What is the Best Watercolor Paint Brush? Part 1 Materials, Quality, and Size

What is the Best watercolour paint brush Materials, Quality and Size

How Do you find the best Watercolour Paint Brush you can for your personal needs?  This post explores questions like – Do you use a large brush or a small one? A round brush or a flat one? Is synthetic better or worse than a natural brush? Or is a blend of the two better?  Does size really matter?

This post is part one of two and covers size, materials and quality of your watercolour brush.
For watercolour, brush shapes go to part 2 

What is the best Watercolour Paint Brush for you?

This depends so much on so many variable factors that really only you can decide which is the best watercolour brush for you. However, learning as much as you can before you buy can save you costly mistakes. Learn as much as possible about brush sizes, materials and shapes and what they are used for and then make an informed decision.

Materials – Bristles Can Make you Bristle! What Materials Do the Best Watercolour Brushes Have and Why?

There are so many arguments and points of view on this part of brush choosing that you can become lost in a pile of bristles very easily. It’s basically an Argh!! moment.

So, here I am going to do two things.   First, explain some of the issues with my own examples.  Then outline each type of watercolour brush as clearly as I can as this is a very personal choice based on your own needs and values.

Budget Brushes and Purists Versus Techies – Which Watercolour Paint Brush is Best Natural or Manmade?

The issues put simply, are budget and purists versus the techies! Purists would choose natural bristles – Period. As far as they are concerned synthetic isn’t even a consideration.  The purist’s view is synthetic that synthetic brushes are inferior and will, therefore produce inferior results.

This is where I had problems. My upbringing made me a purist but my budget made me compromise – big time!

At home, everything was hand crafted and wood based rather than Formica etc. I wanted to buy natural brushes, but at the time their price was way too high. So, I did what I always recommend everyone do which is get the best quality you can afford.

It is all very well saying by one quality item but when you paint for the most part you need a selection not to mention the pains and the paper and probably an easel as well.

Brush Quality Is Important

Quality is important in any painting equipment but that doesn’t mean a beginner need spend out on top of the range products. They need best range student quality paints or mid-range brush quality that they can afford.

Now, the purists will probably faint at this, but these days technology and brush design have moved on so well that quality synthetic brushes can do a great job.

An additional issue is how you feel about the animals being used for your brush. Taking all this into consideration only you can decide which you feel is right for you and fits your ethics or budget.

  • 1  Synthetic
  • 2  Sable
  • 3  Mixed

What Qualities to Look for in Your New Watercolour Brush

Basically, the better bushes have some common qualities that make them worth the extra money.

  • They do not shed bristles as much.
  • They are well crafted and the ferrules are less likely to rust.
  • They hold the paint well and will hold more paint than a cheap brush.  This is important to the flow of your painting.
  • They are comfortable to hold for long periods of time.
  • They point well.

     The Size 6 SAA Kolinsky Sable Rigger (4mm)
The above brush is a beautiful Kolinsky sable brush that is hand crafted.

I have used this brush as an example as it is both quality and value.  I have several SAA brushes and they are all good quality without breaking the bank.  The first example I was going to use the large brush was 3 times the price and the largest one was in the £100s.

What Size Brush Do you Need?

Fitting the size of your brush to the size of your work may seem obvious but it is easy to make a mistake. A good quality watercolour brush isn’t cheap so unless your budget isn’t an issue you really don’t want to be making too many mistakes on which brush you get.

When first starting out I read a watercolour book and got the brushes recommended by that book. I purchased a beautiful but very large flat brush suitable for large areas of washes.  It virtually never gets used.

My style, method and the size I work on just doesn’t really require it. So it was wasted money.

Bust as a basic guide if you are doing more accurate smaller washes then you will need smaller brushes, whereas if you are doing larger washes for most of your painting then go for the larger brushes.

You won’t know starting out what is completely right for you until you get a better idea of your own preferences.

To Start With it is Better to Have Fewer Sizes and More Shapes of Brush

However, the sizes range from very small to very large.

UK brush sizes: Fan, Round and rigger brushes:

Small  000,0,1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13,14 etc Large

Flat and flat angled brushes: are in imperial (inches) 1/4, 3/8,1/2, 3/4, 1, 2 etc

Mop and Wash brushes are seen in both types of scale.

These scales may vary slightly from manufacturer to manufacturer.

So Which Ones Will You Need?

For most work, the mid range sizes are fine with a couple of brushes for the fine work and a larger flat or mop brush for larger washes or clouds etc.

Quality brushes range from about £4 for a small brush and £250 for a large size 20 brush.  A quality brush, well looked after will last a lifetime.

Don’t feel you have to have the exact brush size recommended in classes or books if you have a size near it for most purposes, that is fine.

You might find that for the brushes you use the most often you might even want more than one of the same size.

You will also need different shaped brushes for different tasks.

 For detailed explanations of watercolour, brush shapes go to part 2 

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