Friday, 19 September 2014

The 3 Basics of Paint Brushes

3. Brush Anatomy

First things first is to know the anatomy of your paint brush. This is pretty straight forward.

The handle is typically made out of wood, but can also be made from plastic acrylic or other materials. Handles can be long or short depending on what you need from the brush. The Ferrule is what holds the bristles of the head in place, and the bristles make up the head and is the business end of the brush,
2. Brush Shapes
These are the most common brush shapes available.

But they are by no means the only types. Brushes come in many different shapes, thickness's, density's and heights of the bristles. Different brands will be different on all of these points, even though the basic shape of the head is similar. So when you buy a #4 round for example, it will may not be the EXACT same thickness or height as another brand because each will vary on when the tapering of the bristles starts, or how long the bristles are. Good things to keep in mind when shopping for brushes.

1. Brush Fibers

The head of a brush can be made up of many different types of bristles. Not all bristles are created equal and different fibers work better for different paints.

Knowing more about the nature of different brush fibers will help you choose which brushes to get for what type of paint.

The 3 main types of fibers are

Natural Hair

These are made from animal fur such as ox, sable, squirrel, goat, and pony. Sable and ox hair, are better for more fluid media such as watercolor. The surface the soft animal fur is covered with scales which act as tiny reservoirs for the color. The hairs are also usually quite resilient and have and nice spring back to them.

Natural Hair also behaves differently when wet.
Dry to wet   A) Squirrel mop       2) Sable         3) Synthetic fibre

As you can see the natural hair brushes open up a lot more then the synthetic, allowing them to pick up and hold more paint.

Hog Bristle
While these too could be considered 'Natural Hair' as they do come from animals, Hog Bristle is in a category all it's own for it's popularity, commonality, and over all different feel in comparison to other natural hair brushes. The hog bristle surface is flagged, or forked, at the tip which allows for strong, interlocking bristles that spring back and have a larger surface area. They will push and carry large amounts of heavy paint over coarse surfaces like canvas and wood panel for example. These are the preferred choice for heavier paints like oils.


Since natural hair brushes can be really expensive and also ware out after, many artists use synthetic as their fiber of choice. They are most commonly made from Nylon or Polyester materials. While they mostly lack a finer point and they hold less color, they are was more durable, much easier to clean, and way cheaper than natural hair brushes. Synthetic watercolor brushes are usually dyed with acidic chemicals during manufacturing that create tiny pits on the surface of each fiber. This mimics the scaly surface of animal fur, and it helps to maximize the synthetic brush's capacity for holding color. Stiffer synthetic fibers are also made for use in oil painting and acrylics.

It's also good to note that synthetic fiber brushes are the best for makeup, and face paint.

Comparison of all 3:

Synthetic - Natural - Hog Bristle

Here is an image if you want to get into more detail about brush length, hair types, and uses. It's a great all in on reference!

1 comment:

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