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Choosing Watercolour Brushes: A Guide

Choosing Watercolour Brushes: A Guide

Selecting the right watercolour brushes is essential for any artist looking to achieve the best results in their painting. With a variety of hair types and brush shapes available, making the right choice can enhance your technique and artistic expression. Here's a comprehensive guide to help you navigate the options.

A good versatile watercolour brush should be able to:

  • Hold a good amount of water in its belly.
  • Maintain a fine point.
  • Distribute paint smoothly and evenly

1. Hair quality: The hair type determines the brush’s performance. Natural hair brushes hold more water and pigment, providing smoother application.

2. Shape and Size: Different shapes and sizes serve various purposes, from detailed work to broad washes. For instance, Wash Brushes are usually broad and detail brushes are fine-point ones.

3. Handle Length: Watercolour brushes typically have shorter handles for better control. Ensure the handle is comfortable to hold.

4. Ferrule: This metal part should be secure and rust-resistant, ensuring the brush head remains firmly attached to the handle.

5. Price: Higher-quality brushes often come with a higher price tag but tend to last longer and perform better. However, there are excellent synthetic options for those on a budget.

1. Ox Hair: Durable and relatively stiff, ox hair brushes are suitable for detailed work. They don’t hold as much water as softer hairs but are great for fine lines and controlled strokes.

2. Goat Hair: Soft and capable of holding a substantial amount of water, goat hair is ideal for broad washes and smooth gradients.

3. Kolinsky Sable: The gold standard in brushes, Kolinsky sable offers exceptional softness, water retention, and a fine point. It’s highly responsive and versatile, suitable for both detailed work and washes.

4. Squirrel Hair: Extremely soft and capable of holding a large amount of water, squirrel hair brushes are perfect for large washes and loose painting styles. However, they lack the spring of sable brushes.

5. Red Sable: Slightly less expensive than Kolinsky, red sable brushes provide a good balance of softness, water retention, and spring, making them a versatile choice.

6. Synthetic: Modern synthetic brushes have improved significantly, offering good water retention and durability. They are an excellent choice for beginners and those on a budget.

1. Mop: Mop brushes have a large, rounded head that holds a significant amount of water, making them perfect for large washes and soft, diffused edges. 

2. Flat: Rectangular in shape, flat brushes are perfect for bold, sweeping strokes, washes, and filling large areas. They can also be used on their edge for finer lines.

3. Round: The most versatile brush, round brushes come to a fine point for detailed work but can also be used for broader strokes. They’re essential in any artist’s kit.


4. Filbert: With an oval shape, filbert brushes offer a mix of flat and round brush qualities. They’re great for blending and creating softer edges.

5. Fan: The fan shape is perfect for creating textures such as foliage, fur, or clouds. It’s also useful for dry brushing techniques.

6. Rigger: Long and thin, rigger brushes are designed for fine lines and details. They hold a lot of paint and are excellent for creating long, continuous strokes.

7. Angular: With a slanted edge, angular brushes are ideal for sharp lines, edges, and controlled strokes. They’re great for reaching into corners and creating dynamic shapes.

8. Cat’s Tongue: With a pointed tip and a flat body, this versatile brush allows for both broad strokes and fine lines, making it great for filling large areas and creating detailed edges.
Investing in high-quality brushes means you’ll want to keep them in the best condition possible. Proper care and maintenance will extend the life of your brushes and ensure they perform well for years.

  • Cleaning: Always clean your brushes immediately after use. Use lukewarm water and a mild soap, gently swirling the brush in your palm. Avoid hot water as it can damage natural hairs.
  • Shaping: After washing, gently reshape the bristles with your fingers to maintain the brush’s original shape.
  • Drying: Never leave your brushes standing on their bristles to dry. Instead, lay them flat or hang them with the bristles pointing downward to prevent water from seeping into the ferrule.
  • Storage: Store your brushes in a dry, clean place. A brush holder or roll-up case can protect the bristles from damage and dust.


If you’re new to watercolour painting, it’s wise to start with a few essential brushes rather than purchasing an entire set. Here are some recommendations:

Choosing the right watercolour brushes involves understanding the different types of hairs and shapes available. Each brush serves a specific purpose, and selecting the right one can elevate your painting experience. Start with a few versatile brushes and gradually expand your collection as you become more comfortable with different techniques.

Remember, the key to successful watercolour painting is not just in the tools but also in practice and experimentation. So, invest in good brushes, take care of them, and enjoy the creative journey that watercolour painting offers.

And to help you do that, Mango is offering amazing discounts on all Watercolour Supplies!

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