There are many tools in a painter’s tool kit, but none more important than the paint itself and the brushes to paint with. There are many types of paintbrushes, and an artist needs to have at least one (if not more) of each shape to complete their tool kit.
So, what are the different brush shapes? The different brush shapes include round, mop, stippler, outliner, spotter, filbert, flat (short and long), angled, dagger, tongue, mottler, fan, and comb.
Each of these brushes has a totally different effect on the canvas or paper. With varying degrees of pressure or angles of your hand, you can create a variety of brushstrokes with each brush shape.
Keep reading to learn more about each different type of brush shape and the many strokes and designs you can make with them.
Parts Of A Paintbrush
Before we dive into the different types of paintbrushes, it’s important that you understand the components of paintbrushes. We will be referencing the parts of a paintbrush in this article, so you’ll need to get familiar with what each part is called.
A paintbrush is made up of a handle, a ferrule, a crimp, and bristles. The handle is the long wooden or plastic piece you hold as you paint. The bristles are the synthetic or natural pieces of hair that make up the brush head.
Synthetic bristles are most often made with nylon, but natural bristles can come from a variety of animals. The most common types of natural bristles are hog or boar hair, horse hair, and camel hair.
The bristles are held to the handle by the ferrule, the metal cylinder you see wrapped around the bristles and handle. It’s clamped down around the bristles at one end, then secured to the handle at the crimp.
Shapes Of Paintbrushes
Now that you understand the parts of the paintbrush, let’s dive in with the different shapes of paintbrushes.
If you want to see some of these paintbrushes in action, check out the video below from SK Academy of Fine Arts.
The round paintbrush is by far the most common, likely due to the fact that it was the first paintbrush invented.
A round paintbrush is made with the set of bristles gathered together in the shape of a cylinder, with a rounded point at the end. Some round paintbrushes have a more blunt end and some have a more pointed end.
Round paintbrushes can be large or small, and the size of the brush will change the way you use it and what it can do.
Larger round paintbrushes are excellent for filling small spaces, sketching out a general outline of your painting, or creating tapered brushstrokes that start wide and taper to a point.
Smaller round paintbrushes are excellent for detail work and small line work. This could be lettering, small details of a landscape, or tiny features in a face such as freckles or eyelashes.
Since round paintbrushes are so versatile, they can be used with any type of paint, including watercolor, acrylic, and oil.
Mop paintbrushes are most often used in watercolor painting, but they can be used with other paints as well.
They look like a much larger version of a round brush, with more bristles to create a more wide and robust brush head. They can have a point at the end, or be more rounded and similar in appearance to a makeup blush brush.
They’re used for covering large surface areas thanks to their abundance of bristles, but can also be used for soaking up excess paints.
Mop paintbrushes with a more rounded end work great for blending or softening colors, especially with oil paints.
3. Stippler (Also Called Deerfoot)
A stippler paintbrush, also called a deerfoot stippler or just deerfoot, is ideal for creating texture.
The stippler paintbrush has bristles that are at a little bit of an angle, though it’s different from an angled brush. It’s called a deerfoot because it takes on the shape of a deer’s foot, with short bristles that get longer as you go across the brush head.
Some deerfoot stippler brushes have a sharp angle to them with a point at the end, and some are more rounded. The type of deerfoot stippler brush you get will influence the type of texture you can create, so it’s good to grab a few different ones.
Using a sippler brush is simple – with paint on the bristles, you dab the paintbrush straight onto the canvas.
You can make the texture light and thin or thick and dark by changing the pressure you use and the amount of paint you put on the bristles.
The texture you get will also depend on the type of bristles you use. Hard, stiff bristles will create a sharper texture, while flexible bristles will create a softer texture.
Stippler paintbrushes are most often used to create foliage or fur effects in a painting.
4. Outliner (Also Called Highliner, Liner, Script Liner)
An outliner brush goes by many names, including liner, highliner, and script liner, but it’s all for the same purpose.
A liner brush has a very small amount of bristles, creating a very thin brush head. These bristles are long, so you can hold the brush lower down on the handle, usually on the ferrule, and keep a steady hand while drawing lines.
As the name suggests, outliner brushes are used for creating outlines, or any other type of thin line needed for the painting.
As you can probably guess from one of its alternate names, the script liner brush is also great for writing script.
The design of the brush helps you minimize or prevent your hand shaking while drawing the lines on the canvas.
Although they have a small amount of bristles, they’re still capable of holding a good amount of paint. They’re usually used for oils and acrylics.
Liner brushes can also be used for watercolor paints, though you won’t get the same crisp lines as you would with other types of paint since watercolor paint naturally spreads and creates wider, softer shapes and lines.
5. Spotter (Also Called Detail Round)
A spotter, also referred to as a detail round brush, is similar to a liner except the bristles are much shorter.
It still has a very small amount of bristles arranged in a circular shape, like the liner brushes, but they are incredibly short rather than the long bristles of a liner.
These types of paintbrushes are great for detail work, but of a different nature compared to the detail work that liner brushes can do.
They’re not as good at creating long lines because the bristles are so short, you won’t be able to hold as much paint and your hand won’t stay as steady.
Instead, spotter paintbrushes are used for creating small detailed brush strokes, like a single swipe or dot.
They’re good for eyelashes, little filigree, lace details, and other very small detail work.
Spotter brushes are most often used for acrylic and oil paints. They won’t work very well with watercolor because there simply aren’t enough bristles to retain any paint.
The filbert paintbrush is one of the most common types of paintbrushes, right after the round brush. It comes in several sizes, and most painters have a variety of filbert paintbrushes in their brush sets.
Filbert brushes have bristles that have been arranged to lay flat in the ferrule, but have a curved head. The bristles start short, progress to long at the middle, then progress to short again at the other end.
They can be used for a variety of purposes.
You can use filbert brushes flat and create rounded shapes, such as flower petals, or to fill in circular areas. It also works great for things like bird feathers.
Filbert brushes are also used a lot for blending, since the shape of the brush head is round. It can easily blend colors together smoothly without leaving harsh demarcation lines.
It’s considered to be a happy medium between a round brush and a flat brush. It can cover more space on the canvas when compared to a round brush, but it has a softer edge to its brush strokes compared to the flat brush.
They can be used for any type of paint, including oil, acrylic, gouache, and watercolor.
7. Flat (Short, Also Called Bright)
Stepping into the world of flat brushes, there are several different options. The main type of flat brush is simply an arrangement of bristles laying flat to create a square or rectangular edge.
The thing about flat brushes is that there are two main kinds: brights and washes. The difference lies in the length of the bristles.
Short flat brushes, also called brights, have the trademark flat lying bristles all at the same length to create a squared off brush head, but the bristles are short.
The length of them isn’t standard, so one brand’s short flat brush could be another brand’s long flat brush. But the general rule of thumb is that a bright paintbrush is simply a flat brush with shorter bristles.
These shorter bristles give you more control over each brush stroke. Short flat brushes are good for bold strokes with straight edges. They create a thick, bold stroke of color on the canvas.
If you turn the bright brush sideways, you can use only the edge of the bristles to create thin lines. This is a technique often used to create the Bob Ross version of trees, with the bristles wet first then having a small amount of paint added to the ends of the bristles.
The bristles will fan out naturally and if you dab it on the canvas horizontally, it creates nice tree branches.
Short flat brushes work well with any type of paint, though they’re best when used with oils and acrylics. They’re a little too large for effective work with watercolor paints.
8. Flat (Long, Also Called Wash)
The other main type of flat brush is called a long flat brush, or a wash paintbrush. These flat brushes are identical in shape to the short flat brushes, except the bristles are longer.
These are also called wash paintbrushes because they’re so large, they can hold a lot of paint and create a “wash” on the canvas. This means you can cover the entire canvas quickly with one color of paint.
You can also use them to apply primer to the canvas, such as liquid white. (You can read more about liquid white in our article about it here).
Long flat brushes aren’t just good for creating a background. They can create long, sweeping strokes, which may come in handy when creating imagery such as waves.
Like short flat brushes, they work best when used with acrylic or oil paints. Just as short flat brushes would be too much for watercolor, long flat brushes would simply hold too much water and pigment to be effective.
These brushes can be used to create a watercolor background, but wouldn’t be great for any sort of detail work. Just like their companion short brushes, wash paintbrushes can be easily used on their edge to create small lines or tree foliage.
9. Angled (Also Called Angled Flat, Angular)
Angled paintbrushes, also called angled flat or angular brushes, are extremely helpful when you need them. They may not be as versatile as round or filbert brushes, but they’re a brush you need to have in your artist tool kit.
Angular paintbrushes have a similar structure to flat brushes, except instead of having the bristles create a straight edge at the end, they’re angled. It looks like someone took a pair of scissors and cut off the head of a flat brush at an angle.
They’re incredibly useful for when you need to alternate between thin and thick lines. With a sweep of your hand, you can glide the paintbrush across the canvas to create a line that transitions in thickness.
This would be great for making something like a ribbon, or getting accurate natural details in a landscape.
Nature is unique. It’s not always filled with perfect, straight lines. To capture the individual features of a natural landscape, you’ll need the help of an angled paintbrush to get all the fine details.
They’re also good if you need to fill in the corner of a space on your canvas, or if you just need to fill in a small area in general. Since they also have a wide array of bristles, like a flat brush, you can easily use them to fill a small space.
Dagger paintbrushes have a very unique shape, unlike any other shape on this list.
They have bristles laid out at an angle, but instead of being a sharp, straight angle like with angular brushes, dagger paintbrushes have their bristles at an inconsistent angle.
The bristles start very low, curve a little upward, then make a sharp incline up to a much longer length. It gets its name from the similar shape to the blade of a dagger.
Although dagger paintbrushes are a very particular shape, they can really come in handy when you need them.
Dagger paintbrushes work great to create fine, curved lines, like you might see in marble. You can use this technique to add delicate details to a water landscape and add depth to the waves and movement of the water.
They also work great in creating the delicate, curved shapes of a flower or other plant life. Just as with the angled paintbrushes, you can use a dagger paintbrush to create a ribbon effect.
This can be done not only by twisting the brush in your hand to get different angles with the bristles, but also by alternating the pressure you put on the brush to press the paint onto the canvas.
They work great with oil and acrylic paints, and can also be used with watercolors. You won’t get the same precision, but they would work great to create delicate ribbon-like strokes with watercolor paint.
11. Tongue (Also Called Cat’s Tongue)
The tongue brush, also called a cat’s tongue brush, is another type of brush shape all on its own.
Rather than being rounded or flat, the tongue brush is pointed. The bristles are all laid flat, then the corners are cut. This creates a triangular shape for the brush head.
Tongue brushes are used to create pointed shapes, such as the pointed flower petals of a lily. It can also be used to create wide brushstrokes or fill a space, since it has a wide array of bristles similar to a flat paintbrush.
If you use a tongue brush delicately with light pressure, you can use just the tip of the paintbrush to create thin lines in your painting.
You can even add pressure as you go to begin a line that starts thin, then ends up thicker.
If you start the brush with the point facing up, then curve your brushstroke down and to the left or right, you can create a curved shape with an angled edge, rather than having an obvious point at the end of your brushstroke.
A mottler paintbrush is the one that looks most like a paintbrush you may see for home improvement and large scale painting.
It is a larger version of a flat brush, with more bristles at a longer length.
Mottlers are particularly useful for preparing your canvas with primer or liquid white. You can use it to paint the entire background of your painting, or simply to cover a large area.
Mottler paintbrushes are commonly used by artists who work on large canvases. These would be canvases that are the size of an entire wall, rather than a smaller canvas set up on an easel.
They can also be used to create bold, thick brushstrokes in an abstract painting.
If you’re an artist that prefers to think outside the box and paint whatever comes to you, rather than trying to create a realism painting, then mottlers can be helpful.
You can even load up a lot of paint on the end of a mottler and flick your wrist to create a splatter pattern on the canvas.
These paintbrushes work best for acrylic and oil paints and are not recommended for watercolors.
Fan paintbrushes are easily identifiable thanks to their name. The bristles are laid out in the shape of a fan, all lying flat.
These bristles are typically soft, not stiff, because fan paintbrushes are used to create delicate details.
You can use the ends of the bristles for a stippled effect, which is often used for creating foliage, or you can sweep the brush along the page to get a wide, light brushstroke.
Fan paintbrushes are very versatile in terms of the types of texture they can create. They can’t really fill a space or do fine lines, but they can create a wide variety of textures to add detail and depth to a painting.
14. Comb (Also Called Rake, Granier)
Comb brushes, also called rake paintbrushes, look nearly identical to a flat paintbrush. The major difference lies in the ends of the bristles.
A comb paintbrush is made so that the bristles lie flat all at the same length and angle, but they are bunched together with intentional spaces in between.
These spaces in between the bristle clusters are what gives the rake its name, since the bristles end up looking similar to the teeth on a rake or comb.
It works great to create thin, gathered lines, such as with hair or eyelashes. It can also be used to create a wood grain pattern or feathers on a bird.
Because the bristles are intentionally spaced apart, the paint should be slightly thinned with a little bit of water to work properly on this brush.