Best Watercolor Brushes

The ultimate guide for the best watercolor brushes

Below you will find a list of the best watercolor brushes for the most common brush types. These brushes are suited for beginner and professional artists.

To dive much deeper into each brush and educate yourself on how to choose the right one for you then scroll down beyond the list. This is a complete guide that demystifies the many questions and uncertainties artists have when researching, and buying, watercolor brushes.

It’s not easy to accommodate every reader since some of your are probably just getting started with watercolor painting while others have been around a while. Nevertheless, I have compiled a list that appeals to everyone on every level.

  • Best pointed rounds: Silver brush golden natural #12, Blick master Kolinsky sable, Escoda optima sable
  • Best quills and mop brushes: Da Vinci Russian blue squirrel #8, Princeton Neptune 4750 Synthetic squirrel #8
  • Best Mottler and flat wash brushes: Silver brush black velvet 2″, Princeton Neptune series 4750 synthetic squirrel 2″, Silver brush atelier hake 2″
  • Best detail brushes: Silver script brush #4, Winsor & Newton Sceptre gold II rigger #4
  • Best specialty brushes: Princeton Neptune series 4750 synthetic squirrel dagger 3/8″, Princeton heritage series 4050 fan brush #4, Princeton heritage series 4050 synthetic sable 1/2″, Princeton Neptune series 4750 synthetic squirrel cat’s tongue 3/4″
The Ultimate Buyers Watercolor Brush Guide - Pinterest Image

These are not only budget-friendly options but they are also very smart choices based on my twelve years of experience and research.

Many artists are somewhat confused by some of the terminology and brush specifics. That’s perfectly normal. Even the more experienced watercolorists scratch their head at times trying to make sense of it all.

Fortunately, I have included a lot of information in this article that will help you gain a better understanding of the many watercolor brushes on the market these days.

Best Pointed Round Brushes

Pointed round brushes are extremely popular amongst watercolorists because of their versatility.

Best used for: They’re ideal for small washes and excellent for handling most of the heavy lifting when it comes to refining your work. The pointed tips make it easy to sculpt brushstrokes into whatever shape you see fit.

Not ideal for: Typically pointed rounds are not used for medium and large washes. This is because the bellies aren’t designed to carry a lot of water like the a wash brush, #10 DaVinci quill for example, A fully loaded pointed round simply can’t lay down a large area of pigment without having to reload the brush.

This means having to go back-and-forth to the palette which can easily ruin a wash. Washes should be applied with fewer strokes so that they don’t become uneven, or choppy.

That being said here are the best pointed rounds on the market today.

best pointed round watercolor brush for beginners

Silver Brush Golden Natural #12

Price point: Under $20 US

Details: Versatile and durable, these brushes duplicate the needle-sharp points and fine chisel edges of the best Red Sable. They contain a special blend of natural hair and Golden Taklon. Choose these brushes for exceptional color-holding and extra spring.

Ideal for: Just about anything except medium and large washes. This pointed round is thirsty and ready to unload the color. I’ve been using it for about six months and they have completely replaced even the more expensive brushes.

Purchase: Click here

Blick Master kolinsky pointed round watercolor brush

Blick Master Kolinsky Sable Short Handle Pointed Round

Price point: $95.00 US

Description: I would opt for a #12 which is suited for small to larger works so long as you avoid using it for larger washes. The sturdy, full hair of the winter male Kolinsky creates a brush with excellent snap and tactile control of brushstroke. The hair is hand-formed with extreme care and glued into seamless nickel-plated brass ferrules.

Ideal for: Heavy lifting! This brush can take the beating and still old its shape. Use it for blocking in medium and small shapes. The fine point makes it suitable for details as well.

Purchase: Click here

Best pointed round watercolor brush

Escoda Optimo Kolinsky Sable Pointed Round

Price point: Under $70 US

Description: This brush is known for its beauty, form and function. Pristine Kolinsky hair has snap and is delicately hand crimped into a nickel brass ferrule. The short, blue, lacquered wood handle offers the control needed for detail work.

Ideal for: Handling all the blocking in jobs along with smaller washes. Can handle smaller and medium size details as well. As with most pointed rounds avoid using it for large washes.

Purchase: Click here

Best Watercolor Mop And Quill Wash Brushes

Wash brushes are important tools for the watercolorists. It’s also where you can spend a fortune if you’re not careful buying an overrated, trendy brush. Fortunately manufacturers have come a long way the past ten years with making fantastic blends and synthetics that mimic some of the more expensive natural hair brushes.

Watercolor washes are critical to the success of a painting. Having a reliable and durable wash brush will go a long way in helping you achieve better quality art. In my opinion you are dead in the water without one.

So, choose wisely but don’t throw your money away on big names when you can opt for a wash brush that costs half the price.

In general wash brushes have larger heads suitable for applying lots of paint. Some artists prefer a round, or mop, shape while others opt for a flat style wash brush. To each their own. If you choose wisely you can get both shapes which allows you more range of washes. More on that in a future tutorial.

Da Vinci Russian Blue Squirrel Brushes #8

Price point: $95 US

Description: A phenomenal squirrel quill that is significantly longer and larger than other brands. Sturdy wooden handle makes it easy to hold and maneuver.

Size recommendations: I would suggest a number #8 which is the perfect size for handling medium and extra larger washes.

If you paint on a smaller scale, quarter sheets or less, a #6 should do just fine.

Ideal for: A very versatile brush for all mop and wash techniques, for priming, and for applying paint in large areas. Because of the lovely point it can even handle some detail work although that is best suited for a pointed round.

Purchase: Click here

Best Watercolor Wash Brush Da Vinci Russian Blue Squirrel

Princeton Neptune Series 4750 Synthetic Squirrel Brush #8

Price point: $23 US

Description: A thirsty brush that delivers loads of color to the sheet. Princeton Neptune 4750 series are synthetic squirrel hairs that deliver time-and-time again.

A #8 will do fine for most watercolorists. If you paint on a smaller scale opt for the #6.

Ideal for: Putting down large washes and some blocking-in duties. The brush holds it’s point well which makes it useful when refining large and medium shapes.

Purchase: Click here

Best Flat, or Mottler, Watercolor Wash Brushes

Flat wash brushes, or often referred to as Mottlers, can do the exact same job as the previous mentioned round quills. The main difference is obviously the squared shape. Have a flat wash brush around can be very useful and as you would imagine the strokes are more angular than that of the round quills.

Best watercolor mottler brush Silver Brush Black Velvet Brushes

Silver Brush Black Velvet Wash 2"

Price point: $64 US

Description: A blend of natural squirrel hair and black synthetic filament combines to provide excellent carrying capacity with control, spring, and precise pointing. Black Velvet brushes are full bodied, with a wonderful snap.

A budget-friendly brush that delivers a fabulous wash just like the more expensive wash brushes.

The 2″ works perfectly for most watercolorists but opt for the 1 1/2″ if you paint on a small scale.

Ideal for: Large and medium size washes. Mottler brushes are also very versatile if you learn to use all edges such as the tips, sides and corners.

Purchase: Click here

Princeton Neptune Series 4750 Synthetic Squirrel Brushes 2"

Price point: $26 US

Description: Princeton has done it again, offering its softest and thirstiest synthetic brush ever!

It features the latest synthetic fiber technology, the Neptune’s multiple-diameter filaments are configured to replicate the smooth feel of natural Squirrel, with enhanced snap and resilient strength. Experts in natural hair have been incredulous that the Neptune brush fibers are actually synthetic.

The 2″ is fantastic for most cases if you work on a medium to large scale. Opt for the 1 1/2″ if you prefer smaller work.

Ideal for: Large to medium size washes. It can handle some detail if you learn to work all sides as mentioned earlier.

Purchase: Click here

Best watercolor hake brush

Silver Brush Atelier Hake Brush 2"

Price point: $6 US

Description: Silver Brush Atelier Hake Brushes are handcrafted from highest quality dressed goat hair that is soft, naturally absorbent, and has a silky feel and good spring. They have a strong, threaded copper wire in the ferrule for added protection.

Ideal for: Large to medium size washes. If you are on a budget, or just want to experiment with an alternative wash brush, this is perfect. You will be amazed at what this brush can do.

Purchase: Click here

Best Detail Watercolor Brushes

You will find yourself in a position where even the pointiest of all pointed rounds simply are too big to produce finer details. Features like tree branches, telephone wires and boat masts are better suited for a long, lean haired brush.

Detail watercolor brushes are often referred to as liners, riggers, scripts, and needles. It’s good to have a few lying around and here are my top picks.

Silver Brush Script Liner #4

Price point: $12 US

Description: Versatile and durable, these brushes duplicate the needle-sharp points and fine chisel edges of the best Red Sable. They contain a special blend of natural hair and Golden Taklon. Choose these brushes for exceptional thin line quality and extra spring.

Opt for the #4 which will carry enough water and paint to handle long strokes and deliver ultra-thin lines.

Ideal for: Details! Add lovely calligraphic strokes to your watercolor art. The sky’s the limit.

Purchase: Click here

Best Watercolor Script Liner Silver Brush #4

Winsor & Newton Sceptre Gold II Rigger Brush #4

Price point: $6 US

Description: A “Rigger” is the name originally given to brushes that were used for painting the rigging on ships in seascape paintings. Series 303 is a short handle pointed round brush with long springy fiber.

The #3 is the perfect size for most situations.

Ideal for: Adding long, thin lines, points and other details.

Purchase: Click here

Best Specialty Watercolor Brushes

There are many specialty brushes on the market designed to do various tasks. Some of these include cat’s tongue, daggers, brights, filberts, angular, fans and so on. You can get away without these brushes but at times you may want to experiment.

So, I will add include some specialty brushes for those that would like to have a Moore rounded brush selection. Over time I’ve collected some of these and would recommend a good fan, script (rigger, or liner) and …

Best watercolor dagger brush

Princeton Neptune Series 4750 Synthetic Squirrel Dagger Brush 3/8"

Price point: $9 US

Description: The dagger is a unique brush with a fine tip and gradually curving, angled edge. It’s name is derived from a sword-like appearance.

The 3/8″ is perfectly sized to handle just about any situation so long as you aren’t paint very small details.

Ideal for: It is a very popular brush for pin-striping, free hand lettering and calligraphic-like strokes.

Purchase: Click here

Princeton Heritage Series 4050 Fan Brush

Princeton Heritage Series 4050 Fan Brush #4

Price point: $8 US

Description: A fan brush is versatile and creates some unique, distinctive strokes. Some watercolorists feel it works well for dry brushing, where you want only a little paint on the brush, to apply roughly and loosely.

The #4 is sized well for most situations but there are small sizes for those go you that paint small.

Ideal for: Fan brushes are commonly used for shading, blurring and glazing. Also many artists prefer them for painting trees, branches, grasses and detail. It is popular for painting hair with its ability to paint multiple flowing strands in a single stroke.

Purchase: Click here

Best watercolor flat brush 1/2"

Princeton Heritage Series 4050 Synthetic Sable 1/2" Flat

Price point: $10 US

Description: These excellent quality short handle brushes for the watercolor painter have the best flat edges and spring of all Princeton synthetics. The special blend of varying diameters of synthetic sable hair issues terrific spring. It looks just like genuine sable, and performs at a much higher level than synthetics.

The 1/2″ is ideal for most occasions but smaller options are available.

Ideal for: Squared and angular edges, windows, smaller buildings, or other man-made structures, rocks and more.

Purchase: Click here

Princeton Neptune Series 4750 Synthetic Squirrel Brushes 3/4

Princeton Neptune Series 4750 Synthetic Squirrel Cat's tongue Brush 3/4"

Price point: $18 US

Description: Princeton squirrel synthetics offer a super soft, squirrel hair set in a seamless, nickel-plated ferrule on a short, lacquered handle. Brushes have excellent snap and resilient strength.

The 3/4″ is ideal for most watercolorists and smaller sizes are available.

Ideal for: Excellent for small to medium washes, organic shapes such as foliage, leaves, bushes and more. A very versatile brush art having around.

Purchase: Click here

Common watercolor brush chart - get to know the shapes

Below is a list of common brush types for watercolor painting. Again, there are many so it would be very confusing to list everything out there. Hopefully the chart will give you a good visual of how each type is different. This can help answer some questions as you research watercolor brushes.

Hair Quality

There are so many hair, or bristles, to choose from for watercolorists. To help simplify the option and hopefully bring a little clarity to them I will cover the most popular choices.

Kolinsky

The hair is obtained from the tail of the kolinsky (Mustela sibirica), a species of weasel rather than an actual sable. The “finest” brushes are made from the male hair only, but most brushes have a mix of about 60/40 male-to-female hair. Kolinsky bristles tend to be pale red in colour with darker tips.

Kolinsky is ideal for watercolor painting because the hairs start out thin and become thicker in the middle, and return to a thin diameter at the end. This unique hair quality creates a perfect large belly that holds more water, and paint, than other hair types.

These are the most expensive brushes because the hair is taken from an animal that is only found in certain parts of the world.

Squirrel

Another popular watercolor brush hair that’s soft, absorbent and thirsty. A quality squirrel brush holds paint exceptionally well and comes to an excellent point.

Squirrel hair is typically darker than Kolinsky. However, squirrel brushes are noticeably softer than Kolinsky and don’t provide as much ‘snap’.

This is why squirrels are best suited for washes and not so much detail.

Squirrel hair watercolor brushes

Camel

As if it isn’t confusing enough, camel hair does not actually come from camels. It is found in watercolor brushes and usually is made of squirrel, goat, ox, pony or a blend of several hairs, depending on the desired softness and intended cost of the brush.

Camel hair watercolor brush

Ox Hair

The best quality comes from the ears of cattle or oxen. The Ox Hair has a very strong body with silken texture, is very resilient, has good “snap”, but lacks a fine tip. Therefore, it is most useful in medium grade wash brushes, or flat shaped brushes. Frequently, ox hair is blended with other natural hair to increase the resiliency of a brush.

ox hair watercolor wash brush

Red Sable

Red Sable is obtained from any member of the weasel family with “red” hair, not at all from the animal known as the sable. A good quality pure Red Sable is a good alternative to the more expensive Kolinsky, with similar performance and durability.

Synthetic

Synthetics are man-made of either nylon or polyester filaments. Synthetic filaments are often dyed and baked to make them softer and more absorbent. The common name for this filament is “Taklon”. There are many advantages to synthetic brushes such as being less prone to damage from solvents, insects and paint, they’re easier to keep clean than animal hair brushes because the filaments don’t have animal scale structures that trap paint, and they are less prone to breakage .

Synthetic watercolor brushes

How to choose the best watercolor brush for you.

This is a difficult question to answer because it really depends on your experience, preferred subject matter, and budget. And of course a lot of it is just good old fashion common sense.

Here are a few pointers I share with students when asked about buying watercolor brushes.

  • Never buy brushes with money you can’t afford to spend is rule number one.
  • Always consider the size art you prefer to paint.
  • It’s best to have a minimal selection so you don’t waste time on making unnecessary decisions while your wash is wet and demanding your attention.
  • Having only a handful of reliable brushes will allow you to get to know each one better, versus having a jar full and never really understanding the intricacies of each one.

The brush is only as good as the artist on the other end. In other words, an experienced, highly skilled watercolorist can make even the worst of brushes look really good. Just like a clumsy watercolorist can make even the best of brushes seem useless.

Get the best possible watercolor brush you can afford without being too excessive. Always avoid buying inferior brushes that only last a few months. This will only cost you more money in the end and ruin your best efforts.

There’s no need to buy top-of-the-line, expensive brushes because there are plenty of formidable brushes on the market that do the same exact job. I shared many of my favorites in this article.

I’ve been painting with watercolor for over twelve years and only use about seven brushes. Then again, I know the size I paint, the subjects and style I prefer. Truthfully, I feel I cam pretty much do any watercolor task with what I have so why keep buying when I simply don’t need them.

It’s good to have the following brushes on hand. If you are a beginner I have written an in-depth article about beginner watercolor supplies so have a look.

  • Squirrel mop/quill brush, one large will do
  • Flat/ Mottler wash brush, one large will do
  • Large and small pointed round(s), I use #12 and #8 by Princeton (see suggested pointed rounds above)
  • Medium needle/rigger for handling details and thin line work. One will do!
  • Medium Kolinsky for it’s soft, springy quality that’s perfect for painting medium and small shapes. One will do!

What types of brushes to avoid.

Avoid firm, synthetic brushes that are designed for crafts, acrylics and oils. These types of brushes do not absorb water that same way as watercolor brushes and will typically cause your washes/work to appear choppy.

Avoid specialty brushes likes riggers, filberts, brights, swords, liners and so on. These are great brushes but suited for experienced artists. As I mentioned before you should eliminate unnecessary supplies and wasting time on making decisions.

Expensive squirrel mop brushes! There’s absolutely no need to splurge on a $175 brush. If you decide down the road that watercolor is for you then fine. Get one!

How to take care of watercolor brushes

Here’s a short video that covers various tips for how to take care of watercolor brushes.

Common Questions

There are some subtle differences but often times these two terms, or brush styles, are interchangeable. Let’s have a look at a few differences and similarities.

A quill refers to how the brush is made. More specifically they have a plastic ferrule with wires that attach the hair to the handle. Most quills are made from squirrel, and/or squirrel blend. They typically have a nice point which makes them ideal for not only larger washes but some more refined shaping as well. Because they’re made from squirrel they tend to be very floppy which takes getting used to.

A mop is usually more rounded and doesn’t have the same quality point when wet. It can be constructed with squirrel, or a blend of other natural and/or synthetics. There are many mop varieties these days so again, don’t get too caught up in the nerdy stuff.

The main similarity is that they are both designed for washes. Its job is to hols a lot of water and paint, and to apply it effortlessly and smoothly to the paper.

I wrote an in-depth article on that and you can find it right here.

I mentioned this earlier but in case you missed it I recommend six to seven brushes. Don’t overwhelm yourself with too many brushes and choices. Cover the main categories which is described in detail in this article and you will do just fine.

The short answer would be no. But artists come in all shapes and sizes, with completely different opinions of what one should and shouldn’t do.

If you are new and trying to learn, and master, the medium, then get watercolor brushes. As you become more skilled you will naturally venture out and try alternative methods for applying paint. Build your fundamentals correctly and you will have more confidence to try new ideas.

I recommend Blick art supplies. I’ve used them for twelve years and have never been disappointed. They’re reliable and committed to excellent customer service.

Conclusion

The best watercolor brushes doesn’t always mean the most expensive. Yes, a $1500 Da Vinci maestro Kolinsky brush is a Cadillac, but you can create some eye-popping watercolor art with a $25 brush!

As I mentioned previously try keeping the selection to six, or seven brushes. Have a range of sizes and shapes that will handle any job, or subject. Spend time getting to know them so that you start to understand their strengths and weaknesses. Over time you will develop a keen sense of how each brush works and reaching for the right one at the right time will become instinctual.

Try some naturals if you can but don’t hesitate to add some synthetic brushes to your toolkit. Especially the Princeton Neptune series. Incredible brushes that will last you a long time and leave plenty of extra money to spend on other supplies like watercolor paper.

I hope you enjoyed this article and that it helps you demystify  the head-spinning brush options.

If I mixed something, or if you have any questions, please feel free to get in touch by commenting below.

Thanks for stopping by and happy painting to you.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *