetic brush to the die-hard sable fan is going to be tough. Heck, even producing purely STC synthetic brushes on-par with their current range is quite the task.

Citadel’s brushes are and it’s safe to say, the brand that the vast majority of hobbyists will have used at some point during their journey.

But, unassuaged by the mountain ahead of them, Citadel’s new STC range boasts twelve new brushes made with synthetic fibres. Let’s have a closer look.

Citadel STC Brush Range Review – Design

The new STC range consists of the following brushes:

Feast your eyes upon their pristine white magnitude.

Citadel STC Brush Review All

Citadel’s new STC brush range is “made out of the finest 100% synthetic fibres Games Workshop have ever produced”. As any long-time synthetic brush users will know, therein lies the pitfall of prolonged synthetic brush use. Regular readers will know I had this very issue with The Army Painter’s brushes after only using them on a handful of figures.

In terms of their handle and tip shape, they’ve very similar to Citadel’s classic range. As such, they’re comfortable to hold, and whilst they don’t possess quite the razor-sharp points you’d expect on a high-end synthetic brush, what they do have is well-shaped and well-designed, weighted in favour of comfort and ease of use. If you’re an avid Citadel user and get on with their usual range, this will be a big plus point for you.

According to an article posted on Warhammer’s Community Website, synthetic bristles have been designed with two key features. The first is that the fibres have a “noticeable springiness with balanced stiffness and distinct snapback”, which the brush boffins at Citadel claim makes them the ideal candidate for both drybrushing and edge-highlighting. The second feature is that the brushes have been designed to retain their shape longer. In theory, this is a promise of less – or at least delayed – synthetic curling.

But they’re white.

Why are they white?

Citadel’s reasoning behind this to differentiate them from their usual brush range which, as well all know, is black. Whilst this is a solid in theory, regular readers will know this was one of my major criticisms of Ghost Brushes. Sure, they look great when you get them, but after a couple of uses you know they aren’t going to be white anymore. Even by the end of my Ghost review, my drybrush was a rather uncomfortable shade of grey-green.

As an aside, white brushes are also an absolute nightmare to photograph. If you’re planning on creating your own line of brushes and would like us to review them, please don’t make them white.

Citadel STC Brush Range Review – Testing

As per the usual with these reviews, I’m going to paint a figure using as many of the brushes as I can. Today’s victim candidate for painting is a Stormcast Eternal Lord Ordinator with a detached head.

Citadel STC Brush Review Lord Ordinator Assembled

…Fear not, all mould lines were removed.

Once he was all primed up with Chaos Black spray, I broke out the brushes and set to testing.

Here we go!

Small, Medium, Large and XL Base Brushes

The S, M, L and XL Base Brushes are a mixed bunch in terms of their design. The two larger of the quartet have flat-headed, wedge-shaped heads. The smaller pair have the standard bound bodies with sharp points.

Citadel STC Brush Review Base Far

The diversity across this bit of the range is great. There’s a base brush for every situation. the smaller brushes can get into any details you need when basecoating, and the L can glide across any larger surfaces. The XL is much the same, except it’s for your larger models – tanks, dragons, monsters, your larger bases, whatever you’ve got. It’s a bit too big for your regular-sized figures, so stick to the S, M and L for that.

Citadel STC Brush Review Base Near

I used only the Base brushes when basecoating my Lord-Ordinator, which again testifies to the range they can cover. I didn’t use the L much and didn’t touch the XL – that felt a bit overkill.

With basecoats applied, here’s how my Lord-Ordinator was looking.

Citadel STC Brush Review Lord Ordinator Based
The head will return later in the review.

I was surprised by how much I liked the base brushes. Each brush head is just the right size and shape for the denomination of size it is assigned. Each also held its shape as well as one could want. In fact, I was shocked by just how well the brushes’ retained their shape. This made it extremely easy to get into all the details.

The flatter-headed M and S will be your go-to, workhorse brushes from this part of the range. The M is great for basecoating those larger areas of your figures due to its wedge-shaped head. The tip on the S isn’t as sharp as those on the Layer and Glaze brushes, but it’s the right size for holding a good amount of thicker paint.

I went back to the XL a little later in the week after release and used it to basecoat some Daemonettes. I will say, I found the brush absolutely excellent. The bristles held their shape beautifully in spite of the rough treatment I gave them, and snapped back into position with ease and accuracy.

So far, so good.

Medium and Large Shade Brushes

With everything now basecoated, it was time to start adding some definition to those colours.

I am a big fan of Citadel’s shade brushes. The Medium Shade Brush I received with my Mortal Realms subscription many month ago now is still my go-to for all washes. Sure, it’s battered beyond recognition and has all but lost its tip, but the way the bristles hold those liquid washes is, in my humble opinion, unparalleled.

Citadel STC Brush Review Shade Far

I’m glad to see that the essence of the M shade brush still seems to exist in the M in this range. Side-by-side, aside from the colour, there’s very little to tell the two brushes apart. Whilst the bristles on the STC brush are far softer than those on the regular shade, the STC retains washes and shaders just as well as its black-handled counterpart.

Citadel STC Brush Review Shade Near

I didn’t get the chance to use the L Shade Brush on my Lord-Ordinator. Again, as with the XL Base Brush, it’s just way too big to be practical for regular figures. For tanks, big ol’ monsters, and whatever else you’ve got, though, it’ll save you loads of time.

I’d forgotten what it was like to have such a great tip on a shade brush. I had a whale of a time using the STC M Shade and was really pleased with the results I got. Here’s the Lord-Ordinator after a round of shading.

Citadel STC Brush Review Lord Ordinator Shaded

The STC M Shade brush is great, a really stand-out brush. It’s easily as good as it’s classic counterpart, and the composition of its large-sized colleague leaves very little to be desired. These are two smashing brushes.

Another win for the STCs.

Small, Medium and Large Dry Brushes

When I first started painting again, I loved Citadel’s regular dry brush range. The thick, hardy bristles really complimented my somewhat heavy-handed technique well, and I found it very easy to build up a decent – albeit not exactly subtle – drybrush on my figures and my bases.

Citadel STC Brush Review Dry Far

Compared to Citadel’s regular S, M and L dry brushes, the new STC dry brushes are extremely soft. If you were to put the two ranges next to each other, you would not think they were intended for the same technique. You can’t be as heavy-handed as they could be with a regular Citadel dry brush because the STCs are that much softer. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though. You’ll just find yourself being more delicate and contentious with your brushing.

Citadel STC Brush Review Dry Near

To test them out, I gave the Small and Medium brushes a quick go drybrushing some highlights on the gold parts of my Lord-Ordinator’s armour, using a white gold as well as a bright silver.

Citadel STC Brush Review Lord Ordinator Drybrushed

The effect is most obvious on his lion-crested shoulderpad, which you can see below..

Citadel STC Brush Review Lord Ordinator Shoulder Drybrushed

I also had some Gore Gruntas (part of my Warcraft-inspired Mah’har Orruks) in need of a drybrush. I used the Large to do this. You can see the effect best on the centre figure below.

Citadel STC Brush Review Gore Gruntas Bases Drybrushed

These things held their shape like no flat-headed dry brush I’ve ever used before. Even after being dragged around the uneven base of my Gore Gruntas and slapped around my Lord-Ordinator, there was next to no change in the shape. Really quite impressive.

Whether or not the STC Dries are right for you will depend entirely on how you paint. The heads of the brushes are still large enough to withstand some punishment, but you will need to be a bit more contentious with your dry brushing. You can’t use the STC Dries with the same vengeance as you could with their corresponding dry brushes from Citadel’s regular range.

You will also want to take care when preparing your paints for using with the STC dry brushes. The bristles love holding moisture, so make sure you take care when working the paint you want to drybrush into the bristles. You should always test the consistency of your dried paint before applying it to your figure anyway, but be extra sure to with these brushes.

It took me longer than usual, but I was pleased with the effect I obtained. Whilst I won’t be swapping out my Artis Opus domed dry brushes for these, and probably prefer Citadel’s regular dry brushes, the STC will do a job many painters will be happy with.

Small and Medium Layer Brushes

With the majority of the colouring and shading now done, it was time to move onto the details of the figure. For these, I’d be using the Small and Medium Layer Brushes.

Over the last couple of months with FauxHammer, I’ve been lucky enough to try out some truly phenomenal detail brushes. As I mentioned in the introduction, they have just about all been sable.

Citadel STC Brush Review Layer Far

The two Layer brushes are promising. The heads are just the right length, they are neither too long nor too short. The bristles don’t have quite the same needle-sharp tips as sable brushes do, but they can be worked into a satisfying point.

Citadel STC Brush Review Layer Near

I did most of the detail on my figure using these two brushes. Once again, I was impressed by them. The tips are sharp enough to do all the tiniest details – eyes, teeth, fine highlights n hair and so-on – and the synthetic heads are not prone to flyaway bristles, so you can be certain where your paint is going.

The only comment I could make against these brushes is that the tips could be sharper and smaller. Super fine details were a little more challenging than usual, but still manageable. Aside from that, though, these are decent brushes.

All that remained now was the STC Glaze Brush for some final details on the figure’s head.

Glaze Brush

Now, I will come clean here: I’m not usually one for glazing. Beyond the power coils on my Dark Angels’ weapons, it’s not something I’ve ever really done before. But one cannot improve if one does not push oneself, so in the name of improving my ability as a painter, and for the sake of a fair and thorough test, I decided to give the Lord-Ordinator’s flesh a glaze.

Citadel STC Brush Review Glaze Far

The Glaze Brush’s designs is clever. One of the major pitfalls with glazing, especially for a novice like me, is applying too much glaze. Too much glaze is basically a wash: it pools in your recesses and saturates your highlights. The brush stops you from picking up too much shade because the Glaze Brush’s tip is so small. This minimises the risk of you accidentally flooding your figure, and will ensure you preserve all your painted details.

Citadel STC Brush Review Glaze Near

I focused my glazing on and around my figure’s face and bracers. I found the brush easy to use and wonderfully accurate. The small head combined with sharp tip really helps ensure you get your glaze onto just the right area.

Here’s the Lord-Ordinator’s head once it was all finished up.

Citadel STC Brush Review Lord Ordinator Complete Face

For a first ever attempt at glazing, I was reasonably pleased. His flesh is a ruddier than I had intended (my fault, not the brushes), but I prefer the look to the non-glazed base/wash/re-base/highlight/fine highlight combo there had been before.

With the layering, highlighting, and glazing finished, I based the Lord-Ordinator up and called him done. I also used the S Dry on the base below, and was really pleased with the results.

Citadel STC Brush Review Lord Ordinator Complete

I’m really pleased with how he came out, and this is in no small part to the Citadel STC brushes. They’re easy to use, handle paint with great ease, and hold their shape as well as one could want.

By and large, these feel a little like Ghost Brushes 2.0. Some of the shortcomings I found in Ghost’s range are not present in Citadel’s versions of these all white, all synthetic brushes. Results are less variable, and there is an overall feeling of more unanimous – and superior – quality to Citadel’s STC brushes.

A big thumbs-up from me.

Will Citadel STC Brush Range Improve my Hobby?

Brushes are a very subjective part of the hobby. Everyone paints slightly differently, so everyone expects different things from their brushes. I can say with absolute certainty that the Citadel STC range will divide people down the middle: some will love these new brushes, others will hate them.

But I’d strongly recommend giving these a go. Next time you’re in your local Warhammer and find a polo-shirted nerd piling your arms high with boxes of figures and pots of paint you’re not totally sure you need but know you’re going to end up buying, grab yourself one of these brushes.

I’d suggest the S Base Brush or the M Layer Brush – they’re probably the most versatile in the range. See how you get on with one of them: if you love it, check out the rest of the range; if you hate it, the transaction hasn’t bankrupted you any more than your ever-growing pile of shame already has done.

If you’re a brand new hobbyist, or just looking for something new to try, you really can’t go wrong here. Grab a few Citadel STCs and see how you get on. You won’t be disappointed.

Citadel STC Brush Range Review – Price and Availability

The STC range are available straight from Games Workshop’s webstore. They’re closely priced to their classic counterparts as well, so if you’re a regular Citadel user you won’t notice much difference in the money leaving your account if you choose to buy these over the classic range.

As always, though, us at FauxHammer would always recommend shopping around for your brushes. Check out your local independent retailer, or your favourite online store. You might be able to find them elsewhere for a few pennies cheaper.

Citadel STC Brush Range Review – Final Thoughts

Good shape retention
Good bristle strength and snap-back
Handle a range of paints very well
The white design looks great
Reasonably well priced
Shade brushes are excellent
No curling (yet)!
Dry brushes are a little soft and will require a bit more prep work
The white design, although looking great, shows every little bit of grime
Detail brushes could be smaller and sharper

I am impressed.

Citadel’s brushes are a part of the hobby that will have touched nigh-on every single hobbyist out there. Almost every person painting figures today will have used a Citadel brush – or will at least be aware of them. They are designed to be as versatile as possible. They are durable, yet diverse enough for absolute beginners to use, as well as fine enough for more advanced painters to be able to use.

It’s a tough legacy to live up to, but the STCs do so with ease. Whilst their bristles may be a little softer than the classic naturals, they are just as diverse and hard-wearing, and will find themselves at home on many hobby desks. Sure, these brushes aren’t going to remove sable brushes from their throne as the go-to for the pros, but they are most certainly worth a look, no matter yours ability.

People will hate on the new STCs because they’re a Games Workshop/Citadel product, and people love throwing stones at corporations, but try and look past the senseless noise that will be spewed across the internet in the wake of these brushes release.

Honestly, there’s nothing wrong with these brushes. Sure, they aren’t perfect – you can’t expect to find perfection in a four quid brush – but for the price, they’re worth it. perhaps, more importantly, they also represent a very successful – and extremely significant – step in the right direction for synthetic brushes and cruelty-free production.

Are you a hobby product creator with an innovative new tool that needs reviewing? Have you launched a Kickstarter for a new line of miniatures and need someone to test them out? Or are you an avid reader who has spotted a product you’d like to see reviewed?

If any of these sound like you, contact us! We’d love to hear from you!

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Rob has spent most of the last 20 years playing World of Warcraft and writing stories set in made-up worlds. At some point, he also managed to get a Master's degree by writing about Medieval zombies.

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