Best Paint Brushes for Watercolor
Hello my artful Graphics Fairy friends – it’s Rebecca here to share my thoughts on the Best Paint Brushes for Watercolor with you! Watercolor brushes are necessary tools for artists wanting to express their unique, creative ideas in watercolor. But there are so many styles and brands that it can be a little confusing. That’s where this guide comes in. I will be explaining the different brush shapes individually and what they are used for as well as the best brushes for beginners, intermediate, and advanced painters. Then we will review how to clean and store them so that they last a long time.
For best results, watercolor brushes need to be of high quality. Otherwise, the results of your watercolor artistic endeavors can be highly unpredictable. It can be challenging however to choose the right brush for several reasons. There is quite a variety of shapes, sizes, and hair types. Some use natural hair while others are synthetic or a combination of the two.
Additionally, watercolor brushes are labeled with numbers, which can be confusing, especially for beginners. Brushes are generally sized in a numerical scale for the width and length of the hairs of the brush. This numbering system is generally used for round and flat brushes. Other types are numbered based upon their length and width. Unfortunately, there is no industry standard. A number 10 round from one manufacturer might be very different from another. Even the same manufacturer may not number their brushes the same from series to series. UGH!!! Let me try to demystify watercolor brushes for you.
Selecting a Watercolor Brush
When selecting a particular brush, three primary factors should be considered – performance, resilience, and cost. A brush should be capable of holding a significant amount of water or paint in its belly, maintain a fine point, and spread the medium evenly and smoothly on the surface. The brush should be able to spring back (known as snap) to its original, normal shape after each use and maintain that shape for a considerable length of time. You also need to consider what you can comfortably afford. Some watercolor brushes can cost several hundred dollars, so you want to make sure that you love watercolor painting and will be creating with them for a long time before you make those brush choices.
Watercolor brushes generally have smaller and shorter handles than brushes that are used for oil and acrylic painting. Smaller sized paintings are typically created by most watercolor artists. This requires working considerably closer to the paper or surface. Optimum brush control comes with practice and trying different brushes. Most of the good art supply stores allow you to try out watercolor brushes before you buy them. I recommend this testing highly.
Styles of Watercolor Brushes
- Synthetic brushes are a lower cost alternative. They have a tendency to hold less paint and are considerably stiffer than sable hair brushes. Additionally, the paint cannot be distributed as evenly because the bristles are too smooth. These brushes are usually made from nylon or polyester.
- Blended Brushes are made with . These brushes have properties of both the other brushes and are a good choice for advanced beginners or intermediate painters. They provide the artist a feel for the strokes and handling of pure, natural bristle brushes without the higher price point.
It should be noted that as is common with art supplies, selecting paintbrushes for watercolors essentially comes down to personal preference. A large part of this is affordability along with your preferred watercolor techniques and how different brushes feel in your hand.
Shapes of Watercolor Brushes
The two most commonly used shapes of watercolor brushes are round and flat, especially for beginners. Other brush shapes are useful for different applications as one’s skill level increases.
- Round. A round brush Round brushes are the most commonly used of all due to the ease of creating small, delicate, detailed lines as well as larger, broader strokes and washes. This brush is a
- Flat Flat brushes are not quite as versatile as round ones, but are ideal for washes and linear (square and rectangular) strokes along with thin strokes when applied with the side of the brush. These are
- Wash Wash brushes are basically just a wider version of a flat brush used for larger washings and linear strokes. A 2″ is my favorite, but they can go up to 5″ wide. Squirrel and goat hairs are often used for the bristles, with hog hairs typically used on the largest wash brushes.
- Mop Mop brushes are usually large, floppy bristle/hair brushes that are meant to cover large areas of a painting with watercolor, quickly. They carry lots of water and are generally used in a loose style. The best mops are made of natural hair.
They have a very specific shape when dry. There is also and unshaped, domed style that resembles a makeup powder brush. One or two of these should be plenty.
- Oval Filberts Filberts are essentially flat brushes that have rounded tips. They are specifically designed for blending or shaping curved areas within a wash or leaving a soft tail on a wet stroke. These brushes are also great for absorbing and removing excess water or paint from the surface (see scrubber below). Squirrel and goat hairs are often used for the bristles on these brushes as well.
- Spotter Spotter brushes are small, round ones that have shorter bristles for optimal control. These are also known as retouching brushes for their ability to produce minute details. A smaller size is a good one. Here are mine in their protective sleeves.
- Rigger, Striper, and Liner This group of small watercolor brushes with long tufts (bristles) is specific to creating very fine lines or script. Long, continuous lines of equal varying widths can be created with these brushes that hold lots of paint and are relatively easy to control once you master the arm movements. Rigger brushes get their name form being used to paint the rigging on sailing ships while the striper name is derived from auto and sign painters. Liner brushes have the longest tuft with superior snap and paint capacity.
These types of brushes should not be confused with watercolor brushes. Water Brushes have plastic barrels that hold water and are dipped in the paint and squeezed. They are fun brushes to play with and are great for travel when a water container might be unavailable. IThe brush tips synthetic and are of lower quality than watercolor brushes.
Watercolor Brushes for Beginners
Beginners may want to consider a round or flat synthetic brushes to start, as they are easy to make both larger and smaller strokes. A good recommendation to start would include three round brushes. These will really be all you need to get started because of their versatility, ease of use, and low cost. The approximate sizes shown below are common for round brushes.
- Small Size (2-3)
- Medium (Size 5-8)
- Large (Size 12)
A splendid choice for the novice is in the medium category, with a size 6 being possibly the best option, as it small enough for fine details yet big enough for painting larger areas. A size 2 or 3 is a fine option for your second brush, allowing for finer details and producing smaller paintings.
A few good choices for novice watercolor artists are:
- Silver Black Velvet Basic Watercolor Set
- Princeton Velvetouch, Mixed-Media Brushes
- Winsor and Newton Cotman Short Handle Set
- Princeton Series 3750 Select Synthetic
- MozArt Supplies Essential Watercolor set
Watercolor Brushes for Intermediate Artists
When you need more precision and want exceptional performance from your brushes and have established a love for watercolor and are painting with them regularly, it is time to start upgrading your brushes and moving toward more natural hair options. You will be surprised at the difference the hair of the brush will make to your work and your style. It absorbs and releases paint efficiently that accentuates even the tiniest details in your work.
- Winsor & Newton Cotman Watercolor Series 7 Brush
- Da Vinci Maestro Series 10 Watercolor Brush
- Princeton Heritage Series 4050 Synthetic Sable Brushes
- Escoda Versatil synthetic Kolinsky Brushes
Watercolor Brushes for Advanced Artists
Sable and Kolinsky brushes are the preferred choice for most advanced level artists, including professionals. Although available in a variety of shapes, Round brushes tend to be the most popular choice since they hold a point while maintaining their shape. Some Sable brushes are known as ‘Pure Sable’ or ‘Red Sable,’ which are lower quality but a decent choice if you are on a budget. There are several brands of brushes which are universally considered to be outstanding. These include:
- Winsor and Newton Series 7 Kolinsky Sable
- Escada Reserva 1212 Series
- Raphael Kolinsky Sable Fine Point Brushes
- Dick Blick’s Master Kolinsky Sable
- Da Vinci Russian Red Sable Brush Set (Economical Option)
Cleaning Watercolor Brushes
Compared to some other mediums such as acrylics or oils, the water soluble watercolors on watercolor brushes are easier to clean. However, over time, paint deposits and other debris like dirt and dust can accumulate in the brush hairs, especially near the ferrule. Therefore, it is wise to clean your brushes after each use. Typically all you need is a mild soap and warm water, followed by drying with a clean rag.The brush head and ferrule should both be dry. To ensure that full drying occurs, you may want to lay your brushes flat over the edge of your table for a while so that any excess water can run off
Storing Watercolor Brushes
It is fine to simply store your brushes in a jar, glass, or cup, for example. The important thing to remember is to set them in an upright (bristles facing upward) position and to not bundle them close together. Giving the brushes room to ‘breathe’ to prevent mold growth and getting bent out of shape is the goal here. If you have protective tubes for your brushes, it is a smart practice to use them to protect the bristles when traveling with them. A good travel case is also a consideration.
I hope you enjoyed our comprehensive guide on the “Best Paint Brushes for Watercolor!” I had so much fun writing this and reviewing my brushes, that I think I will be gifting myself some new ones soon. You might also like my Drawing Supplies for Beginners HERE or my Watercolor Supplies a Comprehensive Guide HERE!
When I am not creating for TGF, I also create Photoshop Elements tutorials and craft project videos over on The Graphics Fairy Premium Membership site. You can find even more of my books, art, and whimsical shenanigans on my website – The Bookery.
May joy be with you all,