Brushes are the most important tool you have when painting. It is better to purchase one or two high-quality brushes than to buy many cheap poor-quality brushes. A high-quality brush can last decades with the proper use and care. You can buy inexpensive paint and canvas, but a cheap brush can be a serious detriment to the quality of your painting.
It is advisable to start with a basic set of bristle brushes if you are new to painting. You can always add to the types of brushes as you get more experience and discover how you want to express yourself in a painting.
Brushes used in oil and acrylic painting can be manufactured in all shapes, sizes, and price ranges. Brushes are designed for specific uses. The brush chart below will give you a basic idea of the various types of brushes that are manufactured for painting and should help narrow down your choices. It is also important to know that any brush can produce a unique mark, line, or stroke.
Note: Make sure your brushes are specific to the type of paint you will be working with, oils or acrylics. Most oil brushes can be used for both oil and acrylic paint. However, a brush that is specifically manufactured for acrylics is not usable with oil paints.
Basic Brush Types
Bristle: Bristle brushes are generally made out of hogs hair. Hog bristles are stiff and springy. These brushes are especially suited for oil painting, as they are durable in use with heavy oil paint, textured canvas, and harsh solvents like turpentine.
Sable: Sable brushes are for oil paint; they are soft and springy. These are the same as sable watercolor brushes except for longer handles. Soft hair brushes are not essential to oil painting. However, they can be very useful in blending, or for small finishing details.
Synthetic: Synthetic brushes are very good and are an economical alternative to natural bristle brushes. However, less expensive ones will lose their shape quickly due to heavy paint on textured canvas.
Palette Knife: Generally a metal knife with a thin flexible blade, used by artists for mixing, scraping, or applying paint.
House Painting Brush: Can be used for covering large areas quickly and can also be used to gesso a raw canvas. House painting brushes are manufactured with natural and synthetic bristles and can be manufactured for use with oil or latex (water-based paint, good for acrylics), and some brushes are made for use with both.
Toothbrushes: Old toothbrushes can be used for painting speckles, little droplets of paint created by putting some paint on a toothbrush and then flicking the bristles toward the painting.
It is important that you experiment on your own with any brush you can get your hands on. Try all types of brushes: toothbrushes, shaving, makeup, or even baby-bottle brushes.
Basic Brushes Shape Chart
Anatomy of a Brush
Unfortunately, there are no standards when it comes to brush sizes. Each manufacturer has its own designation of the brush size usually stamped on the brush handle. However, the same size brush in different brands will measure differently.
Note: Brushes come in sizes that range from #000 - #12.
When buying brushes, I like to see them in person so that I can see how the bristles form and that the ferrule is not loose on the handle. You can buy them a little cheaper online, but you can end up with lesser quality than if you buy them in person.