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TRY IT: Paint Brushes, Getting to Know an Essential Art Tool


Paintbrush for painting with oil, acrylic, watercolor (and gouache, ink and tempura)


A paintbrush is a brush used to apply paint or sometimes ink to various surfaces. A paintbrush is usually made by clamping the bristles to a handle with a ferrule.


Brushes vary by fiber, by medium, by name, and by shape. It's important to understand the basic anatomy of a brush before selecting the right one for the task at hand.



1. Brush Hair Type *

2. Brush Shape *

3. Brush Size *

4. Brush Handle Length

5. Ferrule Type & Assembly

6. Paintbrush Glossary of Terms by Winsor and Newton


1. Brush Hair Type

There are three main categories for painting brushes:

Natural soft animal hair, Bristle, and Synthetic

Natural Soft Animal Hair: Kolinsky & Red Sable Brushes * A quality sable paint brush should hold it's shape extremely well with good spring and snap in it's stroke

* The brush hair tips should come to very fine points

* Often the choice brush for watercolor artists with Kolinsky Sable being the finest quality and Pure Red Sable a close second, also used in oil and acrylic painting

* Kolinsky is considered to be a professional grade of hair because of its strength, spring, and ability to retain shape ("snap")

* Red Sable can be a good alternative to the more expensive Kolinsky, with similar performance and durability that vary greatly

Other Soft Animal Hair: Ox Hair (Sabeline), Squirrel Hair, Camel Hair (Mix of Pony & Goat Hair)

Bristle (Natural Firm Animal Hair): Hog, Pig, Boar Bristle

* Unlike any other natural filler brushes in that they form a V-shaped split or "flag" at the tip for holding lots of liquid and adding "texture"

* Are the firmest of the natural hairs

* Should have "interlocked" bristles, with the curves formed inward to the ferrule - will provide a natural resistance to fraying and spreads medium/thick paints smoothly and evenly

* The natural curve provides superior spring and shape retentioin

* Have a resilience that is ideal for oils and acrylic on canvas (heavy paint, slightly textured surface).

Other Sturdy Animal Hair: Kevrin/Mongoose Hair, Fitch, Skunk, Badger

Synthetic (manufactured hairs)

* Taklon is the main synthetic hair used in an artist paint brush for all mediums with many variations simulate the characteristics of good Sable and Bristle brushes

* Although more often used in oil/acrylic painting, watercolorist find Taklon a very good substitute for quality Sable brushes

* Can be used with both watercolors and oils and are better suited for use with acrylics (PH of Acrylic is opposite of natural hair PH)

* Easy to clean as they lack the animal cell structure that can trap paint/liquids

* Synthetic filment is less prone to damage from solvents, bugs, or paint

* For painting on rougher surfaces, white synthetic bristle is also available. They are ideal for fabric applications, stenciling and unique effects on hard surfaces.

* These are the more prominent brushes for sale and most afforable. With advancements in technology it becomes harder and harder to determine real from synthetic

Natural and Synthetic Hair Blend Artist Paint Brushes * Combine natural hair’s softness and absorbancy, while the synthetic filaments provide increased durability, spring and point.

* Many do a good job of maintaining the qualities of natural hair while making the price more affordable.

* Desirable for watercolors

Additional Resources: Rex Art Brush and Dick Blick Brush Hair Types & Measuring


2. Brush Shape / Sample Strokes

* Indicates common useful brush shapes


Media: watercolor, acrylic, decorative

Fiber: bristle, synthetic

Description: Flat ferrule, short-length hairs, set with longer hairs at one end

Usage: Precise strokes, lines and curves, with thick/heavy color

Bright *

Media: oil, acrylic, decorative

Fiber: sable, mongoose, bristle, badger, synthetic

Description: Flat ferrule, short-length hairs, usually set in a long handle. Width and length of brush head is about equal.

Usage: short, controlled strokes, and with thick or heavy color


Media: oil, acrylic, decorative

Fiber: bristle, badger, synthetic

Description: Flat ferrule, spread hairs. Natural hair is more suitable for soft blending, and synthetic works well for textural effects.

Usage: smoothing and blending, special effects and textures

AKA: "The Bob Ross Rebel"

Filbert *

Media: oil, acrylic, decroative

Fiber: sable, mongoose, bristle, badger, synthetic

Description: Thick, flat ferrule, oval-shaped medium-long hairs, soft round edges, long handle.

Usage: Blending and figurative work, natural hairs hold together when wet.

Flat *

Media: all media

Fiber: sable, mongoose, bristle, badger, synthetic

Description: Flat ferrule, square-ended, with medium to long hairs. Provides lots of color capacity and easy maneuverability.

Usage: bold, sweeping strokes, or on edge for fine lines.

Use heavier filling for heavier paint.