Brushes

If you are a painter, brushes are essential. Whether you use watercolor, oil, acrylic or anything else, paintbrushes are the tools of the trade and can become like the tips of your fingers when manipulating paint. There are many different brush types including shape, size and hairs.

What you will find on this page

Attributes of a Brush

Expensive brushes do not necessarily equal good quality however knowing some of the attributes of an artist's paintbrush and how brushes are manufactured will help you make better choices when purchasing a brush as well as an understanding of how to care for them.
    Attributes of an Paintbrush

Brush Hair or Bristles - made from natural animal hair or man-made synthetic fiber. The type of hair used determines whether the brush is soft or firm

Brush Shape or Tip - top of the bristles, tips are cut into various brush shapes. The shape effects the stroke and affects how the paint is applied to the

Tuft or Belly - the part of the brush that is used to apply paint. The "tuff" of the brush actually touches the surface and the belly is opposite the "tuff". The belly will hold extra water or medium. They comes in all sizes from small to large and various lengths from short to long
Roots - bottom part of the bristles bound together inside the ferrule Adhesive - wax based glue, epoxy or substance used to keep the roots together

Ferrule - Metal component that wraps around the roots and handle. It keeps the bristles attached to the handle and protects the adhesive from damage
Handle - used to hold the brush while painting, carved from wood or molded from plastic, they come in various lengths and sizes
Crimp - where the metal of the ferrule is compressed into small folds or ridges, a triple crimp is the most reliable if you can find it

The Manufacturing of Brushes

Most brushes are still assembled by hand so when it comes to quality, the brand is extremely important, meaning that if the company has good quality control, the brushes will be assembled better as well.

Wax or Adhesives Hold Hairs in Place

When a brush is manufactured, the hair or bristles are bound together using a cord or nylon rope, wax or an adhesive is used to keep the cord or rope bound. Adhesive is then put on the handle.

The bound bristles are then set into a metal tube and the handle is then pushed into the back of the metal tube and held in place by a crimp, created from a special tool is used to bend the metal.

The crimp grips the handle and holds it in place. The bristles are then trimmed or cut into various shapes (i.e. round or flat), lengths and sizes.

The Care and Feeding of Brushes

Good quality brushes can last for decades if you take care of them. Always wash them after every use so paint doesn't dry in the hairs or leave any residue.

NEVER leave brushes in water overnight or put them in water passed the metal ferrule. The contact point between the handle and ferrule is not waterproof.

After washing, lay them flat on a paper towel to let them dry, this keeps the water from seeping back into the wooden handle.

Never leave brushes in water overnight or submerge past the ferrule

Any moisture that collects within this area between the ferrule and wooden handle from indiscriminate washing will cause the handle to swell (when wet) and contract (when dry), resulting in a loose brush handle that lacks control when painting and you will definitely want to throw it away.

NEVER rinse your brushes in hot water! Hot water can melt the wax or adhesive, causing the hairs to unseat themselves & will also lose their valuable shape needed for details.

Purchasing Brushes

Look carefully at the quality and craftsmanship before you purchase the brush. A dozen inexpensive brushes is sometimes more expensive than the price of one good quality brush that will last for years.


If you are purchasing brushes online, know the brand before you buy a whole set. Start with one or two first, test them out then buy more. When shopping in person, look for:

  • A crimp in the ferrule, at least a double crimp or a triple is the most reliable if you can find it
  • Run the bristles back and forth over your hand, any loose or uneven hairs? If so don't buy it, it will get worse over time
  • Check to see if the handle is loose or firmly attached to the ferrule. If it even slightly wiggles, don't buy it
  • If the handle is wooden, make sure it has a protective coating of paint, do not purchase ones that have raw wood exposed

Shape

The tuff of a brush comes in many different shapes. These shapes it picks up and spreads the paint creating various strokes.

Round - Has a round ferrule making the tuff of the hairs round. This brush can be used to makes lines that are either thick or thin, depending on the pressure. Smaller pointed round brushes are used for fine details.


Flat - Great for bold brush strokes, this brush can make flat tones, lines or edges when held perpendicular. It has a ferrule that has been crimped flat. The tuff is square with medium to long hairs. Note that flats will turn into filberts after a lot of use.


Bright - Used for more controlled strokes. Similar to a flat in that the ferrule that has been crimped flat and the tuff is square but the tuff is much shorter than a flat.


Filbert - Used for blending and figurative work. Similar to a flat in that it has a ferrule crimped flat but the tuff is has rounded corners which makes it better for blending. 


Fan - Used for smoothing and blending if the hairs are soft or used for textural effects if the hairs are course. Flat ferrule with spread hairs. 


Rigger or Liner - Used for fine lines, details or highlights. Round ferrule with long hairs and pointed tuff.


Size

Most brushes manufactured from major suppliers come in standard sizes. The brush width is measured on the hair just above the ferrule. In the United States, sizes are rounded to the nearest 1/32".

Round Brush Size Chart
4/0(less than 1/64")
3/0(1/64")
2/0(less than 1/32")
0(1/32")
1(less than 2/32")
2(2/32")
4(3/32")
6(4/32")
8(5/32")
10(7/32")
12(9/32")
14(10/32")
16(12/32")
18(15/32")
20(9/16")
24(11/16")


Flat, Bright, Filbert, Egbert Size Chart
0(1/32")
2(3/32")
4(5/32")
6(6/32")
8(8/32")
10(10/32")
12(12/32")
14(15/32")
16(9/16")
18(11/16")
20(13/16")
24(31/32")

Hair

The material used to form the tuft of a brush. Whether it is natural animal hair or synthetic (man made hair), it picks up and spreads the paint which is the most important to the performance and drives the price of the brush.

For Oil Painters

Look carefully at the quality and craftsmanship before you purchase the brush. A dozen inexpensive brushes is sometimes more expensive than the price of one good quality brush that will last for years.

Preferred Brand

For Watercolor or Gouache

See the Gouache page, click here.

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