There are a myriad of options when it comes to selecting the right watercolour brush. You’ll find that watercolour brushes are made from a wide range of materials, coming in various shapes, sizes and costs, which can make it difficult to know which type is right for you. In this handy guide we’ll help you make the right choice based on your diverse needs and preferences.

There are many specific brushes for differing techniques, paints and people. There is no such thing as ‘the one’ – Albrecht Dürer’s favourite watercolour brush may not necessarily be the best brush for you.

There are many specific brushes for differing techniques, paints and people. There is no such thing as ‘the one’ – Albrecht Dürer’s favourite watercolour brush may not necessarily be the best brush for you.

There are several ways to determine which watercolour brushes are the best quality and best for your needs. To help you decide, we’re sharing the top 5 questions to ask yourself before choosing the best watercolour brushes.

Do I need a brush that’s specific to watercolour?

Watercolour specific brushes are fantastic if you want a specialised brush to use only for watercolour painting. Watercolours work best with soft, natural brushes such as red sable, which is comprised of fine needle-like point hair that has outstanding spring and resilience.

If you are a versatile painter that likes to experiment with a variety of mediums (i.e. acrylic and oil), then you could get brushes that reflect this versatility. Multi-purpose brushes are an affordable alternative to getting different brushes for different paint mediums.

There are no rules or limits when it comes to creativity or the tools you can utilise to create a masterpiece. Mixing mediums can be a fruitful experiment. For example, if you were to paint a watercolour landscape and then use acrylic paint to add in details, then multi-purpose brushes like those in the the Da Vinci School & Hobby Brush Set or the Pro Arte Prolon Brush set would be useful.

Do I understand the brush properties (natural, synthetic or mixed)?

The material of the brush head greatly impacts brush performance, how much water/paint it holds, the shape/size/sharpness of the strokes, and the texture it deposits on the surface you are painting. Therefore, the material composition of the brush should be a key factor when you are choosing brushes. Each of these is explained for you below.

Mixed Brushes:

  • A material mix of both natural and synthetic fibres.
  • They generally have a longer lifespan.
  • Can be utilised to get the benefits of both natural and synthetic brushes.
  • An inexpensive alternative to Natural fibres.

Natural Brushes:

  • Made from various animal hairs. For example, A kolinsky sable-hair brush (also known as red sable or sable hair brush) is obtained from the tail of the kolinsky, a species of weasel. The “finest” brushes are made from the male hair only, but most brushes have a mix of about 60/40 male-to-female hair.
  • They are softer and retain larger amounts of paint and water.
  • Great for gentle applications with less crisp edges.
  • Using natural fibres instead of of plastic makes them more environmentally friendly.

Synthetic Brushes:

  • Made of synthetic material, such as nylon.
  • Resilient material offers more durability and a longer lifespan.
  • Allows for more precision and control in application. You can make bolder and sharper lines.
  • Less expensive and can often mimic natural brushes very well.

What are the costs of watercolour brushes?

Price is a major factor when deciding the best watercolour brushes. The price of a brush is dependent on several variables, ranging from the brand name to the materials used in the manufacturing of the product (i.e. whether the brush is synthetic or natural, and what the material the handle is made from).

For example, although they are both great value for money, there will be an observable disparity in quality between the German engineered Da Vinci Watercolour Brush set, made from long-lasting, sustainable materials priced at £79.95 versus the nylon Pro Arte Polar Brush Set priced at £4.17.

There is a correlation between quality and the expense of a brush, but a good brush need not break the bank. For example, the red sable, multi-purpose Da Vinci Watercolour Brush Set is a great durable handmade set that is perfect for watercolours as well as silk and Indian ink painting.

How many watercolour brushes do I need?

The choice between one brush or many is a hard decision. If you want control over each brush choice then buying individual brushes is a great option for you. However, if making choices isn’t your strong suit, then purchasing brush sets can be an efficient and often cheaper alternative.

Brushes come in all shapes and sizes; different brushes can be utilised for different strokes. For example, fan brushes can be used side to side to create waves or texture in paintings depicting the sky, or you can use it in an up and down motion to create blades of grass. Flat brushes can be used to make wide strokes seamlessly.  It really depends on you as the artist, what kind of strokes you want to make, and what kind of brush is easy for you to use.

Buying a variety pack set is useful if you are unsure on what brush to use and how to use it. A variety pack would allow you to experiment with different brush sizes and shapes until you find the right one for you.

Should I restrict myself to just brushes?

There are lots of different watercolour tools and there is no need to limit oneself to just watercolour brushes. Other watercolour painting tools include sponges, mediums, pens and pencils.

Why not try…

  • Watercolour graphic pens are a great option for the on the go artist. These include a low hassle 2-in-1 dual nib brush with self-contained paint and can be used with traditional watercolour tubes and half-pans.

  • Sponges can be used for texture.
  • Watercolour Mediums are another way you can optimise your creativity. It can also be used as a tool for beginners to fill in any gaps in skill. Can’t keep within the lines? Try masking fluid and discover inspiration for how to use it. Watch demo below.                          

Once you’ve selected the best brushes and tools for watercolours, click here to uncover some fun watercolour techniques to unleash your new brushes on!

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