Paintbrushes Buying Guide

Paintbrushes for artists are a great tool for creativity, but with the huge array available, it can get confusing selecting the right one for your needs. Our buying guide shows you what to look for, including shape, size and bristle type, to help you achieve your desired results when painting with acrylic, oil or watercolour paints.

Paintbrushes
 
 

Brush Bristles / Hair

Paintbrushes and artist brushes are made from either natural or synthetic bristles, with different levels of absorbency, stiffness and spring (how quickly it returns to its original shape). Softer brushes provide smoother brushstrokes and are ideal for paint that spreads easily, such as watercolour paint. Stiffer brushes provide textural results and are better for thick and heavy paint, such as oil and acrylic paint.

Natural hair or bristles

Brushes with natural bristles commonly use the following animal hairs.

  • Goat hair brushes: coarse, no spring. Good for watercolour and calligraphy.
  • Hog bristle brushes: coarse, stiff hair. Good for acrylic and oil.
  • Horse hair brushes: strong and a little coarse. Good for watercolour and calligraphy.
  • Pony hair brushes: soft and strong. Good for watercolour and acrylic.
  • Sable hair brushes: soft, flexible and springy. Considered the best of all animal hairs. Good for watercolour and oil. Natural sable hair brushes are expensive, so many manufacturers now use synthetic sable hair instead.

Synthetic bristles

These man-made bristles use either nylon or polyester filaments and are usually cheaper and more durable than natural hair paintbrushes. Synthetic paintbrushes can be soft or stiff, and are referred to as nylon brushes or Taklon brushes.

 

Brush Shape

Paintbrushes come in various shapes for different purposes. Below are the most common brush shapes for artists.

Angular

Flat with a sloping edge. Ideal for shading, highlighting, filling corners and tight areas.

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Bright

Flat with edges curving inward at the tip. Ideal for blending, applying thick colours and controlled strokes.

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Dagger

Flat with a fine tip and gradually angled edge, resembling a sword. Ideal for striping, tight curves, freehand lettering and fine line detail work.

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Deerfoot

Slightly flared with an angled flat end that resembles a deer’s foot. Ideal for precise painting and adding texture.

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Eggbert

Similar to a filbert brush, but with longer hair and capable of holding more colour. Ideal for blending, applying colour and figurative work.

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Fan

Flat and spread out like a fan. Ideal for blending, feathering, smoothing and creating textured effects.

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Filbert

Flat with a rounded edge, forming an oval edge. Sometimes called cat’s tongue. Ideal for blending, colour washes, shading and highlighting.

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Flat / Shader

Medium-length bristles with a square end. Ideal for broad and bold strokes, filling wide spaces, washes, edges, fine lines and stripes.

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Grainer

Flat with a curved head. Produces a repetitive pattern of thin lines, making it ideal for details such as fur and feathers.

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Liner / Rigger

Thin brush with a very fine point. Ideal for fine lines, outlines, lettering and small details like eyelashes.

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Mop

Available in a variety of shapes, with some resembling a makeup brush while others are flatter and stiffer. Ideal for blending, blurring, softening and large washes.

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Round

These classic brushes have a round or pointed tip. Ideal for filling in areas, outlining, sketching, detailed work and controlled washes.

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Spotter

Round with short, tight hair. Less flexible than round brushes, making them ideal for detailed work.

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Stencil

Round with a flat top and densely packed bristles. Designed specially for stencilling.

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Wash

Similar to a flat brush but with a squarer and larger head. Ideal for applying colour washes and filling in large areas.

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Brush Size

Paintbrush sizes are indicated on the handle and refer to how big or wide the brush is. The higher the number, the bigger the brush.

The most common sizes are from 000 to 20. Brushes below size 4 are ideal for details, while sizes 4 to 6 are commonly used for painting small areas. Brushes above size 6 are used for broad strokes and large areas. Note that sizes can be inconsistent between brush manufacturers, so a size 6 in one brand could be different to size 6 in another brand.

You may also see sizes listed as 4/0, 10/0, 12/0 and more. These refer to the number of 0s, so 2/0 is 00, 4/0 is 0000 and so on. The more 0s, the smaller the brush.

Flat brushes are sometimes identified by their width in inches, so you’ll find their sizes listed as 1/2”, 3/4”, 1/8” and more.

 
 

Paint Type

Acrylic

Stiffer brushes are better for acrylic paint so choose hog bristles or a stiff synthetic brush. Natural brushes can get damaged over time due to chemicals used in acrylic paint. As a rough guide, select a brush that’s harder than a watercolour brush and softer than an oil paintbrush.

Browse our acrylic paintbrushes

Oil

Hog bristles are best for oil paints as they are strong, resilient and accentuate the qualities of the paint.

Browse our oil paintbrushes

Watercolour

Natural brushes such as sable or squirrel hair brushes are recommended for watercolour painting as they retain their shape longer and can hold more water. Soft synthetic brushes are a good alternative.

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Painting Accessories to Consider

Unleash your inner artist with the following accessories.

Canvas Boards

Start with a blank canvas and create a masterpiece.

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Palettes

A must-have tool for artists of all skill levels.

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Palette Knives

Great for applying paint and creating textured artwork on canvas.

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Easels

Make painting more enjoyable and comfortable - and look like a pro.

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Paint

We have a wide range to suit all projects - watercolour, acrylic, paint and more.

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Painting and Art Books

Learn different techniques and hone your skills with these books.

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