Bristle While You Work: Paint Brush Bristles and Choosing the Right Brush for the Job 1

Standing in the paint brush aisle of any store, from big-box retail changes to local hardware shops, can be an overwhelming experience. Brushes made by different companies sit next to each other offering a seemingly never-ending combination of widths, handles, bristle-types, colors, and prices. Unless a mentor or more experienced colleague is nearby, inexperienced painters will often choose the brush that “looks” right for the job and fits into their budget. Exterior painting calls for a wide brush. Interior trim work calls for something a little thinner? Painting racing stripes on an automobile requires something significantly more narrow. Pick one that seems priced reasonably and get to work. Right?

Not even close.

Paint brush and can of paint

What kind of brush is best for you?
Image courtesy of Lilyfield Life.

The two most common mistakes professional painters make in selecting a brush are not properly evaluating the paint bristles of the tool and letting price factor into the decision making process at all.

Paint Brush Bristles

Choosing the right paint bristles (also known as filaments) isn’t limited to just choosing the material the bristles are made of. Bristles can also be hollow or solid, firm or flexible, and modified in a number of ways that effect their ability to carry and transfer paint onto the substrate. Here are a few notes to help understand the difference in paint bristles:

  • Hollow bristles are lighter and easier to work with, but break and lose their tension much more easily then solid bristles.
  • Solid bristles are more durable and firmer than hollow bristles.
  • Synthetic bristles are easier to clean and more versatile than natural bristles.
  • Natural bristles are great for oil-based paints but will absorb the water in water based paints, making them near impossible to clean.
  • Higher quality brushes feature bristles with “flagged,” or split ends. Bristles with flagged tips hold more paint and produce fewer brush marks.

While the type of work you are doing will factor into your decision about bristle type, our recommendation is to choose a higher quality (solid, synthetic, and flagged) brush if possible.

Paint brush bristles

Flagged paint bristles.
Image courtesy of Lowes

Paint Brush Pricing

Thankfully, an understanding of paint bristles helps make pricing decisions substantially simpler. Paint bristle and brush quality directly impact price. Like any other item, you should expect to pay more for a higher quality item. The good news is that higher quality paint brushes will hold up for a long enough period of time to earn their value over and over. As with paint sprayers or any other tool, proper cleaning and maintenance of your brush means it can be used for months or even years on end. As a result, a brush with a lower price may actually cost more over time then a quality brush.

For example, let’s say that the paint store carries a $4 brush that can be used to paint trim once and only once before the bristles begin to fray and become detached from the brush ferrule. Alternately, a $20 brush can be cleaned after each use and can conceivably perform forty trim jobs before any wear and tear becomes apparent. To perform forty jobs with the $4 brush would mean buying the brush forty times for a total cost of $80, meaning the cheaper brush actually costs eight times as much as the $20 brush.

Four different paint brushes

Different brushes are good for different jobs.
Image courtesy of Martha Stewart.

If you choose a brush with quality bristles, a comfortable handle, and a sturdy ferrule, and you are committed to cleaning and maintaining it before and after each use, then you can expect to extract a great deal of value out of the item over time.

Admittedly, part of picking a paint brush is your comfort with the tool. Many professional painters defy conventional wisdom in selecting a brush and are able to achieve wonderful results anyway. As with any other item used in your professional work, choose the tool that helps you achieve the best results. Hopefully the information above can get you headed in the right direction to find a brush that you can trust and use for a long time. Click here to learn more about different paint brushes available for professional painters!

One comment

  1. Pingback: Advice on Tools and Technique from a Professional Painter | BYK | Getting Started in the Paint Industry

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