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Natural and Synthetic Paint Brushes

Buying Guide : Brushes

Achieving excellent results in a painting project depends largely on the applicator you use. When it comes to choosing a high-quality paintbrush, the selection you make can be the difference between a job that looks average and one that looks fantastic. Brushes can be highly useful for painting areas of any size be it small, medium or large and for all types of paint. A top-of-the-line brush will generally hold more paint, streak less, give a better finish and last longer.



Before you learn how to choose a brush that is right for your needs, use the following questions to focus in on what brushes are best suited for each of your projects:
          • Are you applying water- or oil-based paints?
          • What types of surfaces will you be painting?
          • What sizes are your work surfaces?
          • Will you be working in corners and/or on edges?

Quality, Type, Size and Care

A new coat of paint or stain is a relatively easy and inexpensive way to improve the look of everything from walls to floors to furniture. But a simple home improvement project can become a big mess if you don’t take the time to select the right tools for the job. Paint brushes are widely available at low prices, so it can be tempting to go with bargain brushes. However, unless you like the look of loose bristles in your paint,  it’s a mistake to buy brushes based only on price alone. Good brushes simply produce better and faster results, and they are more cost-effective in the long run when properly cared for.
High-Quality Features: There are a few key features to look for that will give you an indication of the quality of the brush. The metal band, known as the ferrule, should be noncorrosive and attached to the brush with screws or rivets, rather than a slip-on style. There should be multiple spacers separating the bristles to keep the bristles in place and create larger paint reservoirs and bristles should be densely packed.
          • Bristles should be tapered (or chiseled) at ends to create a smoother finish
          • Flagged (split) bristles hold more paint, which allows a more precise edge
          • Look for solid bristles, rather than hollow bristles which bend
Bristle Type: The two main bristle types are natural and synthetic. Synthetic brushes are made out of nylon and/or polyester and most can be used with water-based and oil-based paints. Brushes with natural bristles made from animal hair are preferred for oil-based paints but should never be used with water-based paints as they absorb the water and become limp.
          • Because natural bristles are softer than synthetic bristles, professionals prefer them for oil-based paints
          • Synthetic bristles offer more versatility as most can be used with water- and oil-based paints
          • The following chart outlines the different types of natural and synthetic bristles:
Brush Type Natural or Synthetic     Key Details
Black China Natural • Recommended for oil-based paint, stain
  and varnish
Nylon Synthetic • Recommended for  water-based paint
• Most nylon brushes can also be used with
  oil-based paints
• Not recommended for applying shellac or
Nylon/Polyester Blend Synthetic • Recommended for water- based and
  oil-based paint
• Bristles vary in stiffness; softer bristles will
  produce a smoother finish
Ox Hair Blend Natural • Recommended for oil-based paint and
• Produces the smoothest finish of all
  natural bristles, but more expensive  
Polyester Synthetic • Can be used for water-based or oil-based
  paint and stain, as well as varnish, lacquer 
  and shellac
• Stiff bristles tend to leave brush strokes
White China Natural • Recommended for oil-based paint, stain,
  varnish, polyurethane, lacquer and shellac
Produces a smoother finish than a black
  China brush

Brush Shape and Size: Brush shape and size determine how and where the brush should be used. For added convenience and ease when tackling many painting projects, you’ll probably want to have several brushes of different shapes and sizes on hand. In relation to shape, brushes can have a straight edge or an angled edge. Straight edges are used for surface coverage, and angled edges are used for cutting into corners and edging. As for size, the brush should fit the job. If you need to cover large areas, a bigger brush will be much faster. If you need to paint window trim, a smaller brush will be better suited to application on narrower surfaces.
          • An angled edge makes it easier to get into corners and create precise edges around 
            molding, trim, cabinets and more
          • Having a variety of brush sizes and shapes allows for more convenient completion of
          • Brushes are made in a variety of sizes, but the four most common sizes are listed below:
Size  Recommended Use
 1” (straight edged or angled) • Corners or window sashes
• Edging, trim and windowsills
• Tight corners, fine detail work
 2” (straight edged or angled) • Woodwork and trim
• Framework and molding
• Cutting into corners
 3” (usually straight edged) • Large flat surfaces
• Cabinets, doors, beams,
  fences, stairs
 4” (usually straight edged) • Very large surfaces
Ceilings, walls, siding, floors

Care and Maintenance: Taking proper care of your brush is just as important as buying the right brush. If you don’t observe routine maintenance of your brushes, the high-quality results won’t last. First, be sure to keep the package your brush comes in. Most brush packages are designed to help the brush retain its shape, which is very important. After using your brush, clean it in warm, soapy water (for water-based paints) or solvent (for oil-based paints) until the water or solvent runs clear. Don’t leave your brush soaking, or the bristles could bend. Spin the brush to remove excess cleaner, comb the bristles with a brush comb, lay the brush flat to dry and return the brush to its package.
          • Clean your brush completely as soon as you finish using it — don’t leave it soaking
          • Store brushes in their packaging to help them retain their shape when not in use
          • If you can, hang your brushes; otherwise, lay them flat


Long Bristles: Longer bristles hold more paint, so you will spend less time refilling your brush.
Wooden Handle: Many high-quality brushes have a comfortable handle made of finished wood rather than plastic.
Specialty Brushes: There are some brushes for special applications and hard-to-reach spots, including radiator brushes for painting old-fashioned cast-iron radiators and stucco brushes.