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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

30 Models Considered
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We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Buying guide for best watercolor paint brush sets

If you want to express yourself creatively and try your hand at painting, watercolor paints are an excellent option for beginners. They’re fairly inexpensive, easy to clean up, and don’t require complicated techniques to perfect. But to get the most out of watercolor paints, you have to have the right supplies – and that starts with a high-quality watercolor paint brush set.

Watercolor paint brushes are similar to other paint brushes, but it’s important to choose brushes that can hold a good amount of water and pigment. The tip should come to a point when wet and stay relatively small and sharp while in use. When you touch the brush to paper, the tip should also release the right amount of color from the bristles to provide the most control.

But there are so many watercolor paint brush sets to choose from that finding the perfect option can be challenging. Our buying guide has all the tips you need. 

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To keep your watercolor paint brushes in good condition, pre-moisten your watercolor paints before you start painting. If the paints are hard and dry, they can fray and even break the brush’s bristles.

Key considerations

Bristle type

Watercolor paint brushes are available with both natural and synthetic bristles. The bristles are the most important part of the brush because they hold the paint, deposit it on the paper, and help spread it. Before buying a watercolor paint brush set, decide what type of bristles you prefer.

When it comes to natural hair brushes, the most common options are:

  • Sable hair is generally regarded as the best for watercolor paint brushes. The hair comes from the tail of the Kolinsky sable and is incredibly durable and supple. This allows the brush to hold more water and paint than other natural bristles but still taper to a fine point for precision. Sable brushes can also maintain their shape for years. They’re more expensive than other brushes, though.
  • Squirrel hair usually creates highly absorbent bristles that work well for applying a wash of color. However, these brushes typically come to a sharp point that works well for detail work, too.
  • Ox hair is stiff and durable, but the coarse texture is usually used only for flat, square watercolor brushes.
  • Goat hair doesn’t hold its shape as well as other bristle types, but it can usually keep a point fairly well. These brushes work best for applying a wash of color or for soft blending.
  • Pony hair is extremely coarse and typically doesn’t cost much. However, it’s of lower quality, so it’s usually used as filler material in other brushes or in watercolor brushes for children or beginners.

Synthetic watercolor paint brushes are usually much more affordable than natural hair brushes. Their bristles are typically made of nylon, polyester, or a combination of both, so they’re an ideal option if you’re opposed to using animal products. These brushes tend to be highly durable, too, and maintain a good point at the tip. In general, synthetic brushes don’t hold as much water and paint as natural hair brushes, though, because the bristles are smoother.

Brush shape

Watercolor paint brushes are available in various shapes that allow you to use different techniques when painting.

  • Round brushes are the most common shape and typically offer the most versatility. They work well for thin lines and delicate detail work but can also create wider strokes and washes.
  • Flat brushes work well for washes and bold linear strokes. They’re often used for background painting and landscape painting.
  • Rigger brushes are round brushes with extremely long bristles. They’re typically used for painting fine details and long lines.
  • Spotter brushes are round brushes with shorter bristles to provide more control. They work well for incredibly fine detail work.
  • Mop brushes, also known as wash brushes, are flat brushes with an extremely wide head. They’re usually used to apply a wash of color, to cover an extremely large area with paint, or for blending paint.

Brush size

Choosing the right size for your watercolor paint brushes is usually pretty easy. Small brushes are suited for detail work, while mid-size brushes typically offer the most versatility. Large brushes are ideal for washes, bold strokes, and background painting.

Watercolor paint brushes range in size from 0000 all the way up to 50. For most beginners, having a small brush of size 2 or 3, a medium brush of size 5 or 6, and a large brush of size 10 or 12 offers a good balance. Look for a watercolor paint brush set that includes a range of sizes that covers small, medium, and large brushes, so you have everything you need.

Don’t use an antibacterial soap to wash your watercolor paint brushes. The ingredients that kill the bacteria can damage the bristles.

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Features

Number of brushes

Watercolor paint brush sets vary in their number of brushes. Some sets have as few as six brushes, while others include more than 20. If you’re just learning to paint with watercolors, a smaller set is usually all you need to learn and perfect the basic techniques. More experienced watercolor painters may want a larger brush set, though, so they can experiment with more advanced techniques and painting styles.

Beginners will benefit from a set that includes at least one small round brush, one medium round brush, and one large round brush. As long as you have those basic brushes, you should be set.

Brush handles

The majority of watercolor paint brush sets feature brushes with wood handles. These brushes have a comfortable, balanced feel in the hand, which allows for more control while painting. Some lower-quality watercolor paint brush sets may feature brushes with plastic handles. They can snap and break easily, so they don’t offer the same durability as wood handles.

Brush ferrules

Watercolor paint brushes usually have metal ferrules that connect the bristles to the handle. Some sets feature aluminum ferrules, while others have nickel-plated brass, copper, or tin ferrules. The best ferrules are double- or tripled-crimped to keep the bristles securely attached to the handle during repeated use and washing.

Extras

Some watercolor paint brush sets include other tools in addition to the brushes. You can find sets that come with a sponge, a palette knife, and a case for the brushes. If you want to begin painting right away, a brush set with extras is an excellent option.

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DID YOU KNOW?
Don’t place your watercolor paint brushes in a cup or jar to dry. The water that’s trapped in the bristles can drip down into the ferrule and loosen the bristles. Instead, hang them upside down or lay them flat to dry.
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Accessories

Watercolor paint sets: Winsor & Newton Cotman Watercolors Pocket Box
You can’t perfect your watercolor painting without a high-quality set of watercolor paints. This set from Winsor & Newton is a favorite because it offers 12 shades and features a mixing palette in the lid.

Art easels: T-Sign Reinforced Artist’s Easel
An art easel comes in handy for holding your watercolor pad steady while you’re painting. We love this one from T-Sign because it’s lightweight and highly portable, so it can even be used on a countertop.

Watercolor paint brush set prices

Watercolor paint brush sets vary in price based on the type of bristles, the number of brushes, and other accessories. Most sets cost between $6 and $45.

The most affordable watercolor paint brush sets usually feature synthetic hair bristles. They tend to contain five to six brushes and no accessories. You’ll pay between $6 and $15 for these sets.

Mid-range watercolor paint brush sets can feature synthetic or natural hair bristles. Synthetic brush sets usually feature six to 15 brushes, while natural hair sets only have four to six brushes. Some sets in this price range may come with accessories like a case. You’ll generally pay between $15 and $30.

The most expensive watercolor paint brush sets can feature synthetic or natural hair bristles as well. Synthetic brush sets typically feature 15 to 20 brushes, while natural hair sets generally contain six to 12 brushes. These sets usually offer accessories like a case or sponge, too. You’ll typically spend between $30 and $45 for these sets.

Never submerge a watercolor paint brush in water all the way up to the ferrule. That can cause the glue holding the bristles in place to weaken, which will lead to shedding.

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Tips

  • Before using a new set of watercolor brushes, rinse them well. The bristles are usually treated with a water-soluble adhesive that holds them together to keep their shape during shipping. If you don’t rinse it off, the brushes won’t perform as they should when you start painting.
  • Before you start painting, dip your watercolor brushes into plain water. Shake off and blot away the excess moisture, and then wait a couple of minutes for the bristles to absorb the water before dipping into the paint.
  • Avoid leaving your watercolor brushes soaking in the rinse water while you work. With paint brushes that have stiffer bristles, this practice is fine. With a watercolor paint brush’s softer bristles, though, you can damage the brush head and wood handle.
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If your watercolor paint brushes dry in an odd shape, there’s no need to worry. Wet the bristles with warm water, blot away the excess, and use hair gel to reshape the brush. When the brush is dry, you can rinse out the gel.

FAQ

Q. How long do watercolor paint brushes usually last?

A. It depends on the type of bristles they have and how often they’re used. If brushes are used a few times a week, synthetic watercolor brushes typically maintain their shape and texture for six months or more. Natural hair watercolor brushes usually hold their shape and texture for two years or more.

Q. What’s the best way to clean watercolor paint brushes?

A. At the sink, collect some warm water in your hand and massage the dirty brush against your palm until the water is clear. Use a mild or gentle bar soap to create suds and work them into the bristles. Rinse the brush in warm water in your hand. Repeat the process until the bristles are completely clean.

Q. How should I store watercolor paint brushes?

A. While some artists store their brushes vertically in a jar or cup, that can actually cause them to break down more quickly. Instead, store your brushes horizontally in a case or other container.

 

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