Last updated: September 7, 2021

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If you are passionate about painting techniques, or if you are a watercolor fanatic, you probably already know that Joseph M. William Turner (1775-1851) is considered one of the masters of this painting method. Watercolor consists of mixing paint with water. Turner was proclaimed "the painter of the light" much before the age of impressionism, during this age watercolor brushes were often used.

Turner's work is a good example of how spontaneous and fresh one's work can be when using good technique. To improve your painting skills and to make the best strokes when painting, it is vital to buy the specific watercolor brushes that you will need for your art. In this guide, we are going to go through all of the possibilities. Are you ready? Let's begin!

Key Facts

  • Watercolor is the only painting method that is always used with water. The word for "watercolor" in Italian, "acquarello," translates to "small water."
  • Watercolor brushes are usually shorter than other brushes so that the artist can paint with more precision. It is also important to select brushes that can absorb enough water, like the Marta Kolinsky brush, one of the most popular brushes among artists.
  • It is very important to take care of your brushes and also to pick the correct bush depending on its bristle type (natural or synthetic), the shape, and the size.

Our Selection of the Best Watercolor Brushes

If you are buying for yourself or giving the brushes to your favorite artist, you need to choose a high-quality brush. To help you with your purchase, we have made a careful list of the best products that you can find in the market.

Shopping Guide: Everything You Should Know About Watercolor Brushes

A common problem that watercolor fans have is getting the right balance between water and paint. A professionals watercolor artist will not struggle with this. You will need to practice and practice. To get the right type of practice and make it easier for you, you are going to need a high-quality brush. The following are the most frequent questions from buyers like you.

painter thinking

Remember to wet your brushes with water before using them.
(Fuente: Vadim Guzhva: 36151442/

What are watercolor brushes exactly?

A very basic definition of a watercolor brush is that it is a painting tool composed of a long, thin stick with many fibers at one end. When you are working with watercolors you only work with water and paint. This is why the brush needs to be absorbent.

The bristles, synthetic or natural, should be flexible to make sure that they go back to their original form and are good as new for the next use.

What parts does a watercolor brush consist of?

The main difference between a watercolor brush and another type of brush is that a watercolor brush is shorter and more absorbent. Next, to delve deeper into watercolor painting, we are going to first show you what a watercolor brush is made up of and how those parts will help you to paint:

  • Handle. The handle is often protected by a polish. This part of the brush is meant for you to be able to grab the brush. The size, series, and brand of the brush are usually printed on the handle.
  • Ferrule. This part has other names, but is usually called the "Ferrule." This is the part that holds the bristles together and is usually made of metal, but there are other types of ferrules. Ferrules can also be made of brass, nickel, or aluminum.
  • Bristles. This is probably the most important part of the brush, so it is important to choose a brush based on the quality of the bristles. The bristles can be natural or synthetic. The bristles are made out of three different parts:
    • Heel. This is the part that connects the bristles themselves to the ferrule.
    • Belly. This is the center part of the bristles. The belly is very important because this is the part of the brush that will determine if the brush is absorbent or not, which is a vital factor in watercolor.
    • Toe. This is the very tip of the bristles. It should be very thin to be able to perform very small and precise strokes.

What types of brushes do I need to be able to watercolor?

You need a specific type of brush to be able to use this technique. Usually, the brushes are classified into two groups: natural and synthetic bristle type. When painting with watercolors, remember that you need a brush that can absorb a lot of water. The following are the characteristics of a good watercolor brush so that you can understand each one:

Synthetic bristle type:

  • Natural hair imitation: This type of bristle imitates the properties of natural hair as they are very absorbent and flexible. They have a fine point and distribute water evenly.
  • Completely synthetic: This type of bristle is usually made of nylon or polyester. You can find different qualities and different prices for this type of bristle.

Natural bristles:

  • Kolinsky Sable: A kolinsky sable is a type of animal that lies in Siberia and these bristles are made out of the hair of its tail. This type of brush is very popular amongst watercolor artists. They are very expensive, soft, and stretchable.
  • Red or White Sable: This type of brush is also from an animal called a sable and is high-quality and very expensive.
  • Squirrel: This type of brush is a good quality brush but is not as flexible as the sable brushes.
  • Ox Ear: As the name suggests, this type of brush is made from the hairs on the ox's ear. It is absorbent and hardy, but not as much as the squirrel brush.
  • Pig: This type of brush is great to get certain effects and textures when using watercolor. The bristles do not come to a point and do not retain water.

Paints and brushes

One of the errors that artists commit is not making sure that the bristles do not fall out.
(Fuente: 578foot: 29169783/

What are the different names of watercolor bristles?

To begin painting with watercolors there are three types of brushes that you must have: round, flat, and fan brushes. There are many more types, but these are the main brushes. In the following table, we will layout the classification, usage, and characteristics of each brush:

Type of bristle What are its characteristics and what is its specific use?
Round Most popular. They are numbered from 0-16. Have a fine point. Used to draw shapes, lines, details, or to make volume.
Flat They have a squared point. Used to make thick and thin lines. Perfect for working with water.

They come with slanted tips or round tips. The slanted tips have an angle and can be used to make thin lines. The round tips are perfect for small details.

Fan They have the shape of a fan, as the name indicates. Great for landscapes, grass, clouds, foliage, etc.

With this type of brush, you can create different effects as it blurs the colors.

Mop This is a pencil made out of natural hair (pigs, horses, etc.).

They are round but big, usually used to paint big sections, and are very soft and need a lot of paint.

These brushes are great for shading and making color transitions, among other uses.

Cat's tongue The bristles are oval. They are usually made of natural hair and form part of the oval brushes group.

They are great for making shapes and also for using lots of water.

Hake These are the round version of a flat brush. They are usually made of natural hair. They are very soft and very absorbent.

You use this brush to put big quantities of water and paint on the canvas.

Riggers These brushes are great for thin lines.

They have long bristles and are used to make tree leaves or animal skin, among other possibilities.

How do I take care of my watercolor brushes?

Fortunately, watercolor brushes are easy to take care of, but you do need to make sure that they last as long as possible. The following is a list of steps that you should follow to take care of your watercolor brushes and keep them in great condition:

  • Wash the brushes with water after every use. It is important to wash the paint out of the paint brushes after every painting session using a container or in the sink.
  • Shake the rest of the water out of the brush. Quickly move your wrist to shake the remaining water from the brush's bristles.
  • Pinch the bristles back into their original shape. Using the tip of fingers, push all of the bristles back into their original place to avoid losing the shape of the brush.
  • Make sure there is no more paint left on the brush. If you notice that there is still paint in the brush after the first wash, you will need to use soap and water.
  • Use water and neutral soap. Take the brush and put soap and water on the bristles until it starts to foam. Then, rinse the soap out with lots of water.
  • Dry the brush laying down on a towel. This part is very important. Never leave your brushes standing up to dry. You can get special towels or paper meant for drying watercolor brushes.
  • Store the brushes. Store the brushes in a mat or a case made for brushes or put them in a glass jar with the bristles facing upwards to avoid damage.

Cute art student loves to paint

There is a variety of watercolor brushes. Choose one that best suits your needs.
(Source: Antonio Diaz: 45584179/

Buyer's Guide

If you are buying for yourself or a friend, before getting your watercolor brushes you should keep some criteria in mind to pick the best brushes for you! Following, we will give you some important criteria that you will need to know to make your decision:


There are two main groups of watercolor brushes: natural and synthetic. The best, according to many artists, are kolinsky sable brushes, made from an animal that lives in Siberia and has flexible and strong hair due to the climate where it lives.

Kolinsky sable brushes are very expensive. If you want a cheaper option with less quality you can get squirrel or goat brushes, perfect for working with water. Pig brushes are the most affordable and are the strongest brushes. These brushes are large and retain a lot of water and paint. However, synthetic brushes are getting better and better these days and are very affordable.

Artist painting

Watercolor brushes have three parts: handle, ferrule, and bristles.
(Source: Dmitriy Shironosov: 48791541/

Type Based on the Shape

In a previous section, we have already discussed the different types of brushes based on their shape. This is something that you need to keep in mind when choosing your brush as different shapes have different functions. If you are a beginner, it is a good idea to start with these three types of watercolor brushes:

Shape of the brush ¿What can I paint?
Round brushes These are the most popular and also the most versatile. These brushes are used to make lines and details. This type of brush should have a thin point and you will find them in many different sizes.
Detail brushes These brushes are used to make small details and retouch your paintings. A specific type of detail brush to retouch and make small details in your painting is called a "rigger brush"
Sweep brushes You can paint big spaces with these brushes and use a lot of water.


To paint with watercolors you need a brush with a short handle to make small details, but it is important to see what the handle is made out of. It could be made of plastic or natural wood, like birch or ash tree. If the handle is made from a natural material, it will be more expensive, but it will be very comfortable, easy to use, and will last you a long time.


Another aspect that you need to keep in mind is the size of your brush. The size of your brush will depend on how big of a canvas you are working with. If you are a beginner, you should make sure to get started by buying these three sizes. After you get more experienced, you can buy more sizes.

  • Small. for example, 3.
  • Medium. between 5 and 6.
  • Large. between 10 and12.


Watercolor is a painting technique that comes from the XVIII century. Before this age, people mainly used this technique to make sketches that they would later cover with oil paint. This technique has evolved, and now watercolor is one of the most popular forms of painting.

Painting with watercolors requires the use of specific brushes. This technique uses water and paint, so these brushes need to be absorbent. The size, shape, and material of the brush are all things that you need to keep in mind when buying your brushes to make sure you can create the best masterpiece.

(Source of Featured Image: Natala Standret: 85392336/