Choosing your brush

Walk into any artist’s store and the sheer number of brushes on display at first seems overwhelming. Should you choose natural or synthetic fibers? Which head shape is most suitable? Is it best to buy the most expensive one? Fear not: By exploring these questions further, you can narrow down the number of choices you need to make and find the right tool for the job.

Hair type

Different mediums, such as watercolor, acrylic, or traditional oils, require different types of brushes, and they come in four main types:

  • Natural hair
  • Hog hair (bristle)
  • Synthetic hair
  • Blends (synthetic and natural)

Natural hair

Natural brushes are a good choice for watercolor or gouache because they are softer and more flexible than pig brushes. There are different varieties of natural brushes.

  • Sable brushes Holds perfect points, allows great control, and is great for precise marking. Sable hair is also naturally absorbent, which means these brushes hold a lot of color for excellent flow. Sable brushes are very high quality and the best brushes – such as the Winsor & Newton Series 7 brushes – are handcrafted from the tip of the Siberian Kolinsky sable’s tail.
  • Squirrel brushes Carrying colors is great as they can hold a lot of water. They are great for mopping and scrubbing as they are not as sharp as sables.
  • Goat brushes also have great color bearing capacity, but tend not to release color like squirrels or sables, and it doesn’t make sense.
  • Camel is the term used for a range of miscellaneous low quality natural brushes

One exception to which a natural bristle brush can be used effectively with thicker media is the pony brush. Pony brushes have coarse bristles, do not form a spot and provide very little spring. Their stiffness is useful when oil or acrylic is used.

Hog hair (bristle)

If you use oil or acrylic, a natural pig hair brush is a good choice. They are naturally stiff and each bristles split into two or three at the tip. These splits are called marks, and they allow the brush to hold more paint and apply it evenly. Keep in mind that pig brushes come in different shades; if they are white, you need to make sure this is natural and not bleached, which can weaken the bristles. Pig hair has different qualities.

  • Best hog has the toughest hairs, lots of flags that allow it to carry more color, and is very bouncy – so the brush retains its working edge and shape longer. Pig brushes from Winsor & Newton Artists are made with the highest quality hog.
  • The better hog have softer hair than the best pigs and won’t dress as well.
  • A good hog is softer. This brush does not hold its shape well.
  • Inferior hog are soft, weak, easy to spread, and the color is difficult to control.


If you prefer an alternative to natural hair or are on a budget, it’s worth considering a synthetic brush. Driven by innovation and our unique brushmaking expertise, our synthetic brushes are professional-looking. They can be soft or hard; soft brushes are good for watercolors, while hard brushes are best for oil. Synthetic brushes generally have excellent edge and carry color well. Winsor & Newton offers a wide range of synthetic brushes including Monarch brushes, Cotman brushes and Galeria brushes.

Winsor & Newton introduces two new lines of synthetic brushes: Professional Watercolor Synthetic Sable Brushes and Artist’s Oil Synthetic Pig Brushes. After rigorous artist testing, we’ve developed an innovative synthetic bristle blend that delivers the quality and performance you typically see in natural sable and pig brushes.

Professional watercolor synthetic sable brush with excellent color bearing capacity, ability to make a variety of marks and elastic spring and shape retention.

Artists’ Oil Synthetic Hog is made with marked bristles that replicate the markings of natural pig hair bristles for shape retention, strong bristles and excellent color bearing capacity.

Both collections are 100% FSC ® certified; the birch wood used for the unique ergonomic handle comes from sustainable sources and is constantly developed with responsible forest management in mind.


Sable and synthetic blends such as Scepter Gold II offer near-sable performance at near-synthetic prices.

Head shape and size

The brushes come in different sizes, and these sizes have numbers. However, each number does not necessarily equate to a different range of brushes of the same size, which is especially evident between the English, French and Japanese sizes. So if you choose a brush, it’s important to compare actual brushes and not simply rely on the size of the brushes you currently have.

The handle lengths are also different. If you work in oils, alkyds, or acrylics, you may often find yourself painting further away from the surface, so a long-handled brush is best. If you’re a watercolor artist, you’re probably closer to your paintings, so a shorter handle is a good investment.

Different brushes have different shapes. Natural sable brushes are usually round, but they do come in different sizes. However, pig brushes and other bristle brushes come in many shapes and sizes to make different types of marks. Shapes include round, long flat, hazelnut, short hazelnut, short flat/bright, and scalloped.


When it comes to brushes, you tend to get what you pay for, so buying the highest quality brushes for your job will always be the first choice. Poor quality brushes may not work well. For example, poor quality pig hair artist brushes can flare and soften, leaving messy marks and hindering color control. Inexpensive, softer synthetic brushes won’t hold color and may not hold their focus. Poor quality brushes can also spoil quickly, and you may find yourself spending more on two or three cheap brushes than on a high-quality brush that will last for years.

Caring for your brushes

Taking good care of your brushes will extend their lifespan and mean you can work with tried and tested tools year after year. Take a look at our guide to caring for and cleaning brushes for more information.

Post time: Jan-11-2022