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Watercolor is one of our favorite mediums of art. But you’re going to need a brush to get started. So here are the best watercolor brushes out there. We’ve split things into a few categories, so there should be an option for you, regardless of your level.
New to painting and don’t know where to start, look, or even what you need. Don’t worry we’ve got you covered as well. We’ll take some time to walk you through the brush jargon that you’ll come across when you go out and make a purchase. We’ve even thrown in a few tips and tricks that we think will be helpful.
In a hurry? Here are our favorites
- We think these are the best watercolor Brushes
Best Watercolor Brushes
These are the very best brushes out there for watercolorists.
Winsor & Newton Series 7 Kolinsky Sable Brushes
Starting off with the Winsor & Newton Series 7 Kolinsky Sable Brushes. These are brushes that are made with bristles of the much favoured Kolinsky Sable variety. This means that they are of the highest quality.
The brushes have a high water absorbency which allows the artist fantastic control. The tip is also impeccable, remaining small even when wet. The brush is highly versatile, well at home even when painting more intricate details.
This is a single brush that enables you to work with broad strokes, as well as fine detail. All in a beautifully manufactured package. Available in a variety of sizes, the Winsor & Newton Kolinsky Sable are one of the best watercolor brushes we’ve come across. Available as both miniatures and pointed round (short handle) these are brushes that would be at home in any studio. We think this is a great choice for a go-too brush.
Blick Master Kolinsky Sable Brushes
Our next pick is another kolinsky sable, this time made by our favorite art retailer, Blick. We’ve kind of doubled up on the sable brushes because this particular series offers a huge variety. With a choice of rounds, filbert, flats, brights (like flats but with a more tapered end). All available in various sizes and with long or short handles. This is a real one stop shop for quality paint brushes.
As we would expect from our favorite retailer these brushes perform supremely well. The thing that makes them stand out is their longevity. They are able to stand up to rigorous use for years and years. Blick are so confident of this that the brushes come with a lifetime guarantee.
We really can’t overstate the lifetime warranty that comes with the Blick Master Kolinsky Sable Brushes. This is a huge bonus and means that if you get one you’ll never have to worry about a new brush again. Any issues or defects down the line, a simple call will lead to a replacement being put in the post free of charge.
Silver Brush Black Velvet Brushes
The Silver Brush Black Velvet Brushes are made using a blend of natural squirrel hair and black synthetic filaments. This leads to the stunning look of these brushes as well as some favorable qualities for painting. Not to mention the benefits in price afforded by the use of some synthetic fibers.
Available in almost any style and size of brush you could ever want. These brushes don’t just look good, they also perform well. They hold their shape well, both when wet and generally over their lifespan. Stand up well to abuse all the while maintaining water hold ability and snap. They are also really versatile. Working great with a range of different types of paint beyond watercolor, such as gouache and oil paints.
The Black velvet brushes are pretty great all round. These are the sort of things that would make a lovely gift for a budding watercolorist. Or a worthy purchase for someone who is looking to upgrade to some of the best watercolor brushes out there without breaking the bank.
Blick Master Synthetic Kolinsky Round Brushes
Finishing off our very best watercolor brushes is the Blick Master Synthetic Kolinsky Round. If they look familiar, that’s because they are. They are the same as the Sable kolinsky from Blick we talked about previously, but this time with a synthetic spin.
This offers very similar performance to the natural hair equivalent through the use of technology that is able to give the fibers micro textures. This gives these synthetic brushes the same level of water retention, spring and point retention of a natural hair brush. All at a huge discount I might add.
Being part of the master collection the synthetic kolinsky round also benefits from the Blick lifetime guarantee.
Be it due to price, ethics or something else – these brushes are a great option for those that want to use some of the very best while also staying away from animal hair brushes.
Best Watercolor Brushes For Beginners
Here are some of the brushes you may be interested in getting if you are new to watercolor, or just want to experiment. Budget friendly, with a large variety of options.
Blick Scholastic Wonder White Synthetic Brushes
As we said, the aim of the game for beginner brushes is to maximise variety and quality while minimising cost. The scholastic wonder white synthetic brushes nail it on all three counts.
First variety, these brushes are available in almost any configuration you could imagine. Rounds, flats, fans, scripts, brights (you get the idea). This is great for beginners as getting a go on a variety of different brushes will not only open the door to new techniques in your watercoloring. But, you’ll also find out what you enjoy using, informing later purchases where you may want to invest a little more.
Speaking of price, these brushes are really reasonable across the board. Being synthetic brushes allow for lower costs. This means you can try a bunch of different brushes without breaking the bank.
Lastly, quality. It’s no good having a variety of inexpensive brushes if they don’t perform well. Well you’ll be happy to hear the Blick’s scholastic wonder white synthetic brushes perform great. The brushes are made using a white synthetic filament, made to mimic the texture and responsiveness of red sable. They do a good job across the board. With good water retention, and holding their shape well (and tip were applicable). Being synthetic also means the fibers can take a bit of punishment (so there’s no need to baby them). The brushes remain durable even when exposed to paints and solvents in a way that is not ideal.
We really think the Blicks scholastic wonder white synthetic brushes are the best choice of watercolor brush for beginners. Great performance at a reasonable price. What more could you want!
Princeton Real Value Series 9100 Brush Sets
Another series to take a look at for beginners is the Princeton 9100 Series. Advertised as having real value, these brushes hit the nail on the head.
Again on the theme of variety, these brushes are available in a huge number of different combinations. DIfferent brush types, natural and synthetic bristles. All at inexpensive prices. Well like the formation of sets, particularly for beginners.
You can’t go wrong with these brushes as you very first. The Princeton 9100 Series are great watercolor brushes for beginners.
Best Watercolor Brush Set
Sometimes you just want someone to take care of the thinking for you. When it comes to watercolor brushes there is an almost endless list of options for size and variety of brushes. This can be hugely overwhelming, especially for beginners. But worry not, watercolor brush sets are a great way to get into buying brushes and will often be able to take you well on your way in your art journey.
Blick Scholastic Golden Taklon Brush Set – Set of 5
As we’ve said. We think that a set of paint brushes is often a good choice for beginners. So we thought we’d throw in a couple of examples. The first is the Blick Scholastic Golden Taklon Brush Set.
Very much in line with our previous suggestions for beginner brushes. This set form blick offers a variety of brush types at a reasonable price. Kitted out with their high quality and hardy, synthetic bristles. A great pick up for beginners that are a little overwhelmed by the mass of choices out there.
Winsor & Newton Cotman Watercolor Brushes
This set is in a similar vein to the above. Good quality and a variety of choices. All at a palatable price. This is another set of brushes that is well worth looking into.
How to Choose The Right Watercolor Brushes
Types of Watercolor Brushes
These are the types of brushes that you can grab for almost any use case, the all-rounders. These are also the types of brushes you should start with when making your first purchase of watercolor brushes.
Round brushes are very much the staple brush of watercolor painting. The shape lends itself to a wide range of uses. Allowing for detailed and intricate work, while also enabling washes that cover a larger area. Round brushes are a great place to start when making a brush purchase, as well as being the area you should consider upgrading first when you are looking to improve your kit.
This is the brush you’ll have in your hands most, so make sure you get something you enjoy using. It should be the best watercolor brush you own.
Flat brushes are also also a very common brush to have in your tool box. Their shape means that they are not as versatile as their round counterparts. Tailored more to washes and strong linear strokes (giving them their secondary name of “one-stroke”).
With their primary use being for washes, a flat is judged on its ability to hold a large volume of water and paint. The higher end brushes are also able to hold a sharp edge when wet. This enables the artist to draw sharp lines.
Brushes for Detail work
These are the brushes you will reach for when you really want to get into the fine detail of your piece, or while doing script. A step beyond what can be done with a round alone, these are specialised brushes.
Liners are made of long tufted brushes that come to a point. Generally these brushes have a large paint carrying capacity and snap. This allows them to paint long continuous lines of a consistent width.
Spotter brushes are a very unique brush. Essentially, extra short and small rounds. These brushes are used for very small fine details, required in work such as photo retouching.
Riggers are round brushes with extra long bristles. They get their name as they were traditionally used to paint rigging in marine paintings. Their length allows them to hold a little more paint, leading to flowing continuous strokes.
These brushes take the wash ability of flats to the next level. These are large brushes that allow for washes that need to cover a larger area.
Mop brushes are used purely for their ability to deposit large amounts for water and paint. Intended to cover as large an area as possible, they can be a little haphazard, and tend not to hold their shape too well. This leads to them generally being used at the edges of pieces where this is not as much of a worry.
Filbert or Oval Brushes
Filberts or sometimes oval brushes are just that. Oval brushes. Designed as a means of blending washes, these brushes allow for a softness in the stroke as they are used. They produce a characteristic water trail on lift-off which also lends itself to the blending use case.
One of the most important decisions to be made when looking for watercolor brushes is the type of bristles you want to use. The type of bristle has a huge effect on the feel of a brush, the results on the page, as well as other things such as the price. It’s important you get this right for your particular needs.
Broadly speaking bristles fall into two main categories. Synthetic vs animal fibers. As ever there is a lot of nuance and variates to consider, so we’ve made sure to break it down for you.
Synthetic fiber brushes have bristles that are generally made of nylon and polyester (often called Taklon) bristles. Initially manufactured as a means of mimicking the characteristics of animal hair brushes at a discount. It was the case that these brushes just weren’t as good as their animal hair counterparts. That is no longer the case. Synthetic brushes and synthetic combination brushes have reached the level where they are a legitimate option for artists of all levels. While still retaining the price advantage.
The synthetic fibers are an ever developing technology and are therefore loved by many artists. Also the removal of animal by-products for the process has been welcomed by many as well.
Animal hair fibers are very much at the traditional origin of brushes. There are a huge range of different animal hairs that are used for various different types of brush. We’ll run you through some of the most common.
Sable – Sable brushes are reviewed as the best brushes and therefore come with a price to match. It is the view of many that the best watercolor brushes are the Kolinsky sable (which actually comes from a weasel and not a sable, weird).
Other animal hairs that are common are as follow:
These animal hairs are used almost exclusively for larger wash brushes. This is due to them not being of a high enough quality to go into a round brush.
Lastly, we have the combination brushes. These are a bit of a mixed bag. Often a mix of sable with other fibers, either synthetic or other animal fibers, as a way to reduce costs.
Animal vs Synthetic Fiber Watercolor Brush?
Synthetic brushes were intended as a way to mimic the qualities of animal fiber brushes but often fell short of this. This made animal fiber brushes the default choice and recommendation for anyone who was serious about paint. This is not necessarily the case anymore. It is true the top end still tends to be animal hair, but with the improved quality of synthetics and the advent of professional grade synthetic brushes the decision is not as clear cut.
It is very much a personal choice for most of your brushes. Whether you want to go animal hair or synthetic (or mixed for that matter) is up to personal preference (and possibly price tolerance) at this stage.
What Size Watercolor Brush Do You Need?
The huge range of sizes available for all the different varieties of brushes can be a little overwhelming. There are a huge amount of options in terms of both diameter and length of bristle.
To be honest, there is no hard and fast rule for brushes. Generally, larger brushes are better for bold strokes and larger washes. Smaller brushes are favoured for detailed work. While brushes in the middle are used for a bit of both.
Best advice I could give if you are unsure of what sizes to get, is to first go with a set of some sort. This will help you gain experience as a painter, and with experience you’ll develop your own preferences. Another good option is to go into your local craft store and go hold a few different sizes of brush.
Watercolor is a really fun and accessible medium of art. Finding the best watercolor brushes for you can be a great leg up in your journey as an artist. Make sure to get things that you think you will use regularly, it can be easy to just be overwhelmed and just get one of everything. But remember, it’s not about the equipment. A new set of brushes does not an artist make.
It’s often wise to start with a smaller selection of brushes as you develop. Then when you have a bit of better understanding of what you need to aid your creation, you can invest. If you’re already there, go nuts. We think all of the brushes we’ve recommended are top class in their own way. Truly some of the best watercolor brushes out there.
I hope you will enjoy your new brushes. Now go create something!