All About Watercolor Brush Sizes

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Confused about watercolor brush sizes? Read more about how to choose the brush size that will be perfect for you.

You might also like this post on the best watercolor brushes for beginners.

watercolor brushes

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Buying watercolor brushes can feel very intimidating when you’re a beginner painter. I bought a lot of junky brushes before finally finding some good ones, so I want to share that information.

About Watercolor Brushes

Watercolor brushes differ from other paintbrushes because they are softer and hold more water.

You have the option of choosing synthetic or natural animal hair. There are also blends.

Synthetic brushes are cheaper but hold less water. Natural brushes are more expensive and hold more water. However, if you’re vegan, these won’t be the brushes for you.

Unless you paint very large, a short handle works fine.

There are also travel versions of brushes, so if you travel a lot, that might be an option that interests you.

Brushes come in a variety of shapes too. It can be tempting to buy all the shapes, but for watercolor, round brushes are your best bet. If you do a lot of large washes, a flat brush is useful as well.

watercolor brushes

Quill brushes are round brushes that hold more water. These are useful for large loose paintings. I have one, but I don’t reach for it very often.

Most of this post refers to round brush sizing since they are the most useful and versatile brushes for watercolor paint.

Watercolor Brush Sizes

Brush sizes vary across brands, so a size 4 in one brand might be similar to a size 10 in another brand.

Basically the larger the number, the larger the brush. Brush sizes start at 000 and go up to 20 or higher depending on the brand.

The tiny sizes are good for details and line work, as well as adding your signature.

For the most part, I use a size 4 brush. It’s my go-to size when I paint. However, your preferences may be different.

Considerations for Choosing Watercolor Brush Sizes

Here are a few things to consider when choosing brush sizes.

How small or large do you like to draw/paint?

If you were to sit down and draw something, how big would it be? Do you do tiny sketches or do you fill the whole page?

What about your preferred sketchbook size? Do you prefer a tiny sketchbook or a giant one?

Personally, I prefer drawing and painting small, so I prefer small brushes. They are perfect for what I do. When I use brushes that are too big, I have no control because my paper is too small.

My favorite watercolor sketchbooks are small.

However, when I paint with acrylic paints, I like really large paintbrushes to fill canvases.

If you like working large and small, pick a variety of sizes.

Is your work loose or realistic?

For the most part, loose watercolor paintings do better with larger brushes and realistic paintings need smaller brushes.

That being said, I paint loosely and I still prefer a smaller brush. If this is the case for you, make sure that you buy brushes that hold a lot of water, but come to a nice point for small details. This is my favorite brush at the moment.

What size is your paint palette?

Does your paint palette contain half-pans or full pans? It can difficult to get a larger brush into a half pan.

watercolor palette

Do you need to mix large amounts of paint at a time?

My mixing areas are filled with tiny amounts of paint, but I know that some people use giant amounts when mixing colors. This is also a good indication of which brush size you prefer.

Do you paint at home or do you need a travel brush?

A travel paint palette generally has smaller pans than home palettes, so it would be difficult to use a large brush.

travel watercolor palette
This Koi travel set has tiny pans of paint.

There are also travel brushes available. Some just have shorter handles, some are water brushes, and others have a cap that can be placed on the end of the brush to make it a full-size brush.

I just bought this travel brush and I’m so excited to use it.

What is your budget for brushes?

If you have a smaller budget, you’re better off buying one or 2 good brushes that hold a lot of water. Once again, I highly recommend this brand.

More sizes can be added as your budget allows. I typically add to my collection of paint and brushes every couple of months.

(Also if you’re on a budget, Blick is much cheaper than your local craft store – even with the coupons. And they have a much better selection.)

So Which Sizes Should You Buy?

If you want multiple sizes, I suggest a few small brushes and a few large brushes. I would start with a size 4, an 8, and a 10 or 12. If you do detail work, you might like the smaller sizes or even liner brushes.

If you want fewer brushes, go for a versatile brush. I have this brush in size 4. It can cover medium size areas pretty well because it holds a lot of water. It can also paint very tiny lines because the point on it is so nice. A size 6 or 8 will be my next purchase.

If you paint large and only want a few brushes, I really love this synthetic squirrel brush. It holds a ton of water but can also paint very fine points. This is a size 10 for reference.

If you have a low budget, I’ve heard great things about this budget-friendly set. These brushes are really cheap so you won’t cry if you ruin them, plus they have great reviews.

This is a good way to see what sizes you like and then find similar sizes in nicer brands when you can afford to upgrade.

My Favorite Brands of Watercolor Brushes

Princeton Velvet Touch and Neptune Series. These brushes are super affordable and lovely to use. They have a nice pointed tip that makes it possible to get super fine lines.

princeton velvetouch swatches of watercolor
This brush holds less water, but you can get a nice point from the tip.

The Neptune line holds a ton of water and is great for larger paintings.

princeton neptune brush swatches
This brush holds so much water that I would probably fill half a page of paper with it.

Winsor and Newton Cotman. These brushes are very affordable and great for learning how to paint with watercolors. The tips are round and not as pointed, so keep that in mind. However, these brushes are really easy to find in art supply shops.

swatches made with winsor and newton paintbrush

Silver Brush Black Velvet. This is a natural and synthetic blend brush that contains animal hair, so if you’re vegan, this isn’t the brush for you. However, it’s a super versatile brush that is pretty affordable for the quality. You won’t need a ton of sizes.

silver black velvet brush swatches
If I could only choose one brush, it would be this one in size 4. It’s absolutely perfect.

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pile of brushes for watercolor painting

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