Reference - Basic Types of Brushes

Brushes are the most important tool you have when painting. It is better to purchase one or two high quality brushes then to buy many cheap poor quality brushes. A high-quality brush can last decades with the proper use and care. You can buy inexpensive paint and canvas, but a cheap brush can be a serious detriment to the quality of your painting.

It is advisable to start with a basic set of bristle brushes if you are new to painting. You can always add to the types of brushes as you get more experience and discover how you want to express yourself in a painting.

Brushes used in oil and acrylic painting can be manufactured in all shapes, sizes, price ranges. Brushes are designed for specific uses (see the brush chart below). This chart will give you a basic idea of the various types of brushes that are manufactured for painting and should help narrow down your choices. It is also important to know that any brush can produce a unique mark, line or stroke.

Note: Make sure your brushes are specific to the type of paint you will be working with, oils or acrylics. Most oil brushes can be used for both oil and acrylic paint, however a brush that is specifically manufactured for acrylics is not usable with oil paints.

Basic Brush Types

Bristle: Bristle brushes are generally made out of hog's hair. Hog-bristles are stiff and springy; they are especially suited for oil painting brushes as they are durable in use with heavy oil paint, textured canvas and harsh solvents like turpentine.

Sable: Sable brushes are for oil paint, they are soft and springy. These are the same as sable watercolor brushes except for longer handles. Soft hair brushes are not essential to oil painting, however they can be very useful in blending or for small finishing details.

Synthetic: Synthetic brushes are very good and are an economical alternative to natural bristle brushes. However less expensive ones will lose their shape quickly due to heavy paint on textured canvas.

Palette Knife: Generally a metal knife with a thin flexible blade, used by artists for mixing, scraping, or applying paint.

House Painting Brush: Can be used for covering large areas quickly and can also be used to Gesso a raw canvas. House painting brushes are manufactured with natural and syntactic bristles and can be manufactured for use with oil, latex (water based paint, good for Acrylics) and some for use with both.

Toothbrushes: Old toothbrushes can be used for painting speckled effects, little droplets of paint created by putting some paint on the toothbrush and then flicking the bristles toward the painting.

However it is important that you experiment on your own with any brush you can get your hands on. Try toothbrushes, shaving, makeup, or even baby-bottle brushes.

Basic Brushes Shape Chart


Round Bristle Brush Painting Lesson

Round bristle brushes are very versatile brushes as they have a large belly and long tapered ends. They can hold a lot of paint due to their large belly and that makes them great for loading with a lot of thick paint for large bold strokes or marks. You can also make thin delicate marks if the pant loaded to the belly is thin. These brushes are ideal for blocking in the basic shapes and forms of the paintings composition at the first stage of a painting.

Round Sable brushes and soft hair brushes come to a fine point and are used for delicate lines and details on the finishing of a painting.


Flat Bristel Brush

Flat bristle brushes have long bristles with square ends and are flexible and hold a good amount of paint. They can make long fluid strokes when used flat or delicate thin lines or marks when the edge is used.


Bright Bristle Bruhs

Bright bristle brushes are very much like the Flats but have shorter stiffer bristles and perform very differently. They dig deeper into the paint and leave sharp rectangular marks. they are used for applying thick heavy paint in impasto painting and they are better at creating detail as they are easier to control then the longer bristle flats.


Filbert Brush

Filbert bristle brushes are a blend of the Rounds and the Flats. Due to the tip being shaped to a curve they are easier to control for blending and softening edges.


Fan Bristel Brush

Fan blending brushes come in hog hair, sable, synthetic and badger hair. There is nothing better for blending or feathering wet paint to create smooth highly finished results. They are excellent for blending the soft edges of clouds.

Anatomy Of A Brush

The Anatomy Of An Artist Brush

Brush Sizes:

Unfortunately there are no standards when it comes to brush sizes, each manufacturer has their own designation of the brush size usually stamped on the brush handle. However the same size brush in different brands will measure differently.

Brushes come in sizes that range for #000 - #12.

When buying brushes I like to see them in person so that I can see how the bristles form and that the ferrule is not loose on the handle. You can buy them a little cheaper online however you can end up with lesser quality than if you buy them in person.