watercolor brushes

Choose the Best Watercolor Brushes – Quality, Shape & Size Guide

There are hundreds of watercolor brushes — all with different abilities and uses. The best watercolor brushes can be very versatile in their utilization. As you continue on your artistic journey in this medium, you will find the watercolor paint brushes that best suit your style.

Below, we have outlined the different types of watercolor brush and which projects each are best suited for. 

When I was starting in watercolor brushes, I was so confused when going to my local art store. They have a whole aisle dedicated to just brushes. 

There are different sizes, shapes, brands, etc. So, what I would end up doing is getting really overwhelmed and then just picking the cheapest watercolor set available from the store. 

I’m not saying buying a cheap pack of watercolor brushes is wrong. In fact, I think that’s the best way to decide what types of brushes you actually prefer. 

However, knowing just a little bit more information about watercolor brushes will help you make better choices on what kind of brushes you will prefer with your art style. Without further ado, let’s jump into this.

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How are Watercolor Brushes Different from Other Brushes? 

Why do we have acrylic brushes, oil brushes, and watercolor brushes? How are they so different from one another?

Well, when comparing watercolor brushes to acrylic brushes, for example, watercolor brushes tend to have finer, softer hairs. There are two reasons for this:

First, the softer hairs act like a sponge soaking up the water and with it the paint into your brush.

watercolor brushes

Number two, the finer hairs of these brushes allows you, as the artist, to achieve softer, more delicate paint strokes on the paper that watercolor is known for.

watercolor brushes 2

What are the differences between Watercolor Brushes?

Well to make this as simple as possible, when we are talking about brushes, we are primarily referring to their bristles, which are classified into three categories: quality, shape, and size.

This is precisely the reason why there are so many options on the shelves before us.


Quality

Similar to watercolor paper, there are both cheaper and more expensive options when it comes to the quality of the bristles of the brushes. The cheaper the brush, the less likely it will hold up over time and will be able to absorb a lot of water into its bristles. This means more trips to your paint palette while painting. 

Of course, more expensive brushes tend to be very resilient to wear over time, maintain their point which is great for detail work and they absorb a good deal of water and paint, meaning less trips to your palette.

The next way we classify the hair of the brushes is whether it’s synthetic or natural. This basically means: was it made from a machine or taken from animal fur, such as goat, ox, or horse hair. I’m sure you can imagine synthetic hair tends to be cheaper than natural hair. 


Shapes

Brushes can have a lot of different hairstyles which include round, detail, flat, angled, fan, filbert, mop, spotter, and riggers. I’m only going to focus on the top five and explain how I use them.

Watercolor brushes: Shapes

Round watercolor brushes

Round brushes are my absolute favorite brush that I own. They are known as the most versatile and widely used watercolor brush because of their ability to paint large areas as well as intricate details with their fine point.

Watercolor brushes: Round Watercolor Brushes

Detail watercolor brushes

Detail brushes, sometimes referred to as liner brushes, are my second favorite. They are the smallest sized brush available. As you probably guess they are used for detail work, such as lines, very thin lines or small hair details in fur. 

My detail brushes range from size 0000 to 0. Basically these are the brushes that have the least amount of hair and thus hold less paint and water. Thereby giving you more control on fine lines and details.

Watercolor brushes: Detailed Watercolor Brushes

Flat watercolor brushes

Flat brushes aren’t as versatile as round brushes but they are great for large washes such as skies or backgrounds and long linear strokes.

Watercolor brushes: Detailed Watercolor Brushes

Angled watercolor brushes

They are great brushes for larger washes that come in contact with hard to fill detail shapes. You could do the same thing with a flat brush and then switch to a round brush for small spaces or you could use an angled brush for the whole wash that allows you to paint with its point.

Watercolor brushes: angled watercolor brushes

Old brushes

You may be surprised but don’t throw those away those cheap, old brushes that perhaps you bought in a starter pack. They are actually great for adding texture to washes, fur, leaves, etc. Basically these brushes can add creative texture that no new brush can achieve. 

So, definitely hang on to all of your brushes even those old ones that just look like they are wearing and tearing.

Watercolor brushes: for old brushes

Sizes

All of the brushes that I just presented you can be sorted by size. On every brush, you will find a number, the smaller the number, the smaller the brush and of course, the larger the number, the larger the brush. 

For you to see the difference, I decided to break down into categories, how I use these brushes by size. Take this as my opinion and not law in the art world. It just works really well for me.

For sizes 0000 to 0 as I said earlier, I tend to use these for smaller intricate details and for really fine lines.

For sizes 1 to 6, I use these for small to medium washes

For sizes 7 to 24, I use these for medium to larger washes that could cover the entire page.

Watercolor brushes: brush size

What are the Best Watercolor Brushes?

Actually the question should be: What brushes are best for me? 

First off, just note that you don’t need all of these brushes. I actually only use about three to five brushes on a daily basis:

  • 3 Round Brushes size 4, 6 and 12.
  • 2 Liner Brushes size 00 and 0000.

For my art style, these are the brushes that can take me the farthest. However, if you are a beginner and just want to dabble, I recommend getting a set of watercolor round brushes and flat brushes. Depending on your own art preference, you will discover what sizes and shapes work best for you over time.

For me, I rarely use flat brushes but I do have one, 1 inch flat brush in my set which is my go-to for sky and background washes. By picking up a cheap watercolor set, I learned what size to invest in for a flat brush when I do need it.

That’s everything you need to know about brushes. I hope this cleared up some things for you and perhaps you learned something new!

You can check out our guides on other watercolor supplies and, if you’re ready to get started, perhaps you can begin by checking out some of our watercolor ideas and tutorials.

If you have any questions about brushes, feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments below!

This product review was created by artists who have handpicked supplies just for you.
Click below to shop with a 30% discount.

About the Author: Watercolor Classes

Hello, and welcome to our site. We've been passionate about watercolor for years and have learned a lot along the way. We hope our tutorials and tips will help you out on your watercolor journey. Let's make art together!

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