Learn everything about types of Watercolor Paintbrushes.

In this tutorial, we will be covering the basic shapes of each type of watercolor paintbrushes, that is commonly used with aqueous media. Of course, what’s to say you can be unconventional and use any paintbrush you want. At the end of the day, it’s down to personal preference and what kind of marks you want to create.

Types of watercolor paint brushes

If you are not sure and feel out of depth with what watercolor paintbrushes to use, you can always turn to fellow internet users for reviews on watercolor paint brushes you are considering. Soon I will also create a review area on this page, where you can find reviews of art supplies.

Though physically holding a brush can give you a better idea if you like it or not. If it does not sit in your hand comfortably or you are unhappy with the weight distribution or balance of the paintbrush, then you will inevitably stop using the paintbrush and it would be a waste of money.
It is like finding your favorite pen, once you find the right watercolor paintbrush, it will feel like an extension of your hand.

Watercolor Painting

A Paintbrush for every style

Watercolor paintbrushes come in all sorts of different sizes and shapes and picking one can be very daunting when faced with an assortment of different brands to consider as well. Watercolor Paintbrushes are not produced equally, and that is often reflected in the price you pay. Of course, you can also feel the that higher priced paintbrushes normally have a better quality.
You do not need to spend a fortune for a good paintbrush, at the end of the day it comes down to personal preference and what suits your painting style.

Let’s break down parts of the watercolor paintbrush to help you out:

Paintbrush Anatomy

Paintbrush Parts

1. Brush handle – This part can be made of acrylic or wood and even bone. The shape of the handle can make a difference in how the watercolor paintbrush feels to hold. Too slim or too large and it might feel uncomfortable. Wooden handles will expand if left to soak unattended in water. If the handle has a painted finish this will also make the paint peel away, acrylic handles do not have this problem. The Length of the handle can also vary but the longer handles are better for balance.

2. Brush Ferrule – The metal part that connects the bristles to the handle, it can be made of tin, aluminum, brass or copper alloys which are nickel or chrome plated. This bit is another important part of the watercolor paintbrush. If it doesn’t fit properly or is poorly made your bristles will fall out.

3. Brush Crimp – The area of the ferrule in which the handle sits is pressed together to connect the ferrule and bristles to the handle. A double or triple crimp is quite secure. Be wary of cheap paint brushes as if the crimp is poorly done the handle will eventually separate from the ferrule.

4. Brush Tip – The important part of the paint brush, the bristles where the brush meets the paper. A good quality pointed brush will taper neatly to a fine point. Look for brushes with a well-defined shape. Cheaper brushes will be inferior and spread outwards making it harder to control the brush marks you make.

5. Brush Belly – This is the widest part of the bristles on the brush. The size of the belly will determine how much water or watercolor paint the brush will hold. This varies based on what size brush you purchase.

Paintbrush – Size

Now we have covered the basic parts of a paint brush, do you need to purchase all the sizes available?

There is a number printed on the brush handle which gives you the width measurement of the brush. This can be written in imperial measurement (inches) or in metric (millimeters).

Sizes vary from 0 all the way up to 24 millimetres in width. The bigger the watercolor paintbrush is the more liquid and paint it will hold but you will get less control over the shape of the mark you make. This is good for big area washes of color. The opposite can be said about a smaller brush, less liquid and paint capacity give more fine control. These are best for details, fine lines and highlights.

Paint Brush Sizes

Once you have figured out what size paintbrush you want to use, another thing to consider is the material the bristles are made of. There are a variety of hair varieties available on the market but each one has different qualities that you should be aware of. We will only cover the ones that are best suited to use for watercolor paints.

Paintbrush – Bristles


  • Camel – Not actually made of camel hair, they are usually squirrel, goat, ox, pony or a blend of various natural hairs. The softness and cost of the brush are dependent on the blend of hair.
  • Kolinsky sable – Though it has sable in the name, the hair is actually from mink (part of the weasel family) found in Siberia and northeast China. Sable is considered the best grade of hair and is also the most expensive.
  • Ox hair – The best hair comes from the ear, very strong and resilient and blended with other hairs for this reason, however it doesn’t have a fine tip.
  • Pony hair – Soft and strong, makes good inexpensive scholastic grade paint brushes.
  • Red sable – Any Weasel hair can be used, but it is a step down from the kolinsky sable brushes. Red sable hairs can often be found blended with ox hair for a more affordable brush, but this means they will lose their fine point.
  • Sabeline – Is in fact select ox hair dyed red to resemble red sable, often mixed with sable to make a more affordable brush.
  • Squirrel – Can be from the grey squirrel or red squirrel and are taken from the tail. Squirrel hair creates medium to scholastic grade paint brushes. They have a fine point like kolinsky sable hair but are less resilient.
  • Synthetic – Manmade materials, usually nylon or polyester are used. These bristles are very mouldable and can be used to create various shapes and fine tips. They are versatile and durable and can be used for all media, not just watercolor paintbrushes.
Watercolor paintbrush

Paintbrush – Shape


There are a huge variety of brush shapes available on the market and each one has a different purpose. We will cover the ones best suited for watercolor painting. This means good paint holding capacity and ability to create texture and fine details.

Round brush – come in a variety of different shapes such as pointed round, full-bellied round and detail round. These brushes have large paint carrying capacity and can be rounded tipped or have a fine point. A large variety of marks and even washes can be created dependant on the shape. In general, a good versatile brush.

Flat brushFlat, square shaped and good paint holding capacity. Great to use for big bold brush marks, washes, and sharp edges.

Liner – A long narrow brush that has a good paint holding capacity. Used for fine details, long and fine continuous lines and lettering.

FanFan shaped, narrow at the ferrule and wide at the end. Used for smoothing and blending and textural effect.

Wash/Mop – Come in a variety of shapes, such as oval and flat. These brushes are used for large areas of watercolor or wash.

Now let’s demonstrate how each brush can be used effectively:


Initial line drawing

Watercolor Painting

I used 2 kinds of brushes round brushes for the whole painting (size 10, 6, 10/0) and angled shaders (1/2, 1/4, 1/8). The first wash was done with the 1/2 shader, the more paint was added with the 1/4 shader.

The main flower was done with the round brushes the main color was done with the 10 and each layer of detail was done with the 6 and then the 1/10.

I then repeated the same process over each of the different colored areas.

Conclusion on Watercolor Paintbrushes

We have now covered the basic anatomy of the paintbrush and narrowed down the shapes of brushes and which bristles are best suited for watercolor painting. If you are just starting out on your watercolor journey I would recommend starting out with scholastic grade paint brushes. Some of my favorite paintbrushes have been medium grade paintbrushes and I feel they suit my needs fine.

As for what shape brushes you need, it depends on what marks you want to create within your artwork as well as the size you want to work to. I recommend having a brush you can do large areas of wash with (so a flat, mop or wash brush), as well as a good size range of round brushes for detail and color (you do not need one of each size, just enough brushes to cover a good range like 0, 4, 6 or 8 and 14) and something for small details like a liner or a small round brush.


The final decision is what kind of bristles to choose. These days I only purchase synthetic bristles, this is down to my ethical choices. However, my favourite brush I have ever used is a size 10 sable red bristle brush. My grandmother gave me this brush, which she had used previously, over ten years ago and it is still in my paintbrush collection.

I hope you enjoyed the little tutorial about Watercolor Paintbrushes 🙂

If you want to learn more about Watercolor Painting you should check my other tutorials! See you there!

Watercolor Tutorials