“A bad workman always blames his tools.”
No doubt you are familiar with this common saying; and there is some element of truth to it. However, it is artists more than anyone who really do depend on their tools the most – in this case, brushes.
Using the right brushes can make a drastic difference in the end result of your work, along with using the best watercolor paints.
In a hurry?
The best watercolor brushes inevitably come in a wide range of shapes, materials, sizes, and prices. It is important that you purchase the right brushes that strike a good compromise between being best suited for different techniques, quality, and price.
We have split our selections into Kolinsky, Red Sable, and Synthetic brushes to give you a wide range of options to choose from.
- 1 Watercolor Brushes Comparison Table
- 2 Watercolor Brushes Reviews
- 2.1 Kolinsky Brushes
- 2.2 Red Sable Brushes
- 2.3 Synthetic Brushes
- 3 Watercolor Brushes Buyers Guide
- 4 Factors to Consider
Watercolor Brushes Comparison Table
Watercolor Brushes Reviews
Winsor & Newton Series 7 Kolinsky Sable
If you’re looking to purchase your watercolor brushes individually, these from Winsor & Newton are the ones to go for. There are 15 sizes to choose from.
A brush’s quality is measured in one of three ways: Point, Snap and Spring, and Flow Control. These brushes have a crisp point that it maintained throughout use; snap back into shape with just the right amount of spring; and ensure that color is distributed evenly and consistently while holding plenty of color.
You should also know that the brushes have nickel-plated brass ferrules to stop corrosion, the ferrule is in the ideal position for belly and point; and they just feel like they are of high quality and designed to last.
da Vinci Travel Series 1503 Set
If you’re looking for the best kolinsky travel watercolor set the 1503 Series from da Vinci is the perfect choice.
What makes this set, made in Germany, so good for traveling is how the handles can be detached. A case also comes included that can protect the brushes from being damaged, and the three brushes also fit in all portable watercolor sets.
The brushes are very well-designed in the sense that they can hold plenty of water and color, and also have plenty of snap to them. The handles are also quite thick without being overly heavy or bulky.
Artbrush Tower Kolinsky Set
The last kolinsky brushes recommended come is the Artbrush Tower Kolinsky Set. 4 brushes come included in sizes 6, 8, 10 and 12. They come in a classy looking box, also making these brushes a great gift.
Each brush measures 8.3” with the length of the hairs being consistent, soft, and no chance of spreading or straying when painting. The brass ferrules have the benefit of being double crimped and are well secured to the handle to avoid wiggling.
You should also know that these brushes are easy to shape, easy to clean, have a feel nice feel to them, and are certainly made to last.
Red Sable Brushes
Magic Touches Red Sable Set
The first of the red sable brushes we recommend comes in sizes 2, 4, 6, 8, 10 and 12; therefore, you are definitely getting your money’s worth, with a wide range of strokes and techniques to choose from.
Although the Magic Touches Red Sable Set inevitably don’t hold as much color and water as kolinsky brushes, the holding capacity is impressive given the set’s price. When the brushes hit the canvas paint is distributed smoothly, evenly and consistently.
The handles are made from birch wood for a luxurious feel, and the ferrules from high grade copper for durability purposes.
Filbert Red Sable Paint Brush Set
This is another set of red sable brushes that come in sizes 2, 4, 6, 8, 10 and 12, but at a more attractive price than the previous recommendation.
The Filbert Red Sable Paint Brush Set hairs – part sable and part other premium hairs to reduce cost – have a very nice, soft and smooth texture to them and are able to hold a good amount of liquid.
The handles are made of birch wood and prove to strike an excellent compromise between balance, weight and comfort. The ferrules are also sturdy and are made of chrome.
CubeCraft Art Paint Brush Set
This CubeCraft Art Paint Brush Set includes 15 brushes, ranging from filbert, angle, round, flat, fan, and rigger, offer excellent value for money and make a perfect starter kit for beginners.
The brushes feature mixed synthetic hair that manage to provide impressive shape retention, wash out easily, and hold a good amount of color. The brushes also have the benefit of being handmade to ensure that every bristle is given the care that it is needed.
The handles are long and provide a good combination between balance and comfort to ensure that paint is distributed evenly and consistently.
Grace Art Water Color Brush Set WS12
This is a ridiculously inexpensive set of 12 brushes. So if you’re looking to spend as little money as possible to test the waters, you can’t beat this set for under $10. In this aspect, they really are the best watercolor brushes.
The brushes feature golden synthetic hair, an aluminum ferrule, and a relatively short handle.
Sure, they don’t hold their shape quite as well as more expensive options, and they also have a habit of staining more easily, but they manage to exceed expectations at such a low price.
Watercolor Brushes Buyers Guide
Factors to Consider
Watercolor brushes come in different shapes because different shapes are better suited to different techniques. We break it down into the most important categories: detail work, versatility, and wash work.
Round brushes are a good basic choice for detail work; even better, though, are spotter and rigger brushes. These brushes are particularly useful when you need to paint a lot of detail.
A spotter brush can be considered to be similar to a round brush, but gives you more control due to containing shorter bristles. If you need to paint very fine details, there is no better choice.
A rigger brush is round in its shape but features very long bristles. This is key if you need to paint continuous lines, like grass, for example.
There’s no doubt that round brushes are the most versatile. As mentioned above, they can be used for detail work but also broader strokes and washes.
Flat brushes are another good choice, although their versatility isn’t quite as comparable to round brushes. They come in handy for strong linear strokes and washes.
Wash brushes can be considered to be similar to flat brushes, but are wider. There are mop and hake brushes to choose from. Mop brushes may be made from goat or squirrel hair, and contain plenty of soft hair. Hake brushes are oriental-style brushes made of goat hair. They are even softer than mop brushes and are ideal for large washes.
Watercolour brushes can be short or longer. Brushes that have short handles are a good choice for beginners because it gives them the ability to maintain control when first starting out. Longer handles, on the other hand, give an artist more brush control over the tightness of their strokes.
While the type of material a watercolor brush goes a long way in determining its longevity and performance, how the brush is stored is also important. It’s key to store brushes with their bristles in the correct shape – i.e. not bent or splayed.
It’s always a good idea to store your brushes in a hard case. So if the ones you purchase do not come with one, we recommend purchasing a case that that can protect them and keep their shape intact.
Watercolor brushes can be made of several different kinds of materials. Here we discuss the most common, including each pros and cons.
Synthetic brushes are typically made of either nylon or polyester. They can’t quite compete with brushes made of real hair, but many brands have managed to accurately replicate the performance and structure of real hair brushes. The biggest advantage of these brushes is clearly their relative inexpensiveness.
However, as you might expect, they don’t last as long as brushes made of natural hair, are unable to distribute paint as evenly, and do not hold as much paint. Some manufacturers have aimed to get limit these disadvantages as much as possible by ensuring their brushes contain ridges, for example, to varying degrees of success.
Many artists opt for combination watercolor brushes that are made from both animal hair – in particular, sable – and synthetic fibers. These brushes offer a good compromise between quality and longevity at a reasonable price. They hold a decent amount of color, allow for finer work, and have a good degree of spring.
There are two different types of sable watercolor brushes – Kolinsky and Red Sable. Kolinsky are considered to be the best watercolor brushes you can buy and are actually made from the tails of male Siberian weasel, rather than sable martens.
They are able incredibly absorbent and retain their shape extremely well. If cared for properly, Kolinsky brushes can last for a number of years.
Kolinsky brushes were subject to an import ban in the USA in 2013. This was due to the CETA agreement (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora).
It seems that this ban has now been lifted, judging by their availability on popular retailer sites like Amazon.
Red sable brushes, on the other hand, have not been banned and are still of very good quality. They don’t quite have the same absorbent and ability to retain their shape properties as Kolinsky brushes, but they are more than an acceptable alternative – particularly since the import ban on Kolinsky brushes.
Ox, Squirrel, and Goat
Quite clearly a step down from Sable brushes, brushes made from these animals do not hold paint particularly well, meaning that round brushes made of these animals’ hair should be avoided. However, they are ideal for wash techniques.
Ox hair is a good choice for flat, square-cut brushes. Goat and squirrel hairs are good choices to mop and wash brushes.
Watercolor brushes made of hog hair are best suited for wash techniques. This is because they are able to hold and distribute a large amount of paint. These bushes tend to be quite inexpensive and last longer than finer brushes.
We’re know what you’re thinking, but camel hair brushes aren’t actually made from camel hair. This is actually a blanket term that means the brush is made of a combination of different animal hairs.