Using These Watercolor Brushes Made Me A Better Painter

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It’s pretty obvious that watercolor paint is different from acrylic and oil paint. But did you know that watercolor paintbrushes are also different from the brushes used acrylic and oil paint?

It’s pretty obvious that watercolor paint is different from acrylic and oil paint. But did you know that watercolor paintbrushes are also different from the brushes used acrylic and oil paint?

best brushes for watercolor painting

When it comes to watercolors, using the right type of brush is almost just as important as using the right paint or paper.

But considering most paintbrushes look the same, finding the best brushes for watercolor painting isn’t always easy. In this article we’ll go over everything you need to know, and we’ll recommend the best sets for beginners and professionals.

Which Brush Is Best For Watercolor?

One of the most common questions that beginning painters have is whether you can use the same set of brushes for different kinds of paint such as watercolor, oil and acrylics. Although this is physically possible, there are good reasons not to use acrylic or oil paint brushes for your watercolors.

But to understand why, let’s first look at the major different between these types of brushes: the hairs of the brush, or also known as the bristles. The type of hair that is used to make the brush determines the characteristics of that brush and what the brush is best used for.

For watercolor brushes soft natural hairs are used that can easily absorb and hold a lot of water. Many high quality brushes for watercolor painting are made using Kolinsky Sable hair or Red Sable hair. However, acrylic and oil painting brushes are normally made from synthetic fibers, which are harder and more robust.

The reason you don’t want to use acrylic or oil paint brushes for your watercolors is simply that these brushes don’t absorb enough water. As a result you will have very little paint on your brush and will need many strokes. This makes it much more difficult to paint smoothly or apply layers. Additionally, the hard bristles can sometimes also damage the watercolor papers.

But you also don’t want to use your watercolor painting brushes for either acrylic or oil paint. Mainly because watercolor brushes are very delicate and the chemical components in acrylic and oil paint can damage your watercolor brush.

Types Of Watercolor Brushes

Most people are familiar with the round and flat brush. But there are many other brushes out there with differently shaped bristles. Learning which brush to use in which situation is part of becoming a great painter.

Of course, some brush types are used more often than others. So as a beginner you don’t need to buy all of them. However, I do recommend you get at least familiar with the following 5 types.

Round Brush

Round brushes are the most commonly used type due to their versatility. The hairs have a round shape that form a pointed tip at the end when wet.

Depending on how you use the brush, you can create thin or thick lines. Since you will be using this type of brush the most it’s worth buying some high-quality ones.

Flat Brush

The flat brush has straight hairs and is normally square shaped. Although sometimes the tip can be slanted too.

This type of brush is great for creating long linear strokes. Since the width of the brush doesn’t change much with changing pressure, you can make very even lines.

Spotter / Rigger Brush

Both the spotter and rigger brush are brushes used for applying details. They both look like a smaller version of the round brush.

The main difference is that the spotter has very short hair, which makes it great for applying small details and retouching, while the rigger brush has long hairs, which can be used to paint very thin lines and lettering.

Wash Brush

The wash brush is a very big version of the flat brush, and as the name implies is used to apply a wash. Normally you will only use this at the start of your painting.

Some artists prefer to use a mop or a hake instead of the wash brush, but they both sever the same purpose.

Fan Brush

The fan brush can be used to smoothly blend different colors or to apply textures such as grass and twigs.

Although the fan brush is super important for acrylic or oil painting, it’s not used that much for watercolors.

Watercolor Brush Sizes

Some brushes are made to be extra big, such as the wash brush, and other are made to be extra small, such as the spotter and rigger brush. However, the most common brushes such as the round and flat brush come in many different sizes. So how do you know which size to get?

It’s best to get the round and flat brush in a variety of different sizes. Having 3~4 differently sized round brushes and 2~3 different flat brushes to your disposal will be enough to handle most situations.

Keep in mind that different brands sometimes use a different scale to indicate the size of their brushes. So a size 2 at brand A might the equivalent of a size 3 at brand B. If you are buying from a good watercolor brush brand you will be able to find the exact length, diameter and width of a particular brush on their website.

Best Watercolor Brush Brands

With all the different paint brushes out there to choose from, how do you distinguish the good brushes from the bad? Below we have listed our recommended brushes for both beginners and professional artists.

However, if they are sold out of if you can’t find them anywhere you might have to find some brushes by yourself. In that case I always recommend people to buy from a well-known brand. Some of the best watercolor brush brands include:

  • Mont Marte
  • Virtuoso
  • D’Artisan Shoppe
  • ZenArt
  • Magic Touches
  • Winsor & Newton
  • Da Vinci

Best Watercolor Brushes For Beginners

#1 Mont Marte Paint Brush set

As a beginner you probably want to try out a variety of different brush sizes and shapes to get a good grasp of how to use each one. This set by Mont Marte lets you do this without having to invest a huge amount of money. It comes with 4 angled brushes, 2 flat brushes, 2 filbert brushes, 5 round brushes, 1 fan brush and a rigger, for a total of 15 brushes.

They have a long handle which makes them easy to use in combination with an easel and the hairs are smooth and thick. Additionally, the hairs are well embedded in a way that prevents them from coming out, so they will last a long time even if you use them on a daily basis.

Additionally, the brushes in this set come in a light-weight zip case, such that you can bring your brushes with you anywhere you go without any problems.

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#2 Virtuoso Paintbrushes

As an alternative you might also want to consider the 15-piece brush set by Virtuoso. It includes round brushes in 5 different sizes, liners in 5 different sizes, and 2 different flat brushes.

Although this set comes with many sizes, they are all pretty small and you won’t find any big round brushes or a wash brush. This makes them better for working on smaller projects. But you can always buy a few bigger brushes separately if you find that you need them.

These brushes have a handle that is slightly shorter and thicker which makes them more comfortable to hold. Which is great, because you definitely don’t want to be shaking when filling in the small details.

Finally, these brushes are made with Virtuoso’s anti-shedding bristle technology which makes them very durable and since they contain faux hair bristles they can be used for oil, acrylic and enamel paint as well. This makes them some of the best affordable watercolor brushes.

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Best Professional Watercolor Brushes

#1 D’Artisan Shoppe Paint Brushes For Watercolor

If you are looking for some high-quality watercolor brushes you might want to give the Maestro Series XV by D’Artisan Shoppe a try.

This set has 4 brushes made out of natural hog hair bristles and 11 brushes made out of synthetic fibers that mimic natural sable.

The combination of brushes with both synthetic and natural hairs gives this set a certain amount of flexibility you won’t get with purely synthetic brushes.

The included brush types are:

  • 4 flat brushes
  • 3 round brushes
  • 4 filbert brushes
  • 1 fan brush
  • 1 angle brush
  • 1 rigger brush
  • 1 wide brush

The anti-shedding bristles are designed to make your brushes last a long time and the hairs are easy to clean too. Although the handles themselves are pretty long, they are very well-balanced so you won’t notice any fatigue even after painting for a long time.

The brushes come in a lightweight holder which has a special slot for each brush. This makes it easy to transport or store your brushes when you are done painting and prevent any possible harm.

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#2 ZenArt Professional Watercolor Brushes

For serious watercolor artists I would recommend the 14-piece set by ZenArt. These are some of the best brushes you can find and are made out of black squirrel blend or synthetic Japanese fibers.

They can hold a good amount of water and give a very even flow when releasing the paint on paper or canvas.

These brushes are hand-crafted and balanced with care to give you the best painting experience you can hope for. The short handles are made out of lacquered Birchwood and extensively tested for their durability.

The set includes the following brushes:

  • 5 round brushes
  • 2 flat brushes
  • 1 filbert
  • 1 angled brush

  • 1 rigger brush
  • 1 detail round brush
  • 1 fan brush
  • 1 cat’s tongue brush

Shedding of hairs can be a problem with brushes that use natural hairs. But thanks to the high-quality of the rust-free ferrules, you don’t have to worry about that with these brushes.

Due to their confidence in the quality of their own brushes, ZenArt even offer a 1 year 100% money back guarantee if anything is wrong.

In short, these brushes by ZenArt are amazing and I can’t recommend them enough for anyone that is really interested in watercolor painting.

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Frequently Asked Questions

How To Clean Watercolor 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.

Now and then you want to wash your watercolor brushes a little more thoroughly. You can do this by using a 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 Do I Protect My Watercolor 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 room 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 in a box since you will risk that the hairs might deform. It’s best to keep them upright with the hairs up to prevent any harm. If you are going to travel with your brushes it’s best to purchase a brush carrier or a protective cover. Fortunately most sets already come with a portable case so you don’t have to buy one separately.

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