Choose the brush that is right for you.

Posted on March 08, 2017 by Hayley McMachan


The Complete Guide to Brush Selection and Care


Every artist knows that painting takes years of dedication, patience, and skill. Just like making the world’s finest brushes. For thousands of years, the basic elements of the brush have remained the same. But making a brush today worthy of that heritage requires generations of skill, an understanding of which hairs provide the greatest expressive control, an uncompromising eye in selecting the finest raw materials, and the experience that shows that – while some things can be better achieved with machines and technology – there are some that can still be done only with the human hand and eye.


The right brush serves as a fluid extension of the hand, wrist, and mind. The wrong brush for the job – or brush of poor quality – becomes a hindrance or an obstacle.



  • Evenly and crisply shaped (not split or splayed)

  • Natural hairs should be evenly tapered (not blunt or cut)
  • Hair or filaments should be tightly bound, with no gap at the ferrule and no shedding


  • Seamless (to prevent internal seepage)

  • Tightly secured to the handle with deep double crimps
  • Smooth finish and edges
  • Rustproof


Straight and symmetrical

  • No chips or cracks or raw wood

  • Well­balanced with comfortable weight and grip
  • Clear imprint


  • Point – Does it come to a crisp point and hold that point during use?
  • Snap and spring – Does the brush spring crisply back into shape? The right degree of spring allows superior control over the brush on the painting surface.
  • Flow control – Does colour flow evenly and consistently from the point? Is there enough capacity within the ‘belly’ of the brush to lay down flowing, gestural strokes of colour?

The hair that best meets these needs is taken from carefully selected kolinsky sable tails. When properly made, a kolinsky brush offers a rapier like point, perfectly balanced spring, and extraordinary capacity and flow control. Other hairs that offer varying degrees of performance include:

  • Good performance: second grade sable, squirrel (for wash brushes), and synthetic/natural hair blends or synthetic alone.
  • Moderate performance: ox (sabeline), goat, and camel (not true camel hair, but a mixture of soft hair).


  • Firmness of bristle – Is the bristle capable of moving heavy bodied colour over the surface with authority?
  • Tip control – Does the bristle or hair allow subtlety and nuance in blending? Fine control when creating detail?

For heavy bodied colour, the ideal bristle is from hog or boar. Properly dressed, the finest quality hog brushes offer superior firmness and flagged ends for nuanced control and blending. In addition, fine hog bristle can be naturally ‘interlocked’ during manufacturing to create a tight, well formed brush head that guarantees superior control. As colour is ‘let down’ for finer blending or glazing work, the ideal hair is softer and more supple, such as badger or a synthetic.


  • Firmness of bristle – Is the bristle capable of moving heavy bodied colour over the surface with authority?
  • Tip control – Does the bristle or hair allow for subtlety and nuance in blending?. Undamaged by water or acrylic resins?. Synthetic filaments can be produced with a range of ‘springiness.’ With the proper manufacturing techniques, they offer good flow control, and a well defined tip or edge for detail and blending work. And they are resistant to damage from acrylic resin and won’t soften in water (as will natural bristle brushes).


Fine brushes will offer many years of service – if the following very simple points are followed: Always clean your brushes immediately after use

  • Do not leave brushes soaking in solvents or water for an extended period of time • Never leave brushes resting on their heads or tufts
• Shape the head after cleaning
• Never point a brush in your mouth


  • Avoid storage in direct sunlight
  • For prolonged storage, store sable brushes in an air tight box
  • Mothballs may be used to deter moths
  • Sable brushes used for water colour should not be used with other media


  • To restore a damaged or blunt brush head, dip bristles in boiling water, blot on towel, and shape head
  • Brushes used with oil will acquire and keep a slight residue, and should not be used with other media


  • If filaments clump or separate, completely clean all paint from the heel or ferrule end of the brush head using a full strength brush cleaner .


  1. For brushes used with oils, dip brush in household vegetable oil and wipe free of excess colour and oil with a soft, lint free rag.
  2. Brushes used with acrylic or water colour should be wiped clean on a lint free rag and then rinsed under running water.
  3. Clean brushes gently with mild soap or cleaner. Cold water for sable, luke warm for hog and synthetic. Swirl brush against a smooth, shallow surface (never in the palm of your hand, especially with brushes that may still contain oil or solvent).
  4. Wash and rinse until water runs clear from the brush. Take particular care to ensure that the heel of the brush is clean. Some pigments may stain the brush slightly, but this will not affect the performance or life of the hair.
  5. Gently re­shape the head and allow to dry.
  6. For brushes caked with dried acrylic or oil colour, use a cleaner & restorer.





Excerpt from Winsor & Newton's Complete Guide to Brush Selection and Care -

Posted in acrylic brush, artists brushes, choosing brushes, oil painting brush, round brushes, watercolour brushes