When I was invited by Charlie of Doodlewash to partner with Bekki Page and write a Princeton Elite brush review, I happily said yes! Bekki is a longtime friend and an amazing artist, and I was thrilled to be able to explore Princeton’s line of watercolor brushes with her.
Because I have such great respect for Bekki, I thought a Princeton brush review would be a great chance to learn from her and dig deeper into her artistic process. We have two totally different ways of approaching a painting. And when it comes to brushes, we’re polar opposites. She prefers soft and pliable while I need firm and snappy.
But I also respect Princeton brushes. Recently I’ve been dabbling in acrylics, and Princeton brushes were my first choice because of their affordability. After using them for a few weeks, I quickly realized that Princeton brushes also have great quality for the price.
I’ve been using Princeton Elite brushes all throughout World Watercolor Month, and I’ll share my full review below. Bekki is reviewing Princeton Neptune over at Doodlewash, so be sure to check out her review to find a Princeton brush that’s suited for you.
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Note: I've had a few questions on social media about the Rosa Rugosa journal page that's pictured above. Supplies used were Kilimanjaro paper 140# CP, Platinum Carbon ink in a Platinum Desk pen, Princeton Elite #8 round, and my 18-color palette. I sketched the layout in light pencil, outlined my final in ink, and then added watercolor.
About Princeton Elite Brushes
The official name of the Princeton brushes I tested is Aqua Elite Series 4850, and they're available in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. The bristles are synthetic and were created mainly for watercolor, though Princeton also ranks them adequate for oil. Princeton has a very informative and user-friendly website that showcases the full lineup in this series.
For review, Princeton sent me the Aqua Elite 4-brush set along with a 1.5-inch flat, but all of their brushes are also sold individually. You can learn more about Princeton's entire range of watercolor brushes at their website.
Review of Princeton Elite Brushes
Balance, Weight & Durability
The weight, balance, and feel of all of the Princeton Elite brushes that I tried are excellent. The handles seem tailored to the individual brushes. For example, there are three different handle materials used on the five Princeton Elite brushes that I tested, yet all are lightweight, well balanced, and extremely comfortable to use.
Though I didn’t abuse the Elites, I also didn’t baby them. Even after more than a month of solid heavy-duty use, they still look brand new. I have no qualms with their quality nor do I doubt their ability to sustain longterm use.
One thing I also noticed... some synthetic bristles are rather hard to clean, but not so with the Elites. Cleanup is a breeze which makes switching between colors a snap, and it also greatly aids upkeep. Kudos to Princeton for making brush care easier!
Capacity & Release
Pigment release is excellent and above average for a synthetic. It pains me to say this because Kolinsky is my soulmate, but when painting with Princeton Elites, I didn’t notice a major difference between the Elite's release and my expensive sables. The Elite’s wicking ability is also more than adequate, and I noticed no issues here.
I did run into issues with the Elite’s carrying capacity. It was fine for everyday sketching and journaling, and I really enjoyed using the Elite brushes in those situations. But the Elite holds much less pigment than a true sable and also less than my other synthetics. I really noticed the lack of capacity when I tried to paint with a loaded brush wet-in-wet. I found it frustrating to be forced to constantly reload my brush while my paper rapidly dried.
To learn more about how to test a watercolor brush, see my article.
Shape, Spring & Snap
Princeton Elite bristles have a clean shape with no stray hairs, and I encountered zero shedding. The bristles have enough spring to perform moderately well, but under pressure the round’s bristles struggled to hold their shape and would flatten or pancake and cause the tip to splinter.
The flat's edges performed much better, and though I don't typically paint with a flat, I really enjoyed using the Elite 3/4-inch wash.
All of the Elites that I tried are fairly stiff and have good snap. The only brush that occasionally struggled to pop back into line was the 1.5-inch flat, but that’s pretty typical for a brush this size.
Faux Sable, Really?
Princeton calls their Elite brushes “Synthetic Kolinsky Sable.” Do these brushes perform like Kolinsky sable? Well, no. But for synthetics (which I also use), they perform well.
Can I tell I’m not painting with an $80 brush? You betcha. But here’s the thing: I’m not painting with an $80 brush. And there's so much freedom in that knowledge! I painted, mixed, splattered, scrubbed, and traveled with these brushes and enjoyed every minute of it. I won’t do this with my high dollar sables.
If you are accustomed to top-of-the-line Kolinsky sable and won’t settle for less, you’re probably not going to find it in a synthetic. Not even in Princeton Elites. But from one sable lover to another, Princeton Elite brushes are fine for the price.
P.S. If you're a sucker for the real thing, Princeton also produces a line of Kolinsky sable brushes called Siberia Series 7050. I haven't tried these but they look lovely.
Don’t forget to visit Doodlewash to see Bekki’s review and artwork for the Neptune brushes.
Video Review: Princeton Elite Brushes
I thought it might be helpful to see these brushes in action so I've posted a short Princeton Elite video review and demo with more information. You may also visit my channel here.
• Watercolor paper
• Princeton 4-brush set
• Princeton 1.5-inch wash
• Isabey Kolinsky sable #8 round
• Watercolors: Cobalt Blue, Green Gold, Raw Sienna, Hooker's Green Light, Perylene Green, Raw Umber, Raw Umber Violet
Princeton Elite Giveaway! [CLOSED]
There are just a few days left during World Watercolor Month, so hang in there! To inspire you to keep going, Princeton has graciously agreed to give away TWO Elite 4-brush sets to two lucky SJ readers. Giveaway details are below.
How to enter:
This giveaway is open to residents of the U.S.A. and Canada ages 18+ with a valid U.S. shipping address. Enter only once from July 26-31, 2018, using the Rafflecopter entry below. Just follow the prompts for each entry. (All entries including subscribes, follows, comments are verified; duplicity forfeits entire entry. Complete giveaway rules & policies are located here.)
How to know if you've won:
A winner will be randomly chosen and notified via entry email within 24 hours after the giveaway ends. Winner must respond within 48 hours or another winner will be chosen.
This giveaway has ended but be sure to follow me on social media to stay in touch and receive first notice of future giveaways and freebies!