Modern-day paintbrushes come in many shapes, sizes, and bristle types—and all of these qualities can be either an aid or an impediment to an artist, depending on their desired results.
When it comes to bristles, artists can choose between animal hair (such as hog bristle, sable, and mongoose) or synthetic bristles, which either mimic their natural counterparts or make distinct and novel marks. And in terms of shape, artists must consider what they want from a brush—be that short, thick strokes that show the lines of the bristles; soft, smooth patches of color; long, fluid lines; or something else entirely. The vast quantity of choices can be overwhelming.
To help navigate the wide variety of paintbrushes on the market, we’ve outlined a few of the most common types below, and what they can be used for.
Brushes for oils and acrylics
Long-bristled, soft brushes are excellent for making irregular, “hairy” marks at the end of a brushstroke—a feature that’s helpful for portraying subjects that require fine lines, such as hair and grasses.
When used with fluid paint, or not enough paint, these brushes make a scratchy, meager, and unappealing patches or marks.
Common brush shapes for oils and acrylics