When it comes to art projects, successful results depend on the quality of your materials and equipment. Perhaps you engage in watercolor painting as a hobby, or maybe you’re on track to become a professional artist. Either way, only the best watercolor brushes will allow you to produce gorgeous fine lines, washes, and layers of color in your art projects.
With an adequate assortment of brushes, you’ll be equipped to practice techniques that’ll bring your artwork to life. To help you choose, take a look at the following brush options based on skill level, shape, and size.
- BEST OVERALL: Mont Marte Art Paint Brushes Set
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: BOSOBO Paint Brushes Set
- BEST FOR BEGINNERS: MozArt Supplies Essential Watercolor Paint Brush Set
- BEST FOR PROFESSIONALS: dainayw Watercolor Paint Brushes Set
- BEST ROUND BRUSH: Transon Round Watercolor Detail Paint Brushes
- BEST FLAT BRUSH: golden maple Artist Paint Brushes Set
- BEST WASH BRUSH: da Vinci Watercolor Series Paint Brush
- BEST DETAIL BRUSH: golden maple Detail Paint Brushes Set
Types of Watercolor Brushes
With a variety of brush types, you can create detailed lines, straight edges, transparent washes, and layers of color. Here, this guide breaks down common watercolor brush shapes and how each may benefit your painting.
Round brushes are the go-to favorites for many watercolorists. They come in sizes ranging from 0 to 24, with 0 being the smallest.
Small round brushes with pointed tips are favored for detail work. Many artists prefer round brushes made from sable for their ability to hold a pointed shape. Artists use large round brushes (called mop brushes) for washes.
Flat brushes are measured by the width of the metal ferrules that attach the hairs to the brush handle. They range in size from approximately ⅛ inch to 2 inches, and they serve several purposes for watercolor artists. Some flat brushes are cut straight across at the tip, while others feature an angled tip.
With a flat brush, you can produce clean, straight edges or quickly apply a block of color to the surface of your painting. Flat brushes are also useful for washes.
A filbert brush head is relatively flat, but the tip is oval-shaped. Filberts have thick ferrules and fairly long hairs, making them excellent for blending colors and water.
In your artwork, you may want to use a wash technique to apply diluted paint, creating a layer of transparent color over a large area of your painting. This technique allows you to build up layers of color.
Mop brushes and large flat brushes work well for washes. Mop brushes are round and come in sizes ranging from ½ inch to 4 inches in diameter. They feature thick sets of loosely attached hairs.
For detail work, watercolorists use round brushes that are tapered to a fine point at the tip. A short brush handle is useful for detail work, as it allows you to control brushstrokes as you work close to the surface of your painting.
If you want a reliable brush for detail work, look for one that snaps back to its original shape. By maintaining its pointed-tip shape, a detail brush will provide long-lasting service.
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Watercolor Brushes
Support your watercolor-painting habit by assembling a collection of durable brushes featuring details that provide rewarding results. You’ll want brushes in an assortment of sizes and shapes with the capacity to hold water and paint and release it evenly across your canvas. Consider the properties of natural and synthetic hairs as well as the ability for each brush to retain its shape. To help you make an informed shopping decision, each feature is described in detail below.
Watercolor brushes come in a variety of sizes to facilitate various painting techniques. To specify sizes, manufacturers measure and number different types of brushes in different ways.
Round brushes are sized according to a numbering system on a scale from 0 to 24, with 0 being the smallest. Flat brushes are measured according to the width of their ferrules, ranging from approximately ⅛ inch to 2 inches.
Mop brushes (used for washes) are measured by their diameters, from approximately ½-inch to 4 inches. Rigger brushes (also called liner or script brushes) consist of long, thin sets of hairs for calligraphy or painting ultrathin lines.
Natural vs. Synthetic Bristles
Traditional brushes are made from natural hairs, and many artists consider them to be superior to synthetic brushes. The hair for natural bristle brushes may come from one of the following animals: sable, weasel, squirrel, pony, goat, hog, or ox. Because of their animal sources, natural hair brushes are more expensive than synthetic brushes.
When compared to synthetic brushes, those made from natural animal hair are more absorbent, hold more water and paint, and release the liquid onto the surface of your painting in a steady and consistent manner. They tend to spring back into shape more readily and last longer than synthetic brushes, too.
Modern-day synthetic brushes or synthetic/natural blend brushes are considered almost as desirable as their natural counterparts. Made from nylon, polyester, and other filaments, they are designed to hold water and paint and release it evenly across the surface of your painting. Synthetic brushes are less expensive than natural brushes and some are more durable, too.
Many artists prefer synthetic brushes as a vegan choice, as they’re manufactured without harming animals.
Watercolor brush handles are generally made from acrylic or wood. They feature crimped metal ferrules that attach the hairs to the end of the brush. Typically made from aluminum or nickel-plated brass, double-crimped ferrules are extra durable.
Short-handled brushes are made for detail painting when you want to work close to your canvas. To create intricate shapes and fine lines, short-handled brushes work well. They are suitable for precise work on smaller canvases and pads.
On the other hand, long-handled brushes allow you to work farther away from your surface. You might want to work standing up and not be so close to the canvas. A long-handled brush is handy for getting the paint onto a large canvas without paying too much attention to detail.
The capacity of a watercolor brush refers to how much water and paint it can absorb and hold. Capacity varies according to the size of the brush and the type of bristles. Natural hair offers greater capacity than synthetic bristles because it’s more absorbent.
A large-capacity brush is desirable when you want to load your brush with water and/or paint to create long brush strokes across your canvas. If you return to the palette to reload your brush less often, you’ll get longer, continuous brush strokes.
Brushes made from sable or squirrel hair feature excellent capacity because of their absorbent nature. For artists who prefer a vegan choice, many synthetic brushes offer good capacity, too.
When you want to paint in detail, use a round brush that tapers to a point at the end. Round brushes come in numbered sizes ranging from 0 to 24. You’ll find the finer points on the smaller sizes.
Round sable brushes are prized for their fine points that spring back into shape after use. Round brushes with a blend of synthetic and sable hairs also feature fine points that maintain their shape.
For an extra-fine point, you may want to acquire a rigger brush (also called a liner or script brush). Rigger brushes feature a thin set of longer hairs to hold water and paint while producing fine detail and ultrathin lines.
Snap and Spring
The term “snap and spring” refers to the ability of a paintbrush to snap back to its original shape after being flattened against the surface of your painting. This quality leads to the long-term usability of the brush. It’s important for brushes of all types and shapes but especially crucial for round brushes with pointed tips.
Natural ox hair and Kolinsky sable hair brushes offer superior snap and spring when compared with other brush hairs. (Kolinsky sable is actually the hair of a type of weasel native to Siberia and northeastern China.)
Although natural hair brushes are desired for their snap and spring, they’re more expensive than synthetic brushes. Modern-day synthetic brushes made from nylon and polyester fibers are designed to provide good snap and spring at a less expensive price.
Flow and Release
As you work on your watercolor art projects, you’ll want the paint and water to flow evenly from your brush. This quality allows you to maintain control over your brush strokes.
Here again, natural animal hair brushes have a great reputation, and Kolinsky sable brushes are prized for their flow and release capacity. Other natural hairs, including squirrel, goat, ox, and pony (or blends of these), also offer good flow and release.
Due to modern manufacturing processes, many synthetic brushes offer flow and release capabilities that compete with natural hair brushes. Taklon is a synthetic fiber that is processed to mimic the qualities of natural hair.
Our Top Picks
The top picks for watercolor brushes were selected based on quality, versatility, and their ability to meet the needs of artists at every level from beginners to professionals. This list includes brushes of varying shapes and sizes, so you can create dramatic or simple effects.
This versatile set of 15 brushes is suitable for artists from beginners to professionals. Sizes range from a 3/0 rigger brush for ultrafine lines to large-size mop and flat brushes for washes.
The bristles are made from Taklon filament, a nylon fiber that has been dyed and baked to increase softness and absorbency for enhanced water- and paint-holding capacity and release. Strong aluminum ferrules attach the bristles to the long handles. An attractive zippered case is also included so you can take this set of brushes with you while traveling.
Clean with warm soapy water and gently reshape the brushes after use. Allow the brushes to air dry completely before storing them in their case.
Selecting this two-pack of 10 brushes means you get a set of 20 watercolor brushes at a budget-friendly price. The set features round, pointed brushes in different sizes as well as script/liner, filbert, and flat brushes for a variety of watercolor techniques. With this brush set, you’ll be able to produce precise detail as well as washes and blending.
The synthetic nylon hairs are designed to spring back into shape after use, and they’re attached to the wooden handles with nickel ferrules. In addition to watercolors, these brushes are suitable for acrylics, face and body painting, nail painting, and more.
For long-lasting use, clean these brushes with mild soap and water immediately after use. Store them vertically with their heads up so that they dry completely.
This assortment of 10 brushes equips an aspiring watercolorist to get started on their first projects. Flat, round, filbert, fan, and fine liner shapes let you practice a variety of techniques in your art projects. Sizes range from 000 to 12 for precise detail work or washes and color layering.
The brush heads are made from synthetic fibers, and the ferrules are rust-free aluminum. Built for comfort, the smooth birchwood handles are 16 centimeters long.
These brushes are suitable for calligraphy or miniature and model painting as well as watercolors. With a see-through case, this set is portable and practical.
This set of five brushes offers the sizes and shapes that professional artists most commonly use. The three round brushes are in sizes 4, 8, and 12. A flat brush in size 14 and an oval brush in size 14 complete the set.
The bristles are made from natural squirrel hair along with other hairs. The soft and absorbent squirrel hairs provide superior holding capacity for water and paint with controlled release onto your canvas. Other hairs are blended in to produce more spring and bounce than squirrel hair alone would offer, meaning the brushes snap back into shape after use.
Smooth wooden handles feature a glossy finish and facilitate a comfortable grip. The set comes in an attractive black gift box and would make a great gift for professionals and beginners alike.
Produce fine, detailed effects as well as washes and thick lines with this set of eight round watercolor brushes in various sizes. The versatile set includes round brush sizes 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7.
Natural goat hair is soft and absorbent, making it an ideal choice when it comes to capacity and liquid release. These Transon brushes feature a blend of both natural goat hair and nylon. By blending the two fibers, Transon offers bristles that hold a lot of paint and water while maintaining their shape.
The natural and synthetic hairs are attached to wooden handles with double-crimped, nickel-plated copper ferrules. A champagne-colored metallic finish makes these round brush handles attractive, and they’re ergonomically balanced to offer a comfortable grip while you paint.
Nine flat nylon brushes with oblique tips fill out this set in sizes 0, 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, and 16. The nickel-plated copper ferrules are double-crimped, firmly attaching the bristles to wooden handles. Use these brushes for a variety of art projects, including watercolor, acrylic, oil, ink, and face/body painting.
Wash the brushes with warm water and soap immediately after use. Gently reshape the bristles by hand and store the brushes upright with the heads up. Let them air dry completely before storing.
Squirrel hair is soft and absorbent, making it one of the most desired fibers for mop and wash techniques in watercolor painting. The Russian blue squirrel hairs in this brush hold a large volume of water and paint for watercolor wash.
The hairs release the liquid evenly across the surface of your artwork. With its large liquid-holding capacity, you can lay down large amounts of water and paint in full strokes across your canvas or paper.
The da Vinci watercolor series is handmade in Germany at a family-owned factory that dates back to 1890. It features a handle that is generously sized to feel balanced in your hand. The hairs are attached to the handle with wrapped copper wire.
For expert precision in your paintings, this set offers 10 round detailing brushes in sizes 5/0, 3/0, 2/0, 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, and 8. With such a variety of sizes, you’ll have the right brush for each detailed phase of your artwork.
In addition to watercolor painting, these brushes are great for nail painting, models and miniatures, action figures, and other detailed crafts. The wooden handles are designed with a triangular shape for easy gripping while you strive for pinpoint accuracy in your painting.
Synthetic nylon tips are sized for varying levels of detail work, and the set includes plastic tubes to protect the tips of the smallest brushes. Chrome-plated ferrules attach the nylon fibers to the wooden handles.
FAQs About Watercolor Brushes
Still have questions? Here are answers to a few questions you may have about watercolor brushes.
Q. How do you use watercolor brush pens?
Use watercolor brush pens as you would use markers or pencils. Dip the tips of the watercolor brush pens in water to dilute the ink to the desired shade.
Q. Can you use the same brushes for acrylic and watercolor?
Yes. Most watercolor brushes will also work with acrylic paint.
Q. How do you store watercolor brushes?
Store brushes upright with the heads up, or store them horizontally when dry. Be sure brushes are thoroughly dry before storing them in carrying cases for portability.