Types of Oil Painting Brushes

Updated: 12 Jan 2022

Oil painting brushes types

Oil paints are thick!

When painting on a canvas, there is a need for brushes that can move the oil paint against the grip of the fabric fibers.

The "working horses" are hog bristle brushes.

When subtlety or precision is needed, use brushes with soft natural bristles, or with synthetic hair.

Linseed oil or other thinner materials can be added to oil paint, allowing the paintbrush to move smoothly.

Note: At the end of this article, you will find some tips regarding paintbrushes usage.

Natural Brushes

The classic brushes for oil painting are made from pig hair (hog bristle brushes).

Some common types are filbert, flat, round, bright and fan brushes.

Filbert:

Filbert paintbrush is extremely versatile and fits almost any painting style.

The filbert brush has an oval shape, which combines the characteristics of both flat and round brushes. In addition, this brush can be used to mix oil paints while painting.

Filbert paintbrushes for oil painting Filbert bristle brushes

Round:

Round brushes are usually used for delicate work and for details, though they also come in large sizes.

Round bristle paintbrushes for oil painting Round bristle brushes

Flat:

The flat brushes are suitable for accuracy in detail (especially a flat brush made of synthetic hair), and for covering large areas.

Flat bristle brushes for oil painting Flat bristle brushes

Bright:

Bright, which is a short flat brush, is an excellent brush for applying or moving oil paint.

Because it has short bristles, which bend less, it can move oil paint against the grip of the canvas, and fill large areas fast.

Bright paintbrushes from hog bristle Bright bristle brushes

Fan:

Fan brush can be used for painting grass, hair, fur, removing brushstrokes, and filling large areas.

Fan brushes for oil painting from hog bristles Fan bristle brushes

In the next example, I used a fan brush for painting the grass:

Oil painting, fawn in forest Grass with fan brush

Large Flat:

Large flat brushes come in different sizes and for different purposes, depending on the type of hair.

For painting a large area, for example sky, or for painting the bottom layer (underpainting), hog bristle brushes are excellent.

By using them gently, they can remove brushstrokes, and create a smooth surface.

For extra gentle smoothing or blending, brushes with soft hair are better. Goat hair is a good example.

Hog bristle large flat paintbrushes Hog bristle large flat
Large goat paintbrush for blending Goat blender brush

Synthetic Brushes

Synthetic brushes come in all types, like bristle brushes.

Top brands offer a variety of synthetic hair for different tasks and painting styles.

Flat synthetic:

A synthetic flat brush is one of the most versatile and important brushes for precision, and for working on small details.

It is excellent for structures and other objects with clear, sharp edges.

Suitable for painting tree trunks, leaves (by using the corner of the brush, which has a triangular shape), mountains, rocks, and in general for landscape paintings.

Flat synthetic brush for oil painting Flat synthetic brushes
Painting tree trunk and leaves Flat brush for trunk and leaves

Round synthetic:

A small round brush from synthetic hair is great for small, precise details.

Round synthetic brush with short handle Short handle round brush
Round synthetic brush with long handle Long handle round brush

Liner and Rigger:

Liner and rigger brushes are thin brushes with very long bristles.

They create fine details. The length of the bristles holds a large amount of paint, therefore allowing the creation of long lines with one brush stroke.

Liner brush is good for painting grass, branches of trees, ropes and fences.

The use of this brush is by mixing oil paints with thinner or linseed oil, in order to ensure a smooth flow of the brush, and to create extra fine lines.

Synthetic liner brush for oil paints Synthetic liner brush
Painting grass with a liner brush Grass with a liner brush

Angular brushes:

Angular brushes are particularly versatile and allow the creation of precise details, fill large areas or create unique brushstrokes.

Angular brushes come with different angles and different hair length, and therefore with different names such as angular, dagger, sword etc.

Angular dagger brush for oil paint Synthetic dagger brush
Angular synthetic sword brush for oils Synthetic sword brush

Soft brushes:

The mop brush is excellent for blending and removing brushstrokes. Use is gently, as if "hovering" over the canvas.

There are many types of brushes with soft synthetic hair for blending, varnish, or glazing.

Mop brush for blending oil paint Synthetic mop brush
Soft synthetic brush for blending colors Soft blender brush

Synthetic fan brushes:

Another brush, for gentle smoothing of brushstrokes, is a synthetic fan brush.

Fan brushes from synthetic bristles Synthetic fan brushes

Brush Size Explained

Paintbrushes come in different sizes. Different brands use different numbers for the size of brushes.

Therefore, it is better to look at the brush size in centimeters or inches rather than the number written on the brush.

The numbers will usually be 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, etc.

Numbers smaller than 0, will be written like that: 00, 000, 0000, etc. Alternatively, in short: 2/0, 3/0, 4/0, etc.

Oil painting paintbrush size 00 Paintbrush size 00
Oil paintbrush with size 3/0 Paintbrush size 3/0

Brush Handle

Paintbrushes have long or short handles. Typically, for oil painting, the handle will be long, while for watercolor painting, it will be short.

A long handle allows the painter to keep distance from the canvas while painting, making it easy to see the big picture.

When painting in a realistic style, it is sometimes necessary to get closer to the canvas in order to paint small details.

Therefore, to gain better control during painting and to avoid harming the eyes from the tip of the brush handle, it is advisable to use a short handle brush.

Paintbrushes with short handles Brushes with short handle
Paintbrushes with long handle Brushes with long handle

To paint in a realistic style, I recommend reading my article about the 8 key factors for painting realism.

Recommended Brands

For any craft, having the right tools for the job can be helpful.

Here is a list of my favorite brands for oil painting:

Palette Knife

A palette knife or a painting knife is a tool designed to mix oil paints on an artist's palette, but can also be used for painting.

Usually, the blade of palette knives is flexible.

You can mix oil paint with a paintbrush or a palette knife; it is a matter of personal preference and the type of task.

Palette knives for mixing colors Palette knives
Palette knife mixing oil paints Recommended palette knives

Remember:

A palette knife is easy to clean after mixing colors, while a paintbrush takes time to clean.

Therefore, when mixing colors in advance, I recommend using a palette knife.

Summary & Tips

There are many types of brushes for oil painting.

Choosing the type of paintbrush is a matter of personal preference, and the painter's painting style.

Old brushes:

The bristles of brushes split with time. Old brushes have an advantage in creating randomness, so it is good to keep them for specific tasks.

New and used fan brushes New vs used

For precision, I cut or tear off the hairs that split.

In addition, it is possible to cut some brush hairs and create a new brush structure as needed.

Merida oil painting - Brave movie by Disney Used old hog fan brush for Merida's hair

How to use brushes with paint:

Dipping a paintbrush in oil paint will help to apply a thick layer of paint on the canvas.

When painting realism, use a little amount of paint at the tip of the brush.

In addition, when trying to clean a paintbrush, it is easier when the paint does not reach the ferrule (the structure that holds the bristles together).

If oil paint enters the ferrule (and not cleaned thoroughly), it will harden inside the ferrule and ruin the brush.

Paint brush parts and structure Brush structure

For tips on cleaning paintbrushes and helpful oil painting materials, read my guide for oil painting supplies for beginners.

How to store brushes:

For protecting the bristles, dry the brush (after cleaning) while the bristles are facing up.

If a paintbrush is facing down and leaning on its bristles, the bristles will bend, and their shape will be ruined.

When completely dry, I keep them in a case designed for brushes.

Case for paint brushes by Rosemary & co Paint brushes case

For paint brushes to do their magic, first you need to know how to mix colors.

Hereby, a guide I wrote about oil paint mixing & the color wheel.

For many FREE, online tutorials, I created a list of the best painting instructors on YouTube.