Brush Shapes and Applications

paintbrushPainting isn't as easy as dipping a brush in paint and then brushing it on a canvas, sculpture, or paper. There is a different brush for every job. This page will help you choose the best brush for your work of art.


There are three components to a brush: The handle, the ferrule (The little piece of metal around the top of the handle), and the tuft or brush head. Ferrules are usually made of a light metal such as aluminum or brass. The tuft is the most important part of the brush and comes in a variety of shapes and types.


Brush handles are usually made of wood or plastic. Economy brushes usually come in plastic and are mostly used in elementary classrooms or people playing with paint-by-number kits. Bristles are usually inserted in a "spacer plug" that also allows paint to collect and then drip down as the brush is painting. This spacer is on the handle end of the brush. Glue is used to hold the fibers to the other end of the spacer.


Economy brushes come with tufts of synthetic fibers. Cheap brushes sometimes lose their fibers easily, so if you can afford a better brush, it will certainly last longer. The cheap fibers are made of acrylic, polyester, nylon or amalon. The most expensive brush is the sable and will also last the longest. There are a variety of middle brushes that may include long-haired hog bristle, squirrel, camel, goat, ox, badger, or horse-hair. The fibers in a brush are never the same length. The length depends on the type of brush and you can see a chart that illustrates them below.


Most brushes are 6-1/2" to 8-1/2" (16.5 to 21.6 cm) long. An easel length brush is a long handle brush varying in length from 10-1/2" to 13-1/2" (26.7 to 34.3 cm). High quality handles will be lacquered or enameled hardwood. Ferrules are double-crimped over the handle and made of seamless nickel-plated metal.


Proper Paint Brush Handling

Many brushes are stiff initially and will become more pliable over a short period of time. Warm soapy water will usually speed up the process. After cleaning a brush, you should always try to return them to their original shape. A piece of painters tape wrapped around the bristles is a good way to keep them together. Never soak brushes or use hot water when cleaning.


Synthetic bristles work best for acrylic and school watercolor paints. More expensive sables are best used on oils and quality watercolor paints. Kolinsky sable comes from the tail of mink and is the best hair. Other sables may come from the weasel family of animals. Sables will feel soft and have a nice snap, but bounce back into their original positions easily. Squirrel hair is usually used with inks and watercolors and the hair has little snap. There is a substitute for sable called Sabeline. Sabeline is made with dyed ox hair. Camel Hair, not actually from camels, received its name from its inventor, a French man named Camel.


Below is a chart that shows visual representations of types of brushes:


Paint Brush Applications

Round brush  

Round - Underpainting, washes, rough lay-in; paint type relies on stiffness of bristle.

Pointed Round - Detail, spotting, varying line widths; thick-bellied for watercolor.

Flat brush  

Flat - Loose style, long flexible hairs carry large loads, light to medium-body paint.

Bright brush  

Bright - Stiffer than flats, for medium to heavy-body paints, short strokes, chiseled edges.

Filbert brush  

Filbert - Most Versatile shape; soft edges, blending, double dipping for flowers.

Angular brush  

Angular Blender - Crisp edge retention, sharp smooth blending, also for leaves and petals.

Fan brush  

Fan - Soft blending, dry-brush blending, foliage, evergreens.

Mop brush  

Mop - Washes, large blends, dry-brush blending, light-body paint, watercolor, and inks.

Scriptliner brush  

Scriptliner - Long lines with thin paints, striping, stems and foliage, grass.


Needle-Point / Extender - For watercolor, dye, ink, and low viscosity paint.

Stencil brush  

Stencil - Stenciling, scrubbing pastels; very stiff bristles, for medium to heavy-body paint.

Fitch brush  

Fitch - Set decoration, lettering, tempera, large loading capacity, medium-body paint.

Hake brush  

Hake - Washes, large loading capacity, inks, watercolor, very soft, varying strokes.

Sumi brush  

Sumi - Oriental lettering, very soft fiber, ink, and watercolors.