Brushes. Boy, it took me a LONG time to figure this out. I wish someone would have saved me decades of work by showing me all this information about the best brushes for acrylic painting. Lucky you! You can learn from my experience and hopefully save yourself some money in the meantime.
What you need to know right from the start is that the brush you use will depend on what you want the finished artwork to LOOK LIKE.
If you want a watercolor like effect, you will need soft and flexible brushes. If you want an oil painting effect and you plan on having thick brush strokes, you will need stiff and durable brushes. In between the two are a mile of options and different techniques and effects to paint.
I know this is going to sound nuts, but with acrylics I always use cheap brushes. The paint is a polymer paint (think PLASTIC) and unless you are really diligent about cleaning your brushes, they will need to be replaced with almost every painting you do.
Acrylic paints are really hard on the ‘hairs’ of the brushes. Especially if you paint somewhat sloppy and goopy and allow the paint to get down towards the metal ferrule. Once acrylic paint is in there, it splays the fibers open and partially dries while you are painting and you end up with a brush that looks like it is a makeup rouge brush!
Here is one of my old acrylic paint brushes which has been retired to the label “cruddy brush”….which is still useful for scrubbing in paint in a dry brush scribble! I rarely throw away old brushes. There are too many times when I want a texture and I am too cheap to use a new brush and ruin it.
I’m really good at cleaning my brushes, and I have been able to use some of my favorites over and over, but if I can get a decent brush for less than $4, I’m going to not waste a ton of time trying to clean it.
Be careful of what the brushes are labelled ‘for’ at the craft store. The beginner brushes for acrylic are just fine, mostly. What you need to watch out for is this:
New in the package with frayed tips. These are ok for kids to paint watercolors with or if you want a blobby watery looking stroke for watercolors, but you may find these to be fairly useless for acrylic. In the craft stores, these are often packaged together and look like bargain city…… NOT.
Instead, what you need are bristle brushes for laying in the first thin layer of paint. I like filberts and flats for big thinned out strokes like these:
These are meant to quickly cover a lot of real estate on your canvas. Your strokes will show striated lines because the fibers are bristle. I do the first quick lay in of color then run to the sink to wash these babies out. These are the brushes I try to preserve well.
Soft Lay-In Brush And Varnish Brush
You will also need a big one inch or bigger soft flat if you want your biggest strokes to not have striated lines. You’ll use this one for your varnish coat if you use liquid varnish.
I end up spending about $8.00 – $15.00 on a nice synthetic brush:
Main Painting Brushes
It is up to personal preference on size and shape, but you’ll get a lot of mileage from a few sizes of flat synthetics and a couple of filbert (rounded top flats):
The smaller the area you need to paint, the smaller the paintbrush you will need.
If you get a flat that has a sharp chisel end on the tip, then you can double the use by holding your brush completely vertically and drawing with the sharp flat tip. It’s great for laying in a solid color with a hard edge, like the edge of a building, for example. Or a telephone pole.
For lines, like on a boat rigging, you’ll love a few liner brushes. They hold a lot of thinned down paint and will allow you to make a long continuous line without jagged edges or have jagged interruptions in lines by too little paint being loaded on your brush. The longer the bristles in a liner, the longer you can stroke without reloading paint. Notice I haven’t used the shortest ones yet. They are good for fine detail like the highlights in someone’s eyes or fur.
There are a few more brush styles out there, but for beginners, I think it is best to keep it very simple, and learn to master all the ways your set can help you get what you want.
Time To Shop – My Top Recommendations
If you want to purchase brushes online, these sets will hold you well for several months or more. Just remember to keep your brushes damp when painting with acrylics, once the paint has dried on your brush, it’s destined for the “cruddy brush” label.
1. Artist Paint Brush Set – 15 Different Sizes Paint Brushes for Acrylic Watercolor Oil Gouache Paint – Perfect Gift for Artists, Adults & Kids – Free Painting Knife and Watercolor Sponge
2. Mont Marte Premium Paint Brush Set 15 Piece, Includes 15 Different Brushes in a Roll Case with Magnetic Closure, Suitable for Watercolour, Acrylic and Oil Painting
3. Liner brushes: ZEM BRUSH Golden Taklon Multi Media Long Liner Artist Brush Set 20/0, 10/0, 5/0, 0
Keep checking back for tutorials on how to use these and other specialty brushes! In the meantime, here is a quick video:
Please leave your comments and thoughts below! We appreciate that you read all the way to the end about my opinion of the best acrylic painting brushes. Thank you!