Types Of Oil Paint Brushes: Dummies' Guide To Choosing The Right One

Different types of oil paint brushes

Oil paint is one of the most popular painting mediums because it offers the painter a variety of colors and textures. It can be used for both decorative pieces and realistic ones. The best brushes to use with this type of paint are not easy to find, which is why we created this guide!

This blog post will walk you through the most popular types of oil paint brushes and how to pick one that suits you!

Oil Paint Brush Construction

The paint brush has three main parts - head, ferrule, and handle. Each part plays a significant role in transferring your ideas on your canvas and giving the painting an overall quality you want to achieve.


The head refers to the brush's bristles, and its desirability anchors to its belly and toe. The brush's belly is the widest part that determines how much pigment it can pick up, like in watercolor brushes.

The toe is the tip of the brush and touches the canvas first when you paint. A brush has different shapes of toe - rounded, angular, flat, pointed. Each of these shapes dictates the use of the brush. Before you get an oil paint brush, you should know a few pointers since the head is the most crucial part of the brush.

  • Spring or shape refers to the ability of the bristles to maintain their shape when placed on the canvas. Too much spring causes the brush to push itself off the canvas while less spring splays the brush, thus losing the desired shape you want to add to your painting.
  • Snap refers to how quickly the brush returns parallel to the handle after bending it at an angle to apply the paint. Too little snap drags the paint more than you want, while too much snap affects the amount of paint you want to apply.


The metal part of the brush connecting the head to the handle is the ferrule. It has two parts, too. The crimp keeps the handle latched to the bristles while the heel keeps the brush in shape.


The handle is the largest part of the brush. Most oil paint brushes have wooden handles, usually tapering to make them easier on the hand. You may choose between long-handled and short-handled brushes. Short-handled brushes are best for newbies who don't have much control over their brushes.

However, once you have mastered your paint brush, it is best to move to brushes with long handles. It allows you to paint at a distance from your canvas, giving you more perspective and objectivity in your oil paintings.

When you buy a watercolor brush, the handle provides information about your specific paint and canvas. Along with the brand name, the handle also details the size and shape of the brush.

Natural Bristle Brushes

Natural bristle brushes

All brushes have bristles, but stiffer hog's hair ones are known as bristles. The stiff hairs grab more paint and make thick brushstrokes easier to see in a painting. Natural bristle brushes are perfect for blocking shapes in your base layers, creating texture on rough surfaces, and bringing out tiny details.

Round brushes

Round brushes, often known as detail brushes, come in various sizes. They have rounded heels and pointed tips. They're best for delicate work and details.

Because its rounded head and slightly deep middle can pick up more pigment than flat brushes, they allow you to add broad strokes to your canvas.

Filbert brushes

Filbert brushes feature an oval tip and a flat heel. It is a cross between a flat and a round brush. For finer lines, use flat brushes on the flat or thin sides. These brushes are ideal for creating rounded curves and details for your oil paintings.

Flat brushes

The flat brush is ideal for accuracy in detail and filling large areas, with its flat heel and a squared tip for even application. They have longer bristles compared to bright brushes. It is the most versatile oil paint brush because you can use the flat part of the brush for broad strokes and the side for making thinner lines.

Bright brushes

Bright is a fast and efficient brush for applying or moving oil paint. The short, flat bristles of this brush bend less than the longer flat brushes to cover large areas in a short time.

Fan brushes

The fan brush is a versatile tool for many purposes. You can use it to paint grass, hair, and fur and blend unwanted brushstrokes from large areas needing detailing. This brush is distinguished by fanned-out bristles emanating from a flat heel.

Large flat brushes

Flat brushes come in different sizes, but large flat brushes are special brushes used for adding large washes to your canvas. They are also known as chip brushes, they resemble ordinary paint brushes, but they use hog bristles or goat hair.

Hog bristles are best for underpainting or painting large areas and removing brush strokes from your oil paintings. On the other hand, goat hair is best for smoothing and blending.

Sable Brushes

Sable oil paint brushes

Sable brushes

come from the tale of the male Kolinsky weasel, a type of Siberian weasel that many artists find to be the most premium brush for artists. They are best for blending gradients and adding fine details for realistic effects.

Some sable bristles come from squirrel or weasel hair. However, the dark bristles from a squirrel are softer and do not snap, so they don't retain their forms. Other manufacturers use synthetic fibers that perform almost like the natural Kolinsky sable.

When using sable brushes, you need to dilute your oil paints with linseed oil to a thinner consistency so the fine bristles of the sable may blend and smooth the paint for a more realistic look.

Synthetic Brushes

Synthetic oil paint brushes

Because of their nature, synthetic brushes are easier to shape than natural bristles. Therefore, you have more choices concerning shape.

Synthetic brushes have flat, round, filbert, bright, and fan brushes like natural bristle brushes. They have the same functions and features as bristle brushes. However, here are some shapes available only for synthetic brushes.

Liner brushes

Also known as rigger brushes, liner brushes add fine lines and details to your oil paintings. The heel is round, similar to round brushes, but the hair is longer and finer. They are also much smaller than round brushes.

Angle brushes

Angle brushes include dagger and sword brushes. But they differ in the length of the hair and the depth of the angle. A standard angle brush looks like a bright brush with a slight angle for adding details and fine lines. Because of its shorter hair, you can move the oil paints on the canvas better than when using long-haired brushes.

Dagger brushes

Dagger brushes are angular brushes with an intermediate hair length and angle. As you can observe on flat brushes, they have a flat heel and are best for painting foliage, leaf texture, water ripples, long grasses, and stems of flowers.

Sword brushes

Sword brushes have the longest hairs of all angular brushes with a slight angle. They have a flat heel like the other angle brushes and are best for painting flowers, grass, and reeds.

Mop brushes

Mop brushes are soft brushes that look like makeup brushes and are best for blending and smoothing brush strokes from natural bristle brushes. Because of its delicate nature, you should use it lightly and without much pressure on the brush.

Soft blender brushes

Blender brushes look like ordinary paint brushes, except that the bristles are extra soft. They are best for blending, applying varnish, or glazing to your paintings.

Oil Paint Brush Sizes

Oil paint brushes have sizes etched or printed on the handle for easier identification. You can see numbers like 0, 1, 2 up to 24, the largest brush. Brushes below 0 have the following notations: 00 or 2/0, 000 or 3/0, etc., and are most common for rigger and liner brushes.

However, there is no set size for all the brushes since the sizing differs between brush types. For example, a #1 round brush measures 3/32" wide, while a #1 bright, flat, and filbert brush measures 1/8" wide. Flat and rake brushes do not fit this description, though, because of the fanned-out bristles. The same is true with large flat brushes that use inches for the notations.


Buying the right brush can be confusing. There are different types of brushes, and each one is used for a different purpose. The type of brush you need will depend on what kind of paint you want, the techniques you like to use, and your budget. 

Do you know which type of brush is best for your application? We hope that our guide gave you some insight into the different types of brushes available and their functions. Check out this article on how to clean oil paint brushes.

1 comment

  • It would have been helpfu to have a picture of the type of brush and possibly an example of the strokes mentioned 🤔. It was a very informative article and I did find it useful.


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