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Paint Brushes
Paintbrushes are used for applying ink or paint. These are usually made by clamping the bristles to a handle with a ferrule. Bristles may be natural or synthetic. Natural bristles are preferred for oil-based paints and varnishes, while synthetic brushes are better for water-based paints as the bristles do not expand when wetted.
Artists brushes are most commonly categorized by type and by shape.


Brush Types
Watercolor brushes which are usually made of sable, synthetic sable or nylon; oil painting brushes which are usually made of sable or bristle; and acrylic brushes which are almost entirely nylon or synthetic. Turpentine or thinners used in oil painting can destroy some types of synthetic brushes. However, innovations in synthetic bristle technology have produced solvent resistant synthetic bristles suitable for use in all mediums. Natural hair, squirrel, badger or sable are used by watercolorists due to their superior ability to absorb and hold water.

Bristles may be natural — either soft hair or hog bristle — or synthetic.

Soft hair brushes are made from Kolinsky sable or ox hair (sabeline); or more rarely, squirrel, pony, goat, mongoose or badger. Cheaper hair is sometimes called camel hair, although it doesnt come from camels.
Hog bristle (often called china bristle or Chunking bristle) is stiffer and stronger than soft hair. It may be bleached or unbleached.
Synthetic bristles are made of special multi-diameter extruded nylon filament.

Artists brush handles are commonly wooden but can also be made of molded plastic handles. Many mass-produced handles are made of unfinished raw wood; better quality handles are of seasoned hardwood. The wood is sealed and lacquered to give the handle a high-gloss, waterproof finish that reduces soiling and swelling.

Metal ferrules may be of aluminum, nickel, copper, or nickel-plated steel. Quill ferrules are also found: these give a different "feel" to the brush. The top of the range brushes, however, usually have ferrules made from transparent plastic tightened in place by thin wire.

Brush Shapes

Paintbrushes can have many shapes. Their names and styles may vary slightly from manufacturer to manufacturer, there are certain consistencies. Traditionally, short handled brushes are for watercolor or ink painting while the long handled brushes are for oil or acrylic paint. The styles of brush tip seen most commonly are as follows

  • Round: The long closely arranged bristles of these brushes make them useful for detail
  • Flat: These are used for spreading paint quickly and evenly over a surface. They will have longer hairs than their Bright counterpart.
  • Bright: These are flat brushes with short stiff bristles and can be useful driving paint into the weave of a canvas in thinner paint applications, as well as thicker painting styles like impasto work.
  • Filbert: Flat brushes with domed ends. They allow good coverage and the ability to perform some detail work.
  • Fan: These are used for blending broad areas of paint.
  • Angle: These, like the Filbert, are versatile and can be applied in both general painting application as well as some detail work.
  • Mop: A larger format brush with a rounded edge for broad soft paint application as well as for getting thinner glazes over existing drying layers of paint without damaging lower layers.
  • Rigger: Round brushes with longish hairs, traditionally used for painting the rigging in pictures of ships. They are useful for fine lines and are versatile for both oils and watercolors.


Brush Sizes
Decorators brushes: The sizes of brushes used for painting and decorating, usually given in mm or inches, refer to the width of the head.

Common sizes are:

  • 1/8 in, ¼ in, 3/8 in, ½ in, 5/8 in, ¾ in, 7/8 in, 1 in, 1¼ in, 1½ in, 2 in, 2½ in, 3 in, 3½ in, 4 inches
  • 10 mm, 20 mm, 30 mm, 40 mm, 50 mm, 60 mm, 70 mm, 80 mm, 90 mm, 100 mm.

Artists brushes: Artists brushes are usually given numbered sizes, although there is no exact standard for their physical dimensions.

From smallest to largest, the sizes are:

10/0, 7/0 (also written 0000000), 6/0, 5/0, 4/0, 000, 00, 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 16, 18, 20, 22, 24, 25, 26, 28, 30. Brushes as fine as 30/0 are manufactured by major companies, but are not a common size.

Sizes 000 to 20 are most common.


Brush Care
A natural/artificial hair brush utilized in one medium (oil paint, acrylic, watercolor, etc.) should not be used again in a different medium, unless the nature of each medium and accompanying solvent affects the hairs of the brushes differently. Using brushes across mediums can cause them to distress prematurely. This information does not apply to synthetic hair brushes.
Paint and solvent residue should be cleaned from brushes immediately after use. After removing most of the paint from the bristles manually with an appropriate solvent, detergent and water should be used to clean the brush further. After a thorough cleaning, natural hair brushes benefit from using a brush conditioner on the hairs to restore oils. A conditioner can be worked into the bristles which can then be shaped to a point and left to dry. Before the next painting session, the conditioner should be removed with water. Art materials manufacturers have produced a variety of specialized products designed for specific brush types and medium usage.

Brushes should not be left bristle-end down in solvent for a prolonged period. Doing so will cause distress to the brush shape and may cause the bristles to splay out and lose their original shape. Different methods of suspending brushes in solvent exist (including a metal spring, mesh or clamp) that grip brush handles and do not allow the bristles of the brush to touch the bottom of the solvent container. Also, leaving brushes in solvent for a prolonged period can cause damage to the bristles themselves by stripping oils and swelling, to the ferrule, to the adhesive used to hold bristles in place, and to the wooden handle.

An eco-friendly way of removing oil paint from brushes while paint is wet is to immerse brush in a container containing vegetable oil. The oil will naturally cleanse away the oil paint. Use a large, plastic yogurt container with a lid, a short tin can like that in which tuna fish comes, flipped upside down with holes punched in bottom and fill the yogurt container half-way full with the vegetable oil. Swish brush, gently rubbing bristles on tin can and blot on cloth to remove excess oil and paint. Reuse oil over and over until it becomes too cloudy to use. Make sure to dispose of dirty oil properly in a seal-able, non-recyclable container in your regular garbage disposal. Do not pour down sink.

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