Buyer’s Guide: Paint Brushes
Use our top tips and recommendations to find paint brushes of the right size, shape, and bristle material for the DIY projects on your to-do list.
Choosing colors for your next paint project can really occupy your time, as you pore over a spectrum of shade swatches. Yet to achieve smooth, complete, precise coverage, you’ll need to put a bit of thought into your brushes as well.
While many DIYers opt for rollers on large surfaces like walls, a brush provides greater precision while using less paint, and more versatility, as brushes are able to create both smooth and textured finishes, depending on your technique. And of course you’ll rely on brushes for trim and other detail work, as well as for painting furniture.
Read on to learn about brush material, size, shape, and quality—and how they factored into compiling this list of our top favorites among the best paint brushes available.
- BEST FOR WALLS: Purdy XL Series Medium-Stiff Nylon/Polyester Paint Brush
- BEST FOR DETAIL WORK: Purdy XL Elite Stiff Chinex/Polyester Sash Paint Brush
- BEST FOR EDGES: Wooster 2-inch Shortcut Polyester Angle Sash Brush
- BEST FOR OIL-BASED PAINT: Purdy Black Bristle Series Medium-Stiff Sash Paint Brush
What Makes a Great Paint Brush?
Brushes are made of different materials and come in various shapes and sizes to suit specific products and tasks. Here’s how to determine what’s right for your job.
Brush bristles come in two major categories: natural, which are recommended for oil-based paints, and synthetic, which are best for water-based paints.
- Natural brushes are made of animal hair, like hog or badger—fibers with microscopic splits that hold more product to create a smooth finish. Choose a natural bristle brush when applying oil-based paints and top coats, varnishes, shellac, decorative chalk paint (for an antique look), enamel, and polyurethane. You’ll also get good results using a round, natural bristle brush to apply furniture wax.
- A synthetic brush made of high-quality polyester or a blend of nylon and polyester is better suited to latex (water-based) paint because natural bristles soak up water, becoming limp and less effective. Low- and no-VOC (volatile organic compound) paints, most of which are acrylic latex based, are also best applied with a synthetic brush. Both natural and synthetic brushes can last for years if cleaned and dried thoroughly after every use: Remove excess paint, wash with soapy water, rinse in fresh water, and let it dry on a flat surface.
Paint brushes for house painting typically come in sizes ranging from one to six inches. Generally speaking, the tighter the area you’re painting, the smaller the brush should be. A one- to two-and-a-half-inch brush is best for window areas, trim, and corners. A three-inch brush works best for doors, cabinets, and shelving and a four- to six-inch brush is designed for large, flat areas, like walls and ceilings.
There are three main styles of paint brush, each designed for a different purpose and surface area:
- Square Cut: A four- to six-inch wall brush is ideal for large, flat surfaces, both interior and exterior. Use a large wall brush for painting walls, flat doors, and siding. With a good quality wall brush, you won’t need rollers—and you may even save on paint because brushes are more precise.
- Angle Sash: This brush was designed to paint window sashes, which fit inside the window frame and allow the panes to move up and down. That said, this short-handed, angled brush is excellent for a variety of detail work because it’s easy to maneuver and offers great stability. Use it for painting grooves, panels, edges, and corners—and reaching around obstacles, like a behind a toilet.
- Round Sash: These smaller brushes come in a range of sizes from 20 to 40mm. They are the best paint brushes for decorative painting (like faux finishes) and furniture, like chair and table legs, because the circular arrangement of bristles is conducive to 3D painting.
A top-quality brush offers smoother, fuller coverage and a perfect finish, and while pricey—depending on brush size and bristle material—it can they last up to 20 years. “Flagged” bristles—slightly split at the ends—hold more paint and provide the best coverage. Flex bristle tips to ensure they spring back into shape. Bristles should also be shorter on the outside and longer toward the center, creating precision and control. Finally, bristles should be 50 percent longer than the width of the brush itself to pick up the ideal amount of paint, while providing maximum coverage and control.
Our Top Picks
1. BEST FOR WALLS: Purdy XL Series Medium-Stiff Nylon/Polyester Paint Brush
With a blend of nylon and polyester bristles, this brush can handle both indoor and outdoor projects. Purdy’s XL is designed for latex and oil-based paints, stains, and primers. The company states that “Purdy’s proprietary tipping and flagging methodology ensures exceptional paint distribution.” In other words, the high bristle quality will create smooth, full coverage. Tip: Store the brush in its wax-covered packaging after use to return bristles to their original state and fight mold growth.
2. BEST FOR DETAIL WORK: Purdy XL Elite Stiff Chinex/Polyester Sash Paint Brush
When it comes to trim, molding, windows, and tight spaces, this narrow angle sash brush, featuring Purdy’s proprietary nylon/polyester blend bristles, is hard to beat. It’s designed especially for low-VOC paints, which can be thicker than traditional latex paint and harder to apply.
3. BEST FOR EDGES: Wooster Shortcut Polyester Angle Sash Brush
This short-handled angle sash brush helps create a perfect edge between ceiling and wall and—even trickier!—where two different paint colors meet. Reviewers note the comfortable proprietary handle design of the brush, saying it feels like an extension of your hand. The synthetic polyester bristles work with all paint types, especially latex acrylics and water-based stains.
4. BEST FOR OIL-BASED PAINT: Purdy Black Bristle Series Medium-Stiff Sash Paint Brush
Providing a high-quality and smooth finish, most notably on woodwork, this Purdy brush boasts hog bristles that hold more paint and disperse it more evenly than other bristle materials. These black China hog bristles also prove more durable and long-lived than those of other brands. This angle sash brush performs best with oil-based paints, varnishes, and enamels. Excellent for bare wood floors, furniture, doors, cabinets, and concrete.