The Ultimate Guide to Paint Brushes
From bristle types to brush widths and beyond, here's what two paint experts say you need to know.
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Make no mistake about it: The right paint brush can make or break your project. "Choosing the right type of brush is key to the finish of your paint job, and can also make painting easier," says Rick Watson, Director of Product Information and Technical Services at Sherwin-Williams. "When the correct brush is used, you get a consistent finish, finer lines, and smoother coverage."
However, with all the different types of brushes on the market, determining the best one to pick for a specific job can be difficult. "It's also important to know what types of projects brushes should be used for in the home," Watson adds. "A brush is an ideal choice when painting trim, corners, and small areas, [but you might need a speciality option] for projects like painting furniture, exterior decks, and railing." Interested in learning more about the most common kinds of paint brushes? We asked Watson and Connie McKinney, the Senior Product Manager at Purdy, to breakdown the basics—and this is what they had to say.
The type of paint product you're using determines which kind of bristles your brush should have. Additionally, Watson advises that the quality of the brush and the bristles is important. "The bristles should be densely packed all throughout the brush," Watson says. "Cheap brushes will have a filler strip in the center, which can fill with paint and make a mess on the wall." As for the various types? First up is natural bristle brushes. These are made with animal hair, says Watson, and are best for applying oil-based finishes like shellac, varnish, or oil-based paint. "Natural bristle brushes are naturally flagged, so they hold more paint and help ensure a smooth finish," he explains. "However, you should never use a natural-bristle brush with water-based (latex) paints."
On that front, our experts say to use blended nylon and polyester brushes—they are ideal for all types of latex paints. "Polyester will provide stiffness to the brush and nylon adds durability, as well as the soft tips that you want for leaving a smooth finish on your paint project," McKinney says. "The higher the amount of nylon, the more durable, the better the finish, and the higher the price of the brush." According to McKinney, entirely polyester brushes are best reserved for water-based paints. "These brushes are typically good for both indoor and outdoor use," she says. "However, they are not as durable as blended nylon and polyester ones."
Watson says the width of the brush needed depends on the project type, as well as the painter's experience. "Like brush types, the size you go with will depend on what you're painting," Watson explains. "In general, if you're painting detail areas or trim, choose a one- to two-inch brush. For doors, cabinets, or cutting in on walls, a two-and-a-half to three-inch brush works best. And for large, flat areas like decks, a four-inch brush is what you're looking for."
Choosing the right handle style can also help make your paint job easier by giving you the control you need. "A rattail handle is long and skinny, so you hold it like a pencil, which is perfect for precision work. A fluted handle is similar to a rattail but is a bit wider, so it rests easier in the hand," explains Watson. "A beavertail handle is bulged in the middle, making it comfortable for painting across long surfaces. And lastly, short-handled brushes have a small handle for painting in areas where a longer handle would get in the way, in tight spots like corners."
Our experts say the right style of brush for your project depends entirely on the task at hand. "Having the correct brush makes a huge impact on your finished project," McKinney says. Trim brushes are typically used to paint trim or molding, she adds. "They are flat and have a more robust handle, and can also be used outdoors for decks, fences and siding." Wall brushes are similar to trim brushes, but are thicker and hold more paint. "These are typically used for large surface areas, like walls, decks, exterior siding, and fences," she continues. "The robust handle is easy and comfortable to hold." Watson says a flat sash brush is just what it sounds like. "It has straight bristles and is best for applying paint on flat areas, such as trim, fences, and decking," he says.
Angle sash brushes, on the other hand, are used primarily to cut in or edge around trim, baseboards, and ceilings. "An angle sash brush has slanted bristles and its wider profile can hold a good amount of paint," Watson explains. "It's best for cutting in along the ceiling or painting trim." Thin angle sash brushes have slanted bristles and a thin profile that produces straight lines. "It doesn't hold as much paint as an angle sash brush, but that makes it ideal for trimming in small detail areas like corners and edges," Watson explains. Chip iterations, notes McKinney are best used when you're not trying to achieve a smooth finish. "These economical brushes are typically used for very small touch-ups and applying adhesives or epoxies in small projects," she explains.
Brush End Types
To produce a more desirable finish, our experts say certain paint projects call for a distinct brush end style. "A chisel trim brush has slanted bristles that produce a good, straight line for trimming in corners and edges," Watson explains. "While a square trim brush has bristles that are cut square and is ideal for painting flat surfaces." As for angled brushes, McKinney says they should be used primarily to paint trims, baseboards, and ceilings. "The angle helps to paint in corners and around edges," she explains.