The best paintbrushes come in all shapes and sizes, and each type is suited perfectly to a particular medium. Artists assess the shape, size, handle length and type of hair to make sure they pick the perfect brush. And they make sure they choose a brush that doesn't drop bristles and holds its shape, too.
Expressive brushstrokes need a long-handled brush, so your hand stays clear of the painting. These types of brushes are usually rounds, flats and filberts – but other shapes do exist. Normally, painters would utilise a selection of these different types in a variety of sizes, but most have a preferred shape.
Brush hair comes in many forms and affects how much paint it holds, how firm it is and how well it holds its shape. Hog hair is popular for its toughness and holding thick oil paint well, whereas natural brushes (like sables) are soft, form a fine point and are handy for fine detail. Synthetic paintbrushes can be extremely firm or very soft, and feel slicker than hog brushes.
Splashed out on a new set of brushes? You'll need to look after them. Our instructions for keeping your brushes clean are essential to ensuring they last. To make the most out of your paintbrushes, see our oil painting tips and techniques and see our guide to the best oil paint supplies overall, but for now, read on to discover the best paintbrushes for oils.
The best paintbrushes for oils
Winsor & Newton's Winton's hog bristle range is a solid set of starter brushes that are good enough to be easy to use without breaking the bank. The range covers a solid selection of shapes and sizes, even including some heftier round brushes missing from some other lines.
Though they don't hold the tightest shape, they maintain it far better than most cheap brushes, tending not to splay or warp much. We have encountered the occasional dropped bristle on using these, but they don't drop too many, especially once used a few times. They perform as hog should, feeling firm and creating textured strokes.
Da Vinci's college range are a student quality range of synthetic paintbrushes that offer a much softer feel than hog brushes. Unlike many cheaper synthetics, they come with a long handle that makes them more suitable for working in oils.
Typical of synthetics, they lay down paint smoothly and have a fairly slick feel. They tend not to hold as much paint as natural brushes like hogs or sables, or form a point as sharp as more expensive synthetics. However, they are solid quality brushes compared to other budget synthetics, not shedding their bristles, and holding their shape well when cleaned properly.
The Aspen range are a particularly firm set of synthetic brushes that have thick bristles and are almost as stiff as hog paintbrushes, though they don't have the same scratchy feel.
They are excellent quality, holding the paint well, keeping their shape and not dropping any bristles. The stiffness makes them handle a bit more like a hog paint brush, so they are less slick than typical synthetics.
The black matte ferrules, intended to prevent reflections and light glare, are a nice touch as well, and would be handy for anyone working outside, or even in filming situations.
These synthetic brushes perform surprisingly well for their cost. They have a medium stiffness, being far softer than a hog brush but firm enough to spring back into shape. For a synthetic brush, they hold paint quite well, and come in a decent range of sizes.
One issue is that they are tricky to clean, as the brush stains very easily, and the bristles are so absorbent, the paint is drawn up to the ferrule.
They hold their shape well when used, and are responsive, easily changing the brushstroke with small changes in pressure and angle. Like many synthetics, they have a 'slick' feel and tend not to show bristle marks. These brushes aren't available everywhere in the US right now, but you can find them here (opens in new tab).
The Catalyst range covers a selection of tools designed for working with thick media and impasto painting, including these brushes, which are well-suited to working with thickly applied oil paints.
Compared to conventional brushes, these don't hold paint well – they are more suited to pushing it around, which they are very good at, and because of this quality, they do not clog up with paint either. This makes them easier to clean.
They are a very stiff brush, and resist bending, though they do have enough flexibility to make them far more brush-like than impasto tools such as palette knives. They also have a black ferrule to prevent glare.
The Escoda Grafilo brushes are a high quality sable that can produce an incredibly fine point, and hold paint well even at small sizes. These are better for more experienced artists or professionals, but are a great choice for anyone needing to produce very tight details.
These will need a bit more care than other paintbrushes, as they will lose their point quickly if not cleaned thoroughly and gently. They are best used for thin applications of paint, as the brush hair is too soft to push thick paint around. The length and weight of the handles makes it easy to balance expressive marks with accuracy as well.
These brushes aren't widely available in the UK at the moment, but you can find them here (opens in new tab).