After selecting the watercolor paint that suits you the best, you are probably wondering what are the best watercolor brushes out there? You are not planning to paint with your fingers, right?
If you have taken a shot at buying watercolor paint brushes before, you know it can be a daunting task to find the best brushes for watercolors since they literally come in all sizes and shapes. 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.
Criteria For Finding The Best Watercolor Paint Brushes
As mentioned, unlike brushes for oil or acrylic painting, watercolor brushes are different. They have to be able to hold and release water, which is crucial for success. Even the best watercolor paint will go to waste if you don’t use specialized paintbrushes for watercolors. If you are buying new watercolor brushes for the first time, keep the following criteria in mind.
• Brush Hair
Brushes are made out of one of a wide variety of different natural hair or even synthetic fibers, such as is often the case with water brush pens. The choice of hair will determine the performance of the brush such as being able to maintain its shape or to be able to hold watercolor paint and release it evenly when in contact with the paper.
Brushes made out of Kolinsky sable hair are considered to be the best with pure or red sable being only slightly worse. They maintain their shape and texture and tend to last longer than other brushes. Lower quality brushes often consist of squirrel, ox or goat hair and don’t hold a point very well. Instead, they are used for wash techniques where you don’t need much precision similar to hog bristle.
Lately, synthetic fibers have become more popular in watercolor brushes but they can vary a lot on quality. However, due to their lower cost they are the best watercolor brushes for beginners and allow you to slowly grow into Sable or Kolinsky brushes.
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. If you have seen a complete set of brushes, you have probably seen the wide variety of different shapes a brush can have. If you could only pick one, a round brush would probably be the best watercolor brush but it is highly recommended to consider buying at least the most common brushes such as:
o 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.
o Flat brushes
Flat brushes are best used for long strokes or applying a wash on your canvas. They are, however, not very useful for painting the small details of your painting.
o 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.
o 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 canvas 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.
The size of the brush obviously affects the performance. If you want to apply an even wash over your watercolor paper 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 aim 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 just 1 brush of the remaining three categories. After that, you can selectively buy other brushes as you need them.
Recommended Watercolor Brushes
Da Vinci definitely 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 case to protect your brushes.
For people on a budget, we recommend 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.
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. However, if you are looking for the best watercolor brushes for absolute beginners, you might want to consider buying the Santa Fe set which comes with 16 different brushes. These brushes contain synthetic hair and are not specialized watercolor brushes. You shouldn’t expect perfect results but they will serve you ok when you are just starting out.
Keeping Your Brush in Good Health
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. If you don’t wash your brushes thoroughly, the paint and dry and clump the hair.
It is therefore important to know how to clean watercolor brushes. First you want to gently dab and swirl the brush in the palm of your hand under running water. Then rub a small amount of mild soup into the hair and wash again.
Repeat these 2 steps until the brush is clean. Squeeze, shake or dap the brush to remove the water and reform the brush to its original shape. Finally let them dry on a flat surface.
Secondly don’t let you brushes stand in your water bucket or water cup for too long. This can permanently bend the hairs and cause the brush to lose its shape. Furthermore, the water might infiltrate into the wood of the brush and cause chipping and cracks.
Read our Ultimate Guide to Watercolor Painting!
Frequently Asked Questions
- Which watercolor paint is recommended for beginners?
- What paper should I use for watercolors?
- Which easel should I use for my project?
- Which water brushes are a good addition to your regular brushes?
- What are the best watercolor pencils?