Types of Bristles for Oil Painting Brushes

If you’re an oil painting artist, it is important to know the different types of bristles for oil painting brushes. Having knowledge of bristle types will help you choose the right brush. The term “bristle” refers to the hairs that make up the brush head of a paintbrush. The brush head is the part of an artist’s brush that holds and delivers paint to the canvas’s surface.

Bristles for Oil Painting Brushes

Bristles for oil painting brushes are made from two types of hair, natural hair, and synthetic hair. They include:

Natural Hair

Bristle and sable are the two main types of hair used in natural brushes. Artists prefer natural bristles for oil paints because they are softer than synthetic bristles.

Types of Bristles for Oil Painting Brushes
Bristle brush

Bristle brushes are stiff and springy brushes made of the hairs from the back of a pig. They have natural “split-ends,” which make them ideal for oil painting because they can withstand heavy oil paint, textured canvas, and harsh solvents like turpentine. The stiff bristles will leave a strong mark on the canvas. In addition, Bristle brushes are easy to clean.

Bristle brushes are best in sizes of a half-inch wide or larger. They are best when used in large areas of a canvas, to begin a painting, or for very large paintings. Entire paintings may be painted using only bristle brushes. However, you would want to switch to sable brushes if you wish to have finer detail in smaller areas.

sable hair brush
Sable brush

Sable brushes do not come from sables. Instead, they are made from any member of the weasel family with “red” hair.

Sable brushes are softer and more delicate than a bristle or synthetic brushes. They are also more expensive and require more care.

Sables are great for blending, glazing, and making soft, less-defined marks. In addition, they are great detail brushes. The best sizes for this brush are a one-half inch in width or smaller. Artists painting with oils often prefer their long handles, which allows them to work at a greater distance from their painting.

Some less common natural hairs used for painting brushes are badger, camel, goat, mongoose, ox, pony, and squirrel.

Synthetic Hair

synthetic hair brush
Synthetic brush

Synthetic brushes are manufactured from either nylon or “Taklon,” a polyester filament. This paintbrush offers more versatility than natural because it may be used with acrylic and oil paints. These brushes are a good budget alternative to natural bristle brushes, but make sure they’re made for oil paints.

Some advantages of synthetic brushes are:

    • They are more resistant to damage from turpentine, insects, or paints.
    • Cleanup is easier since they don’t tend to trap paint in the individual hairs.
    • The hairs last longer because they are less prone to break and are more durable on many different canvas surfaces.

One disadvantage is the less expensive synthetic brushes tend to lose their shape more quickly than natural hair brushes.

Additional Reading

All You’ve Ever Wanted to Know About Artist Brushes and Then Some — Part 1

Anatomy of The Artist Paint Brush

Types of Artist Brushes for Oil Painting

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