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Acrylic Paint Brushes Reviewed

Painting with acrylics can be great fun. However, the acrylic paint brushes you use are essential to the quality of your finished painting.

Painting is to be enjoyed, not endured. There'll be plenty of times when a painting will fight you all the way. At times like this you need quality tools that will help you along the way to produce a picture from which you can derive immense satisfaction.

Here, we'll look at acrylic paint brushes, whilst related articles also look at oil paint brushes and watercolour brushes. All three brush types are, to some degree, interchangeable between paint mediums.

In fact, much of the information about brush sizes, shapes and uses is common to all of the main paint types, so it's worthwhile looking at the other brush articles for that reason alone.

Originally, oil paint brushes were used for acrylic paints - and still are. However, for the past few years, there has emerged a widening range of acrylic paint brushes designed specifically for this medium. These paints, whilst non-toxic, are fairly ruthless on brush fibers.

Manufacturers have therefore developed several ranges of acrylic paint brushes, which invariably have a nylon filament.

Acrylic brush types

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This is more resilient than natural fibers.

These filaments are coarser than nylon watercolor fibers but give a slightly smoother brush stroke than hogshair oil paint brushes. The bristles vary in flexibility due to the availability of varying degrees of thickness, or viscocity, of acrylic paints.

At one extreme, acrylic paints can be put on your painting surface with a small trowel, whilst at the other end of the scale, you can purchase the same acrylic paints, but of an ink-like consistency, suitable for airbrush work.

Acrylic paint brushes can be used quite happily with oil paints and are available in both short and long handled versions and the brush shapes as below.

The longer handle is to allow the artist to stand further back from their work to 'see' the picture easier as it progresses. The brush can also be held towards the end of the handle thus encouraging a looser style.

I've listed below the main types of acrylic paint brushes and what brush strokes they're generally used for.

However, this is only a guide. You use them whichever way you like whilst you get a bit of experience with them.

As I've said in other articles, it's what makes you feel comfortable that's best for you and your painting...


Acrylic Paint Brush Shapes

Rounds - Good for touching in or for more detailed work. Especially useful with slightly thinner acrylic paints.

Long Flat - Holds plenty of paint and good for applying thick (impasto) layers. Produces longish, straight brush strokes, so excellent for painting doors and windows or anything that has a straight edge to it.

Short Flat or Bright - As above but when required for shorter strokes. Good when you want to leave a multitude of well-defined brush strokes on the paint surface. Both the short and long flat acrylic paint brushes, when dampened with paint, come to a lovely chisel edge, ideal for thin straight lines.

Filbert - Flat profile but with a slightly rounded point. Makes tapered strokes and has the ability to soften the edges of a brush stroke.

Fan Brush - Flat profile spread as a fan. Ideal for blending cloudy skies or any area where you want a smooth transition between colors. Also very useful for creating leaf clusters on pine and fir trees or textures such as fur.

Remember though, because acrylic paint dries so quickly, blending is not easy, even with the fan brush. See the article on paint mediums about acrylic gel retarder.

Whenever I use a fan brush for acrylics, I stick to the bristle variety. I find it holds its fan profile better with paint on it, whereas thinner nylon filaments tend to stick together in 4 or 5 bunches, rather like fingers.

Rigger - Although not strictly an acrylic brush, I've included it here as it performs the same function as in watercolor, i.e. very fine lines such as ship's rigging (hence its name). It's best to use thinned acrylic paint to achieve such effects.


Acrylic Brush Sizes

Acrylic paint brushes are normally sized from No.1 (the smallest) to about a No.20. Flats, Brights and Filberts sometimes have a number, sometimes a width measurement. Sometimes this is in inches, often in millimetres.

However, be careful...

From what I've noted from art supply store catalogs, the brush numbers and actual brush sizes vary from one manufacturer to another.

So don't rely on brush numbers as an across-the-board standard.

Your best bet is to choose the brush you want by its actual size. This is easy to check out. Look at the picture below.

Parts of a paint brush

The width of most types of brush is determined at the point where the bristles leave the ferrule - that's the metal tube that joins the fibers to the handle.

The 'belly' of a round brush relates to the width the fibers spead to immediately beyond the ferrule, before returning to a point.

This width measurement at the ferrule end is the same for round, flat or any other shaped brush - except Fan Brushes, where the measurement is at the tip of the bristles.

Remember also that the width of a painted line is not necessarily the same as the brush width.

This can be more or less, depending on pressure on the brush, softness of the hairs and thickness of the paint, etc.

Depending on size, type and fibers used, the same brush can produce a line of color as thin as a pencil or a brushstroke perhaps twice its own width.

The brush in the picture, for example, is actually a No.10 Sable, but the same principles apply whatever type of brush you use.


Acrylic Paint Brushes - A Starter Set

Finally, I've given you a suggested starter set of acrylic paint brushes. I've used actual sizes rather than numbers.

Choose these based on personal preference with the usual proviso of buying the best you can afford - and looking after them!

By the way, with acrylics, when you're working on a painting, always leave the brushes you're not using at that moment lying flat in water. This stops the acrylic paint drying on the filaments and ruining them. I can't emphasise this enough. Please, look at the article on brush care for more information on using acrylic paint.

Always use bigger brushes than you think you need. It stops you fiddling and your painting becoming too tight.

I'm assuming that you're painting surface will be between about 10 x 8 inches and about 20 X 16 inches. If it's consistently going to be much smaller or larger than this size, you'll need to adjust the size of your acrylic paint brushes accordingly. Here's the list:

  • Long Flat or Bright: 1/8th inch, 3/8th inch, 3/4 inch.
  • Round: 1/8 inch,
  • Filbert: 3/8 inch, 3/4 inch.
  • Rigger: Nylon No.1 or 2
  • Fan Brush: 1 inch (Hog Bristle)

You could also look at the article on oil brushes...

They are entirely compatible with acrylic paints and you may prefer to use hog bristle or a mix of nylon and natural hairs for your acrylic painting.

However, I would certainly warn you off using your best sable watercolor brushes for acrylics for the reasons I've already mentioned.

And a final reminder...

You have a window of about 20 minutes at best to clean your brushes after you've finished with your acrylic paints. Otherwise...

Look after your brushes and enjoy your painting!


Related Articles

Getting started with acrylic paints
The acrylic paint technique offers both the new and experienced artist a very versatile method of painting...

Quick Guide to Using Acrylic Mediums
There are so many additives and acrylic mediums available, it can get confusing as to what does what...


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