Watercolor Brush Shapes | What size watercolor brushes do I need? | Watercolor Brush Size Chart | Choosing A Watercolor Brush
Before we venture into the varied world of watercolor brush sizes, you might be looking to try out oil painting as well. Start by finding out what colors you need to start with in our Basic Oil Paints - Working With A Limited Palette article.
TABLE OF CONTENTS: Looking for something in particular? Jump ahead using the links below:
Watercolor Brush Sizes
Watercolor brushes sizes come in a dizzying range of numbered sizes, not to mention the various shapes and hair used. It's so easy to get lost in the sea of options and end up with some that you don't even end up using.
Brushes are just as important as the paints and paper you use for your watercolor paintings. That's why it's worth investing in good quality watercolor brushes. There's a notable difference in their performance and durability compared to the cheaper ones. So it's best to get acquainted with the various sizes and what they really mean before buying any. It'll save you your precious time, peace of mind, and money.
There are quite a number of things to consider before settling on which brushes to get for yourself. Should you get natural, synthetic, a natural and synthetic blend? Do you really need all the different shapes and types? I won't be discussing that here as it's covered in more detail in Watercolor Brushes for Beginners and Experts. You'll find there a brief history of watercolor brushes, the different kinds of hair used, and the anatomy of the brush. I'll quickly go through the different shapes as they are part of the watercolor brush sizes decision making process you'll be making.
What are the different shapes of watercolor brushes?
The two most common shapes of watercolor brushes used by artists are the round and flat brushes. But there are other brush shapes that you will also find useful for certain applications and techniques as you move further along. I'll list them all below:
This is the most common and most versatile brush of the whole lot. You can use it for washes, painting broad strokes, and for finer details as well. It also comes in an amazing variety of shapes and sizes.
It's most useful for broad linear strokes and for applying washes. The ideal brush to use for those crisp and straight edges.
This brush is mostly used for washes, it's thick bellied and holds a lot of water and pigment. They don't always have pointy ends, but the more expensive ones do.
It's like a flat brush but much wider and is ideal for laying down large areas of washes easily.
This is a round brush that has long hair and a thin point. Despite its small size, it can hold a good amount of water making it suitable for long lines, scrollwork, and other fine detail.
It's similar to a flat brush but with an angled brush shape. Making it useful for painting sharp corners or edges and curved strokes. Since it's still a flat brush, you can also use it for flat washes.
This is also another kind of flat brush but with an oval shape that can be quite useful for blending. It's rounded head makes it useful for painting soft round edges such as the petals of flowers.
Cat's Tongue Brush
It's a two-in-one brush, a flat brush but with a fine and pointy tip just like a cat's tongue!
This is also flat but with widely spread hair fanning out in a semi-circle shape. It's great for creating textural effects.
It's a detail paint brush that has fine and short hair making it useful for small and minute detail work. It's also used as a "retouching" brush for minor corrections.
Originally from Japan, this brush is similar to a wash brush, wide and great for painting big swatches of washes.
Watercolor brushes have smaller and shorter handles than the brushes used for oil and acrylic. Most watercolor artists like to work on smaller sized paintings, this means it requires working much more closely on the paper or surface. I myself tend to hold my watercolor brushes at the ferrule for optimum brush control. A long and heavy handle won't be doing you any favors. And will be much harder to balance.
Watercolor Brush Size Chart
And now that we've gone through the various shapes, let's head on to the sizing part. Watercolor brushes have numbers on them identifying their sizes, this kind of numbering system is typically used for the round and flat brushes. The other brushes' sizes are numbered according to their width and length.
There is no one standard of numbering that is to be followed exactly, so the numbering of the round and flat watercolor brush sizes vary across different brands. But don't worry, though they may not be the same, the difference is just slight. The numbers range from as big as 50 to as small as 0000 (or 4/0 meaning four zeros or 1/64" meaning 0.4 mm). Yes, even how the brushes below zero are labelled vary. I have never personally used a size 50 brush myself, but it would be interesting to see how and when to use one.
Beginning with 24 and going down to 10, the brush sizes decrease in increments of two. And then from 10 going down to 0000, it covers all the numbers.
Brush Size Chart for Round Brushes
Brush Size Chart for Flat Brushes
It can easily get quite confusing and stressful trying to narrow down your choices when you have that many to choose from. That's why ZenART's co-founder, Ardak Kassenova, envisioned and designed watercolor brush sets for every stage of your watercolor painting journey. There are three sets in our watercolor supplies range to choose from - Black Tulip, Turner Collection, and Fine Line - according to what you're looking for.
What size watercolor brushes do I need?
If you're just starting out then you don't need to buy too many different sizes yet. I would recommend you to have three round brushes - one in a small size (2-4), one in a mid-range size (6-8), and one in a larger size (10-12). You'll also need one or two flat brushes or wash brushes for those huge areas of washes that you need to do. It will be hard going if you just use your round brush, especially if you need to paint a wide section. One small and one large will be more than enough to start with. And a rigger brush (1-2) will be useful as well.
ZenART's Black Tulip is the perfect set for any beginner and aspiring artist. It's a 6-pc vegan brush set for watercolor, acrylic, and other water media. The brushes are made from the finest Japanese synthetic fibers that mimic squirrel and kolinsky sable. They hold their shape well with an added snap due to their high elasticity. Allowing for smooth control and excellent water and pigment distribution on your paper. This set has all the watercolor brush sizes and shapes you'll ever need for starting out, making it the preferred choice by even the professional artists.
The brushes in this set are as follows:
- #2 Rigger
- #8 Round
- #8 Flat
- #10 Round
- 3/4 " Flat
- 3/4 " Cat's Tongue
If you're looking for a more comprehensive set, then the Turner Collection is the one for you. I personally love this set as it has all the brushes I need. It's a 14-pc brush set for watercolors, gouache, acrylic, and other water media. The brushes are made with natural squirrel and synthetic blend for exceptional water and pigment absorption. The synthetic fibers give them an added springiness that allows the brushes to snap back into shape. This is a set that's designed and tested by professional artists. It comes in a beautiful and sleek satin case for easy organizing and protection whether at home or when bringing them along for plein air painting or traveling.
The brushes included in the Turner Collection are:
- #3 Round - Squirrel Mix
- #3 Rigger - Squirrel Mix
- #5 Round - Squirrel Mix
- #6 Filbert - Squirrel Mix
- #7 Round - Squirrel Mix
- #8 Flat - Squirrel Mix
- #11 Round - Squirrel Mix
- #1 Cat's Tongue - Squirrel Mix
- #000 Detail Round - Synthetic
- #2 Round - Synthetic
- #3 Fan - Synthetic
- # 5 Angle - Synthetic
- #4 Flat - Synthetic
And the 14th pc is a #2 palette knife!
Here, Ardak is demonstrating the extensive versatility of the Turner Collection.
If you're fond of creating fine and highly detailed paintings, then the Fine Line set is perfect for you. It's a whole collection of watercolor brush sizes specifically designed for fine detail work. The brush sizes are from 1 to 5/0, all 12 brushes are quite small. The brushes are made with fine Japanese synthetic fibers that perform nearly as well as the kolinsky sable, but at a fraction of the cost. The ultra fine and perfectly pointy tips allow you to paint those exquisitely detailed strokes with a high level of precision. The brush handles are even shorter than the regular watercolor brushes, with a special design for a better and comfortable grip control.
All of ZenART's brush sets have birch wood handles that are light and shaped for a balanced handling and grip . They have also been UV coated for an added protection and to avoid easy slippage while painting.
How do I choose a watercolor brush?
Think about what you like to paint and your painting style, that way you can carefully assess which watercolor brush size and shape you need for each need. Good brushes are more expensive but they're definitely worth it. I suggest you invest in a good set of brushes as at some point you will notice the great difference in the level and quality of performance. The better you become at your techniques, the more you'll start to notice the difference between good brushes and cheap ones. They're also much sturdier and keep their shape and fine points better.
Invest in good quality brushes!
Good brushes can also last you a long time if you learn how to properly care for them. Some even have brushes that they have inherited from their parents or grandparents, they're like heirloom pieces already, how about that right? Find out the answer to How Do I Clean, Treat, and Store My Watercolor Paint Brushes? In this helpful guide. Keep your brushes in good condition for as long as you can and save your hard earned money.
I hope this helped you get a better understanding on the watercolor brush sizes that you need for your painting style and needs. And answered the question - What size watercolor brushes do I need? Buy the best quality brushes that fits your budget, I promise you won't regret it. I've had students who thought they just couldn't improve their techniques. But then later realized that at some point the brushes made a huge impact on the quality of their work when they finally tried using better ones. To test out your set of brushes, try out the different Watercolor Strokes in this beginner's guide. You can easily test and find out how well your brushes work.
We'd love to hear back from you!
Which round watercolor brush sizes are your go to brushes? How about the flat ones? If you were to choose just one, which brush would it be and what size? What future content would you like to see from us? Let me know in the comments below, and I'll happily get back to you. Join our friendly art community Painting Inspiration Daily on Facebook. You can share your art and ideas, watch LIVE tutorials, and be inspired to paint!
On our next Toolkit, find out How To Paint Watercolor On Canvas. Until then, good luck on choosing your watercolor brushes!
- MEET THE AUTHOR-
Kathleen is the Wordsmith at ZenART, resident artist and art editor. When God sent a shower of talents, Kathleen made sure she got a basketful of them! She's a visual artist with practical knowledge on various fields from painting and sculpture, to costume and set design which comes in very handy when writing about various art techniques and theories. She also shares her passion for the arts through teaching. She runs her own brand of handmade wirework jewelry designs.