Experts tell us that brush quality and the right brush for the job make all the difference but the local hardware store carries a bewildering array of paintbrushes in a variety of sizes, shapes, prices, materials, lengths, and bristle types. How do I know which of these many brushes to use for my project? The following are some elements to consider when choosing a paintbrush.


Bristle Type: Paintbrushes come in two bristle types, natural bristle (hog or badger hair), and synthetic bristle (nylon, polyester or polyester/nylon blend). Natural bristle brushes work well for oil-based paints, varnishes, shellac and polyurethane. They hold more paint and assure a smooth paint release and finish. Synthetic bristle brushes are easy to clean and are recommended for water-based latex paints. They produce a high-quality paint finish (smooth and even) and are built to handle numerous projects. With proper care, synthetic brushes can last for years. Some synthetic brushes can be used to apply both latex and oil-based paints. Check the packaging to be sure. Another type of brush, the foam brush, is designed to absorb and hold all types of paints, stains, and urethanes. They give a smooth finish and are priced to throw away after the job is done. Use them on furniture, cabinetry, and trim.


Bristle Width: Brushes come in a variety of widths (1 to 5 inches). Choose a brush that is slightly narrower than the surface you are painting. Select a small brush when you need precision control. Brushes wider than 3 inches are seldom needed unless you are painting wide siding, fencing or panelling.


Bristle Shape:

  • Wall/square brush: a thick flat brush that holds a large amount of paint. Good for painting large surface areas such as walls, smooth doors, and panelling. Come in 3, 4, and 6-inch sizes and various bristle types that allow them to work with all types of paint.
  • Angled sash/cutting brush: Cuts at a slant making it easy to paint clean lines. Use for anything with grooves; cabinets, furniture, panelled doors, or when you are painting between window trim and walls, cutting in at the ceiling or painting trim. Used carefully, it reduces the need to use tape to protect surfaces.
  • Round sash: has a blunt, tapered tip with soft edges. Can cover a large area. Round shape gives greater control. Sizes range from 20 to 40 millimeters. Good for decorative painting and small trim.
  • Finishing brush: Very soft brush made of ox or hog hair. Provides a fine, smooth look. Use for furniture finishes and final coats on kitchen cabinets.
  • Flogged brush: Square cut with split ends. Looks fuzzy. Split ends create more surface area allowing the brush to hold more paint and release the paint more smoothly, giving a cleaner finish.
  • Striker: Large round angled brush for exterior painting. Usually has a long reach handle. Perfect for rough painting that does not require a finish and involves arm-stretching such as iron-work, fences, bridges or sheds.

Handles: Quality brushes have ferrules (the metal band that holds the bristles to the handle) made of stainless or brass-plated steel and are screwed or riveted in place rather than slipped-on and glued. Good brushes have a wooden handle rather than a plastic handle. Square shaped handles are comfortable to hold. Look for an ergonomic design that reduces stress on the wrist and hand. A short handle provides greater precision when painting small spaces. Rattail handles (longer & thinner than standard) are easy to hold and give greater control when painting tricky spaces.


Quality of Brush: Your instinct may be to buy an inexpensive brush and throw it away after one use (especially if cleaning requires the use of a solvent) but for most projects, it pays to spend the extra money on a high-quality paintbrush. A good quality brush holds more paint, provides smooth results, lasts longer, and is easier to clean. How do you know which brush is high quality? The cost will tell you. Expect to spend between $15 and $20 for a high-quality brush.


Choosing the right paintbrush can be difficult and overwhelming. Consult a paint and design expert. They can help you find a brush that is right for your project.

Looking for advice on a painting project? Call Calgary’s independent paint and blinds store West Hillhurst Paint + Design at (403) 270-9696 or email at kyle@westhillhurstpaint.com Our knowledgeable professional design associates provide high-quality paint, a wide selection of blinds and advice for home projects. We offer excellent service and a variety of products to match any budget. Call for a consultation today!

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