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24 Different Types of Paint Brushes

A collage of paint brushes.

The earliest paintbrushes were made of animal hair. In fact, the reason we call the end of a brush “bristle” is that it used to be made from the bristle or coarse hair of hogs, pigs, and boars. In particular, some consider the sable brushes as the best brushes for watercolors.

Sable brushes are made of sable’s tails but the larger ones can only be made after the winters in Siberia and Mongolia when the animal’s tail becomes particularly bushy. Up until the 18th century, each strand of animal hair is hand-glued to the handle. Brushmakers took eight years of training.

During the Industrial Age, brushmakers experimented with metal ferrules which led to the creation of flat brushes.

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Household Brush

Household Brush

If you are going to be completing any large-scale painting projects around your home, such as painting walls, furniture, the ceiling, trim, or banister, then you need to make sure that you choose a painting brush designed for this purpose.

Unlike art paint brushes, which tend to be very small and perfect for working with certain types of paints and canvases, these household brushes are much larger and built to handle a lot of paint and are used without falling apart.

When choosing a paintbrush for your project, you need to make sure to consider the size of your brush and project, the surface you will be painting on, and what kind of paint you are going to be using, as this will help you choose the right one for your needs.

Art Brush

Different types of an artist's paintbrush.

Art or craft brushes are much smaller and have different shapes to their bristles. While these brushes are ideal for painting with oil, acrylic, and watercolor paints, they are not a great choice for applying a lot of paint to your walls or other home improvement project.

They come in a variety of sizes and styles, just as household paint brushes do, but they have a very different use and are not what you need to reach for when completing home improvement projects around the home.


Angled Sash

Angled Sash

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This type of brush is often referred to as a “cutting brush,” as they are commonly used to “cut in” around your walls and other architectural designs when painting.

The bristles on these brushes have been cut at a slant, which makes it significantly easier to make sure that you have nice, clean lines when you are painting.

They are great for use on anything that has grooves that you need to get into, such as doors with panels, furniture, and cabinet fronts. They are also ideal for getting into small spaces, such as painting between window or door trim and the wall.


Wall paintbrush

Wall brushes are generally very large and have a flat and square end as opposed to bristles that have been cut into an angle. They come in many different sizes so that you can easily choose one that will meet your needs, no matter whether you are painting paneling, doors, or walls.

Choose from 3”, 4”, and 6” sizes, which are the most popular. One benefit of wall brushes is that they are available with a variety of different types of bristles.

This means that you can easily choose the brush that will be easiest to use for your project and will work best with the type of paint that you have chosen.


Finishing paintbrush

When you want to make sure that you will have a completely smooth surface that can withstand scrutiny without looking messy or streaky, then you will want to choose a finishing brush for the job.

These brushes have bristles that are much softer than normal and are often made out of ox hair. They are a great choice for painting things such as finials on your banister, which everyone will be looking at each time they go up and down the stairs, or your kitchen cabinet doors.

Anywhere that you want to make sure that you have a smooth finish on your painting job, you need to reach for a finishing brush.

Round Sash

Round sash paintbrush

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These brushes have a very blunt end that is highly tapered and has soft edges. This type of paintbrush is great for covering large areas on your wall or other painting projects, and they are great for use when you need a lot of control over your paint and where you place it.

They are ideal if you are going to be working with a decorative or faux finish for this reason. They are generally much smaller than other types of paint brushes and are typically available from 20 to 40 mm. in addition to being used for decorative purposes, these paint brushes are also very useful if you are working on small trim, such as window muntins.

Flagged Bristle

Flagged bristle paintbrush

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Most square-cut brushes have bristles that are also cut in a square shape. While this is great for many purposes, these bristles don’t do a wonderful job of holding a lot of paint.

If you want to make sure that you have a lot of surface area on your bristles so that you can pick up and hold as much paint as possible each time you dip your brush into the paint then you need to make sure to choose a brush that has flagged bristles.

The bristles are going to be split at the end and will be visibly fuzzy. Thanks to the split end, not only can you pick up more paint with these brushes, but the paint will be released very smoothly, which will allow you to create a very smooth and clean finish.


Trim paintbrush used to clean a computer keyboard.

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Trim brushes have very short handles that allow the person using them to have complete control over the brush. This increase in control also means that the person using the brush will not get as easily fatigued when using it and is able to work much faster.

The smaller size of these brushes increases the control the user has, making it much easier to maneuver them in smaller spaces.

They can be used anywhere that you want to use an angled sash brush, but due to the smaller size and the way that the handle is designed, you are likely to have much better control and will be able to complete the job a lot faster when you use a trim brush.


Foam paintbrush

While foam brushes aren’t used with every painting job that you are going to complete in your home, they are ideal in certain situations and will make some jobs a lot easier and faster. Foam brushes are specifically designed to be able to hold a lot of urethane, stain, and paint.

They produce a very smooth finish on your final project, as long as you are careful not to leave behind a lot of air bubbles in the product you are working with. Due to their low cost, they are inexpensive enough to throw away when the job is done.

Foam brushes are great for use on trim, cabinetry, and furniture, although you won’t see them used very often for larger spaces, such as painting the wall.


A set of stencil paintbrushes

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If you are going to be doing any stencil work on your walls, then you need to make sure that you have the right brush for the job. Stencil brushes are very different than other types of paint brushes that you can use for major painting projects.

They are round and have a lot of bristles packed very tightly together. The bristles are all the same length, which will allow the user to press paint against the wall and the stencil without worrying about the bristles lifting the side of the stencil and causing a mess.



Paintbrush with natural bristles.

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When painting with latex or acrylic paint, then it’s important to reach for a brush with natural bristles. While they are more prone to breaking and being damaged than synthetic bristles are, they will provide you with an incredibly smooth finish that you can’t get with synthetic bristles.

While synthetic bristles have come a long way since being invented, they simply can’t match some of the characteristics that you find with natural bristles.

This means that when you are using oil-based paints, you need to reach for natural bristles. While some do have a water-based coating, you will want to skip these brushes. This will cause the bristles to actually absorb water.

When this happens, your bristles will be sticky and won’t hold their shape as well as they did at first, which can cause major problems when you are painting.


Paintbrush with synthetic bristles.

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If you are going to be painting with water-based paint, then you will want to reach for a paintbrush that has synthetic filaments. These filaments are incredibly water resistant – even more so than natural bristles, which makes them the obvious choice if you are going to be using acrylic or latex paint.

These bristles are resistant to water, don’t absorb it well, and will retain their shape a lot better than natural bristles will.

It is very easy to find brushes with synthetic filaments without going over budget, which is why many people opt for them without knowing the pros and cons of the two different types of bristles. This can, of course, cause you to have major problems with your painting project if you choose the wrong type of brush to use.


Paintbrushes with nylon bristles.

One of the most popular types of synthetic material used in brushes is nylon. These brushes are generally incredibly durable, but they should not be used on rough surfaces because they do not offer the stiffness in the filaments that other brushes do.

Additionally, since nylon is so soft and flexible, you may not feel like you have perfect control over where you are applying the paint. While nylon is incredibly durable, using it on rough surfaces for extended periods of time will cause the filaments in the brush to break.

This means that this brush is best used on indoor applications where you will be painting semi-smooth and smooth surfaces.

If you use a nylon brush in humid and hotter conditions for a long time, then you will likely have to deal with filaments that lose their shape, making it even more difficult to control the paint. This type of synthetic brush is incredibly easy to clean.

Engineered Nylon

Some companies produce synthetic brushes with engineered nylon filaments. This simply means that the filaments have been engineered specifically so that they are stiffer than original nylon filaments.

This means that you will be able to use your engineered nylon brush in hotter and more humid areas without the brush losing its shape and that using it on harder surfaces won’t cause the filaments to damage as quickly as they would if the brush were made of original nylon filaments.


Paintbrushes with polyester bristles.

These are great filaments to choose if you are worried about how much water your brush is going to absorb.

Because the filaments are highly resistant to water absorption, that means that they are not going to lose their stiffness while in use, which will allow the user to maintain great control over the brush throughout the painting project.

One problem when using 100% polyester brushes is that they don’t stand up well to abrasive surfaces. This means that they can be damaged if you use a polyester brush on a very rough and highly textured surface.

Additionally, polyester brushes are known for leaving brush marks in the paint, making it difficult to get a completely smooth surface on your paint job. You can use polyester brushes with all types of paint, but it can be very difficult to get the filaments completely clean.

Use these brushes on exterior projects as long as you are only painting on semi-rough, semi-smooth, and smooth surfaces.

Nylon/Polyester Blend

Paintbrush with nylon/polyester blend bristles.

For the best of both worlds when you are choosing a synthetic paint brush, reach for one that has filaments that are both nylon and polyester.

In this way, you will enjoy a paintbrush that is stiff like polyester and will retain its shape even after long hours of use but is still durable and soft like nylon brushes tend to be. You can use these brushes with all types of paint, and they can be used both indoors and outdoors without any problems.

Because these brushes are so stiff and durable, they are great to use on semi-rough and rough surfaces without worrying about the filaments breaking or becoming damaged. Thanks to the softness of the nylon, you can also use these brushes on smooth surfaces.

They are a little bit more difficult to clean, thanks to the inclusion of polyester in them, but because they are a great brush to use in so many different situations, they are a good choice to have on hand when you are going to be doing a lot of painting.

Black China Bristle

Paintbrush with Black China bristles.

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One type of natural paint brush has black China bristles that are created from hog hairs. These paint brushes are great for use with almost any kind of paint, making them a popular choice for people to have on hand. They can be used with all solvent, alcohol, and oil-based paints and stains.

Because the bristles are a little bit coarser than bristles on other natural paint brushes, they are a great option if you are going to be painting on rough or semi-rough surfaces, as they can stand up to the user without breaking or having the bristles worn down and bent out of shape.

Due to their coarse nature, it can be a little difficult to get a perfectly smooth paint finish when using these brushes on smooth surfaces, so make sure to bear that in mind when choosing your next paintbrush for the job.

Ox Hair

Paintbrush with ox hair bristles.

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The bristles used for these brushes are actually taken from oxen ears. They are incredibly soft, and the individual bristles all come to a fine point rather than having flagged ends the way that hog hair bristles do.

You are able to find brushes that have both ox and hog hair bristles combined, as this ensures that the brush is more durable and can hold more paint than one made only out of ox hair could.

By blending the two types of bristles used, it’s easy to combine the best of the two types into a paintbrush. Blended brushes are great for use on smooth surfaces, as the ox hair included in the brush will keep the paint nice and smooth.

They create a superior finish and are great for use with brushing lacquers, varnishes, enamels, and polyurethanes. They do cost more than other types of natural brushes.

White China Bristle

Paintbrush with White China bristles.

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This brush has bristles that are made from hog hairs, but the hairs used in the construction of these brushes are going to be much softer than those used in black china bristle brushes.

They are great for use with solvent and oil-based paints and are a perfect choice if you want to make sure that you will have a smooth finish when you are done with the work.

They are ideal for both interior and exterior painting jobs, and, while the tips of the bristles are flagged just like on the black china bristle brushes, the tips are much more delicate, which will allow you to produce a smooth and unmarred finish surface on your painting project.



1" size paintbrushes

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These small brushes aren’t ideal for covering a lot of space in a short amount of time, but they will give you a lot of control when you are painting. These smaller brushes give you a lot of control over where you are going to be putting your painting and helps to prevent you from over painting the area.

Look for a long handle that keeps the profile of the brush incredibly narrow so that you can slip it into smaller areas and choose a handle that is comfortable for you to hold.


2" size paintbrush

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Two-inch brushes are incredibly common and easy to find. When you are shopping for a 2” brush, make sure that you look for one with softer tips.

While harder bristles will ensure that your brush lasts for a long time, the increase in bristle stiffness can cause you to leave behind small imperfections, while softer brushes will ensure that you don’t have this problem.


3" size paintbrush

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While you can’t cover as much area with this brush, as opposed to the 4” brush, this is a great choice for cutting in and making a large dent in the amount of area that you will have to paint.

Make sure that when you choose a 3-inch brush, you look for one that has uniform bristles that are firmly attached to the brush so you don’t have to worry about them coming out in your paint.


4" size paintbrush

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While most people prefer to use a paint roller instead of a paintbrush when they need to cover large areas, this large brush greatly will reduce the amount of time that it takes to cover a large area while still giving you the control and finish that you want.

Look for a brush that has a very sturdy handle that is comfortable to hold, as you are going to be moving a lot of weight between the brush and the paint that you are applying, and you don’t want your hand to get tired or sore.



A set of paintbrushes

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If you are just getting started completing your own painting projects, then you will not have all of the brushes that you need right away.

It can be very daunting to go to the store and buy individual brushes, which is why it’s such a good idea to consider buying your paint brushes in a set when you are first getting started.

While you will want to upgrade your brushes to nicer ones eventually, this is a wonderful way to make sure that you have a variety of sizes and styles to choose from, helping you get started on your painting project right away.

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