Types of Oil Painting Brushes
Updated: 04 Jan 2023
Oil paints are thick!
When painting on a canvas, there is a need for brushes that can move the oil paint against the grip of the fabric fibers.
The "working horses" are hog bristle brushes.
When subtlety or precision is needed, use brushes with soft natural bristles, or with synthetic hair.
Linseed oil or other thinner materials can be added to oil paint, allowing the paintbrush to move smoothly.
Note: At the end of this article, you will find some tips regarding paintbrushes usage.
The classic brushes for oil painting are made from pig hair (hog bristle brushes).
Some common types are filbert, flat, round, bright and fan brushes.
Filbert paintbrush is extremely versatile and fits almost any painting style.
The filbert brush has an oval shape, which combines the characteristics of both flat and round brushes. In addition, this brush can be used to mix oil paints while painting.
Round brushes are usually used for delicate work and for details, though they also come in large sizes.
The flat brushes are suitable for accuracy in detail (especially a flat brush made of synthetic hair), and for covering large areas.
Bright, which is a short flat brush, is an excellent brush for applying or moving oil paint.
Because it has short bristles, which bend less, it can move oil paint against the grip of the canvas, and fill large areas fast.
Fan brush can be used for painting grass, hair, fur, removing brushstrokes, and filling large areas.
In the next example, I used a fan brush for painting the grass:
Large flat brushes come in different sizes and for different purposes, depending on the type of hair.
For painting a large area, for example sky, or for painting the bottom layer (underpainting), hog bristle brushes are excellent.
By using them gently, they can remove brushstrokes, and create a smooth surface.
For extra gentle smoothing or blending, brushes with soft hair are better. Goat hair is a good example.
Synthetic brushes come in all types.
Top brands offer a variety of synthetic hair for different tasks and painting styles.
A synthetic flat brush is one of the most versatile and important brushes for precision, and for working on small details.
It is excellent for structures and other objects with clear, sharp edges.
Suitable for painting tree trunks, leaves (by using the corner of the brush, which has a triangular shape), mountains, rocks, and in general for landscape paintings.
A small round brush from synthetic hair is great for small, precise details.
Liner and Rigger:
Liner and rigger brushes are thin brushes with very long bristles.
They create fine details. The length of the bristles holds a large amount of paint, therefore allowing the creation of long lines with one brush stroke.
Liner brush is good for painting grass, branches of trees, ropes and fences.
The use of this brush is by mixing oil paints with thinner or linseed oil, in order to ensure a smooth flow of the brush, and to create extra fine lines.
Angular brushes are particularly versatile and allow the creation of precise details, fill large areas or create unique brushstrokes.
Angular brushes come with different angles and different hair length, and therefore with different names such as angular, dagger, sword etc.
The mop brush is excellent for blending and removing brushstrokes. Use is gently, as if "hovering" over the canvas.
There are many types of brushes with soft synthetic hair for blending, varnish, or glazing.
Synthetic fan brushes:
Another brush, for gentle smoothing of brushstrokes, is a synthetic fan brush.
Brush Size Explained
Paintbrushes come in different sizes. Different brands use different numbers for the size of brushes.
Therefore, it is better to look at the brush size in centimeters or inches rather than the number written on the brush.
The numbers will usually be 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, etc.
Numbers smaller than 0, will be written like that: 00, 000, 0000, etc. Alternatively, in short: 2/0, 3/0, 4/0, etc.
Paintbrushes have long or short handles. Typically, for oil painting, the handle will be long, while for watercolor painting, it will be short.
A long handle allows the painter to keep distance from the canvas while painting, making it easy to see the big picture.
When painting in a realistic style, it is sometimes necessary to get closer to the canvas in order to paint small details.
Therefore, to gain better control during painting and to avoid harming the eyes from the tip of the brush handle, it is advisable to use a short handle brush.
To paint in a realistic style, I recommend reading my article about the 8 key factors for painting realism.
For any craft, having the right tools for the job can be helpful.
Here is a list of my favorite brands for oil painting:
- Rosemary and Co
- Robert Simmons - Signet by Daler Rowney
- Da Vinci
A palette knife or a painting knife is a tool designed to mix oil paints on an artist's palette, but can also be used for painting.
Usually, the blade of palette knives is flexible.
You can mix oil paint with a paintbrush or a palette knife; it is a matter of personal preference and the type of task.
A palette knife is easy to clean after mixing colors, while a paintbrush takes time to clean.
Therefore, when mixing colors in advance, I recommend using a palette knife.
Summary & Tips
There are many types of brushes for oil painting.
Choosing the type of paintbrush is a matter of personal preference, and the painter's painting style.
The bristles of brushes split with time. Old brushes have an advantage in creating randomness, so it is good to keep them for specific tasks.
For precision, I cut or tear off the hairs that split.
In addition, it is possible to cut some brush hairs and create a new brush structure as needed.
How to use brushes with paint:
Dipping a paintbrush in oil paint will help to apply a thick layer of paint on the canvas.
When painting realism, use a little amount of paint at the tip of the brush.
In addition, when trying to clean a paintbrush, it is easier when the paint does not reach the ferrule (the structure that holds the bristles together).
If oil paint enters the ferrule (and not cleaned thoroughly), it will harden inside the ferrule and ruin the brush.
For tips on cleaning paintbrushes and helpful oil painting materials, read my guide for oil painting supplies for beginners.
How to store brushes:
For protecting the bristles, dry the brush (after cleaning) while the bristles are facing up.
If a paintbrush is facing down and leaning on its bristles, the bristles will bend, and their shape will be ruined.
When completely dry, I keep them in a case designed for brushes.
For paint brushes to do their magic, first you need to know how to mix colors.
Hereby, a guide I wrote about oil paint mixing & the color wheel.
For many FREE, online tutorials, I created a list of the best painting instructors on YouTube.