While all artists need good materials, finding a high-quality brush should be a top priority for watercolor painters. With rising brush prices, more artists are trying other materials and will experiment with a variety of materials and styles before finding their favorite brushes. Artists who create large works will need much larger brushes than artists preferring small, detailed work.
In most cases, it’s better to select a few good brushes, such as a couple medium-size round and a flat brush instead of trying to collect a full range of sizes and styles. Good quality rounds and flats can provide most of the strokes which specialty styles offer. You can also experiment with different types of brushes to find the types of brushes to suit your painting style best. As a rule, Kolinsky sable hair still claims the highest rank among artist’s brushes although it has become a rare commodity. Synthetic brushes on the other hand have improved tremendously over the years.
This list will help you find some of the best watercolor brushes available today based on their ratings and how well they meet the following criteria. Regardless of their material or style, watercolor brushes should have cleanly-trimmed tips, full bristles, and sturdy hardwood handles. The best brands will also have rustproof ferrules fastening the brush to the handle.
Many of these brushes would work for oil paints or acrylics as well, but it’s better not to mix media and to designate individual brushes for one medium only.
Like other top brushes, Series 7 brushes are made from pure Kolinsky sable hair. They are handmade, with soft, absorbent brushes and a good range of sizes. The brushes will last for a long time but are expensive because of sables’ rarity. Read Full Review
The Winsor & Newton Series 7 has long been known as one of the best watercolor brushes with a variety of excellent brushes made from natural fibers as well as synthetics. The Series 7 brushes are made of pure kolinsky sable, traditionally the top material for professional brushes with a soft, absorbent body and clean tips; an excellent choice for watercolor painting. The brushes are hand-made with carefully selected and dressed sable hair, sturdy wood handles, and seamless, rustproof ferrule.
The brushes come in 13 sizes, ranging from Number 000 to Number 10 brushes in the standard style, while a miniature style brush comes with much shorter bristles and a range of nine sizes. Because sable is so rare, the brushes can be costly but they last for years with many artists relying on one or two sable brushes for the majority of their work.
Raphael Kolinsky Red Sable brushes offer several styles of versatile, high-quality painting instruments. While some sable brands offer only round brushes, these brushes come in 15 sizes of rounds tips, a square edge brush and a few extra-long brush tips. They’re also available as a pocket brush for artists who work out of studio frequently. Read Full Review
A popular artist’s brush, the Raphael Kolinsky brushes are made of high-quality red sable hair and like all sable brushes, these brushes have thick, absorbent tips and hold their shape well. The brand offers several styles of Kolinsky brushes including a square edge, several extra-long brush styles and a pocket brush ideal for traveling. This round brush has a standard fine point making it suitable for a wide range of projects and styles and while relatively expensive, they’re still reasonably priced for pure sable. Plus, Raphael Kolinksky offers a wide range of brushes with 15 sizes, including Numbers 12, 14, and 16, (Unusually large for sable brushes.)
While Da Vinci offers a variety of excellent brushes, the Maestro their premium brush. This brush is made of Kolinksy Red Sable hair, and comes in a much larger selection of sizes than other Kolinsky brushes, including the brand’s jumbo rounds. Granted, they are expensive but great for finding a specialty style or size. Read Full Review
With their black handles and sleek, rust-resistant ferrules, the Maestro brushes offer class and quality. Da Vinci produces a variety of excellent brushes, but the Maestro brushes are the brand’s top brushes. Made of special Kolinsky Red Sable hair, these brushes come in a variety of styles including rounds and flats. The rounds come in sizes up to the Number 24 and the jumbo rounds in Number 50, larger than any of the other sable rounds. They are moderately expensive but still reasonable enough where artists can pick up a few specialty styles made from good quality sable.
Squirrel hair is a close rival to sable for artists’ brushes, and these brushes have a high-quality blend of squirrel hair and synthetics. The main difference is squirrel hair is softer and more absorbent. It won’t match sable brush strokes exactly, but possesses its own unique style. Read Full Review
While the best watercolor brushes are made of Kolinsky sable hair, these brushes come in a close second with a blend of squirrel hair and synthetic filament. Squirrel hair is highly absorbent and holds plenty of color but softer than sable hair. The brushes come in a good range of styles from the standard rounds and flats to special script and oval wash brushes. The largest rounds are comparable to a Number 24, while the flat brushes range from a quarter inch to one inch in size. They are also fairly inexpensive for brushes made with natural hair making them a good choice for artists looking for a soft brush or a new style to try.
Instead of sable or squirrel hair, these brushes use top quality synthetic fibers. They are a great choice for someone who wants to avoid animal fibers, and are an affordable option for artists in general. They hold their shape well and feel similar to traditional sable brushes. Read Full Review
The White Sable brushes are not actually made of sable hair but rather a high-quality synthetic filament. While some artists consider synthetics inferior in quality others prefer to avoid sable and other animal-based products and let’s not forget synthetic materials have improved tremendously over time. While Robert Simmons produces a variety of brushes including high-quality sable and synthetic blends, these White Sable brushes can match most sable brushes for quality at a significantly lower price. They have excellent body, hold plenty of color and maintain their shape well. Their only real drawback is the white bristles which stain easily. It doesn’t affect their quality (As long as they are properly cleaned), but they also won’t keep their original, pristine white look either.