Brush Fiber Differences


Paintbrushes are crafted using an array of materials, which can include both natural hairs and synthetic fibers. Brushes can be stiff or soft depending on the material used, and each type of brush offers benefits which make it uniquely suitable for your media and purpose. Our comprehensive guide will help you determine which type of paintbrush is best for your artistic goals. To learn more about brushes, visit Brush Shape Differences and How to Measure a Brush.


    Media: all

    Description and Usage: Synthetic brushes are man-made of either nylon or polyester filaments. They can be tapered, tipped, flagged, abraded, or etched to increase color-carrying ability. Often, synthetic filaments are dyed and baked to make them softer and more absorbent. The common name for this filament is "taklon." Synthetic brushes have several distinct advantages over natural fiber brushes. These advantages include durability, cleaning ease, and the ability to better withstand the caustic nature of paints (particularly acrylics) and solvents.


    Media: acrylic, oil

    Description and Usage: Hog bristle is obtained from hogs in several areas of the world, but the most desired variety comes from China. Bristle is unlike any other natural fiber, in that it forms a V-shaped split or "flag" at the tip and tends to have a natural curve. A brush with "interlocked" bristles, with the curves formed inward to the ferrule, has a natural resistance to fraying and spreads medium to thick paints smoothly and evenly. Pure hog bristle brushes are recommended primarily for oil painting, and is often used with acrylics as well.


    Media: oil, watercolor

    Description and Usage: Kolinsky sable is not actually sable, but comes from the tail of a species of mink that is a member of the weasel family found in Siberia and northeastern China. Because of its strength, spring, and ability to retain its shape (or "snap"), it is considered the finest fiber for watercolor and oil brushes. It also holds a very fine point or edge. Kolinsky is considered to be a professional grade of brush fiber, and if properly cared for, will last for many years.


    Media: oil, watercolor

    Description and Usage: Red sable is obtained from any member of the weasel family with "red" hair, not from sable. It is found in a variety of brush styles for a variety of media, with quality and characteristics varying greatly. 
High-quality pure red sable is a good alternative to the more expensive kolinsky, with similar performance and durability. Often, weasel hair is blended with ox hair to make a more economical brush, but the fine point is sacrificed.


    Media: watercolor

    Description and Usage: Dense, soft, absorbent, and with far less spring than sable, squirrel hair brushes are ideal for watercolor wash techniques, lettering, and for applications where a smooth finish is required. Gray squirrel (also known as taleutky) hair is strong and long, primarily used to make lettering quills. Kazan, derived from the tail of a breed found in Russia, is prized for its tip and often found in fine watercolor brushes.

  • PONY

    Media: acrylic, tempera, watercolor

    Description and Usage: Pony is a soft hair derived from mature animals that are at least two years old. It is primarily used for scholastic-grade brushes, but often blended with other natural fibers in inexpensive watercolor and touch-up brushes.

  • GOAT

    Media: ink, watercolor

    Description and Usage: Goat hair is a soft brush fiber frequently used for quill, mop, and wash brushes designed for soft blending with watercolors, oils, acrylics, inks, and encaustics. Goat hair brushes are also ideal for calligraphy, hand lettering, and ceramic glazes. An economical natural fiber ideal for water washes, goat hair is a suitable substitute for more expensive sable.

  • OX

    Media: acrylic, tempera, watercolor

    Description and Usage: The best quality ox hair comes from the ears of either cattle or oxen. It has a very strong body with a silken texture, is very resilient, and has good snap, but lacks a fine tip. Therefore, it is most useful in medium-grade wash brushes or flat-shaped brushes. Frequently, ox hair is blended with other natural fiber to increase the resiliency of a brush.


    Media: oil

    Description and Usage: Traditionally used to blend oil paint on canvas, badger hair comes from various areas of the world and is more readily available than most natural fibers, although the quality varies greatly. Badger hair is thickest at the point, and relatively thin at the root, so it has a distinctive "bushy" appearance.


    Media: tempera, watercolor

    Description and Usage: Camel hair does not actually come from camels. Often found in watercolor or lettering brushes, it is usually composed of a blend of lesser-quality natural fibers which can change depending on the desired softness and intended cost of the brush.


    Media: watercolor

    Description and Usage: Sabeline is actually select, light-colored ox hair dyed to resemble red sable. Lettering and watercolor brushes often mix sabeline with sable to lower the cost of a brush.