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jar filled with artist brushes

How to Choose Artist Brushes



Most beginning artists, will, at some point, find themselves in the art supplies store staring at a wall of artist brushes.  All different shapes, sizes and price ranges. 

The choices can be a little daunting, even for someone who has been painting for a while. How do you choose the right brushes to start off with and what are all the various sizes and shapes used for?

I will try and take a little of the mystery out of this magical wall of hog hair and synthetics for you in this article.

This is by no means a comprehensive review, but it should serve to get you started choosing brushes.

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Brush Shape

flat artist brush



  • Flat – these artist brushes are square topped and used to paint larger areas with broader strokes.  If applying delicate pressure, they can be used on their edge to make lines.



Bright artist brush

  • Bright – similar to a flat but shorter.  Used for making shorter strokes in smaller areas.  Great for detailed work and getting into small spaces.



Filbert artist brush

          • Filbert – oval shaped, this artist brush gives smoother coverage than a flat with less chance of seeing brush strokes. Good for blending.



Round artist brush

  • Round – used for detail and sketching, these brushes are thick at the ferrule ( the little silver part that holds the bristles together) and taper to a point at the tip. You can achieve a thick or thin line with this brush depending on how much pressure you apply.


artist fan brush

  • Fan – shaped like its name, the fan brush is ideal for painting foliage, clouds,a field of flowers and other textures.




angle brush

  • Angle– this is basically a flat brush with an angled end. It is a good brush for shading and getting into tight places like the corners of a window.



detail artist brush

  • Detail – this is a small, thin brush used for tiny and delicate detail. They can have long or short hairs.
    Personally, I prefer the long haired detail brush. The shorter hairs don’t hold enough paint and the paint more easily gets into the ferrule and makes the bristles spread out, making it unusable for fine detail. This is something you should look for when choosing brushes.  
  • two large paint brushes on a wooden background
          • Large Brushes – Large brushes are great for painting washes or backgrounds on large canvases. They are also great for applying gesso to a canvas or varnish to a finished painting.
            You can get specialty brushes for these jobs but they are expensive. I just purchase large 2-3 inch brushes at the hardware store.
            They work just as well for half the price. Just take the time to test the bristles and watch for hairs fall out.
            You should also have separate brushes dedicated for gesso and another one or two for applying varnish so you don’t contaminate your varnish with paint or gesso.



Round artist brushes with tips dipped in various color paints



Brush Bristles


Although an type of bristles can be used with any type of paint, certain bristles are more suited to certain types of paint and painting styles.

When choosing brushes you should make sure to choose the ones suitable for your painting medium.


Flat hog hair artist brushes

Hog Hair

Stiff hog hair brushes are generally used for oil painting and thicker applications of acrylic paint. The strong bristles are ideal for moving around thick layers of paint and will leave visible brush strokes when desired.

There are both natural hog hair and synthetic hog hair brushes available. 


Round sable hair artist brushes



Soft, sable hair brushes are best for watercolor and very thin applications of paint. They absorb a lot of water and move the paint around more easily.


Round, flat and detail synthetic artist brushes


Synthetic brushes are somewhere in between hog hair and sable.  They are the most often used brushes for acrylic painting. See my post on Acrylic Painting Techniques for more information on different brush techniques.

These brushes are mostly a blend of natural and synthetic hairs, although there are some purely synthetic brushes available. They can also be used in oil paintings.


info graphic detailing various sizes of artist brushes with pictures of flat, angle, filbert, round and fan brushes.
Most Common Artist Brushes


Choose Brushes That Work for You


Ultimately, when choosing brushes, it comes down to how it feels in your hand. Keep in mind the uses for each brush, the medium you use and your style of painting.

Pick up a brush, make a few strokes in the air and see how it feels. Long handles will give you a loose stroke while the short handles will enable you to get closer and paint more detail.

There are a lot of different brands and prices to choose from. Something in the low to mid price range is a good choice for a beginner.

Pick up a few different brushes whenever you go to the art store. Over time you will find your favorites and build up a collection.


various artist brush strokes in blues and greens

You don’t need a hundred brushes, just a handful that you can work well for any painting.

I started out with a set like this one and they worked well for me to begin with. I picked up more brushes over time as I gained more knowledge about how the paint worked and how I could use the brushes to make different effects.

To learn how to properly care for your brushes, check out my post on Brush Cleaning Basics.



One Last Point On Choosing Artist Brushes


I never recommend the cheap dollar store brushes. These are great for crafts but not for fine art.

As a new painter, these brushes can be very frustrating and may even give you the impression that you are not a good artist.

They are made of poor quality materials and the bristles fall out easily and get embedded into your painting. They leave streaks in the paint and never hold a point for long.

Remember, you get what you pay for so when choosing brushes, get the best ones you can afford.


Thanks for reading.

Digital signature Marilyn with butterfly






5 thoughts on “How to Choose Artist Brushes”

    1. Hi Alma; Synthetic and nylon are the same thing. Any synthetic or nylon brush is ok to use with acrylics. Some are really stiff and some are really soft. I find a brush that is somewhere in-between is the best to work with. Hope this helps. 🙂

  1. Alma from PEI

    Thank you for the info. I am a beginner for sure, and also learning to live with medical impairment.

    1. Hi Alma; Thank you. There are a lot of challenges with learning to paint and draw when you have an impairment, but art is great therapy. I am glad I can provide a little bit of help to others as I learn more myself. Thank you and take care. 🙂

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