Choosing a brush is largely a matter of personal preference, but each type of hair bristle has its own unique characteristics.
Some of the more popular types of hair used in artists' brushes include:
KOLINSKY - Finest red sable. Finely-pointed hair with superb spring, strength, and absorbency. Ideal for watercolour artists. Traditionally the most sought after brush hair, it is both soft and resilient. In shape, each hair has a pronounced "belly" and tapers gradually to a fine point; so when pressure is gradually increased; it becomes "responsive". In a well made paint brush, sable hairs spread apart and then snap back to a point easily. Available in a wide range of quality; Kolinsky is the finest grade.
Some cheaper grades of sable may be inferior to other types of hairs. Sable is used in both watercolour and gouache brushes, and oil paint, brushes.
PETIT GRIS - A high quality natural soft Saccamina hair from the Kazan region of Russia. The excellent colour holding capacity of Petit Gris makes it ideal for watercolour.
SABELINE -Sabeline is produced from dyed white ox ear hair.
HAKE BRUSH - Hake brushes are unique flat, wide brushes, ideal for applying media over large areas, for washes, sizing, glueing, and more. The flat, handle and the select soft goat hair give students, and professional artists excellent brush control. A hake brush is an indispensable tool when used on delicate and absorbent oriental papers, and on art and craft projects.
HOG HAIR - Most brushes used for oil painting are made of hog bristle because they are strong and robust for use with the heavy paints such as acrylic paint and oil paint, and the roughness of the canvas. They maintain their stiffness and shape, both in use and over a long period of time.
Bristle brushes are hard wearing, springy and tough and are particularly good for oil painting, because they can manage the thick texture of oil paint, and are robust enough to be used against canvas, which has a textured surface.
CHINESE BRUSHES - A Chinese brush is very versatile and can be used for normal watercolour as well as Chinese painting. The usual material for the brush handle is bamboo or wood and for the brush head either wolf or goat hair. The wolf hair is a light brown and is firmer than the goat hair which is usually white. The goat hair brushes are more expressive, but beginners may find the firmer wolf hair easier to control.
COLOUR SHAPER - Cleaning is easy, for acrylics, watercolours or drawing materials, just dip the tip in water and wipe clean. With stubborn colours wipe the tip with alcohol or solvent. For oil-based paints and printing inks dip the tip in a solvent and wipe clean. Colour shapers have a unique silicone tip allowing and dried material to be simply peeled off, making Colour Shaper perfect for applying masking fluid - no more ruined brushes. Glass and ceramic painters will find Colour Shaper useful to carve decorative effects, not possible with a conventional brush (firm grey tips sizes 2 & 6 are recommended). You can add depth to pastel drawings by using soft tips in sizes 2 and 6 to blend and smudge whilst the firm tips allow for more detailed work.
Colour Shapers are a perfect complement to your brushes and palette knives.
Colour Shapers are a great addition to your art supplies, and very useful when working in the fine detail of your work, whether painting, model making or sculpting.
RED SABLE - Any red hair from the weasel family. Many different grades are available on the market. Ideally, they hold a fine point with good spring and absorbency. Well suited to smooth strokes and blending in oils and watercolour.
RIGGER - The name for these is derived from their original use, which was to paint the fine detail of marine rigging in marine paintings. They have very long, flexible hairs and can hold a good amount of paint in the belly of the brush whilst still coming to a very fine point useful for painting long thin lines and fine detail. They are normally available in sable, ox or synthetic hairs.
OX- Lacks the fine tip of red sable, but is a strong, silken hair often used in moderately-priced brushes.
GOAT - A relatively inexpensive hair. Possesses good absorbency with a soft, wiry feel.
SQUIRREL - Highly absorbent, finely pointed hairs. Another soft natural hair. It forms a good point and retains water well and is thus very suitable for wash brushes and mops. French quill mops are usually made of Kazan Squirrel, a thick hair from another animal which has evolved in a cold climate.
CAMEL - An all-encompassing term for brushes made from a variety of hairs, none of which is camel. They may include ox, goat, squirrel, or pony hair.
BRISTLE - Course, strong hair that ideally has a natural curve and flagged tips. Well suited to work with heavier mediums like oils, acrylics, and tempera. White bristle comes in many grades. Black bristle is a stiffer, economically-priced hair.
SYNTHETIC HAIR - Manufactured fibres of various thicknesses, each tapering to a fine point. They are available white or dyed (Taklon). The performance characteristics of synthetic brushes can vary widely. They are suitable for all media and ideal for acrylics.
SYNTHETIC BRISTLE - Stiff, coarse, tapered fibres lacking the flags and curve of natural bristle, but suitable for work on rough surfaces, and are excellent for use in stencil and fabric painting brushes.
SHORT HANDLE - Short handle brushes are the choice for most craft and hobby applications when working at a table or other flat surface. A short handle is also the preferred length for watercolours.
LONG HANDLE - Long-handle brushes are designed for easel work so that painters may distance themselves from their work.
When selecting the best brush (hair and shapes to be used) for a project, you will want to consider: the properties of your paint/media, the properties of your surface, your technique and style, and the desired final effect.
KNIVES -Palette and painting knives are used for mixing paint directly on the palette, saving wear and tear on brushes, or as a painting tool in replacement of brushes. Painters often like metal knives over plastic ones because they last longer and have a finer, more flexible tip. Each shape will produce a different knife stroke. Raised handles can make mixing or the flat application of paint easier.
TAKLON - until recently (say the last 25 years) all brushes were made from animal hair. That is until the advent of synthetically made hair. The original examples were not so good, but the later versions starting with the NEEF (Robert Wade series of brushes are really quite amazing in the performance and relative priced. They offer a great point, Great spring and precise control. A delight to use and suitable for all media particularly when brush marks are not required in paint film. They do not carry as much colour as sable/squirrel but are a fraction of the price and offer great value.