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Artist's Guide to Paintbrushes

Using the right paintbrush is as important as the type of paint you use. A good paintbrush will become an extension of your hand, a tool that you use intuitively to translate your ideas onto the canvas. Understanding which paintbrush you need is an important skill to develop, but can be overwhelming to those just starting out in painting. With different brush types such as Acrylic, Oil, Watercolour, and even All Purpose to consider, our guide to choosing the perfect paint brush is sure to help shed light on what brush-type is most suited for both you and your art.
 

Anatomy of a Paintbrush

  • Bristles - These are the hairs of the paintbrush. They can be made from natural or synthetic fibres, and come in a variety of shapes and textures.

  • Ferrule - This is the metal part of the brush that connects the bristles to the handle.

  • Crimp - This is the small area where the ferrule connects to the handle. This needs to be good quality to prevent it becoming loose.

  • Handle - Where you hold the paintbrush. This is usually wooden or plastic.  

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Types of Paintbrush

  • Flat Brush - This is a versatile brush that can be used for broad strokes and for covering a large area. Perfect for all abilities, a flat brush has a straight, clean edge and a square shape to the bristles.

  • Filbert Brush - Another versatile brush, the filbert is an essential in any artist’s kit. With a rounded edge and oval shape to the bristles, the brush can be used for blending as well as detailed work and is great for those looking for added control and accuracy.

  • Fan Brush - The bristles are arranged out in a thin fan shape. Both durable and ergonomic fan brushes are ideal for delicate brush strokes such as hair, foliage and gentle feathering.

  • Round Brush - In a round brush, thin bristles taper to a point. These brushes are used for detailed work as they hold their shape well to prevent the ends becoming split and messy.

  • Linear Brush - These are very narrow brushes with thin bristles. They are used for intricate, highly detailed work, where they are perfect for flowing, clear brush strokes.

  • Wash Brush - These can be oval or square in design, and are mainly used to create light washes over large areas. Wash brushes work particularly well with watercolour or highly thinned oil and acrylic paint to regulate colour flow for washes.
     

Size of Paintbrush

There is no standardised paintbrush sizing in the industry, so sizes vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. Size is determined by the height, width and diameter of the bristles. What you can usually be sure of though, is that the higher the number, the larger the brush.

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Paintbrush Bristles

Natural -  The finest natural bristles are made from sable hair, which tapers to a point and allows a clean, unbroken line of paint to be drawn. Sable brushes are exceptional quality, and will last you years and years of use. They are famous for being soft and supple, lending themselves to a variety of painting styles and mediums. Other natural hair fibres include hogs hair brushes. These are stiffer bristles with split ends, which hold plenty of paint. They work well with oils and are good value brushes.

Synthetic - Synthetic bristles are made from fibres that mimic the properties of natural hair. Usually a mix of nylon and polyester, called Taklon, they are soft and flexible, providing a more affordable alternative to natural bristles. They are suitable for all paint types, and are easier to clean than natural fibres.

No matter the material of your brush, they will generally be found either stiff or soft. Soft brushes are excellent choices for working with detail, when you need to create an unbroken, flowing line. They are also your brush of choice for blending, shading or working with washes of colour, such as watercolours. Stiffer brushes work best for oil paints, where you need a brush to work the paint over the canvas. Stiff brushes are what you’ll use when you want to create texture and add visible paint lines.

 

If you're interested in taking up painting, have a look at our wide selection of painting supplies for more inspiration.

 

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