What are the Different types of Watercolour Brushes?

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Consider this post your brush bible!

I’ve been painting for nearly twenty years, and this post is a culmination of everything I’ve learned about the many types of watercolour brushes. In this article, I’ll be detailing all the different brush shapes and how you can use them to get the most out of your paintings.

This Article is about every brush shape used in watercolour
  • If you want to learn more about what the best brushes are made from, then check out this article
  • If you’re a beginner, and you’re just looking for a quick and easy recommendation for a starter kit, this article has you covered.


Looking for a specific brush type? No problem – just use the index below.

I’ve included some of my top brush recommendations to help you shop for art supplies.
If you do CHOOSE to make a purchase, I’ll get a small commission from the seller, at no extra cost to you. All these brushes have been TRIED AND TESTED by me: nothing has been sponsored.

Anatomy of a Brush

Before we get into brush shapes, here’s a super-quick recap of the parts that make up a brush.

  • Handle: often made from wood, sometimes made from plastic. The handle usually displays information about the brush size, manufacturer and series number. It also sometimes tells you the shape of the brush.
  • Ferrule: this is the metal part of the brush, between the handle and the brush hairs. Ferrules are often made of chrome or brass. At the bottom of the ferrule, there are compressed rings that hold the ferrule onto the handle – this is called the crimp. The best quality brushes are made from a single piece of metal and do not have a seam in the ferrule.
  • Note: hardwood handles are treated to help protect against water and paint damage. However, there is little or no coating on the wood just under the ferrule in order to help the adhesive bind the wood and metal together. If you aren’t careful with your brush and leave it standing in water above the ferrule you can seriously damage your brush.

Onto the brush hairs:

  • Heel: The ‘heel’ of the brush are the hairs that are closest to the ferrule.
  • Belly: the ‘belly’ is found in the middle of the brush, and it is often the widest part. The ‘belly’ acts the brush’s reservoir, holding pigment and water. Watercolour brushes have larger bellies than oil / acrylic brushes as they need to hold water as well as pigment.
  • Tip/Toe: The ‘tip’ or ‘toe’ of the brush is the part that comes to a point. This is the most fragile part of the brush. The best brushes come to a tip.
  • Collectively, these three areas can be referred to as ‘filaments‘, ‘hairs‘ (ie. sable, squirrel), ‘fibres‘ (synthetic) or ‘bristles‘ (ie. hog hair) of the brush. Only half of the brush hairs are exposed above the ferrule.

When your brush is full of paint, your brush is ‘loaded‘.

Different watercolour brushes & what they’re used for

Round Brush

The staple of every watercolour artist’s kit is the round brush. This is the most versatile watercolour brush, with a shape that makes it perfect for fine detailed work, larger strokes and wash-work. If you’re going to invest in any brush, a good quality round brush is a great place to start. With varying amounts of pressure, you can create a huge array of paint marks.

You’ll want a brush that comes to a good point, and it’s simple to test this. Run your thumb over your brush – how much ‘snap’ does it have when it comes back to its original shape? Does it reform with a point, or does it look more shapeless?

What I would recommend:
natural hair

My all-time favourite brushes are the Winsor & Newton Series 7 Range. I cannot be without them.


The Princeton Neptune brushes are made using fantastic synthetic fibres.

read more about round brushes here

Miniature & Spotter Brushes

A miniature brush – also known as a spotter – is a short-haired brush that’s perfect for detail work thanks to their pointed tips and diminutive sizes. They aren’t just small though; their shape also makes them perfect for precision painting. Short-haired brushes can only hold a limited amount of water and paint, which makes it easier for the artist to control the brushes output when working in small areas. Additionally, the short tip pushes the artist to hold the brush in an angled position, like a pen, where the wrist can help stabilise the point and allows for more precise movements.

Sometimes small round brushes are mistakenly called miniatures. This is a mistake; ‘miniature’ and ‘spotter’ are brush shapes, not sizes. To illustrate this point, you can find both round brushes and miniature brushes in the same small sizes, right down to the tiny 000. The confusion between small miniature and round brushes is probably further worsened by the fact that miniatures aren’t made in larger sizes, and it’s hard to notice small differences in shape when you’re comparing two tiny brushes.

The key difference is found in the length of the brush hairs; on a miniature, the ferrule clamps onto the brush at a higher point, closing around its thickest part (the belly). This makes the brush tighter and less springy than a traditional round brush. This inflexibility and the shorter profile gives a miniature a more consistent line than a round brush.

There is one small difference between miniatures and spotters. Spotters tend to have the appearance of a fatter belly, due to how high the ferrule sits around the short hairs. Miniatures tend to be thinner, which gives them a little more flexibility and flourish than a spotter.

What I would recommend:
read more about minature & spotter brushes here

Flat Brush

Flat brushes are flat-tipped brushes with rectangular brush heads. wash-work, or for making clean straight edged marks. The tip and sides can be used to create thinner strokes. Flat brushes are usually measured in fractions of an inch (the measurements relate to the ferrule’s width).

There are two shapes of flat brush: one is called a Bright and the other is a One-Stroke Brush.

Bright Brush

Bright brushes are flat brushes with bristle hair that is nearly equal to their width. When compared with one-stroke brushes they have slightly shorter bristles.

flat / One Stroke Brush

One-Stoke brushes have longer filaments than bright brushes. This allows them to pick up more water and pigment, making them an excellent choice for longer mark making.

What I would recommend:
read more about minature & spotter brushes here

Mop, Wash & Quill Brushes

unshaped / pointed mop (sometimes called a Quill brush)

Mop brushes don’t have the responsiveness of round brushes – they’re floppy and don’t hold their shape well – but what they sacrifice in control, they make up for in water retention. These brushes have great covering power, making them the perfect choice for loose wet watercolours or filling in large areas quickly. They aren’t good for detail work, but that really isn’t what these brushes were designed for.

If sable is too expensive but you still want to use natural hairs, I recommend checking out the Princeton Good Mop Brush (yes, it’s really called that). Princeton has used soft goat hair to create a durable alternative. In general, mop handles are shorter than round or flat brush handles.

Quill Brushes

also known as the Pointed Mop / Wash

Quill brushes are named after how they were originally made. Quills are the main feathers from a bird, found in either the tail or the wing. They’re also hollow. Artists used to fill these hollow feathers with animal hair to create brushes – and the has name stuck. Modern quill brushes aren’t made with bird feathers, although the bristle hairs tend to be held together with wire wrapped plastic.

At larger sizes, quill brushes almost look indistinguishable from mop brushes. They both have a lot of hair, tend to be made from similar materials and carry a lot of water. While both mop and quill brushes are relatively floppy, quill brushes tend to hold a point slightly better. This makes them able to both do large wash work and some more detailed marks.

What I would recommend:
read more about mop & quill brushes here

Rigger, Line, Script Brush

Rigger brushes were originally created by the French brush company Isabey, in order to help artists paint ships’ rigging. The long hairs were designed to absorb any hand-shakes that might affect the smoothness of the line. This brush works best when held low on the handle. You can either flick the brush for a more organic effect (perfect for tree branches or grass) or use continuous pressure to create long even marks (ideal for ships rigging!). Unlike many other brushes on this list, the rigger should be used by slowly sweeping the arm rather than the wrist. This brush is perfect for detail work, although you will have less control over the tip than you will with a miniature brush.

Most brush makers use the terms rigger, line and script brush interchangeable, as the differences between each are so small. There are no industry brush standards manufacturers need to abide by. Traditional riggers are longer with a larger belly. Liners were originally adapted for sign painters and are slightly shorter.

Note: in my experience, Riggers tend to work better with watered-down paint in order for them to load well and for lines to flow off the brush. Load the entire length of the brush from tip to heel with paint. You may want to gently blot the tip on tissue paper before you paint to remove excess water and improve the flow. Lightly pull across the paper for a consistently thick stroke. Add more pressure if you want to make the line larger.

What I would recommend:
read more about rigger, line & script brushes here

Angled, Dagger, Sword Brush

What I would recommend:
read more about rigger, line & script brushes here

Filbert Brush, Cat’s Tongue Brush, Oval Brush

This is one brush with many names. A filbert is a flat-ish brush that has an oval tip. The filbert brush is named after the filbert tree – it supposedly looks like the nut The filbert gets its name from its supposed resemblance to the nut of the filbert tree – a type of hazlenut – which in turn gets its name from Saint Philibert on whose feast day the ripening of the nut coincides. However, based on shape, I think a more fitting title should have been ‘tombstone’.

The only difference between a Cat’s Tongue Brush and a traditional Filbert is the tip; on the Cat’s Tongue it comes to a more tapered point.

What I would recommend:
read more about Filbert, cat’s tongue & oval brushes here

Fan Brush

The fan brush is often called an ‘effects’ brush, due to its more limited uses.

What I would recommend:
read more about fan brushes here

Rake Brush

small (around size 3), medium (5-6), and large (12).

Sumi Brush


small (around size 3), medium (5-6), and large (12).

Hake Brush


small (around size 3), medium (5-6), and large (12).



Want to learn more? Check out my classes.

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