Five Things You Need To Know Before Buying A Paintbrush

Every tradesman worth their salt knows that the right tools really matter, but not all tools are created equal. Not every paintbrush is good enough!

When it comes to choosing the right tools for the job, professional painters understand that the right tool matters. 

Here are five important things you should know before buying a paintbrush, from an expert.

Choose Your Tools Carefully

Most home painters choose the cheapest brush possible. That is a mistake! There is a big difference between a brush used for painting tyres, and one used for applying a finish to a home.

There’s an old painting adage my trainer used to say back when I started my apprenticeship: “A tradesman is only as good as his tools.” So, choose your tools carefully! 

Often, the difference between a brush that is going to make your job much easier and quicker and one which will make a mess is only a few dollars. 

Let me share with you a few industry secrets right here:

Brushes Have Different Shapes

Before buying a paintbrush, the first thing to know are the two main shapes of paintbrush – the Oval Cutter, and the Sash Cutter. Each has its’ own purpose, and should be used according to the task you want to accomplish. Both shapes are available for all brush types detailed below. 

The Sash Cutter

This is a rectangular brush, and is the most commonly used, general purpose brush. It has a specific feel, and tends to hold a little more paint than its’ counterpart, and spread it further and more evenly. 

The Oval Cutter

As the name suggests, this brush is an oval shape. Because of this, it’s easier to get into tight corners and for fine finishes that require a small point.  

They Come in Different Types of Bristle

There are several types of paintbrush of different sizes and different bristle length and type. Using the right brush really does make a difference to both the finish and how long it takes!

Nylon/Synthetic Bristle

Synthetic bristle brushes are used for all types of finishes, but mainly work best for acrylic/water-based paints. They are usually very high, and tend to hold a lot of paint and distribute it evenly and smoothly. Generally considered the superior choice, the downside is that they take a lot of work to look after. Nylon bristles (like fishing line) have a ‘memory’, which means that if you place them against something for a long time, they’ll remain bent in that direction forevermore. Always store them flat and clean them thoroughly. 

Natural Bristle

Natural bristle brushes are the go to for high-gloss enamel and varnishes. They are made of animal hairs like hog or badger. They’re easy to look after – the best thing to do with these bad boys is to wash them out after use (with the right solvent!) and leave them in some water. They won’t bend or go hard easily.  

Mixed Bristle

This is a very recent invention. As the name suggests, it’s a mix of natural and synthetic bristles. This combines the smooth spreading power of synthetic bristle with the holding power of natural bristle. They can generally be left standing in water and not lose their shape, although it’s not recommended. Use these sorts of brushes for either oil or water-based paints. 

They Have Different Lengths

Short Hair

A short bristle paintbrush is generally the best choice for oil-based paints and paints of a thicker viscosity. The short hair length allows them to be a little stiffer, allowing the thicker paint to spread better. They can be used for acrylic/water-based products that act like enamel, such as acrylic-enamel and stain/varnish.  

Long Hair

A long hair paintbrush is designed to be used mostly with water-based paints. They generally hold more paint for longer, but a little slower in spreading the paint.  Use a long-hair brush if you are cutting in a whole house, especially on bare plasterboard walls, which can be very absorbent and need a lot of surface area covered. Of course, you can use a shorter-bristle if you need to, but it won’t be as efficient – over the course of an entire house, we dip the brush into the pot an average of 3447 times!

The Widths Are Super Important

The right width is essential for the right finish
The right width is key

Paintbrush sizes for a professional painter go way beyond ‘big’ and ‘small’! 

There are five main widths of paintbrush that painters use:






Let’s Break It Down

The most common ones are 50mm, 63mm and 75mm. The others aren’t necessary for most applications, but can sometimes come in useful. The right width is essential in the right finish, so let’s go through them all in order.

38mm – This width isn’t common, but it can come in useful when painting small, thin pieces of wood such as French doors and fly screens. 

50mm – Most commonly used for oil-based finishes on frames, and acrylic on window sashes – they tend to be shorter, slightly-stiffer bristles which spread enamels more easily than long-bristled brushes, and are generally a good width to match frames. When using for window sashes, most people prefer to use them in the sash-cutter shape. 

63mm – These are a very common brush width for most things, along with 75mm, for cutting in walls, doors, woodwork and ceilings. The difference between these and the slightly larger 75mm is that they hold a little less paint, but they are also lighter and therefore, faster and less bulky. For some people, they’re also easier to manage than a larger brush, which allows for a finer cut-in line. 

75mm – Painters consider this the ideal size to cut in most things with. It serves the widest range of purposes, and is arguably the best balance between bulkiness, the amount of paint it holds and manoeuvrability. Exceptional for undercoating doors, frames, walls and ceilings. 

102mm – This is a width you should rarely use. It holds a ludicrous amount of paint, but it’s so heavy and bulky that it becomes very hard to handle, especially when used overhead to paint ceilings. Only recommended if no other options are available eg. your roller has broken and you need to finish an entire wall.  

So there we have it – we made it though the crazy world of brushes.

Happy painting!

PaintSpace Admin

Christos is a fully-qualified Painter and Decorator with a Certificate III in Building and Construction. He has been working in the industry since 2004. Having studied Health Science at Torrens University in Melbourne, Christos is passionate about the cutting edge between health and painting.

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