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Which Brush Should I Use?

Knowing which paint brushes do what, is a really useful thing to know. In fact I would have to say it is really essential for me to know this information, if I want to get the best out of my tools.

Although many brushes will be acceptable for both acrylics and oils, there are some that I definitely favour one over the other, for a particular effect. As I was saying in my last post on brushes, the advance in synthetic brushes has been more rapid of late and this has contributed to the cross over in using them for both oils and acrylics.

Below I discuss six of the most commonly used brushes that acrylic and oil painters use.


Here are some of the most used types of paint brushes for both acrylics and oils. Do bear in mind though that these are just general recommendations and suggestions.


The brush above is commonly known as a Bright. A bright is easy to confuse with a flat. However, you can tell the difference between them by looking at the length of their bristles. The bright has shorter bristles than a flat. I prefer brights for painting, as I find the longer bristles of the flats, don't have as much spring and are harder to control. This particular brush is made of natural hog hair, which until recently was unmatched in being able to lay down thick oil paint. Now however, some of the synthetic brushes are beginning to match these qualities.

These brushes are good for creating distinctive square ended brush marks and are great for textured impasto type of painting.


Filbert Brushes

These brushes look very similar to flats and brights, but if you look closely you will see that the filbert’s bristles curve in to a tapered finish at the top which makes it a good brush for blending both oil and acrylic paints.

The filbert is also good for painting curves, which the flats and brights don't seem to handle as easily. They tend to leave a distinctive curved mark in thicker paint.

As you can see in the picture, the profile of all filberts are not the same, and they do vary from brand to brand.


These might be strange names to give to a paintbrush, but the dagger and sword brushes can be quite powerful. They work better with acrylics than oils and can be used to create quite distinctive marks with thinner paint, which makes them very suitable for water colours also.

These brushes come in many sizes and bristle types, so be sure you find the right one based on your painting needs. They can be used to create water effects and plant stems among other things. They have a very fine tip on them and can be used as a great tool for getting into small spaces, among other things.

A word of caution however - the dagger is a lot easier to wield than the sword as it has shorter bristles, but the sword can carry a lot more paint.


The fan brush is often a favourite for landscape painters as it is very useful for both clouds, foliage and also grasses. It's a thin flat brush which has the bristles spread out in a semi-circle, like a hand-held fan. Many artists use fan brushes only for blending colors, however they are also extremely useful for mark-making. The types of marks you get in the paint with a fan brush depends on whether it's one with coarse hair or soft, and how much paint you've got on the brush. It also depends on whether you are using the brush with dry or wet bristles.

Find out more about mark making with a fan brush - 6 techniques to try.

NEXT WEEK: I take a look at water colour brushes.

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