2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Art

Different styles of paintbrushes.
Different styles of paintbrushes.
Different styles of cleaning brushes.
Different styles of cleaning brushes.

The term brush refers to a variety of devices mainly with bristles, wire or other filament of any possible material used mainly for cleaning, grooming hair, painting, deburring and other kinds of surface finishing, but also for many other purposes like (but not limited to) seals, alternative traction systems and any other use imaginable for this tool.

In the industry it is possible to find many configurations such as twisted in wire (like the ones used to wash baby feeding bottles), cylinders, disks (with bristles spread in one face or radially) or in any other shape needed. There are many ways of setting the bristle in the brush: the most common is the staple or anchor set brush, in which the filament is forced with a staple by the middle into a hole with a special driver and held there by the pressure against the walls of the hole and the portions of the staple nailed to the bottom of the hole. The staple can be substituted with a kind of anchor, which is a piece of rectangular profile wire that, instead of nailing itself to the bottom of hole, is anchored to the wall of the hole, like in most toothbrushes. Another way to set the bristles to the surface can be found in the fused brush, in which instead of being inserted into a hole, a plastic fibre is welded to another plastic surface, giving the additional advantage of optionally using different diameters of tufts in the same brush, and a considerably thinner surface (sometimes the bristles can be set this way to the outer surface of a plastic bottle).

See below for some other common kinds of brushes.

Brushes for cleaning

Brushes used for cleaning come in various forms and sizes, such as very small brushes for cleaning a fine instrument, toothbrushes, the larger household version that usually comes with a dustpan, or the broomstick. Some brushes, usually used for professional cleaning could be even bigger, such as some hallbrooms, used for cleaning wider areas. Thousands of different cleaning brushes can be found, including brushes for cleaning vegetables, cleaning the toilet, washing glass, finishing tiles, or even sanding doors. Many brushes are unique, made specifically for a given machine by the manufacturer of the machines or a few special companies dedicated to make custom designs.


Paintbrushes are used for applying ink or paint. These are usually made by clamping the bristles to a handle with a ferrule.

Paintbrushes can have many shapes. Their names and styles may vary slightly from manufacturer to manufacturer, there are certain consistencies. Traditionally, short handled brushes are for watercolor or ink painting while the long handled brushes are for oil or acrylic paint. The styles of brush tip seen most commonly are as follows:

  • Round: The long closely arranged bristles of these brushes make them useful for detail
  • Flat: These are used for spreading paint quickly and evenly over a surface. They will have longer hairs than their Bright counterpart.
  • Bright: These are flat brushes with short stiff bristles and can be useful driving paint into the weave of a canvas in thinner paint applications, as well as thicker painting styles like impasto work.
  • Filbert: Flat brushes with domed ends. They allow good coverage and the ability to perform some detail work.
  • Fan: These are used for blending broad areas of paint.
  • Angle: These, like the Filbert, are versatile and can be applied in both general painting application as well as some detail work.
  • Mop: A larger format brush with a rounded edge for broad soft paint application as well as for getting thinner glazes over existing drying layers of paint without damaging lower layers.
  • Rigger: Round brushes with longish hairs, traditionally used for painting the rigging in pictures of ships. They are useful for fine lines and are versatile for both oils and watercolors.


Some other styles of brush which may be more specialized in their uses include:

  • Sumi: Similar in style to certain watercolor brushes, with a generally thick wooden or bamboo handle and a broad soft hair brush that when wetted should form a fine tip.
  • Hake: These are an Asian style of brush with a large broad wooden handle and an extremely fine soft hair used in counterpoint to traditional Sumi brushes for covering large areas. Often made of goat hair.
  • Spotter: Round brushes with just a few short bristles. These brushes are commonly used in spotting photographic prints.

Brush care

  • A brush utilized in one medium (oil paint, acrylic, etc.) may not be used again in a different medium. The paints once applied will alter the composition of the natural oils in the bristles of the brush. Switching between solvents and mediums will not only destroy these oils but will also damage the effectiveness of the bristles eventually. Given that it is impossible to completely clean a brush once it has been used, this process will be on going throughout the life of the tool regardless of maintenance. Because of the nature of these oils in the hairs of the brush, oil brushes will be the longest lived of any brush type if properly cared for.
  • Paint must be cleaned from brushes immediately after use. This is especially true for ink and acrylic paint because removing dry, set residue can take bristles off or ruin a brush's shape. Use a suitable cleaner such as a brush conditioner, sometimes available in a bar, which must be lathered before use with water, or a liquid conditioner. Some manufacturer's produce a paste-based conditioner that works to remove oil paint from brushes, but can be washed off with water - ideally you will remove most of the residue paint using a suitable solvent, such as turpentine for oil, or water for acrylics and watercolor, and then wash the brush using brush conditioner. Some painters use the bar or paste-based conditioners to reshape the bristles at the end of their session, leaving it in the hair to keep the point sharp. Remember if you do this to remove the soap at the start of the next session with water. These conditioners contain natural oils that allow the brush to remain soft and workable for a longer period than just washing the brush out will. Never use the wrong type of conditioner on the wrong type of brush as this may cause damage. At a push, natural bristle brushes can be washed out and conditioned with a fragrance free hair conditioner intended for our own hair, and some student artists use this method as a cost-saving measure. Some alcohols such as isopropanol or denatured alcohol can be used to remove stubborn acrylic from a brush, but note that this may warp the bristles if it comes into contact with the glue under the ferrule and will remove natural oils from the bristle, and so you should never leave a brush in alcohol for more than a few minutes. Always recondition the brush afterwards with a suitable brush conditioner, do not use brush soap for this, only a brush conditioner, such as a bar soap for acrylics, or a water washable oil brush cleaner for oils.
  • Never leave brushes bristle-end down in a container of water, turpentine, or any other solvent (if you want to clean them, do it by hand or with a wet cloth). This is because the bristles of the brush spread out against the bottom of the container and, will, if left too long, set that way (like hair). Some artists use a metal container that has a spring, suspended on an upside-down U above the container, to soak brushes overnight. Doing this may wash natural oils from the bristle and so it should only be used where a brush is severely coated in paint that will not or cannot be removed naturally by hand. Ensure that the container is on a flat surface, place the paintbrush, bristle end down into the container using the spring to keep it away from the bottom of the container and pour enough solvent in, that it just covers the bristles - don't use that much that it reaches the ferrule as it may warp the glue holding the bristles in and will damage the brush. Naturally, you will need some form of ventilation, or you may cover the container if you are using a solvent other than water such as turpentine, and always keep pets and children away from open, dangerous solvents.

Sizes and materials

Decorators' brushes

The sizes of brushes used for painting and decorating, usually given in mm or inches, refer to the width of the head.

Common sizes are:

  • ⅛ in, ¼ in, ⅜ in, ½ in, ⅝ in, ¾ in, ⅞ in, 1 in, 1¼ in, 1½ in, 2 in, 2½ in, 3 in, 3½ in, 4 in.
  • 10 mm, 20 mm, 30 mm, 40 mm, 50 mm, 60 mm, 70 mm, 80 mm, 90 mm, 100 mm.

Bristles may be natural or synthetic. Natural bristles are preferred for oil-based paints and varnishes, while synthetic brushes are better for water-based paints as the bristles do not expand when wetted.

Handles may be wood or plastic; ferrules are metal (usually nickel-plated steel).

Artists' brushes

Artists' brushes are usually given numbered sizes, although there is no exact standard for their physical dimensions.

From smallest to largest, the sizes are:

  • 10/0, 7/0 (also written 0000000), 6/0, 5/0, 4/0, 000, 00, 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 16, 18, 20, 22, 24, 25, 26, 28, 30. Brushes as fine as 30/0 are manufactured by major companies, but are not a common size.

Sizes 000 to 20 are most common.

Artists' brushes are most commonly categorized by type and by shape.

Types include: watercolor brushes which are usually made of sable, synthetic sable or nylon; oil painting brushes which are usually made of sable or bristle; and acrylic brushes which are almost entirely nylon or synthetic. Turpentine or thinners used in oil painting can destroy synthetic brushes, so synthetics are avoided by oil painters. Natural hair, squirrel, badger or sable are used by watercolorists due to their superior ability to absorb and hold water.

Shapes are quite varied and often watercolor brushes come in the most variety of shapes. Rounds (pointed), flats, brights (shorter than flats) and filbert are the most common. Other shapes include stipplers (short, stubby rounds), deer-foot stipplers, liners (elongated rounds), daggers, scripts (highly elonged rounds), eggberts, fans, among others.

Bristles may be natural -- either soft hair or hog bristle -- or synthetic.

  • Soft hair brushes are made from Kolinsky sable or ox hair (sabeline); or more rarely, squirrel, pony, goat, or badger. Cheaper hair is sometimes called camel hair... but doesn't come from camels.
  • Hog bristle (often called china bristle or Chunking bristle) is stiffer and stronger than soft hair. It may be bleached or unbleached.
  • Synthetic bristles are made of special multi-diameter extruded nylon filament.

Artists' brush handles are commonly wooden, but the cheapest brushes may have moulded plastic handles. Many mass-produced handles are made of unfinished raw wood; better quality handles are of seasoned hardwood. The wood is sealed and lacquered to give the handle a high-gloss, waterproof finish that reduces soiling and swelling.

Metal ferrules may be of aluminium, nickel, copper, or nickel-plated steel. Quill ferrules are also found: these give a different "feel" to the brush. The top of the range brushes, however, usually have ferrules made from transparent plastic tightened in place by thin wire.

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