How to choose a paint brush

How to choose a paint brush

The right brush or roller can be the difference between a paint project living up to your dreams, and needing a do-over. If you’re not sure which one your project needs, we’re here to help.

Brush or Roller?

Brushes are great for smaller projects and detailed areas. Their smaller size makes them useful for trim, ceilings, and cutting in along corners. The other big reason for using a brush is if you’re staining a surface. The bristles on a brush do a better job of working the stain deep into a surface, meaning you’ll get a better look and better durability.

Your other option is a roller. Most jobs will require a 9″ roller cover – they’re designed to hold more paint and cover more area, so they work great for larger surface areas such as walls and ceilings.

How to choose a paint brush

Which brush? Which roller?

Brushes come in several shapes and sizes, and each is good for different scenarios. An easy way to pick a brush is by determining the type of coating you’re using.

  • For water-based coatings, use a Valspar Wall and Trim Brush.
  • For oil-based coatings, we recommend the Valspar All Stain Brush.
  • If you’re not sure, go with the Valspar Wall & Trim Brush, it’s a great all-arounder.

If you’re opting for a roller, there’s a few different kinds of roller covers, so you’ll want to figure out which one is right for you.

Always try to use a top-quality roller cover. There’s a reason they’re top quality – they carry more paint to the surface, which means you’ll be done sooner and with less effort. They’re also made from materials that give you a smooth, lint-free finish. A quality roller can also play a critical role in terms of paint-hiding capability. Luckily for you, Valspar has high-quality roller covers in a number of materials and nap sizes.

How to choose a paint brush

What roller cover do I need?

First, you’ll need to figure out what nap size is right for your project. The general rule of thumb is:

  • 1/4″ – Use for ultra-smooth surfaces like cabinets, doors & metal.
  • 3/8″ – Use for smooth surfaces like walls & ceilings.
  • 1/2″ – Use for semi-smooth surfaces like textured walls, textured ceilings, plaster & wood.
  • 3/4″ – Use for rough surfaces like stucco, decks & masonry.

Next, you’ll need to decide on either a knit, woven or microfiber cover. Woven roller covers are more shed-resistant, so they’re better for gloss and semi-gloss finishes, which can highlight lint left over from the roller. For flat, eggshell, and satin finishes, knit roller covers do the job more efficiently. For consistent control and smooth finish, we recommend microfiber roller covers.

For all brushes and rollers, see the application instructions on the back panel of Valspar paint products, or check with your store associate to make sure that you choose the proper applicator.

  • Help
  • Log In / Sign Up
  • Recently Joined
  • Members
    • Sign In
    • Spotlight Artist
    • The Thalo Gallery
  • Classes
    • Upcoming Classes
    • Search
  • Resources
    • Lesson Plans
    • Thalo Originals
    • Thalo Rewind
  • Store

    Tags you are adding:

    • All Topics
    • Fine Art
    • The Use of Different Types of Artist Brushes

    The Use of Different Types of Artist Brushes

    How to choose a paint brush

    How to choose a paint brush

    Drying them with a soft tissue is a good idea. Store the brushes in an upright position to ensure the life of its bristles. Authentic brushes lasts for a long period of time if properly used and maintained.

    Related Items

    Useful Links

    • Thalo Media Shop
    • Chartpak Store
    • Larry Jordan Training


    thalo is an online community whose purpose is to help students, artists and teachers learn new skills, promote their work, grow their business and connect with other artists.

    Latest Articles

    • 7 Productivity Strategies for Artists4 months ago
    • Self-Starter Kit: 5 Tips for Self-Taught Creatives4 months ago
    • Thalo Spotlight Artist Mary Jo Ernst4 months ago

    Contact Us

    510 Broadhollow Road
    Suite 205
    Melville, NY 11747
    Email: [email protected]

    2021 © Thalo LLC. ALL Rights Reserved. Privacy Policy | Terms of Service

    When you’re faced with a wall full of paint brush options and terms like “flat”, “angled”, “Chinex” and “nylon/polyester,” it can be confusing to know which paint brush is right for your job. Different projects and paint products work best with certain types, sizes and qualities of paint brushes. We sat down with our McCormick Paints Rockville Store Manager, Todd, to find out what brush a real paint pro would recommend, depending on your particular paint project and need.

    How to choose a paint brush

    When choosing a paint brush for your painting project, answer these three questions to help lead you to the best brush for your job.

    1. What type of paint or coating are you using?

    Oil Based Paints

    If you are using an oil based paint for your project, such as McCormick Paints Cote-All, then look for a China bristle brush. This type of brush should be cleaned using paint thinner.

    Oil Based Stains

    When working with oil based stains like McCormick Brand stains or certain Old Masters products, such as their Wiping Stain, use a China bristle paint brush.

How to choose a paint brush

Latex Based Paints –

When painting with a latex based paint, like McCormick Paints Generation, REVO or Advantage, use a nylon/polyester paint brush. These types of brushes should be cleaned using soap and water.

    Water Based Stains/ Water Based Polyurethanes –

    Use a nylon/polyester paint brush when working with water based stains or polyurethanes, like Old Masters products.

How to choose a paint brush
Tip from Todd: Some brushes might claim to be okay for use with all types of paint. If you choose to purchase one of these brushes, you should still only use it with one type of paint. Switching between different types of paint with the same brush could be compromise the performance of the brush.

2. What areas are you painting?

Doorways or Trim:

Use a smaller brush for these tighter areas. Look for a brush 1.5”-2” in width.

How to choose a paint brush

Cutting-In from Ceiling to Wall or from Wall to Trim:

You can use a larger brush for these areas, but make sure it’s a size that feels right for you and that you can easily control. A 2” -2.5” brush works well for these areas.

How to choose a paint brush

Larger Areas:

When you have a larger area to paint, but can’t access it with a roller, you should choose a larger, flat paint brush for these production areas as opposed to an angled brush that works well for cutting-in.

How to choose a paint brush
Tip from Todd: Choose a brush based on how it feels when you hold it. The larger brushes (3”) are best for more experienced painters as the larger the brush the more control that is required. Various handle lengths and handle diameters are available to suit your individual comfort preferences.

3. How long do you intend to keep the paint brush?

Long Term Use:

Invest in a high quality brush that will last a long time. A higher end paint brush will generally have more densely packed bristles, which means it will hold more paint and go further. When you invest in a high quality brush from our Premium brush section, be sure to properly clean and care for your brush so that it works well over time. Save the cardboard sleeve (called a “keeper”) to store your brush; this will protect the bristles and keep the brush nicely formed for your next use.

How to choose a paint brush

1-2 Uses:

If you don’t intend to re-use the paint brush once your job is over, then look for a brush in our Professional or Value brush section. These brushes, such as the McCormick Brand paint brushes, are affordable and will get the job done.

How to choose a paint brush

One Time Use:

Consider using a chip brush when applying Kwik paste paint remover, or a foam brush when applying a McCormick paint sample. These can be thrown away after they’re used.

How to choose a paint brush

Tip from Todd: A Chinex brush, such as the WOOSTER Chinex FTP, is a great option for oil or latex based paint projects. It’s more densely packed white bristles will hold more paint and it’s a longer lasting brush.
How to choose a paint brush

If you’re still not sure which brush you need, or have specific questions on paint brushes, contact your local McCormick Paints store for recommendations.

Your paint brushes are a reflection of your personal artistic style. Some brushes are better suited to specific painting techniques, and some simply feel more comfortable to a particular artist. At the beginning, you only really need two brushes—one flat and one round. So head out to your local art supply store and see which brushes of those types appeal to you. Later, though, you will want to tailor your brushes to your painting style. Here is what you should know about choosing brushes.

Acrylic paint brushes come in eight basic types. Here is a list of the types and suggestions for what each type does best:

Round: A round brush has a nice, long, oval tip. It’s a multitasker, capable of both sketching and detail work, as well as filling in smaller areas. Use a round brush with thinned paint, and press down harder to create a wider line.

Pointed Round: A pointed round brush looks a lot like a round brush, except that the tip comes to a sharp point. These brushes are good for fine detail work, including retouching.

Detail Round: As the name suggests, this brush is designed for close-up detail work. It looks like a regular round brush, except that it is shorter and often thinner, with shorter bristles.

Flat: A flat brush is squared off at the end, with medium or long bristles. Flat brushes are excellent for washes, bold strokes, and filling in large spaces, as well as for varnishing your finished painting.

Bright: A bright brush resembles a flat brush, except that the bristles are shorter and the edges of the tip curve slightly inward. A bright brush is useful for close-up work with short, carefully controlled strokes. Bright brushes tend to lay down thick, heavy paint.

Filbert: A filbert brush is a cross between a flat brush and a round brush, with a softly oval tip. It’s best at blending colors and creating soft edges.

Angular Flat: An angular flat brush has its bristles cut on an angle so that one side is significantly longer than the other. These brushes are great for curves and corners, and can also stand in for a regular flat brush in a pinch.

Fan: A fan brush literally looks like a fan. It’s a flat brush with widely spread bristles. Flat brushes can create interesting textural and feathering effects, but be sure to choose one with strong bristles to avoid clumping.

Acrylic paint brushes have numbered sizes, but they are not standardized between manufacturers. However, they do run the gamut from tiny to immense. Start with medium-sized brushes at first, and add more sizes to your collection as you sense the need. Since the numbers are not standardized, consider buying new brushes at your local art supply shop rather than trying to order them online.

Handle lengths range from roughly the size of a pencil to that of a standard ruler. Longer handles let you stand further away from the painting, while shorter handles are designed for close-up work. There is no right or wrong choice, only personal preference. Many artists prefer to use both at different points in the same painting.

The hairs, or bristles, on a paint brush come in two types: natural and synthetic. For acrylic painting, synthetic bristles are generally the best choice. They stand up better to watered down paint, and are resistant to the chemicals in the paint that can warp natural hairs.

The best way to choose paint brushes is to try holding several and see what feels the most natural to you. Once you have settled on a brush you like, carefully check its bristles. If they are frayed or falling out, choose a different brush with the same characteristics.

How to choose a paint brush

Choosing the right paint brush seems like a simple decision, but the type of brush you choose has a big impact on the finished look of your painting job. Everything from the type of paint you use to the type of job helps determine which types of paint brushes work best.

Type of Bristles

The choice between natural and synthetic bristles is an important one. Natural bristles have a flagging or splitting at the tips, which helps produce a smooth finish and holds plenty of paint. Natural-bristle brushes are better suited for oil-based or solvent-based paints. The natural bristles are stronger, so they stand up to the chemicals and let you apply the paint without leaving marks.

Synthetic brushes come in different materials, such as nylon, polyester and a blend of nylon and polyester. These brushes are easy to use and clean up well. Synthetic brushes work best for water-based paint. Natural-bristle brushes draw moisture out of the water-based paint, making it difficult to apply properly.

Paint Brush Types

Paint brushes are available in angled and flat styles. Angled brushes work well for cutting in along edges and getting straight lines. Choose a thin angled brush when you need a particularly crisp line. A thicker angled brush holds more paint and works well along ceilings and for painting trim.

Flat brushes work well when painting a large, flat surface. Some flat brushes are designated for use on trim or for use on walls, with designs specific to those uses.

The bristle ends affect how well the paint brush picks up paint and releases it onto the painted surface. Flagged or exploded bristles on higher-end brushes let you pick up more paint with each dip. The split ends also help the paint go on smoothly without brush marks.

The size of the brush affects how well-suited it is for a particular job, including both the width of the bristle area and the thickness of the bristles. Thick brushes hold more paint to cover more ground before you need to reload, while thinner brushes are lighter and offer better control.

Choose a brush that is wide enough to cover efficiently, yet narrow enough for control over the paint application. If you’re painting narrow trim, a wide brush doesn’t work well. A 2- to 2-1/2-inch brush is a good general size that works for a variety of projects. If you’re painting narrow trim or small spaces, opt for a 1-inch brush. Large, flat areas work best with a 4-inch brush so you can cover the surface faster.

Paint Brush Quality

No matter what type of paintbrush you choose, focus on the construction quality for the best results. Look for dense bristles throughout the ferrule. Test the brush by bending it back near the base. A solid paint brush springs back. A tapered design with a slim profile at the end and flagged tips allow for excellent control and even coverage.

Reach for a brush with quality construction and the type of bristles best-suited to your specific project. When you do, your clients get smooth, quality finishes that make them come back to you over and over.

Related / Latest Stories

How to Choose the Right Wire Brush for Home Improvement

Learn the three factors of choosing the right wire brush for your home improvement project.

Drywall – How to Fix Popped Screws and Nails

Popped screws and nails signal an issue behind the drywall, so you need to do more than just drive them back into the wall to fix the problem.

Refinishing a Wood Deck with Paint or Stain

Regular deck refinishing is an important service that gives your customers a deck that looks as good as new throughout years of use.

Bookmark this for move-in day.

How to choose a paint brush

How to choose a paint brush

If you’re new to the whole wide world of paints (and let us assure you, it is indeed a very wide world), you’re likely to feel like a kid in a candy store while wandering the color aisle—or like you are drowning in a sea of options. But wait! Color is not the only way to add character to a room, there are also paint finishes. In fact, the same paint color can look completely different based on the finish, from matte to glossy and every sheen in between.

This added layer of possibility means all the more options for finding a perfect paint for your space. To demystify the topic a bit, we asked Jessica Barr at Behr Paints to break it all down. Read on to learn about the different types of finishes, what they’re good for, and how they make a small but transformative difference in the resulting paint color and texture before you start painting your walls. Who knows, you might just surprise yourself with what you pick. As Barr points out, “People often come in looking for one thing and then leave with something else.”

How to choose a paint brush

With more pig­ment than any other finish, it’s the concealer of paints.

The Look: Non-reflective, a flat finish will soak up light and hide any bumps or scratches in the surface of the wall.

The Lowdown: Flat finishes are the hardest to clean, so don’t use them in high-traffic areas. But if it’s high-quality paint, you should be able to gently scrub away any imperfections after paint has cured for 30 days.

Best For: Low-traffic rooms with lots of light, like an office or a formal sitting room.


How to choose a paint brush

This popular finish is not shiny but not totally matte, and easier to clean than flat.

The look: “It’s slightly velvety in appearance,” says Barr. “When the light hits it, there’s the softest glimmer.” Think of it as a goes-with-anything glow.

The Lowdown: Though not as tough as semigloss, eggshell hides imperfections better, and it’s easier to clean than flat finishes.

Best For: Everyday spaces, like living rooms and bedrooms.


How to choose a paint brush

Perhaps the best all-around player when it comes to durability.

The look: Right in the middle of the sheen spectrum, a satin finish is more light-reflecting than eggshell without appearing as shiny as semigloss.

The Lowdown: Hides imperfections like bumpy walls reasonably well, and it’s easy to clean.

Best For: Humid spaces like bathrooms or dark rooms that don’t get a lot of natural light, like basements.


How to choose a paint brush

Sleek and easy to live with, semi-gloss is a happy middle ground.

The look: Shinier than a satin finish, semi-gloss is known for its radiance. It pairs well with other finishes when used as a an accent, too.

The Lowdown: If you need something durable, and you’re OK with shine, semi­gloss is your match. However, due to its heightened sheen, you’ll be able to see existing imperfections more easily.

Best For: Great in high-moisture, high-traffic areas, such as kitchens and bathrooms, or on crown moldings and trims to make them pop.

High Gloss

How to choose a paint brush

Super light-reflective and statement-making, it’s also the most durable.

The look: Most designers would consider high gloss a specialty finish, as it has a glamorous glass-like effect, Barr explains.

The Lowdown: It does show imperfections, but it’s also extremely easy to clean. That being said, high gloss is the trickiest to apply. Barr suggests using a quarter-inch roller or a high-density foam roller for smaller spots.

Best For: Accents that you really want to stand out, like furniture, doors, or cabinets.

An Intro to the Specialties.

Super Matte

How to choose a paint brush

Matte surfaces can look like velvet: rich and saturated. They’re not easy to clean, so beware if you’ve got a house full of kids. This office nook by 2LG Studio and John Lewis of Hungerford was sprayed with Mylands’s FTT-018 in Matte. If you’re not sure whether your home would accommodate a matte finish, Barr says to “ask yourself what your expectations are as far as durability and lighting, both from natural and artificial sources. But if you have a low traffic home, you can just think about your decision in terms of shiny or not shiny,” Barr advises.

Super Gloss

How to choose a paint brush

The rich, liquidy sheen of a lacquer-like finish bounces light around a dark room. Designer Alisa Bloom used Fine Paints of Europe’s Delft Blue 4003 in Hollandlac Brilliant to illuminate this bedroom. And remember, “before you make up your mind, take a personal inventory of your house and be realistic about the condition of your walls, thinking about how a sheen can either highlight or minimize imperfections,” Barr advises.

Congratulations on deciding to start your acrylic painting journey! Now, you need the best tools. Read a guide to choosing the best acrylic paint brushes.

How to choose a paint brush

There are a few things all artists need to succeed – passion, talent, and the right tools!

You probably already have the passion, and you’ll develop talent over time. But before starting your first painting, you’ll need to acquire the right tools.

If acrylic paint is your preferred medium, it’s important that you find the best acrylic paint brushes to work with. Not all brushes are the same, so you need to figure out which ones will create the effect you’re looking for.

Choosing the Best Acrylic Paint Brushes

1. Synthetic vs Natural Brush Fibers

To a less experienced painter, natural hair bristles may sound more appealing than synthetic. In reality, for acrylic painting in particular synthetic is better.

Synthetic bristle fibers are often cheaper and more durable than natural options. More importantly, natural fibers can actually be broken down by acrylic paint.

For this reason, we recommend choosing synthetic paint brushes.

2. Brush Shape

As you look through paint brush options, you’ll see a lot of different shapes and sizes.

Each paint brush shape has a different purpose. You probably don’t need every single shape available. It depends on the type of painting you want to create.

Flat brushes hold a lot of paint and are good for making broad strokes on the canvas. They’re also good for filling in large areas of color.

Round or pointed tip brushes are more flexible. The brush tapers at the end so it can be used for fine detail work. It can be used for bold strokes when pressed firmly to the canvas.

A filbert brush falls in between flat and round brushes and can be used for either application. Depending on how you use the brush, it can be used for details or for filling in dominant colors.

If you’re on a budget, you might consider starting with a filbert brush and seeing how it accommodates your needs.

There are a number of other brush shapes on the market, so you should think about the type of painting you want to create and which brushes will get the most use.

3. Brush Size

You can have the best acrylic paint brushes in the world, but if they’re the wrong size, you’re going to have a hard time using them.

If your painting requires a lot of detail work, you need a small detail round brush.

For landscapes or other acrylic paintings with wide expanses of color, a large brush will make things much easier.

Medium brushes can do most of the work in between.

Brush sizes are often labeled with number sizes, but just like clothing, these numbers may vary depending on brand. Take a look at the actual brush to get the best idea of what size will work best.

Buying Your Brushes

Once you’ve researched which style and size brush you need, you can start shopping around.

There are a lot of different brands out there, but the best acrylic paint brushes have a few characteristics. Look for brushes that won’t shed – loose bristles can get stuck in the paint and ruin your work.

Consider investing in a set that contains a few size and shape options. While you can probably get away with just using one or two brushes at first, in the long run, it’s best to have some variety.

Want more insider tips on which brands have the best acrylic paint brushes for beginners? We’ve rounded up the top 3 brush sets this year.

Use our top tips and recommendations to find paint brushes of the right size, shape, and bristle material for the DIY projects on your to-do list. and its partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links.

How to choose a paint brush

How to choose a paint brush

How to choose a paint brush

Choosing colors for your next paint project can really occupy your time, as you pore over a spectrum of shade swatches. Yet to achieve smooth, complete, precise coverage, you’ll need to put a bit of thought into your brushes as well.

While many DIYers opt for rollers on large surfaces like walls, a brush provides greater precision while using less paint, and more versatility, as brushes are able to create both smooth and textured finishes, depending on your technique. And of course you’ll rely on brushes for trim and other detail work, as well as for painting furniture.

Read on to learn about brush material, size, shape, and quality—and how they factored into compiling this list of our top favorites among the best paint brushes available.

What Makes a Great Paint Brush?

Brushes are made of different materials and come in various shapes and sizes to suit specific products and tasks. Here’s how to determine what’s right for your job.


Brush bristles come in two major categories: natural, which are recommended for oil-based paints, and synthetic, which are best for water-based paints.

  • Natural brushes are made of animal hair, like hog or badger—fibers with microscopic splits that hold more product to create a smooth finish. Choose a natural bristle brush when applying oil-based paints and top coats, varnishes, shellac, decorative chalk paint (for an antique look), enamel, and polyurethane. You’ll also get good results using a round, natural bristle brush to apply furniture wax.
  • A synthetic brush made of high-quality polyester or a blend of nylon and polyester is better suited to latex (water-based) paint because natural bristles soak up water, becoming limp and less effective. Low- and no-VOC (volatile organic compound) paints, most of which are acrylic latex based, are also best applied with a synthetic brush. Both natural and synthetic brushes can last for years if cleaned and dried thoroughly after every use: Remove excess paint, wash with soapy water, rinse in fresh water, and let it dry on a flat surface.


Paint brushes for house painting typically come in sizes ranging from one to six inches. Generally speaking, the tighter the area you’re painting, the smaller the brush should be. A one- to two-and-a-half-inch brush is best for window areas, trim, and corners. A three-inch brush works best for doors, cabinets, and shelving and a four- to six-inch brush is designed for large, flat areas, like walls and ceilings.


There are three main styles of paint brush, each designed for a different purpose and surface area:

  • Square Cut: A four- to six-inch wall brush is ideal for large, flat surfaces, both interior and exterior. Use a large wall brush for painting walls, flat doors, and siding. With a good quality wall brush, you won’t need rollers—and you may even save on paint because brushes are more precise.
  • Angle Sash: This brush was designed to paint window sashes, which fit inside the window frame and allow the panes to move up and down. That said, this short-handed, angled brush is excellent for a variety of detail work because it’s easy to maneuver and offers great stability. Use it for painting grooves, panels, edges, and corners—and reaching around obstacles, like a behind a toilet.
  • Round Sash: These smaller brushes come in a range of sizes from 20 to 40mm. They are the best paint brushes for decorative painting (like faux finishes) and furniture, like chair and table legs, because the circular arrangement of bristles is conducive to 3D painting.


A top-quality brush offers smoother, fuller coverage and a perfect finish, and while pricey—depending on brush size and bristle material—it can they last up to 20 years. “Flagged” bristles—slightly split at the ends—hold more paint and provide the best coverage. Flex bristle tips to ensure they spring back into shape. Bristles should also be shorter on the outside and longer toward the center, creating precision and control. Finally, bristles should be 50 percent longer than the width of the brush itself to pick up the ideal amount of paint, while providing maximum coverage and control.