After selecting the watercolor paint that suits you the best, you are probably wondering:
What are the best watercolor brushes for beginners?
You might be tempted to use just any brush you have lying around but watercolor brushes are completely different from oil or acrylic brushes.
In this article, we will go over the best watercolor paint brushes for beginners and what to look for.
Can I Use Any Brush for Watercolor Painting?
One of the most common questions we receive is whether you can use the same set of brushes for different kinds of paint such as acrylics. The very short answer is that sometimes you can, but it’s better not to.
The main difference between brushes for watercolor painting and brushes for acrylics and oil paint is the hair of the brush.
Brushes can be made out of a wide variety of different natural hair or synthetic fibers. The choice of hair will determine if the brush will be able to maintain its shape or to hold water properly.
For watercolor paint, you want to use natural hairs, since they have no problem holding the water and only releasing it when in contact with the paper. For the best performance, you want a brush with Kolinsky Sable hair or Red Sable hair.
They maintain their shape and texture and tend to last longer than other brushes. If that is a little above your budget, you can consider other natural hairs such as squirrel, ox or goat hair.
You don’t want to use these brushes for acrylics or oil painting because those types of paint are harsher and will slowly damage the natural hairs. They will decrease the lifetime of your brushes a lot.
Nowadays, synthetic brushes for watercolor painting have become more popular as well. Despite technological advances, their performance isn’t at the level of natural hairs yet. But they do come at a lower cost than most brushes made out of natural hair, making them more popular amongst beginners.
If you go with synthetic brushes, you could use them for watercolor painting, acrylics and oil painting. But keep in mind that they will last much longer if you use them for watercolors only, due to the nature of the paint.
Watercolor Paint Brush Types
If you have taken a shot at buying watercolor paint brushes before, you know it can be a daunting task to find the best one since they literally come in all sizes and shapes. And every single one of them has a special function and purpose.
That is why it is normally best to work with a well-rounded set of different brushes that cover most of your needs.
You might be tempted to only buy a round brush and assume that will be enough. Although you can achieve a lot with only a round brush, it might not be the most time-effective nor give the best result depending on which technique you are using.
We can’t cover every single shape available. And you really don’t need to know all of them. But here are 4 types of brushes you want to have:
- Round brushes: These are the best known and most common. Due to their versatility, they can produce both small and delicate lines or details, but also broader strokes and washes to a certain extent. Since maintaining a sharp point is important it’s best to buy a Kolinsky hairbrush if possible.
- Flat brushes: Flat brushes are best used for long strokes or applying a wash. They are, however, not very useful for painting the small details of your painting.
- Spotter Brushes and Rigger Brushes: These are perfect for filling in those tiny and difficult to deal with details. The only detail being the length of the hair, with rigger brushes have long hair and spotter brushes short hair. Often they are also called retouching brushes because of their extra fine point. Because they only have very little hair, it’s important to buy a high-quality brush that can hold the paint without dripping.
- Wash Brushes: As their name implies, these brushes are used to apply washes. They are similar to a flat brush but considerably wider. This allows you to cover the entire paper with just a few strokes. Sometimes you also see Hake brushes or Mop and Oval brushes which serve the same function as a wash brush. If details are not important and you want a really fast and uniform wash you might even use an airbrush as well.
Nowadays a lot of people also choose to use water brush pens instead of traditional paint brushes. They come with certain advantages and disadvantages. So if you really can’t get the hang of working with paint brushes, you might want to switch to water brush pens.
The size of the brush obviously affects the performance. If you want to apply an even wash a bigger sized brush is preferable, whereas smaller brushes are for details.
The size of the brushes that you will need highly depends on what you want to paint. A good way to start is to buy the round brushes in 2 or 3 different sizes due to their versatility and buy 1 brush of the remaining three categories. After that, you can selectively buy other brushes as you need them.
Watercolor Paint Brush Care
To prevent damaging your brushes and making them last as long as possible, it is important to know how to take care of your brushes.
Watercolor brushes can be pretty delicate. That is why you should not use them for other acrylic or oil painting since that will affect the brush hairs. Additionally, you don’t want to apply too much pressure while using them, since that might permanently deform the shape of the hairs.
But the most important part is to always clean your watercolor brushes properly.
How To Wash Watercolor Paint Brushes?
If you don’t wash your brushes thoroughly the paint will dry and ruin the hairs. It is therefore important to know how to clean watercolor brushes.
After every painting session, you want to thoroughly rinse your brushes with water. You can do this by gently dabbing and swirling the brush in the palm of your hand under running water. This will be enough as your regular cleaning routine.
One thing you do NOT want to do is to let your brushes sit in a cup of water for a long time. This will permanently change the shape of the hairs and pretty much make them impossible to work with.
Additionally, submerging the brush in water for too long might allow the water to penetrate the metal or wooden parts of the brush. Which can lead to hairs falling out or splintering of the wooden handle.
Every now and then you want to wash your watercolor brushes as little more thoroughly. You can do this by using a little bit of soap as shown in the video below.
To dry the brushes, you can either place them horizontally or vertically with the hairs on the bottom, such that the water can flow down to the tip of the hairs.
How To Store Watercolor Paint Brushes?
While storing your brushes you want to make sure that they are not exposed to extreme temperatures. So don’t leave them in a cold studio in winter or place them in the sun during summer. Since this may affect the glue that is used to keep the hairs attached to the brush.
Additionally, it’s better not to store them loosely, particularly when you are traveling with them. In that case, it’s best to purchase a brush carrier or a protective cover.
Buying Watercolor Brushes
If you want to save yourself the trouble of finding the right brushes for your next watercolor project, you can always buy a complete brush set instead.
This normally has the added benefit of saving you some money as well compared to buying them one by one.
Best Watercolor Brushes
Da Vinci produces some of the best watercolor brushes that are out there. The Da Vinci Watercolor Brush Series 5271 comes with 5 different brushes including round, flat and wax brushes and comes with a protective case.
For a slightly lower price, you can also purchase the brush set offered by Silver Brush Limited. Their set contains 9 brushes, including all 4 different types of brushes mentioned above and even offers 4 differently sized round brushes.
Cheap Watercolor Brushes
For absolute beginners, we recommend buying a wide range of cheaper brushes first. This will give you a feel of when to use which brush type and which brush size. As you improve your skills and gain a deeper interest in watercolors you can then update to one of the sets mentioned above.
The Santa Fe set which comes with 16 different brushes with synthetic hair. Since they are not specifically made for watercolor painting you shouldn’t expect perfect results but they will serve you ok when you are just starting out.