This post may contain affiliate links. We may earn a small commission from purchases made through them, at no additional cost to you.
To produce great artwork, you must have the right materials and tools to do the job. If you are a seasoned artist, you already have a firm understanding of what works and what does not work. However, for many, it is the first time they are entering the world of oil painting. So, when walking into an art shop, the immense variety of materials can be daunting. To break it down, we are going to be dealing with the best oil paint brushes and how to choose the right oil brush for you.
Table of Contents
- 1 Types of Bristles for Oil Paintbrushes
- 2 How to Make Sure You Purchase the Best Oil Paint Brush Sets
- 3 Best Oil Paint Brush Sets
- 4 Various Types of Oil Paintbrushes
- 5 How to Care for Your Oil Brush
- 6 Some Oil Brush Tips and Tricks
- 7 Frequently Asked Questions
Types of Bristles for Oil Paintbrushes
Is it necessary to use specific oil paintbrushes? Yes, the oil brush needs to be able to handle the oil paints, and using any old brush will not work. You can use watercolor or acrylic brushes; however, you will be wasting your money as the oil paints will damage these brushes. The main difference between brushes lies in the materials used to make up the bristles.
You must also think about what painting techniques you will be using. Do you need a brush that can hold a lot of paint, create smooth brushstrokes, or apply an impasto effect that leaves brushstrokes behind? The following are the types of bristles you can get for oil painting.
Natural Oil Paintbrushes
The natural bristles are more absorbent than your synthetic variety, and the two main types include your bristles brush and sable brushes. Bristle brushes usually come from pigs and are called hog’s hair bristles, which are naturally quite stiff. The stiff bristles hold more paint, and you can work with paint techniques that require thicker applications.
You also produce a paint stroke that emphasizes a brushstroke. They are also great for producing texture and working on rougher surfaces. Bristle brushes can also be used to cover larger areas of the canvas and can provide base paint layers.
The next type of natural brush is your sable oil brush. These brushes are much softer and are obtained from weasels, squirrels, or ferrets. The bristles obtained from the tail of a weasel are fairly difficult to come by, and making the brushes takes time, which is why these brushes are more expensive. The more affordable options are from the squirrels and rabbits; however, these bristles do not maintain their shape as well as the more expensive brushes.
You use the sable paintbrushes for finer details, as they help to blend the paint smoothly. They are best used in smaller areas to create realistic effects. Oil paints are thick, so you will need to change the consistency with an oil medium to make the paint more fluid.
Synthetic Oil Paintbrushes
Today, you can get good synthetic brushes that perform well and can be used instead of your natural brushes for oil painting. The brushes come in different bristle types, and you can get brushes that are stiff and others that are softer, like the sable brushes. Since the natural brushes are sourced from living animals, some prefer using synthetic brushes as substitutes.
The natural brushes are softer; however, the synthetic brushes provide more durability.
The synthetic brushes today also offer more “spring,” so they work well with thick oil paints. Ultimately, you should be able to find a synthetic brush that is strong enough to hold thicker paint, yet soft enough to paint finer details. Choosing a brush is a personal thing, and you can go for the more expensive natural brushes or opt for the cheaper synthetic brushes. However, the seasoned professional who does commission work might prefer the more natural brush options as they outperform the synthetic brushes every time. On the other hand, if you are a beginner, or like to work with different mediums including oils, acrylics, and watercolors, then synthetic brushes might be a better option.
Comparison Table for Natural Versus Synthetic Oil Brushes
Whatever choice of oil brush you choose, there should be a brush that suits your needs. Today, artists have an abundance of options available to them, from individual brushes to brush sets. Below is a simple comparison table showing the differences between natural and synthetic paint brushes for oil painting.
|Natural Oil Brush||Synthetic Oil Brush|
|Durability||More delicate||More durable|
|Material||Animal hair: hog’s hair, weasel, ferret, or squirrel||Nylon, polyester, or blend|
|Uses||Best for oil paints holds more paint||Best for acrylics and watercolors|
How to Make Sure You Purchase the Best Oil Paint Brush Sets
When shopping for the best oil paint brushes, it can be slightly overwhelming as there are so many options available. If you want the best oil brush, the price is not the only thing you need to look at. There is a lot more that goes into the quality of paint brushes for oil painting. Besides the materials used for the bristles, let us see what other aspects you need to look at.
The Shape and Size of Oil Paintbrushes
Unfortunately, there is not one brush that does all, various sizes are used for different applications. The smaller brushes are more for finer details, while the broader and bigger brushes are more for larger coverage. Artist’s brushes come in numbered sizes and the most common include 000 to 20.
Six and under are best used for detail work, while six up to fourteen are great for medium-type work or color blocking. Anything from fourteen and up is best for backgrounds, washes, and larger surface coverage.
There are also many different shapes from flat to round and angled, which we will be dealing with in more detail below. When it comes to oil painting, three main shapes are important, the flat oil brush for lines and color blocking, round oil brushes for creating patterns and more detailed work, and Filbert oil brushes for blending.
Understanding the Structure of an Oil Brush
The best way to know what brush to purchase is to have an understanding of how a brush is made up. The basics of a brush design include some bristles that are attached to a handle using what is known as a ferrule. We have already made mention of the materials used for the bristles.
The handle of the oil brush can be short or long and is made from either wood or plastic. The longer handled brush provides a lighter touch when painting, while the shorter brush helps with more close-up work. The ferrule is a piece of metal that clamps and holds the bristles on the end of the brush handle. If you want a brush to last a long time, and be of good quality, a ferrule is important to have.
Quality of Oil Brushes
The better quality, the better results you will get. Thankfully, there are quite a few good-quality and affordable oil brush options available. A good brush should have a “spring.” This means it pops right back up once you have lifted it off the surface. The brush must be flexible and respond to what you want it to do. The bristles should also keep their shape, even after using it for some time.
The brush should have a good holding capacity for the paint, can the brush hold enough paint, and are they absorbent enough.
Remember, a stiff brush will leave brush marks, while a softer brush is better for blending. Check to see if the hairs or bristles fall out, especially when used with solvents and used repeatedly against a rough surface. You might have to experiment a little with different brushes to start with until you find the one that works for you.
Cost of Oil Paintbrushes
The cost of brushes can range from cheap to expensive. You should be able to find a brush that lies somewhere in the middle, something that is affordable, yet durable and of good quality. There are brushes you can buy individually and there are also different oil paint brush sets.
Best Oil Paint Brush Sets
Before we move on to the different shapes of oil brushes, we are going to take a look at a recommended oil paint brush set. If you are a beginner, it might help to get a good basic set of brushes, however, you can purchase single brushes if you would like to test out a few first.
Best Versatile Beginners Oil Brush Set: ARTIFY Paint Brush Set
The ARTIFY Pint Brush Set is a fifteen-piece set of nylon brushes that comes in a handy carry case. The set also contains a palette knife as well as two sponges. The brush set is versatile as you can use the brushes for oil paints as well as acrylics, watercolors, and gouache. The brushes all have sturdy ferrules that will not loosen, and you will not have a problem with loose hairs falling onto your painting.
The heavy glue coating that secures the ferrule also makes it possible to soak the brush in water for more than two days. However, it is not recommended you do this, as looking after your brushes is important so they can last much longer. The oil brush set contains a variety of sizes and shapes from liner, angular, to flat, filbert, fan, comb, and round. The convenient carry case comes with a pop-up stand, so you can exchange brushes while you work. The carry case is also easy to transport, making it a convenient way to paint.
Various Types of Oil Paintbrushes
Next, we are going to be dealing with all the different shapes of paint brushes for oil painting. We have also recommended the best oil paint brushes for each type. Each of these shapes provides a different way to paint. There are specific brushes for painting details and brushes for painting over larger areas.
Round Oil Brush
This is a traditional brush shape and is the one brush most will picture when talking about art brushes. The brush has a round or pointed tip, with larger bellies and long hairs. These brushes are great for working on finer details and filling in those smaller areas. They can be used to create thin and thicker lines, which is determined by the amount of pressure used. These brushes can usually hold quite a lot of paint, which will give you bold strokes.
The larger soft round brushes can be used with oil; however, it can be slightly challenging to work with and is best used for watercolors.
Recommended Round Oil Paint Brushes: PRINCETON Select Artiste
The Princeton Select Artiste Series is used for oil painting as well as for acrylic and watercolors. The brand provides artists with a choice of sizes and shapes, all designed with quality synthetic bristles. You can easily explore many techniques to create a beautiful art piece. The brushes are affordable and durable and can be compared with more expensive luxury brushes.
Flat Oil Brush
Flat brushes have long to medium square-top shaped bristles, with the bristles being longer and froing more a rectangular shape. This type of brush is used for washes, impasto, bold strokes, blending, and filling in wide areas. However, you can also use the brush for fine lines and to produce straight edges. When using it flat, it creates broader strokes, while turning it to the side will create thinner lines. You also get different sizes, all the way up to a large flat brush. These brushes are great for doing backgrounds and underpaintings
Recommended Flat Oil Brush: PRINCETON Select Artiste
The Flat brush from Princeton is great to use on a variety of arts and craft projects and can be used to paint with oils, acrylics, and watercolors. The bristles are designed to not fray or shed and should hold their shape well. The brush is affordable and a product that can be used by artists from all levels.
Fan Oil Brush
This is a type of flat brush that consists out of a thin layer of bristles that are fanned out. These brushes are used for blending, feathering, and smoothing. They are also good for adding highlights and creating textures. Great for painting things like leaves, grass, hairs strands, branches, and creating those soft edges on clouds.
For the brush to work effectively, it is best to not overwork an area, making it look more unnatural.
Recommended Fan Oil Brush: AMAGIC Fan Brush Set
The Amagic fan brush set contains six brushes of different sizes. The brushes are versatile as you can use them with oil paints, watercolors, acrylic, even for face painting. The hog bristles are of good quality and will not shed. The oil brush is also durable and easy to clean and reshape. The bristles have an excellent holding capacity when it comes to the paint and is easy to use and hold with the long wooden handles.
Filbert Oil Brush
This brush has medium to long flat-oval bristles that have chiseled rounded edges. The brush is designed with a long handle and can be used similar to both the round and flat brushes. The brush is best used to blend soft edges on a painting. You can use the brush on its side, which produces thinner lines, or flat for braider strokes. You can easily create a tapered effect by slowly lessening the pressure as you go. Filbert brushes can also be used to mix paints while painting.
Recommended Filbert Oil Brush: DAINAYW Filbert Paint Brush Set
The Dainayw Filbert Paint Brush Set includes nine brushes of varying sizes and is suitable for artists of all levels. The brush is sturdy and durable with chrome-plated brass ferrules. The brush is made to be comfortable when used and is easy to clean and reshape. These brushes are also versatile as they can be used for oil painting acrylic and watercolors, as well as face painting and model painting.
Rigger Oil Brush
A rigger brush, also identified as a liner brush, has long and thin bristles. These brushes are used for painting finer details, and since the bristles can hold a lot of paint, they can create nice long lines. These are perfect for creating trees, grass, branches, and things like fences or ropes.
To create beautiful fine lines, it is best to add some thinner like linseed oil to help with the smooth flow of paint.
Recommended Rigger Oil Brush: DA VINCI Oil Paint Brush
The Da Vinci oil paintbrush is made from sable hair and holds its shape very well. These brushes are handmade in Germany and are said to provide the best quality for all artists. The brushes are made to hold oil paints quite well, even after using the brush many times. The brush is made from sustainable wood and is, therefore, a nice choice if you are concerned about the environment. The brand itself is well-known and has a long history, so products have been well tested over the years.
Bright Oil Brush
These brushes have a flat ferrule and the bristles or hairs attached are short in length, they are also attached to a long handle. The hairs on the brush tend to curve slightly inward, but overall, and the bristles are the same in length and width. The brush is used for shorter, more controlled strokes. The brushstrokes will also be visible. The smaller size bright brushes are perfect for creating texture, for example, trees.
Recommended Bright Oil Brush: WINSOR & NEWTON Hog Bristle Brush
The Winsor & Newton Bristle Bright Brush is made from Chinese hog bristles and comes with a durable and corrosion-resistant ferrule. These brushes were made specifically for oil painting; however, they can also be successfully used with acrylic paints. The bristles carry the oil paints evenly and are perfect for applying finer details.
Mop Oil Brush
A mop brush is a larger and round wash brush, and it is excellent for covering larger areas. Mop brushes are also used to help with blending oil as well as acrylic paints.
These brushes can help to soften painted areas that are not dry and can be used for glazing and removing brush strokes.
Recommended Mop Brush: PRINCETON Paint Brush
The Princeton Paint Brush can be used with oil paints as well as acrylics and watercolors. The oval mop brush comes in a variety of sizes and is elegantly designed with a satin finish blue handle. The bristles hold paint colors well, retain their shape, and should not shed or fray over time.
A palette knife can be a useful tool when oil painting and helps to mix and apply paint to the canvas. You can also use a palette knife to create textured effects and is best used on thicker paints like oil paints and acrylics. The best tool for creating different edges in a painting. Palette knives are easier to clean, and some artists even opt for only using a palette knife when painting. Although, you might find that you do not have the accuracy and versatility a brush does.
Recommended Palette Knife for Oil Painting: CONDA Palette Knife
The Conda Palette Knife comes in a variety of sizes and this set contains five different metal knives with wooden handles. The variety of sizes and shapes allows for fun experimentation on canvas, mixing paints, and shaping the colors. The handle is designed for maximum comfort and is a tool that can be used by both students, professionals as well as hobbyists. The handles also have strategic holes so you can easily hang the palette knives up for storage. This particular set is value for money and a great choice for beginners.
How to Care for Your Oil Brush
To get the most out of your oil paint brushes, you should care for them properly. Cleaning and maintaining your brushes is essential if you want to use the same brush for a long time. The brush hairs or bristles can be delicate, especially if they are natural. When using oil-based paints, it might be necessary to use turpentine, mineral spirits, or paint thinners to clean the brushes. When using solvents, it is best to do so outdoors, or in a well-ventilated room.
How to Clean Oil Brushes
Oil-based paints can be difficult to remove from brushes, especially when compared to water-based paints, which only need water and soap. Oils and water do not mix, which is why you need something stronger to remove the oil paints. It is important to clean your brushes straight away and not to leave them for later to clean. This could damage the bristles and paint can build up within the ferrule. Items needed to clean your brushes:
- Newspaper or paper towels
- Paint thinner (you can get odorless options)
- One or two old cups
- Paintbrush cleaner
- Soap (special soaps for cleaning brushes)
First, you need to get rid of all the surplus paint. Place some of your chosen solvents in a cup and rinse the brush off. Remove and gently wipe with some of the paper towels. Once this is done, rinse in warm water and repeat if there is still a lot of paint present. There will most likely still be some paint on the brush, so your next step would be to place the brush one more time into the solvent and then use the soap.
Gently work a lather up with the brush on the surface of the soap. This should get well into all the bristles.
Work gently and do not push the brush onto the soap, as this could damage the bristles. Next, rinse off the brush in some warm water and follow the same process again if necessary. You will know it is clean if there is no more paint bleeding onto the soap surface. Once done, reshape the bristles and place them into a brush holder, which should hold the brushes inverted, without anything touching the bristles. When working with natural bristles, you can add a final touch of linseed oil when reshaping the brushes.
Some of the paints can be toxic, so it is recommended you work with gloves while cleaning your brushes. Working with solvents is also not pleasant, so you can try replacing these with linseed oil. You might need to clean the brush following the same process above a few more times, a lot more than when using the solvents. You might be painting quite often and going through the whole cleaning process every time can be time-consuming. So, you can still remove any excess paint and then dip the brush into a slow-drying oil and place it onto your brush holder. When you want to paint again, wipe and start painting. However, you will need to clean the brushes properly after you are done with your painting.
How to Store Your Oil Brush
When cleaning the brushes and you do not have a paintbrush holder to dry your brushes, you can dry them standing up so that you do not damage the bristles. You need to also store our paintbrushes in a dry place, and make sure the brushes are dry before storing them. You can store them in a special brush case, or simply use a jar, making sure to keep them tip side up.
The main thing is to not apply too much pressure to the tips at any time.
Some Oil Brush Tips and Tricks
When painting, whatever medium you are using, you will want to make sure your paintbrushes are kept in good shape and will last a long time. Sometimes, there are some things you can do to make the painting experience easier. Below are a few tips for when working with oil paintbrushes.
- Do not throw away old brushes with split hairs, these can add a different kind of texture to your paintings when needed.
- When you are painting, make sure the paint does not reach over the ferrule. Paint can harden in the ferrule if not cleaned properly and damage the brush.
- Consider using a palette knife for mixing oil colors as cleaning a paintbrush takes time, while a palette knife is much easier to clean.
- When busy with more than one media, do not use the same brush.
- When painting, rather pull than push your brush to prevent damaging the bristles.
- Do not leave brushes for longer than a day, the paint will harden.
When it comes to oil brushes, quality is always going to trump quantity. Although they may be expensive at the outset, good-quality oil brushes will last longer and produce smoother and more beautiful outcomes. If you are purchasing these slightly more pricey brushes, proper use and care will help them last for a long time and ensure that you get your money’s worth.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can You Use Oil Paints With Synthetic Brushes?
Natural oil brushes have been preferred for many years, but with the advance in designs, many synthetic brushes now provide the same effectiveness at a more affordable price. However, many prefer the natural hog bristles as they can hold paint better.
Are There Different Types of Oil Brushes?
You get both natural pig or hog’s hair bristles and synthetic brushes. These brushes come in different types of shapes and sizes. All these types of brushes help to provide different techniques while painting. Some of the well-known brushes include round and flat brushes, filbert, fan, and bright oil brushes.
How Should You Store Oil Brushes?
Storing your brush’s tip-up is important to prevent damaging the bristles. If they are placed facing down onto a hard surface, there is pressure on the bristles, and this could deform and damage the brush.
Are There Different Brush Sizes for Oil Painting?
Yes, there are many different shapes and sizes of brushes so you can apply various techniques. You might want to paint a small canvas or attempt finer details; you will then need to use smaller brushes. Bigger canvases can reach up to a couple of feet and you will need some larger brushes. However, the choice is up to each individual on how they want to apply the paint.