What to Look for when Buying Paint Brushes

Whether you are painting the walls of your house, your window frames and doors or other woodwork, tackling decorative paint finishes, or painting a picture to hang on your wall, you need to know what to look for when buying paint brushes.

Paint brushes come in all sizes and shapes, with many different types of bristles, both natural and synthetic. Most are manufactured for a particular purpose, so you will find, for instance that some brushes are tapered, while others are cut square. Some are big and some are small. The choice can be alarming if you haven’t any previous painting experience.

Generally speaking, synthetic (usually cheaper) brushes last longer than those with natural bristles. At the same time, natural bristles are often preferred for oil-based paints and for varnishes. The synthetic type is favored for water-based and acrylic paints since the bristles don’t expand the same way as natural bristles tend to do.

Paint brushes for domestic household use

These are the brushes normally intended for DIY use in the home. You will find that some have longer bristles than others, and that some are bulkier (in terms of the quantity of bristles) than others. Handles also vary in terms of the material they are made of – plastic and wood being the most common – as well as shape and length.

Check the packaging to see what the brush is intended for. While many are made for use with all types of paint (including latex, acrylics and water-based stains) a short handle might be specifically designed for maneuverability in tight spaces. Some have softer brush tips that will produce a smoother, more even surface. Some are more suitable for epoxy paints, fiberglass resin, marine primers and sealers.

Paint brushes with “china bristles” – which is actually hog hair – are not as soft as natural bristles, but are great for oil-based enamel paints, varnishes and stains.

Brushes with synthetic bristles are generally the least expensive, including nylon, polyester and various synthetic blends. But don’t be guided by price alone. It doesn’t always pay to buy the cheapest products. If you do you might find that the brush sheds its bristles onto you paint surface. It can be irritating, if not soul destroying, when you have laboriously applied paint and achieved a lovely smooth finish, only to find bristles lurking just under the surface.

Brushes for decorative paint work

Specialist brushes for a variety of faux finishes range from delicate swordliners that you can use to create the idea of marble veins, to luxuriously soft badger brushes used to finish and create a high sheen on marbling and other related paint effects. Dragging brushes have coarser hair. These brushes also boast long bristles that you can literally drag through a suitable glaze (used as a top coat) to create this age-old, delicately lined effect.

Other brushes for decorative paint work include nice fat stippling brushes and a wide range of brushes that are made especially for stenciling.

Artist’s brushes

While the paint brushes manufactured for artists to use are generally smaller and finer than those used to paint walls and other home surfaces, they too come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. Brush tips, for example may be:

  • pointed,
  • flat,
  • short and stiff,
  • domed,
  • fanned,
  • angled,
  • soft and mop-like,
  • rounded,
  • elongated,
  • shaped like a dagger,
  • shaped like a sword (swordliner).

A particularly popular type of brush intended for watercolor work, and often made with soft goat’s hair bristles, is the hake brush – so-called because of its fish- like (hake) shape. Its handle is broad and made of wood and the soft hair is ideal for covering large areas of a canvas or art paper. It is also a popular brush with potters who use it to apply glazes to their work. It is often regarded as the poor man’s badger brush, and does the job nearly as well.

Artists who paint using watercolors often use sable brushes (made with the hair of this small weasel-like animal), although synthetic sable and nylon are other suitable options. More expensive options include brushes made from squirrel or badger hair. Stiff brushes may be made from hog or china bristle. The cheapest hair used for artists brushes are often called camel hair, even though it doesn’t come from camels!

Generally artists prefer using sable or synthetic sable bristle brushes for oil painting, and nylon or other synthetic types for acrylics.

Companies that manufacture paint brushes

The Wooster Brush Company (www.woosterbrush.com) makes professional brushes, DIY brushes, artists’ brushes as well as rollers and other painting equipment. They produce more than 2,300 different products that are available throughout North America. Some of the company’s top products and brands include:

  • Advantage professional brushes that boast a blend of china bristle and nylon. The handle is made of a soft “elastomeric” material and the range of brushes is intended for alkyds, enamels and high-grade acrylic paints.
  • Golden Glo paint brushes made with both nylon and synthetic sable, and intended for latex, acrylic and oil-based paints.
  • Ohio, one of Wooster’s oldest brands of paint brush that was trademarked in 1906. These brushes are made for professional precision and all feature the Wooster name stamped into their wooden handles.
  • Production Painter, another professional product which is made for latex, acrylics, oils and stains. These brushes are made with both maple wood or elastomeric handles.
  • Shasta, which was registered as a trademark in 1922, and which offers top quality varnish brushes.

Purdy (www.purdycorp.com), launched out of S. Desmond Purdy’s Portland, Oregon two-car garage in 1925, is a company that focuses on quality painting tools for both DIY painters and professionals. Whilst ownership has changed many times, the company maintains Purdy’s aim to make the world’s “finest painting tools”. The company manufactures a wide range of paint brushes for professional and DIY use. These include brushes with nylon, china bristle, polyester, mixed and even ox hair bristles. The company’s products for faux finishes are manufactured as the Symphony brand. They are a leading manufacturer of special effect tools including:

  • softening and blending tools like badger brushes,
  • veining brushes including sable “daggers”,
  • sponging and ragging tools,
  • dragging, flogging and color washing tools and brushes,
  • wood graining tools,
  • stippling and stenciling brushes,
  • combing tools that may be used to create wood grain and other effects.

Benjamin Moore (www.benjaminmoore.com), named after its founder who started the paint company in 1883, not only makes a range of top quality paints. The company also manufactures paint brushes and rollers that may be used to apply their paints. The range of brushes includes nylon/polyester blend bristles and china bristles.

Ultimately, if you want to know what to look for when buying paint brushes, first decide what you are going to paint, then what paint you are going to use; then explore all the possible products that appear to be suitable. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice.