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Choosing Your Watercolour Brush: Shape and Hair Type

A poor brush can't fulfil your needs in the long-term — over time, problems with straying brush hairs and lack of water retention arise.

How do you pick out a quality watercolour brush that is best suited for your personal style? Read on to find out!



Most basic is the round brush. Round brushes are the most widely used, thanks to their  versatility. They hold a point well and can produce fine and subtle details. They can also hold water well and are suited to creating broad strokes and large washes. For a wide range of purposes and effects, the round brush is ideal.

Next is the flat brush. They are less versatile compared to round brushes, but can still perform several functions. They can produce strong and precise edges, and so are suited for bold and angular styles. Their flatness makes them ideal for washes and blocking in large areas of paint or water. Like the round brush, the flat brush can hold a large amount of water.

For detail work, there are the spotter brush and the rigger brush.

The spotter brush is a round brush with shorter bristles. This allows you to exercise greater control and is great for fine details. Generally, they are used for retouching or other minute details.

The rigger brush is a round brush with extra long bristles. Able to hold paint well, they are suited to continuous fine line application.

On the other end, there is the mop brush. They can hold a large amount of water and are ideal for painting large washes. They are also suited for blending in colours.


Natural hair brushes are more expensive but can hold more water and are able to last longer. Best for watercolour are sable hair brushes, which can maintain its shape and texture for a very long time.

The Kolinsky sable hair is the highest of standards, which is made using the coat of the kolinsky weasel. They hold water very well, retain their shape, and can produce very fine points. 

There are other sable hair brushes as well that are of high quality, though secondary to the Kolinsky hair brushes. Red sable hair, for example, is a good and more affordable alternative.

There are also squirrel, ox, and goat hairs. They have less of a crisp point than sable hair brushes and are not suited for detail work. Squirrel and goat hairs are instead better used for washes, with squirrel hairs having great absorbency. Ox hairs are typically used for flat brushes. 

Synthetic hair brushes are generally made of nylon and polyester and are less expensive. In comparison to natural hair, they hold less water and paint, and do not last as long. However, they can hold a good point and have a good snap (i.e. bounce back into the original shape quickly). They have also in recent years been catching up with natural hair brushes in terms of quality. 

We hope this guide has been helpful in picking the right watercolour brush for your work. Happy painting!