Types of Paintbrushes

Types of Paintbrushes

Aside from the paint itself, one of the most important tools for a painter, is the paintbrush!

These are an extension of you, as you paint your masterpieces. Paintbrushes come in many different bristle hair types, and shapes, and each brush is tailored for different painting styles and paints. Hopefully, this will help you choose which type of brush is best for you.



You may have heard of long handled brushes, and short handled brushes, but which one do you use? You’ll want to choose a paintbrush handle that suits how you paint.

Long handled brushes are great if you paint far away from your canvas, like at an easel. Normally, longer handled brushes are larger in size than their short handled counterparts. Since the handles are so long, they’re ideal for painting in oils, when you don’t want to be too close to the fumes of the paint and mediums. They’re also great for painting in acrylics. You also don’t want to paint with a long handled brush at a desk, or you risk poking your eye! Since you’re painting further away from your piece, you may not care about fine detail, and are concerned about blocking in shapes.

Short handled brushes are typically used when you are painting at a desk. Usually, when you paint at a desk, you’re relatively close to your painting, and you may not want the extra length or weight of a longer handle. These types of brushes are usually smaller in size, for more fine detail.


Hair Types

One of the most important factors in choosing which brush is right for you, is hair type. This is split into two categories: Natural hair and synthetic hair. As you might have already figured out, natural hair is made from animals. Animal hair is particularly good at holding paint and water, however, it can be quite pricey depending on the type of hair you want.

On the other hand, we have synthetic brushes. These brushes are made from nylon and polyester, and are quite the rival to natural hair brushes. For each type of natural hair brush, there is a synthetic counterpart that performs as well as, if not better than, the natural hair. They’re also a lot more affordable.

For watercoloring, you’ll want a nice, soft brush with the capability of holding large amounts of water. For this, you’ll either want a kolinsky, or a sable brush, if you’re looking into natural hair. These hair types are ideal for holding water, they provide a nice snap, and hold paint very well. If you’re thinking of going the synthetic route, a nice golden taklon brush will do wonderfully. They provide the same benefits of a kolinsky or a sable brush.

As far as oils and acrylics are concerned, you’re going to want to go with a hog bristled brush, for natural, or an imitation bristled brush, for synthetic. Again both types perform just as well as the other. These stiff bristled brushes don’t hold much water, but are resilient, and create nice brush strokes. If you don’t want brush strokes in your oil or acrylics, a golden taklon brush would be perfect.

One very important thing you want to keep in mind is, you should never mix your water based brushes, with your oil based ones. This can damage a brush very quickly. Keep a set for each type, and if possible, each medium you paint in.


Brush Shapes

After you’ve figured out what hair type you want, the next thing would be to decide which brush shape to paint with. Most paint set come with a variety of shapes, and each shape has it’s uses. Each brush can be used with any medium, but some brushes are better suited toward a particular paint.

One of the most common brushes, is a round brush. Rounds are brushes that sport a nice round body, and come to a nice point. These are ideal for watercoloring, and getting into small areas. These brushes usually have a nice spring to them, and you are able to get a nice variety of line thicknesses with them.

Similar to the round, is a liner, or a rigger brush. These are visually similar to rounds, but they are skinnier and have longer hairs. Liners can hold a lot of paint, which makes them ideal for lettering. You can even use the for tiny details, like animal fur. This is a brush that can be used across all media very well.

Another somewhat common brush, is the flat brush. These paintbrushes are, as the name suggests, a flat edged brush. Flat brushes are great for blocking in large areas, and getting crisp edges. Usually the bristles in a flat brush are twice as long as they are wide. These are mainly used with watercolor, but can be used with oil and acrylic.

Then there is the bright brush, which is very similar to a flat brush. Brights are equally as long as they are wide, and tend to curl inward a little. While using a bright, you have a little bit more control over your paint, than with a flat. These brushes are usually used for oils and acrylics.

As the name suggests, angle brushes have an angular cut in the hairs of the brush. Angle brushes are fantastic for getting precise lines, and are great for line variations. You can also get nice edges and get into corners easily with angle brushes.

Lastly in the flat family, we have the wash brush. Wash brushes are used for very broad strokes, and because they have very short bristles in relation to their width, you have even more control over them. They’re mostly used in watercolor painting.

Filbert brushes are almost a hybrid between a round brush and a flat brush, making them very versatile. You can either hold it flatly to the canvas or paper to make nice broad strokes and block in areas, or turn it to the side, to create thinner lines. Since these are great for blending because of the rounded top, they are really good for acrylics and oils.

Fan brushes are brushes with the hairs arranged in a fan shape. These paint brushes are great for getting texture, and for painting things like trees, grass or fur. Fan brushes can also be used for soft shading, and blending.

The last brush to talk about, is the rake brush. Rake brushes are considered special effects brushes, because of the interesting marks they make. They look like a regular flat brush, with the exception of the tips, which are very sparse, resembling a rake. Rake brushes are commonly used for painting grass, cross hatching, fur, wood grain, and more!

Now, which brush do you pick? Well, that’s all up to you. A lot of brushes come in a set that has a variety of brush shapes. Each brush shape has its own unique skills, so try them out, and see which brushes you like the most. Just because a brush is good for one thing, doesn’t mean you can’t use it for another, so feel free to experiment!



Article by McCaela Gates

Made especially for MyArtscape

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