Brush shapes and sizes

Brushes come in two shapes: flat (like a fan) and round (like a crayon). If the shape isn’t obvious from the way the hairs lay, just look at the shape of the metal ferrule that holds the hairs to the handle; it will be flat or round. All brush shapes come in different hair choices. You can get soft hairs or stiff bristles in most shapes, just as you can get expensive or cheap brushes in most shapes.

Brushes are sized using a number system in which the bigger the number, the bigger the brush. Tiny brushes are number zero (0), but they can be smaller yet and have more zeros. The more zeros, the smaller the brush. Triple zero (000) is commonly the smallest. The width of a flat brush sometimes is measured in inches rather than numbers.

I find lots of discrepancies in brushes and sizes. I have two brushes of the same brand and size, but even they aren’t exactly the same. Many brushes are handmade and vary a little. You can buy a brush and love it. When you replace it with the same brand and size, you may not like it as much. Use the number only as a comparison point. The numbers vary between companies, countries, and even shipments of the same brand.

Figure shows the variety of classic brush shapes and sizes. You can experiment with decorative brushes as well, but this basic assortment is all you need to get you started.


When you’re just starting out, the must-have brushes are:

10 round: The round brush is a workhorse. With its tiny point, you can get details. When you push down or use it on its side, you get a wide stroke. You could spend your whole painting career using a #10 round brush. But the others are so fun that you’ll want to have dozens of extras (or maybe that’s just me).

000 liner: A liner is essentially the same as a round brush, but with longer hairs. The extra-long hairs make it great for painting long, thin, straight lines. These brushes are also called scripts and riggors.

Half-inch flat brush: A flat brush helps you paint rectangles and architecture. A larger flat brush makes a nice big-area background brush. Remember, some flat brushes are sized by numbers; others are measured by their width.

If you’re a more ambitious beginner or when you’re more experienced, you can try using these brushes:

Mop: As its name implies, this brush is great for mopping in big sky backgrounds, lifting clouds, and making trees.

Fan: These fans won’t applaud when you walk in the room. You use them to paint bushes and grasses.

Filbert: This flat brush has curved corners and is good for painting trees and clouds.

Shader: This angular brush is useful for making wide strokes, or you can use just the point on its tip for small areas.

Brite: The short hairs make this a good brush for scrubbing and lifting off color. Expand your brush collection as you continue to paint. After you’ve been painting a while, you’ll know what you’re lacking and can see what newfangled inventions may give you a creative boost.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *