Watercolor 101: All About Synthetic Fiber Brushes
OK, today we're going to learn about synthetic brushes!
This is a post in my Watercolor 101 series. If you haven't read the other posts in the series, check them out here:
- Watercolor 101: Everything You Need to Know about Brushes
- Watercolor 101: All About Natural Hair Brushes
Synthetic Fiber Brushes
In the last post in this series, we learned about natural hair brushes. Synthetic brushes are basically the opposite of those. Instead of being a maid from the hair of animals, synthetic brushes are made from nylon or polyester (often called Taklon).
While less expensive natural hairbrushes are generally of lower quality, there doesn't seem to be a huge difference between the majority of synthetic fiber brushes, regardless of price. The big exemption here are faux brushes, which have been modified to act like natural fiber brushes and tend to be a bit more expensive.
However, since synthetic fiber brushes are cheaper overall, they may be a good option for the beginner because they are not as intimidating as far more expensive brushes.
Advantages of Synthetic Brushes
Most often, synthetic brushes are much cheaper than their natural hair counterparts.
Synthetic brushes are not the byproduct of fur or food industries, so there should be no animal cruelty concerns.
Can be used with other mediums without damage to the brush.
Synthetic fibers are less likely to be damaged by solvent, bugs or mold, or acrylic paint.
Many artists find synthetic brushes easier to clean than natural brushes. (I personally find Kolinsky brushes the easiest kind of brushes to clean.)
Less likely to be damaged by rough surfaces.
Keeps a point better than cheaper quality natural hair brushes.
Can be great for the artist who doesn't always take the best care of their tools.
Disadvantages of Synthetic Brushes
Do not last as long as natural hairbrushes, even with proper care.
The tip of round synthetic brushes tends to curl up after some use and needs to be replaced.
Synthetic brushes do not carry water as well as natural hair brushes.
Synthetic brushes generally do not distribute pigment as evenly as natural hairbrushes.
Synthetic brushes generally tend not to be as soft as natural hair brushes.
DaVinci Cosmotop Spin: These lists are probably starting to look like an advertisement for DaVinci, but it's not my fault that they make awesome brushes! these are probably my favorite out of all of the synthetic brushes that I have tried. They hold a lot of water and pigment for a synthetic and keep a sharp point.Da Vinci Cosmotop Spin Brushes - BLICK art materials
Escoda Baracco and Perla: These are supposed to be very soft and great brushes for a watercolor painting. They are also very popular amongst many artists. However, personally I have not been impressed by them and find them too stiff for glazing or layering. Actually, they're kind of scratchy. I’m including these on the list because I know they seem very popular, so they might be the perfect brush for someone even though they aren't the brush for me. Escoda Perla Toray White Synthetic Short Handle - BLICK art materials | Escoda Artist Brushes - Products - Synthetic brushes-Perla
Simply Simmons: I picked up one of these so many years ago, and it's still going strong. I use it for mixing and painting with glass. The bristles are not soft, but the not scratchy either. And after all this time, they have not splayed at all even though I have abused it quite a bit. These are really great brush for a low price! Simply Simmons Synthetic Brushes - BLICK art materials
This is where synthetic fiber brushes shine. Recently there have been advances in technology that allow manufacturers to modify the polyester bristles that make up synthetic brushes. The bristles are cut, abraded, or treated with acid to create the same kind of cuticles as natural hair brushes.
While it doesn't seem that these faux brushes have completely caught up to natural hairbrushes yet, they are a fraction of the price and some of the better ones can be nearly as good.
Who could argue with that?
Escoda Ultimo and Versatil: Here is another big meh. Again, these brushes are very popular but I have not been impressed by the Versatil (faux kolinsky). I have not tried the Ultimo (faux squirrel), but it comes highly recommended. Escoda Artist Brushes - Products - Synthetic brushes-Último |Escoda Artist Brushes - Products - Synthetic brushes-Versàtil | Escoda Versatil Brushes - BLICK art materials
Princeton Neptune: I wish I could try these faux squirrel brushes. Everything I've ever heard about them has been amazing, and they look beautiful. Princeton is a pretty reputable company and they make good brushes. Neptune™ - Series 4750 | Princeton Brush Company| Princeton Neptune Synthetic Squirrel Brushes - BLICK art materials
Some manufacturers are also creating brushes that mix synthetic and natural hair. This creates a cheaper brush that purports to have all the best properties of both synthetic and natural hairbrushes.
The idea is great, but in practice many of these brushes don't live up to the hype. Definitely try these brushes out before buying a whole range of them.
Silver Black Velvet: This brush is a mixture of squirrel and synthetic fibers that many watercolor artists have been raving about. The combination is supposed to provide the absorbency of squirrel with the spring and point that is possible from synthetic fiber. Besides, the black just looks cool! Silver Brush Black Velvet Brushes - BLICK art materials | Silver Brush - Black Velvet
Da Vinci Cosmotop Mix B and F: The Da Vinci Mix F is a mixture of Kolinsky, ox tail, and Russian Fitch hairs with synthetic fibers. This is meant to make the brass has a sharp point, high water carrying capacity and superior stiffness. The Mix B is a mixture of Kolinsky, Russian blue squirrel, and the Russian Fitch hair with synthetic fiber. This is supposed to combine the pointing of Kolinsky's, though water capacity of squirrel, and the stiffness of Fitch and synthetic. To be honest, I was not impressed by these brushes and hardly ever use them now. They do not have very good points, and they also don't have the same kind of water carrying capability as my smaller squirrel quill. So painting with them is a bit frustrating. I got these brushes because they were an economical alternative to Kolinskys at high sizes, but I'll probably be replacing them eventually. Da Vinci Cosmotop Sable Mix B Brushes - BLICK art materials| Da Vinci Cosmotop Sable Mix F Brushes - BLICK art materials
Woo! That was a lot of information about synthetic brushes! I hope that helps you to understand the range of brushes available.
Next time, we’ll be looking at how to choose your brushes and take care of them. See you then!