While every paint brush might seem the same, there are actually many different types, each designed to work best with different types of paint and applications. Knowing what paint brush works best with what paints will help you make the right choice at the paint store and give a quicker, smoother application of the paint.
The natural hair in natural hair brushes usually comes from Chinese hogs or from badgers. Natural hair paintbrushes work best with oil-based paints, although this means they need to be cleaned with paint thinner. You can also use brushes made from Chinese hog bristles with water-based paint, as they absorb the water.
TIP: Our painting consultant Edward Kimble, author of Interior House Painting Blog, adds, “When there are perfectly good synthetic brushes made specifically for latex paint, there is no reason to use Chinese bristle for this. ‘The right tool for the right job.’ applies here.”
There are several other kinds of natural hair paint brushes available, such as sable hair or camel hair. These tend to be very expensive and more generally used in fine art projects or for highly specialized job by professionals. The most expensive brushes--badger hair--leave no brush marks at all, making them ideal for use with varnish when you want a completely smooth surface. The cost of these brushes demands that they’re looked after well and treated with great care. After cleaning, use a brush comb on expensive natural hair brushes.
Synthetic hair means the bristles are made from polyester or nylon. They’re much rougher than natural hair paint brushes. They work best with water-based emulsion paints.
TIP: Edward says, “The use of synthetic bristle brushes for oil base paint is not recommended. I have used synthetic brushes with oil base paint, but the bristles stay stiff and sort of ‘scratch’ the paint onto the surface, whereas Chinese bristle brushes glide the oil based paint on smoothly. Also, synthetic brushes do not clean up well when used with oil base paint.”
This is because they’re really paint spreaders. They’re much the same as foam brushes in the way they work with paint. They are less expensive than natural hair, and some are very cheap. As they’re much cheaper, they’re not as carefully constructed, so the bristles are more likely to fall out as you’re painting, which can leave you picking bristles out of the wet paint. The stiffness of the bristles is another disadvantage, since it can be almost impossible to avoid brush marks.
TIP: Edward adds, “Cheap brushes throw bristles, but the more expensive brushes do not shed bristles. Bristles in paint are a messy nightmare. This is one of the biggest reasons to spend the extra money on professional brushes.”
Flagging on paint brushes means that the ends of the bristles have been split. These “flagged” brushes, also known as “exploded bristle” brushes, are used exclusively for latex paint work. It’s something you’ll only find with more expensive, synthetic brushes. It helps with the painting, as there is more surface area, and thus more paint on the brush itself. Paint can be applied more smoothly, with fewer marks from the brush.
The best brushes have tapered bristles, with the thicker part at the handle. A careful inspection can revealed whether the bristles are tapered and flagged. Tapered Tynex (a form of nylon) is the most common, and they also generally have exploded bristle tapered tips.
Paint brushes come in many different sizes. These can range from the tiny, used in fine art, to those several inches wide, used when painting a wall. Within the sizing there are specialist brushes. Sash brushes have the bristles cut to a point, or taper in a chisel-like shape to access corners.
TIP: Edward suggests, “The three ‘must have’ brushes for the DIY house painter are a 2 ½-inch flathead Tynex, a 2 ½-inch angular Tynex, and a 2-inch angular Tynex. If you’re going to be applying oil base paint, a 2 ½-inch flathead Chinese bristle brush would be best.”
Edward Kimble, professional painter and author of Interior House Painting Blog, contributed to this article.