Watercolor Brushes – Everything You Need To Know (TIP #03)

April 7, 2017


There literally seem to be hundreds of them at my local art shop.   Now, I’m not sure about you, but when I was starting in watercolor, brushes were my most confusing supply.   There are different shapes, kinds, sizes, brands, etc. So after meandering up and down the brush aisle for a good hour or two – I would finally just pick the cheapest watercolor pack option I could find and leave the store even more baffled than when I had come in.

Now, I’m not saying buying a cheap pack of watercolor brushes is wrong – in fact I think that’s the best way to actually gage what brushes styles and brands you actually like.   BUT… I will say that knowing just a little bit more information about watercolor brushes will help you make better choices on what kinds of brushes you might prefer for the future.


The first question that I’m going to tackle today is “How are watercolor brushes different from other brushes?”  I mean seriously, why do we have acrylic brushes, oil brushes, and watercolor brushes?  :) Why are they so different?  Well, when comparing watercolor brushes, to let’s say acrylic brushes, – watercolor brushes tend to have finer softer hairs.  Now there are two reasons for this… 

  1.  Number ONE – The softer hairs act like a sponge soaking up the water and with it, the paint into your brush.  
  2.  Number TWO – The finer hairs of these brushes allow you as the artist to achieve softer, more delicate paint strokes on the paper – which watercolor is known for.  



Now that we have covered that, let’s tackle the next looming question of how do we classify watercolor brushes? Well, to make this as simple as possible, when we are talking about brushes we are primarily referring to their hair. 

Yes, those drama queens think only about their hair which is classified into 3 categories – quality, shape, and finally size. This is precisely the reason why there are so many options on the shelves before us.

Okay, let’s tackle quality first.

++ QUALITY –Synthetic vs. Natural ++


The next way we classify brushes is by their hair styles – which include (round, detail, flat, angle, fan, filbert, mop, spotter, and riggers).  FOR TIME SAKE, I’m only going to FOCUS ON MY TOP 5 BRUSHES AND HOW I USE THEM. 


Round Brushes are my absolute favorite brush that I own and guess what?  I OWN ALOT OF THEM!   They are known as the most versatile and widely used watercolor brush because of their ability to paint large areas as well as intricate details with their fine point.

DETAIL (aka liner)

Detail Brushes (sometimes referred to as liner brushes) are my second favorite.  They are the smallest size brushes available and as you probably guessed, they are used for detailed work – such as thin line or small hair details in fur.  Now my detail brushes range in size from 0000 to 0.   Basically, these are the brushes that have the least amount of hair – and thus hold less paint and water – thereby giving you more control on – fine lines and details.  


Flat Brushes aren’t as versatile as round brushes, but are great for large washes – such as for example – skies and/or backgrounds as well as for long linear strokes.  



I’m not really sure why, but I’ve found that very few artists talk about Angle Brushes.  They are great brushes for larger washes that come in contact with hard to fill detail shapes.   You could do the same thing with a flat brush and then switch to a round for the small spaces – OR you could use an angled brush for the whole wash that allows you to paint with its point.  


And finally last but not least, one that will probably will surprise y’all, is the category of old brushes.  Yep, those cheap old brushes that perhaps you bought in that starter pack I mentioned earlier.  DON’T THROW THOSE AWAY! They are actually great for adding texture to ….washes, fur, leaves…basically these brushes can add creative texture that no new brush could achieve.  So definitely hang onto your brushes!


Now all the previous brushes we just talked about are sorted by size.  On every brush, you will find a number.  The smaller the number, the smaller the brush and of course – the larger the number, the larger the brush.  I’ve never seen anyone do this before, but I’m going to break down the sizes of the brushes into categories of how I use them.  So…take this as my opinion and not law in the art world.  It just works really well for me.

For sizes 0000-0: As I said earlier, I tend to use these for small intricate details.

For sizes 1-6: I use these for small to medium size washes

For sizes 7-24: I use these for medium to larger washes that would cover an entire page.


Now that we have gone over all that information – the question you really want to know is “what brushes are best for me?”  Well, first off, just know that you don’t need ALL of these brushes.  I actually only use about 3 to 5 brushes on a daily basis.  

My go to brushes are a size, 4, 6, and 12 round plus two liner brushes size 00 and 0000.   For my art style these are the brushes that can take me the furtherest.  

However, if you are a beginner and want to just dabble – I recommend getting a set of watercolor round brushes and flat brushes.  Depending on your own art preference you will discover what sizes and shapes work best for you over time.  

For me, I rarely use flat brushes – but I do have one 1 in Flat brush in my set which is my go to for sky or background washes.  By picking up a cheap watercolor set I learned what size to invest in for a flat brush when I do need it.   

And that is everything about brushes.  I hope this cleared up some things for you and perhaps you learned something new.  

As Always Ya’ll, it’s been a pleasure and I will see you next time!

9 responses to “Watercolor Brushes – Everything You Need To Know (TIP #03)”

  1. peggy coffey says:

    Great post. I inherited a lot of my mother’s art supplies and she loved brushes. I am sorting them and now I know how to really sort them!

  2. John says:

    Great post as well. As someone beginning to gather supplies for first attempt at watercolor (and painting) really helpful. I enjoy all your helpful videos as well.

  3. You made some decent points there. I checked on the web to learn more about the issue and found most people will go along with your views on this website.

  4. My brother recommended I might like this blog. He was totally right. This put up truly made my day. You cann’t consider just how much time I had spent for this information! Thank you!

  5. Jayne Kuchcinski says:

    I’m definantly one of your misfitians. Now I know what brushes and paint I need. Off to the Art store for our new adventure together…… yah! X

  6. Maggi Fandel says:

    Getting into water color, your brush video is great!

  7. Susan E. Page says:

    I also like having a fan brush for textures in landscapes.

  8. ABCya games says:

    Awesome article.

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