Watercolour Brush Guide

Tips & Techniques: Watercolour  Brush Guide

Purchasing the correct brush will not only save you from frustration, but also save you money. Invest in the best watercolor brush that you can afford. Choose brushes that are specifically made for watercolor painting and never use your watercolour brushes for anything other than watercolour.

If you take care of your watercolour brushes, they can last you a lifetime.

Why Natural Is Better

Natural Hair contains microscopic ridges along its length, which helps to hold a greater amount of watercolour paint. The more expensive hair types also have a 'spring' that returns the brush to its natural shape and in the round versions, maintain a superb point for years.

A Natural Hair Brush will always give you better results because it enables you to lay down the pigment and leave it; making an “economic brushstroke” -meaning the fewer brushstrokes you make, the ‘fresher’ the painting.

If you do choose a synthetic brush, choose a size that is one or two sizes larger than you would with a sable (if you expect your brush to hold the same amount of paint as a natural hair brush).

The only synthetic brushes that we recommend for watercolour painting are the Escoda Perla and the new Princeton Neptune brushes. The Perla has a large proportion of filament for their size and are handcrafted with a unique tapered end which enables the artist to create the finest point. The Neptune brush simulates a squirrel brush with incredible water/pigment-holding capabilities.

As a ‘middle of the road’ brush, there are synthetic/sable mixed brush available, like the Robert Simmons Sapphire Brush.

Brush Types.


The Round Brush is the most common choice with watercolour artists.

All good quality round watercolor brushes will have a seamless nickel coated brass, or even gold, ferrule that is firmly secured. Escoda brushes are unique in that they have a triple crimp. This keeps the brush head straight and prevents water penetrating the ferrule.

The hairs on a round brush should have a good “belly” at their widest part for holding a lot of paint, which is then released evenly.

All quality brushes are made with fully sealed handles. The best handles are lacquered to prevent moisture from penetrating the wood, which will eventually compromise the integrity of the brush.

In addition, the brush handle should feel well balanced in the hand.

Riggers & Scripts

A Rigger is also a round brush but has long, fine hairs that are perfect for painting very thin lines.


As the name implies, the hairs are laid out in a flat formation, with a straight end to the filament. This allows you to paint a square edged mark like windows and doors, for example. They come to a sharp chisel edge when charged with paint and if used vertically, they’re ideal for making thin, straight lines.


The Hake is usually made of goat-hair, which is not as soft as most of the other natural hairs, but more flexible than the hog hair brushes used for oil and acrylic painting. It’s also good for painting in large areas such as skies. Hakes usually have a plain, flat wooden or bamboo handle and are a lot bigger than the normal flat watercolour brush. After a little practice, this brush becomes invaluable as an all-purpose painting tool and it actually encourages a loose painting style.

Mops & Quills

A mop is a round, full version of the wash brush, made of soft, absorbent hair or filament. It is useful for laying in large areas of water or colour; for wetting the surface and for absorbing excess media. A versatile mop is the Winsor & Newton Pure Squirrel Brush, as it also comes to a point.

Oval Mops

The oval wash has rounded hairs, flat ferrules, and produces a soft edge, with little or no point. A wash brush is useful for laying in large areas of water or color, for wetting the surface and for absorbing excess media.

Mottler & Wash

The Mottler is used for large, flat washes; for laying down large amounts of pigment with one easy stroke.


The dagger makes a thick and thin line as well as "teardrop" shapes ideal for painting flower petals.

Not All Sable Is Created Equal

Like all natural products, there are different varieties, qualities and grades. This is also true in the hair used for the watercolour brush. Try to avoid cheap “Sable” (which sometimes isn’t Sable at all) from places like China. The highest grade Sable is called Kolinsky, and the highest grade Kolinsky is called, "Tajmir". Tajmir Sable comes from Northern Siberia, where the lowest temperatures enable the animal to grow a longer, fuller coat. The Escoda 1212 Brush for example, is made of Tajmir Sable and they only use the hair from the male's winter tail.

The highest quality brushes are made with the finest Sable and are assembled by artisan hands, who carefully build the brush so that each and every hair follows its natural curve, inward. Escoda have a secret “curing” process which increases spring and resilience, leaving the brush more responsive, a sharper point, crisper edges and the ability to always return to its original shape.

Caring For Your Brushes

  • Never leave your brush sitting in water; always lie them down flat.
  • Avoid leaving paint in the hair for long periods, as the paint can ‘crawl’ up into the ferrule and can be difficult to remove.
  • Avoid water getting up into the ferrule as this can cause cracking in the handle.
  • Never pick up pigment with a dry brush; always wet the hair first.
  • Never squeeze the hair when ‘drying’ the brush; always shake the water out.
  • When finished, rinse your brush in lukewarm water and use an artist’s brush cleaner. Never use a detergent or a soap bar to wash your brush.
  • Dry your brushes flat, or hang them with the tuft-side down. Avoid getting water into the ferrule.
  • If you paint using a pan, never push the brush into the dry pan. Wet the pan first. Always avoid ‘splaying’ the hair.
  • Make sure your brushes are completely dry before storing them in an airtight container.
  • For more information, please visit our store, where you are welcome to sample our brushes. Or, contact us with any questions you may have.
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