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Which Brush for What Colour?

Date: 01-07-2024


Which Brush for What Colour?


We offer so many brushes here at Gordon Harris that you may wonder what they’re all for. While the unusual shape of some brushes, such as the da Vinci Vario Effect with its 30+ tips, suggest their unique abilities, the more pedestrian-looking brushes have their special talents too. Let’s pair up some of our most popular brush lines with the most common paint types.


Brushes for Acrylic Painting


Synthetic brushes are best for acrylic paints – their fast-drying nature makes it difficult to clean out of natural and bristle hair brushes, while synthetic fibres clean out easily. New fibre technologies have allowed German brushmaker da Vinci to match the stylist demands from the varied viscosities of modern acrylics with a wide range of synthetic brushes. Da Vinci use pure fibre mixtures in different widths and lengths to mimic the flex and fluid-holding capabilities of natural hair while providing the durability of synthetic fibres.

A good rule of thumb for selecting your brush is: the stiffer the paint, the stiffer the brush; the softer the paint, the softer the brush.


da Vinci Top Acryl pictured


However, many painters make the most of acrylic’s versatility, often using Heavy Body tube colour alongside Acrylic Inks, and want a brush that performs well with both. The da Vinci Top Acryl does this brilliantly, and is the go-to brush for most acrylic techniques. Top Acryl has plenty of strength to push pasty paint, and its special blend of fibres suck up plenty of fluid for generous liquid colour application. Top Acryl is made with da Vinci’s interlocking effect, so the brush holds its shape to respond to every nuance, no matter the viscocity. The long, anthracite handles are balanced for complete control, whether painting close or at arm’s length.


da Vinci CHUENO pictured

Most painters still use tube colour, as the stiff texture is what we think of as “paint”. While oilpainters use bristle brushes made from hog hair, acrylic painters can achieve the same characteristics with the da Vinci CHUNEO synthetic bristle brushes. Like natural bristle, the CHUNEO fibres sport split ends called “flags”. These carry the paint and contribute to many separate brush lines of colour in every stroke, emphasising gesture and movement.


da VinciNova Brush Pictured

Growing fastest in popularity are free-flowing acrylics colours, such as Fluid Acrylics and Acrylic Inks. These paints require brushes that hold a lot of colour but are flexible enough to control the paint. The da Vinci Cosmotop-Spin and Nova brushes are perfect for these techniques, with their thirsty blend of fibres and elasticity.


da Vinci Casaneo Brush pictured 

For the most liquid of acrylic colours, the extra soft, floppy Casaneo range can be used to achieve wide area washes and loose, flowing applications. The Casaneo holds an incredible amount of fluid and comes in a huge range of shapes for just about every conceivable effect.


da Vinci Impasto brush pictured


Acrylic paint is recommended for very thick, pasty painting too. It’s fast and thorough drying makes it ideal for layers of heavy application. This takes a very durable brush, and the da Vinci Impasto is rightly called the “flexible painting knife brush”. The Impasto has been developed for use even with extra heavy acrylic gels and pastes, while retaining the control associated with brush painting.

Brushes for Watercolour



“You only need one brush, as long as it holds plenty of fluid and comes to a good point”. So said my father many years ago when I first took up watercolours. Traditionally, these brushes were natural hair such as sable and squirrel, but with German technology da Vinci is making high performance watercolour brushes using special synthetic fibres too. The adage still holds – watercolour painting requires a good quality brush, and fortunately these days they’re more affordable than in the past.


da Vinci Sable brush pictured

Sable is still regarded as the ultimate for a watercolour brush. It provides unmatched control through its extremely responsive elasticity and finest tip. There are varying qualities, with the cheapest called Red Sable and the best hair called Kolinsky. While some manufacturers will mislabel their qualities, da Vinci insists on only their best Siberian selection being made into Kolinsky Maestro Sable brushes – this hair is worth more than gold per weight! Looked after properly, a good sable brush will last many, many years, and provide you with the perfect, strong tip carrying plenty of fluid behind it.


da Vinci Cosmotop-Mix brush pictured


The da Vinci Cosmotop-Mix offers a less expensive blend of natural and synthetic fibres that holds a large amount of fluid and comes to a good tip. Not as springy as pure sable, the Cosmotop-Mix is especially good for gouache (opaque watercolour) painting, and an economical alternative for those wanting the qualities of natural hair.


da Vinci Casaneo brush pictured


The revolutionary synthetic fibre developed by da Vinci, Casaneo has almost totally replaced the delicate and expensive black squirrel hair formerly used for watercolour wash brushes. Casaneo is a soft, wavy fibre that holds an incredible amount of fluid behind its fine tip. Casaneo has very little spring, instead offering a gentle, floppy application perfectly suited to wet-in-wet techniques, washes and delicate work over non-staining colours.


da Vinci Cosmotop-Spin pictured

The da Vinci Cosmotop-Spin’s unique mixture of synthetic fibres in different widths and lengths make it hold a surprising amount of fluid, and this makes it perfectly suitable for watercolour techniques. The Cosmotop-Spin has a springy response and fine tip for excellent control, at less cost than natural hair brushes.

Brushes for Oilcolour



Painting with oilcolour can be hard on your brushes, with the coarse grain of the canvas and fine abrasion of gesso acting like sandpaper. As well as good cleaning, you can make them last a lot longer by following the advice: when the surface is dry, use bristle; when the surface is wet, use soft brushes. Good bristle brushes are very durable and will withstand the scrubbing action of underpainting and scumbling without furring up, while softer brushes are delicate enough to work wet-in-wet without disturbing the previous soft layer.


da Vinci Mestro-2 brush pictured

The da Vinci Maestro-2 are made from top quality Chungking hog hair, each bristle tipped with “flags” which carry the paint, and interlocked to maintain its shape, even after years of use. These genuine hog hair brushes are strong enough to easily manipulate oilcolour straight from the tube, pushing it out as thinly or thickly as you desire. Maestro-2 brushes are the workhorse of oilpainting, often completing almost all the action, with just the delicate work left for softer brushes.


da Vinci Chuneo brush pictured

With genuine Chungking bristles getting more expensive, da Vinci set about developing a synthetic bristle that mimics the structure and performance of these precious natural fibres. CHUNEO are the first synthetic fibre to offer “flagged” tips and similar tensile strength to the Chungking bristles, with the additional benefits of better wet-in-wet control, easier cleaning, and much cheaper production costs. CHUNEO are durable enough to handle underpainting and dry brush techniques, yet responsive enough for delicate layering.


da Vinci Black Sable brush pictured 


Famed in the 19th Century for portrait painting, da Vinci Black Sable brushes are ideal for softening, blending, and layering wet-in-wet. Less elastic than red sable and softer than bristle, Black Sable can delicately manipulate oilcolour even on already wet layers of paint. Subtle transitions of colour and the softening out of brushmarks are easily achieved with these natural hair brushes. Avoid using them on dry surfaces and they will last many years, with proper cleaning. As with other natural hair, store away from moths.


da Vinci Cosmotop-spin brush pictured


For detail painting with oilcolour, the da Vinci Cosmotop-Spin and Nova brushes are excellent. They have plenty of spring for pushing the paint, yet are fine-fibre brushes that come to sharp points and hold their shape, offering excellent control.

Did you know…?

Nearly a million da Vinci brushes are made by hand every year at their premises in Nurnberg, Germany, with a further two million produced on their unique brushmaking machines. A degree in brushmaking takes several years, and making the most expensive brushes, such as the large Kolinsky sables, are entrusted to the two most experienced women, who have been making brushes for over 30 years.

You can check it out on our blog:

How artists brushes are made

What diferent brush shapes are for