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The best paintbrushes for oils in 2021

best paintbrushes for oils - some paintbrushes on a palette
(Image credit: Prapass Pulsub via Getty Images)

Welcome to our guide of the best paintbrushes for oils, looking at different types of brushes for artists painting in different styles. When buying a paintbrush, the main qualities that you'll need to look for are the brush's shape, size, handle length and hair. When selecting paintbrushes specifically for oils, look for paintbrushes that hold their shape, and won't drop bristles.

Typically, the best brushes for oils have long handles for expressive brushstrokes and to keep the hand off the surface of the painting. The most common brush shapes are rounds, flats and filberts, though there are other specialised shapes. Most painters use a selection of these in various sizes, but may prefer using one shape more than others.

Different types of brush hair affect how firm the brush is, how much paint it holds, and how well it holds its shape. Hog brushes are popular, being tough and holding thick oil paint well. Other natural paintbrushes, such as sables, are soft, form a fine point, and are useful for details. Synthetic paintbrushes range from very soft to very firm, with a slicker feel than hog brushes.

In oil painting especially, it is important to look after your equipment, and keeping your brushes clean is essential to ensuring they last. To make the most out of your paintbrushes, see our oil painting tips and tehcniques, but for now, read on to discover the best paintbrushes for oils.

The best paintbrushes for oils in 2021

Selection of Winton oil paintbrushes

(Image credit: Amazon)

01. Winsor & Newton Winton Brush Long Handle

The best oil paintbrushes for students and beginner painters

Reasons to buy
+Brush shape holds up well+Excellent range of sizes
Reasons to avoid
-Not the tightest shape-May shed a few hairs

Winsor & Newton's Winton's hog bristle range is a solid set of starter brushes that are good enough to be easy to use without breaking the bank. The range covers a solid selection of shapes and sizes, even including some heftier round brushes missing from some other lines.

Though they don't hold the tightest shape, they maintain it far better than most cheap brushes, tending not to splay or warp much. I have encountered the occasional dropped bristle on using these, but they don't drop too many, especially once used a few times. They perform like hog ought too, feeling firm and creating textured strokes.

Da Vinci College Oil Paintbrush Set

(Image credit: Da Vinci)

02. Da Vinci College Synthetic Brushes

The best synthetic oil paintbrushes for students and beginners

Reasons to buy
+Soft and flexible bristles+Good quality for price
Reasons to avoid
-Hold less paint than other brushes-Less crisp shape

US: https://www.dickblick.com/products/da-vinci-college-synthetic-brushes

Da Vinci's college range are a student quality range of synthetic paintbrushes that offer a much softer feel than hog brushes. Unlike many cheaper synthetics, they come with a long handle that makes them more suitable for working in oils.

Typical of synthetics, they lay down paint smoothly and have a fairly slick feel. They tend not to hold as much paint as natural brushes like hogs or sables, or form a point as sharp as more expensive synthetics. However, they are solid quality brushes compared to other budget synthetics, not shedding their bristles, and holding their shape well when cleaned properly.

Pro Arte Sterling oil paintbrush wallet

(Image credit: Pro Arte)

03. Pro Arte Sterling Oil Painting Brush Set

Best oil paintbrushes for versatility and value

Reasons to buy
+Excellent value for this quality+Very responsive brushstrokes
Reasons to avoid
-Can be tough to clean-White bristles stain easily

These synthetic brushes perform surprisingly well for their cost. They have a medium stiffness, being far softer than a hog brush but firm enough to spring back into shape. For a synthetic brush, they hold paint quite well, and come in a decent range of sizes.

One issue is that they are tricky to clean, as the brush stains very easily, and the bristles are so absorbent, the paint is drawn up to the ferrule.

They hold their shape well when used, and are responsive, easily changing the brushstroke with small changes in pressure and angle. Like many synthetics, they have a 'slick' feel and tend not to show bristle marks.

Set of Princeton Aspen brushes

(Image credit: Princeton)

04. Princeton Aspen 6500 Professional Paint Brushes

The best oil paintbrushes for painting outdoors and heavier use

Reasons to buy
+Excellent quality+Very durable and firm for synthetics
Reasons to avoid
-Quite expensive-Rounds don't come in large sizes

The Aspen range are a particularly firm set of synthetic brushes that have thick bristles and are almost as stiff as hog paintbrushes, though they don't have the same scratchy feel.

They are excellent quality, holding the paint well, keeping their shape and not dropping any bristles. The stiffness makes them handle a bit more like a hog paint brush, so they are less slick than typical synthetics.

The black matte ferrules, intended to prevent reflections and light glare, are a nice touch as well, and would be handy for anyone working outside, or even in filming situations.

Range of flat Princeton Catalyst paintbrushes

(Image credit: Princeton)

05. Princeton Catalyst Series P6400

Best oil paintbrushes for really thick paint and impasto

Reasons to buy
+Strong enough to push thick paint+Very durable and tough
Reasons to avoid
-Not very effective with thinner paint-Take some getting used to

The Catalyst range covers a selection of tools designed for working with thick media and impasto painting, including these brushes, which are well-suited to working with thickly applied oil paints.

Compared to conventional brushes, these don't hold paint well – they are more suited to pushing it around, which they are very good at, and because of this quality, they do not clog up with paint either. This makes them easier to clean.

They are a very stiff brush, and resist bending, though they do have enough flexibility to make them far more brush-like than impasto tools such as palette knives. They also have a black ferrule to prevent glare.

Box set of Escoda Grafilo sable paintbrushes

(Image credit: Escoda)

06. Escoda Grafilo Series

Best oil paint brushes for fine details and precision

Reasons to buy
+Can produce extremely fine lines+Holds paint very well
Reasons to avoid
-Very expensive-Require extra care

The Escoda Grafilo brushes are a high quality sable that can produce an incredibly fine point, and hold paint well even at small sizes. These are better for more experienced artists or professionals, but are a great choice for anyone needing to produce very tight details.

These will need a bit more care than other paintbrushes, as they will lose their point quickly if not cleaned thoroughly and gently. They are best used for thin applications of paint, as the brush hair is too soft to push thick paint around. The length and weight of the handles makes it easy to balance expressive marks with accuracy as well.

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Lancelot Richardson

Lancelot Richardson is an artist, painter, and freelance illustrator based in Brighton, UK. He tutors life drawing at independent art school Draw Brighton, and teaches in their online Patreon courses. He is also a freelance writer, producing articles on art and drawing. He works in both traditional and digital mediums.