Anatomy of a Paintbrush
Paintbrushes are one of the most important tools in an artist’s toolbox! To fully understand your brushes, it is important to have a grasp of the anatomy of a paintbrush and what they are made of. Creating a quality paintbrush involves skills that are perfected over centuries. Although some of our processes at Princeton have become more automated over time, many aspects of a paintbrush are still created by hand. Learn more about each part of a paintbrush below!
The hair of the brush is the most important part! The hair (or head) has three parts to it. The tip of the hair is called the toe, the thicker part is referred to as the belly, and the point where the hair meets the ferrule is the heel.
Princeton uses high quality natural and synthetic hair to make paintbrushes that meet the specific needs of artists. Using higher quality hair offers unique properties that enable the brush to hold more color and retain its shape and spring. A high-quality paintbrush makes painting easier and more enjoyable too!
When building a brush, the hair is positioned within the ferrule to offer the desired responsiveness while painting. Then, the hair is thoroughly glued to the ferrule. This seals the hair and ferrule to avoid shedding of the hair and seepage of water or paint into the brush.
The quality of the brush and what the brush is best suited for are dependent on hair type, blend, and construction. Brush hair is commonly divided into three types:
• Natural Hair – Natural hair, like sable, has a fine tapered point and a belly. The natural belly shape allows the brush to hold more water and paint, or other media, and spread color evenly. Natural hair is ideal for thin applications of paint and for detail work.
• Bristle – This is a stiffer, more coarse, natural hair that often has flagged tips. Flagged tips act like split ends and allow the brush to hold more color. Bristle brushes are great for heavy-bodied paints like acrylics and oils. They work well for basecoats and adding texture to a piece.
• Synthetic Hair – These filaments are created from man-made fibers such as PBT resin. Most synthetic hair is created with nylon, polyester, or a combination of both. Synthetic brushes are often referred to as Taklon or Syn-Sable. The diameter of a synthetic filament and the blend of different filaments within a brush affects how soft or stiff it will be and how the brush performs when painting with different media.
Princeton has created brushes with recent synthetic hair innovations that make them comparable to natural hair. In some ways, Princeton synthetic brushes are considered better than natural hair when it comes to cost, absorbency, and durability. For example, our next generation synthetic Polytip Bristle Brush that has flagged tips much like natural hair, is equally responsive and more durable than natural hair.
The paintbrushes that incorporate natural hair and synthetic filaments, as well as various blends of these, offer a range of options for artists! Your chosen medium and the effect you’re looking for will determine which brush hair blend works best for you.
The ferrule on a brush is the metal band that connects the brush head (bristles) to the handle. The crimp is what secures the ferrule to the handle. A double or triple crimp is important, so the ferrule fits properly, and the bristles don’t fall out. Most ferrules are made of nickel-plated brass to ensure they don’t split or corrode over time.
Brush sizes are based on the width of the hair, and they can differ by manufacturer. Examples of paintbrush sizes are ½” angle brush or a #8 round. It’s important to choose an appropriately sized brush depending on what you’re painting. It will save you time and premature wear of your paintbrushes. If you’re doing detailed work, use brushes below a size 4. For small areas, use brushes that are medium sizes (4 to 6). Large brushes (above a size 6) are great for painting broad spaces.
Brush handles can come in various woods or plastic. A quality paintbrush will balance in your hand for greater control. Princeton Brushes are comprised of various hard woods and layered with varnish and paint to protect the wood from swelling. There are two types of handles:
• Short Handles – A short handle is about 5” to 6” in length and used for watercolor, mixed media, or other painting done at a table. Princeton short handle brushes are labeled with a number ending in 50, such as Heritage™ Series 4050.
• Long Handles – These are generally about 9” in length and are for easel work, traditional oil, and acrylic painting. Long handle Princeton Brush series end in a 00, like the Imperial™ 6600.