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Picking the Right Paint Brush

Picking the right paint brush is a big deal! It may not seem like it, but using the right brush is pivotal to your finish turning out right. If you want to have a great finish then there are three things you need to get right. The right technique, the right paint, and the right brush. These three things make up the holy trinity of painting. You can’t have a truly great paint job without all three.

picking the right paint brush

Today let’s dig into the details on picking the right paint brush. There are a lot of things to consider like size, angled or straight, material, and of course cost. How can you decide? Glad you asked. My grandfather was a master painter and and drilled a lot of the old techniques into me as a kid. He never did take to latex paints being an old timer, but that’s a story for another day.

One important thing he did teach me was how to select the right brush for the task at hand and how to make that brush last for decades. I have never forgotten it to this day. So below I’ll give you Scott’s 5 Laws of Paint Brush Selection based on those important lessons my grandfather taught me all those years ago.

1. Pay For Quality

Expensive paint brushes are better paint brushes. It’s that simple. Just like a Maserati is a better car than a Ford, a quality paint brush will cost several times that of a low-quality one. Don’t be fooled by this though because a high quality brush (if cared for properly) can last decades compared to just a few months or years for a cheaper brush. Buy quality and learn how to clean and care for your brush.

High quality brushes will:
  1. Hold more paint
  2. Release paint more evenly
  3. Hold their shape longer
  4. Not shed bristles
  5. Last much longer

There is a time for a cheap paint brush. These are called chip brushes usually and I use them as disposable brushes for tasks like primer touch up. For example, I have a bunch of siding that has been pre-primed and it is now being cut and installed onsite. Every time I make a cut, I reveal fresh wood that needs to be primed. I keep a chip brush sitting in a cup of oil-based primer to dab on the end cuts. Perfect use for a chip brush since it gets pretty gummed up by the end of the day I can just trash it and move on.

2. Different Brushes For Different Paints

What you plan to paint with will determine what kind of brush you need. Natural bristle brushes were designed to work best with oil-based paints. Synthetic bristle brushes are for water-based paints. It’s a matter of how the bristles are able to hold onto and release the paint.

There are brushes that can do both and they do a decent job of it, but if you plan to use a lot of one type of paint over the other, the best paint brush is the one designed for your type of paint. I keep both types of brushes in my shop and go back and forth between different paints. Even if you use a brush that is designed for multiple paints keep them two of them and dedicate one to water-based and one to oil-based coatings.

For Oil-Based Paints Use:
  1. China Bristle
  2. Ox-Tail
  3. Other Natural Bristle Brushes
For Water-Based Paints Use:
  1. Nylon/Polyester
  2. Other Synthetic Blends

3. Angled or Flat

This one is pretty simple to discern. Angled (sometimes called “Sash”) brushes are designed for cutting in. Cutting in has to do with painting straight lines or in tight corners which seems to be a lost art since the invention of blue tape. Angled brushes really shine here and do a great job at painting a perfectly straight line with no wandering bristles.

Flat brushes are designed for coverage on flat surfaces. You’ll cover more ground with a flat brush in this type of application. Today, most of us use rollers to paint wide flat surfaces, so a big flat brush isn’t as useful as it used to be before the roller was invented. In general today, an angled brush will be the most useful brush to have in your arsenal.

4. Size Matters

A smaller brush means more control but slower production. Do you know how long it would take you to paint a fence with a 1″ brush? Forever! Go get a 3″ or 4″ flat brush for something like that. On the flip side I would never try to paint a wood window with a 4″ flat brush. I’d make a total mess of it.

The best tip I can give you about selecting the right size is this: Find a brush that will cover in as few strokes as possible. The larger the brush, the less often you have to reload (dip into paint) your brush. Also, if you are using a 1″ brush to paint a 2″ wide surface like a window sash, that means you have to make two strokes instead of just one with a 2″ brush.

Less strokes makes for a better and smoother finish and allows you to cover the whole surface in one uniform pass.

5. Hard or Soft?

Last but not least, is firmness. Hard brushes make it easy to paint a straight line. They hold their shape and won’t wander like a soft brush. But soft brushes make for a super smooth surface because they don’t leave nearly as many brush strokes. So, which do you need?

This is the place where I compromise. I buy medium-stiff brushes so I can have most of the control of the hard brush, but avoid deep brush marks. If you can learn how to “tip off” your paint you can virtually eliminate those brush strokes even when using a harder brush. Check out the video below to learn how to tip off the surface and avoid brush marks.

What’s the best paint brush?

Are you throughly confused about what kind of brush to buy now? Probably so. You have all the info you need to find the right brushes for your needs, but unless you’re a professional painter, you don’t really need an arsenal of brushes for every specific task. Below I’ll give you my recommendations for picking the right paint brush.

Here’s what I recommend:

I own 3 brushes to do the bulk of my painting. One for latex paints, one for oil-based, and one for big surfaces.

I only use Purdy brushes which are some of the finest in the industry and they are readily available. If I keep them clean, they will last for over a decade. You can buy any of them from my affiliate links below which are honestly the cheapest prices I’ve found for these brushes.

  1. Latex: Purdy 2″ XL Cub Medium Stiff – The small handle makes it easy to get into tight spaces. This is one of my personal favorites because it fits so comfortably in my hand. At 2″ it handles most small spaces except for extremely tight areas which may require a 1″ brush.
  2. Oil-Based: Purdy 2.5″ Black Bristle Medium Stiff – The 100% natural black china bristle is great for oil paints and gives me a super smooth finish. This version is 2.5″ wide only because I use it to paint interior trim usually, but you can get whichever size fits your needs.
  3. The Big Brush: Purdy 3.5″ XL Medium Stiff – For anything and everything where I need to cover wide areas and a paint roller is not feasible. This big boy holds a ton of paint and makes short work of it. Great for back brushing siding or other woodwork.
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1 thought on “Picking the Right Paint Brush

  1. I have beautiful Purdy brushes that I baby! I was surprised when they were bested by my new favorite paintbrush (a fairly inexpensive one that I bought knowing I might have to trash it after a messy job) – the Wooster Shortcut. Somehow makes my cutting in lines so much straighter than with my identically sized Purdy brush. I feel a little guilty for using it instead of my “good” brushes, but it’s just better. I can’t ever manage to paint all the way to the corner without using a tiny art brush, though. Any tips?

    I’ve also been reaching for the paint pads marketed for trim work regularly (for trim). You have to remove the lint from them first, like a roller, but they provide such a thin, even coat with no brush strokes. Perfect for primer especially. Have you tried them? Less than $3 at the US orange box store.

    Somehow none of my friends want to talk about the nitty gritty of the paint brush world with me, haha. Thanks for the post.

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