Best paint brushes for artists: everything you need to know
Looking for the best paint brushes to improve your artwork? Explore our guide to the best art paintbrushes for acrylic, oil, gouache and watercolour painting
Choosing the right paint brushes for your art can make a real difference to your painting. When you're starting out, it's tempting to buy the cheapest set available, but investing in a better set can help to take your art to the next level.
Cheaper brushes are often not up to the task with bristles that come loose and make a mess of your art work. However, if you buy the best paint brushes you can afford and take care of them, they're likely to last for years and will be worth the investment.
In this guide, we'll look at the best paint brushes to use with different kinds of paints and their benefits from acrylic paint brushes to oil paint brushes. We'll include products to suit a range of budgets including paintbrush sets for beginners, students, amateurs and artists.
Some brushes can be used for different mediums: for example, you could use a set of brushes designed for acrylic paint for your watercolours too. For art students, it's often a good idea to choose a set that can be used for a variety of different mediums to save money.
Artist paint brushes are made from a variety of different materials. Traditionally, sable brushes were very popular and these are still available to buy. Hog brushes are still widely used for oil painting, but there are synthetic alternatives available if you don't want to use brushes made using animal hair. Synthetic brushes are now commonly used – and they're often cheaper than hair brushes.
Whatever type of brush you buy, it's a good idea to have a range of sizes including at least one fine-tipped brush for detailed work. If you use a lot of watercolour paints, you may want to buy a water brush too.
Artist paint brushes come in different shapes and sizes, so it's a good idea to familiarise yourself with the different types and what they do before you buy. You may want to experiment with different brush shapes and see which you prefer – have a go at making different marks and see what results you get! It may be worth buying a pack of brushes with a variety of shapes for you to try out.
Here are some common brush shapes and types:
- Round brushes – rounded paint brushes can be used for lots of different purposes. They can be used to create paint washes and lines of all sizes.
- Flat brushes – flat brushes can be useful for painting lines. They're also great to use with thicker paints such as acrylic paint.
- Fine-line brushes – fine-line brushes are used to paint fine details onto your paintings.
- Fan brushes – these brushes are often used to blend colours together, but can also be used to add texture to a painting.
- Water brushes – water brushes are special brushes that can be filled with water. These are great if you want to do watercolour painting on the go!
- Chinese brushes – Chinese brush painting is a unique art form that you may want to try. These brushes hold their points well and are great to use with watercolour paints or inks.
- Stipple brush – this is a rounded paint brush with the bristles cut flat on the ends. It's often used for stencilling.
- Hake brush – this brush is used to fill in large areas of a painting smoothly, which is very handy if you're painting a large canvas.
- Sable rigger – riggers are round brushes with some extra long hairs. These can be used for painting lines in watercolour, acrylic and oil painting.
Read on to discover the best paint brushes for your art…
Featured image by Unsplash/Mel Poole.
Best paint brushes for artists
1. Winsor & Newton Foundation brushes
Winsor and Newton has a great reputation for producing high-quality art supplies, so they’re a good name to look out for when you’re choosing paint brushes. While they might not last as long as more expensive paint brushes, this set of synthetic brushes is an ideal purchase for a beginner or an art student as it’s great value for money. Although these are described as acrylic paint brushes, they can also be used for watercolour or gouache painting. The Winsor & Newton Foundation set includes seven brushes in varying sizes, with flat brushes to cover wider areas of your painting and round brushes suitable for line and detailed work.
2. Chinese brush
Try your hand at Chinese brush painting using this medium-sized brush from SAA. It uses a blend of goat and rabbit hair, which is the way Chinese brushes are traditionally made. You can use this brush with watercolour paints or inks.
3. Ron Ranson hake brushes
Hake brushes are useful to have if you work on large canvases. You can use them to create washes of even watercolour paints or to build up with acrylic paints. These brushes are made using goat hair and must not be washed with hot water.
4. Pro Arte Masterstroke miniature painter's brushes
Every painter needs a set of fine brushes! Fine brushes are great for details paintings or adding texture to your work and this set is suitable for use with watercolours, acrylics and even thinned oil paints. These synthetic brushes come in a range of sizes, so you bound to find the right one for your next art project.
5. Derwent water brushes
If you like to paint on the go, water brushes are extremely useful to have with you. You just need to have a watercolour painting set and a sketchpad with you and you're ready to paint. You can use water brushes to apply water directly onto your painting, to wet your watercolour paints and to paint with. There are lots of techniques you can try and they can also be used with watercolour pencils and inks. Water brushes are also popular with artists and illustrators, who use them to create brush pen lettering. This set of Derwent brushes has three different tip shapes to help you produce lots of interesting effects.
6. Cass Art hog bristle brush set
Hog bristle brushes are designed for oil and acrylic painting because they're stiff but retain some springiness. These paint brushes are very durable and the bristles won't shed easily. This is a great starter set if you're just getting into oil painting, as they're good quality without being too expensive. Great value for money.
7. Da Vinci Casaneo watercolour wash brush
As the name suggests, these synthetic brushes are perfect for adding watercolour washes to your paintings. The soft fibres of the brush take up colour well and produce very smooth brush strokes. These are very handy to add to your art stash if you love watercolour painting.
8. Pro Arte Sablene brush set
If you're a vegan artist and you don't want to use real sable brushes, the Pro Arte Sablene brush set is the one for you! Early synthetic paint brushes couldn't successfully imitate the qualities of authentic sable, but this brush set comes very close. These brushes are springy, retain their points and take up water well, making them perfect for watercolour painting. These brushes are excellent quality and are reasonably priced too.
9. Cass Art synthetic brush set
These art paint brushes is ideal for students and painters who are looking for a set that can be used with most mediums. This synthetic brush set can be used with acrylic, watercolour, gouache and oil paints. It includes 10 brushes in a variety of shapes and comes with a sturdy case (very useful if you travel with your art supplies!).
10. SAA acrylic brushes
A good quality set of paint brushes should last for years with proper care. If you want professional standard acrylic paint brushes, this is an excellent set to buy. These synthetic brushes include a special material called Teijin, which makes these acrylic paint brushes springy without being tough. These brushes come in a range of shapes and can also be used with oil paints.
11. SAA silver brushes
If you're looking for the ultimate set of watercolour paint brushes, the Complete Compendium from SAA is well worth the investment. It includes a selection of 25 high-quality brushes as well as a free brush case. This is a good buy if you're a professional artist looking for the best watercolour brushes you can get. These are synthetic brushes which take up water well and will last a long time if you take care of them.
We hope you've enjoyed our round up of the best paint brushes. Check out our best Bob Ross painting kits if you want to start using your brushes!
Sarah Orme is a UK-based linocut printmaker, digital editor, feature writer and award-winning podcaster. She's been editing the sewing and art sections of Gathered.how – and before that our sister website calmmoment.com – for over 3 years. She’s the host of Gathered’s We’ve Made It podcast and A Calmer Life podcast. She’s a keen crafter and artist and loves creating DIY tutorials for Gathered. Sarah has previously written features for The Guardian, In The Moment Magazine, Project Calm Magazine, countryfile.com, radiotimes.com and yourhomestyle.uk. She enjoys designing her own unique lino prints and dreams of opening her own online shop. She shares her work @sarahormeprints