Painting Brush – Types, Uses, and Anatomy

Everything you need to know about Painting Brush - Types, Uses, and Anatomy. A complete guide by Smart Art Materials

Painting brush is an essential tool for any artist, it helps you to express your ideas and emotions, it's the extension of your wrist, your magic wands in the world of painting. That is why having a right set of brushes is so important.

Everything you need to know about Painting Brush for acrylic painting - Types, Uses, and Anatomy. A complete guide by Smart Art Materials
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But there is a super wide range of painting brushes available on the market. They differ in types, shapes, sizes, grades, materials, and brands. Easy to get overwhelmed and buy something that doesn't actually suits your needs.

Don't you worry! 😉 This article will guide you through important nuances and distinctions, it's dedicated to helping in choosing the brushes for Acrylic Paintbut can also be used as a guided overview for any other media.

This is what you need to know to make a conscious choice:

1. Anatomy of a brush for a better understanding of your main tool construction.
2. Painting brush types
3. Bristle - natural and synthetic, stiff or soft.
4. Sizes chart and length of the handle.

Anatomy of Brush

Lets take a look at the anatomy of the brush before we start talking about types of brushes:Everything you need to know about Painting Brush - Types, Uses, and Anatomy. A complete guide by Smart Art Materials

1. The head 

The head can be broken down into the tip and the belly. The tip is the end of the brush, that actually makes a contact with your painting surface. The belly is the fattest part of the head and serves as a reservoir for paint. The bristles or hairs can be natural or synthetic.

2. The ferrule

The ferrule is the metal piece that holds the bristle together and connects the head to the brush handle. A good quality well-constructed brush supposed to have a high-quality tight ferrule with a strong crimp. Cheaper brushes often have cheap glue that loses bristles easily or ferrules with weak crimps that can detach from the handle. So remember that the quality of ferrule will affect the quality and longevity of entire brush.

3. The handle

Handles can be wooden or plastic, and of course long or short

Painting Brush Types

Everything you need to know about Painting Brush - Types, Uses, and Anatomy. A complete guide by Smart Art MaterialsThe shapes of painting brushes you use can make a huge difference in the whole process of the painting, the ease or difficulty in getting a certain effect, and of course in the final result. Each brush is designed and created for the intended purpose, so your choice will depend on what techniques you are working with.

Please find the main types of brushes needed for working with acrylic paints below. This chart will help you to narrow down which paintbrushes you need based on the style of painting you would like to do.

Round Brush

Painting Brush Smart Art MaterialsRound paintbrush has round ferrule, pointed tip, long closely arranged bristles for detail, works better with thinned paint rather than thick paint. Universal brush and a must have for any artist.

Liner or Script is a narrow round paintbrush, with very long hair and sharply pointed tip. It has a large color carrying capacity. Great for thin even strokes, lettering, outlining, delicate continuous stroke, and retouching.
Spotter is a very narrow and short round brush used for very fine details.

Used for: sketching, detailing, washes, filling seemingly small areas, and creating precise strokes, dabs, dots. The sharp tip can create a narrower stroke that can vary in width depending on the amount of pressure applied.

Flat Brush 

Painting Brush Smart Art MaterialsFlats have a flat shape, square end, with medium to long bristles. The ferrule or bracelet holding the bristles of this brush flat, thus making the bristles spread out uniformly in a rectangular shape. The bristles of this brush are flattened and trimmed straight across.
You can use a good medium-sized flat brush for most things. Depending on which edge you paint with, It can give you either a broader stroke or a thinner stroke. It will give you a harder edge between strokes, though, so if you want a more blended edge, use a filbert brush.

One Stroke is a longer haired flat brush. 
 are large flat brushes with long or short handles and can have long or short bristles. Great for murals, washes, varnishing or priming, these brushes hold a large amount of paint and cover large surface areas.

Used for: bold strokes, washes, shading, filling wide spaces quickly, spreading paint quickly and evenly over the surface. They can be used for creating wide strokes, fine lines (when turned and pulled along their edge), horizontal strokes, straight edges, and stripes, also to create a smooth blend between two or more colors. Flat brushes are perfect for varnishing.

Bright Brush 

Painting Brush Smart Art MaterialsThe bright brush is a flat brush with short stiff bristles, also has a flat ferrule. Designed for working with thick, heavy colors, preferable for working up close to the surface rather than holding the brush at a distance. Large size soft brights are great for washes and painting over large surfaces, able to hold a lot of paint.

Used for: blending, dabbing, short controlled strokes, good for driving paint into the weave of a canvas in thinner paint applications, as well as impasto. Bright can be used to salvage messy pictures. The short bristles are also good for dry brushing or creating scratchy strokes.

Filbert Brush 

Painting Brush Smart Art MaterialsThe filbert is a flat painting brush with the oval-shaped end, and medium to long hairs. Filbert brush is a golden mean between flats and rounds, it combines some properties of them both to create a wide variety of strokes. Like the flat, it can hold a fair amount of water.

Used for: blending, stroking, washes, figurative work, softly rounded edges, filling round area and creating rounded strokes like leaves and flowers. Filberts can also be used for creating shades and highlights.

Angular Brush

Painting Brush Smart Art Materials

Angular Shader, also known as slanted, is another one from the flat family, but with angled hairs at the end. Like the Filbert, these are versatile and can be applied in both general painting application as well as some detail work.

Used for: sweeping curves, filling corners, precise lines, calligraphic brush strokes, as well as fine-tuned and precise marks. You can create ruffled petals and leaves with it. Best used for some tight shading and highlighting.

Fan Brush

Painting Brush Smart Art MaterialsFan painting brush is flat with the hair fanning out of the brush. You can use it both wet and dry to gently blend in colors. For acrylic paints make sure to use ones with strong and sturdy hair, otherwise, once the paint is added, the hairs will clump together.

Used for: blending broad areas of paint. Stiff bristles fan brushes are used to create textured effects, especially for stipple trees, foliage, and clouds.

Bristles of Brush - Natural or Synthetic? 

The material used to form the head of a painting brush that picks up and spreads the paint is the most important part of your brush and determines the performance of it. The bristles or hairs can be natural, synthetic, or a combination of both.

  • Natural Brushes are made from animal hair (commonly made from boar's bristle, squirrel, badger and mink, the best quality soft natural brushes are sable). It is considered that no animals get killed for the purpose of brush making and the animal hair is a by-product of the food and fur industries.
  • Synthetic Brushes are man-made with either nylon or polyester filaments. They vary greatly in price and quality but usually are less expensive than natural. They can be tapered, tipped, abraded or etched to increase color carrying ability. Often, synthetic filaments are dyed and baked to make them softer and more absorbent, this type of polyester is called Taklon.

So what is the best for acrylic painting - natural or synthetic?
Generally, you can use both, but synthetic bristle works better for acrylics.

Reasons to use synthetic brushes:

Everything you need to know about Painting Brush - Types, Uses, and Anatomy. A complete guide by Smart Art Materials1. The synthetic filament will withstand the caustic nature of acrylic paints with less damage.
2. They are less prone to damage from the chemicals in acrylic paint and will last you longer.
3. They are easier to keep clean than animal hair brushes.
4. They are less prone to breakage and are durable on many different surfaces.
5. They stay stiffer than natural hairs when wet.
6. The last reason is personal, but I still want to mention it. Nowadays, when a great quality, effective and affordable alternative is available I think there is no need to support the manufacture of natural bristle brushes, I don't do that.

Stiff or Soft?

What do you need - stiff or soft bristle painting brush? Everything is pretty clear here, the stiffness depends on the body of a paint you work with - stiff brushes for heavy body and soft for the soft body paint.

The Size of Painting Brush

Each brush type comes in the multiplicity of sizes. Size is an important consideration when shopping for the perfect painting brush. Brushes are classified by their manufacturers using a standard numbering system, you can find size indicated by a number printed on the handle. The smallest brushes start at 0000, then proceed to 1, 2, and on up to 24 or even larger. Please consider that sizes slightly vary from brand to brand.

Everything you need to know about Painting Brush - Types, Uses, and Anatomy. A complete guide by Smart Art Materials

  • small-size for detail work,
  • medium-size brushes for versatility,
  • large-size brushes for painting large areas and washes.

The choice of the size will depend on your artistic needs and the size of your artwork, which makes sense. If you prefer to work on large size canvas with nice major brushstroke, you will definitely need some largely sized brushes and maybe a couple of mediums for detailed work.
If you are working on regular size surface, or if you are just starting out, you will mostly need 1 large brush for priming and large surface coverage, few medium-size brushes and only one or two small ones for tiny details. Don't go crazy about getting many small brushes because most likely you won't need them all unless you want to create super-realistic paintings with multiple small details.

Please, check this Dirk Blick size chart for more information

Long or Short Handle?

You'll notice that some paintbrushes for acrylics have short handles while others have long handles. Brushes with longer handles (up to 12") are useful for easel work when you want to paint from a distance that allows you to see the whole work at once. The short ones (about 6") allow for easier close-up work

Final Conclusion - What to buy for start?

Everything you need to know about Painting Brush - Types, Uses, and Anatomy. A complete guide by Smart Art MaterialsI know it was a long post, but you made it ha-ha! Finally, what do you need to buy for start? I'm sure you've seen artists studious in movies/pictures where they have a full table of all kinds of brushes... Do you also need it all? Honestly, you don't!

In general, if you're just starting out with acrylics and you're on a tight budget, I'd recommend getting 1 round, 2 flat (smaller and bigger size) and 1 filbert. That's enough to accomplish most of what you need with acrylics for a start. Then you can keep adding more brushes depending on your artistic needs. Experiment with your brushes! Explore all their possibilities!

The secret of successful painting is in Routine Practice and Painting Techniques Exercise! Painting is not your innate ability, but the acquired skill which improves with practice and patient work. So let yourself be creative, don't be afraid to make mistakes, feel the paint, feel the brush, let it be a part of you! Explore the inspiration from the inside out...

If you still have any questions about painting brush, have difficulties in choosing right set, or maybe have any comment about this article, please don't hesitate to leave me a comment below!



6 thoughts on “Painting Brush – Types, Uses, and Anatomy

  1. Darren says:

    These pictures of some of the brushes reminds me of my wife’s makeup kit.

    Seriously though, it’s very handy for people like myself (an amateur artist, if I can call myself that) to get a detailed explanation of each brush type as you’ve laid it out here in your article.

    I mostly paint with watercolour, but I do a lot of experimenting with acrylic paints, so this is very helpful! 

    • Olga says:

      Hi Darren, I’m glad to hear it was helpful for you! Yes, makeup brushes looks totally like some of the painting brushes lol! But don’t use them for painting 😉 

  2. Donna Rowe says:

    I never realized until about 10 years ago that there were so many different types of brushes for painting. I picked up the information from taking an art class.

    While I do not paint that often (only when making crafts), I do find that the type of brush that you use really does make a difference in the end result. I used to purchase the cheap brushes thinking that they did not make any difference, but they definitely do. I have become very picky about having the correct brush for my projects.

    This was a very informative post and I learned a lot from it. Thank you!

    • Olga says:

      Hi Donna, you are welcome!

      And you are absolutely right, buying cheap brushes is never a good idea, because you’ll throw them away in a week 😉

    • Hi Frank, nice to meet you too! You are welcome 🙂 I’m super happy if you find it helpful! Please let me know if you are going to have more question.

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