Many painters get by interchanging a few different soft round and flat bristle brushes. But when you are trying to do something specific, like paint in ultra fine detail, these tools just don’t suffice.
The best paint brush for fine details will be relatively soft and taper to a point. I have a few brushes that I switch between when I’m painting fine detail, and they each have different jobs.
For use with acrylic paint soft synthetic bristles used with soft body acrylics are the best option. If you’re working with watercolour paint, you’ll need an extra soft brush that is absorbent. Sable or synthetic sable short handle brushes are best for using with watercolour. Oil painters choose long handle brushes for optimum control working at an easel. Synthetic and natural hair brushes both work equally well with oil paint.
TIP: In order to paint in very fine detail, make sure your paint is the right viscosity. Your paint should be on the runny side to achieve ultra fine lines. Learn how to alter the consistency of your paint with mediums, if you’re working with oils. Use a glazing medium when working with acrylics to reduce viscosity.
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A round brush in a size 0 is the most commonly used tool for covering small areas of the surface.
As brush fibres can degrade over time when cleaning them with solvent, I suggest cleaning them with a conditioning brush soap instead. A soap like the Master’s Brush Cleaner and Preserver will clean your brushes but help them retain that sharp point. Cleaning with solvent every session could cause the bristles to splay.
Round brushes for painting detail with oil paint
My favourite range of brushes that from my experience outperform any other on a micro scale are the Da Vinci Red Sable brushes. They’re soft, resilient, taper to a point and hold a lot of colour. You can also get these in sharp round and liner varieties. Bear in mind that because the bristles are soft, you’ll have to make your paint runnier, so add a medium to reduce viscosity. These brushes work best with oil paint, but not with acrylic.
Synthetic round paint brush for fine details: oil and acrylic
Another great round brush is the Escoda Modernista Tadami synthetic brush. The bristles are soft, but also springy. It’ll move oil or acrylic paint more easily if the paint has been made less viscous.
Escoda Perla brushes come in a pointed round variety. The Perla brushes are ultra soft, absorbent and great for working with soft body acrylic or low viscosity oil paint. The round Perla brushes go from a size 5/0 and are fairly inexpensive compared to other brushes. With a size 0 or 2/0, you would find a good balance between small point and colour holding ability.
Round brushes for painting detail with watercolour
If you’re painting fine detail in watercolour, you will have to look at some slightly different options. Kolinsky sable or synthetic sable brushes hold their sharp point and have the best colour holding abilities. Da Vinci Casaneo brushes have synthetic fibres and closely emulate the soft properties of sable. They snap to a point making them a perfect choice for fine detail watercolour work. Genuine sable watercolour brushes are more expensive, Winsor & Newton’s series 7 watercolour brushes have superior sharp points and colour holding capabilities.
A liner is a smaller version of the rigger brush, you’ll see this brush in sizes 0, 00, 000 and anything from a 20/0 (which is the smallest).
The bristles of all liner brushes are soft, usually made from either sable or synthetic, long and taper to a needle point at the end. This is the best paint brush for fine details that offers the ability to create long, thin, even lines. Natural sable will hold its shape slightly better than synthetic fibre.
The length of the bristles are what makes this brush unique, they absorb the impact of any small unwanted shakes or movements from your hand. So you can feel comfortable that you won’t make mistakes. The brush applies paint with very little pressure (due to its long bristles).
The great thing about this brush is that, despite its thin tip, it holds a lot of paint in its long bristles. You can spread the paint far across the canvas without the line breaking, or having to go back to your palette time and time again to load your brush.
Liner paint brush for fine details: for oil painting
The Da Vinci sable liner brush in all sizes retains its pin sharp shape whilst working. Even the smaller sizes hold a decent amount of paint. Make your paint runny with a medium and watch as you create unbroken lines across your surface. I’ve found this brush works well for creating long thin tree branches, blades of grass and the details on leaves on trees. If you are a portrait artist, it would work well for painting thin strands of hair and similar details.
Here are two of my Da Vinci sable rigger brushes in sizes 2 and 0:
I find that the size 2 holds more paint in the bristles, whilst maintaining a needle sharp point. The size 0 works well for the finest details, but it doesn’t hold as much paint.
Synthetic liner brush for acrylic or oil
If you’re looking for a synthetic brush, this is one of the script liners I use. It’s synthetic sable, so it suits people who don’t use animal products. This brush is high performance and perfect for creating thin lines if you’re working with fluid acrylic paint, or low viscosity oils.
Watercolour liner paint brush for fine detail
Da Vinci Casaneo brushes come in a liner variety—they’re a fairly new addition to the Casaneo product range. The colour holding ability of these brushes is excellent due to the thicker bristles closer to the ferrule. Create precise lines and delicate details with ease, as these brushes really are a joy to use.
These handmade dagger striper brushes are synthetic sable, and provide interlocked durable bristles. They can be used with watercolour, runny oil paint and fluid acrylic.
You can see they taper to a point, but are thicker closer to the ferule.
This means that the thickness you achieve with the brushes relies on the pressure you apply. You can get some very varied effects with lines ranging from fine to a medium thickness.
Dagger striper brushes are easy to control, but also give natural looking effects. They’re great for painting leaves, foliage, waves and ripples in water. However, they don’t give the crispest details.
The bristles are soft and flexible. They’re suited to watercolour painting, but if you like to paint in glazes with oil, it’ll work brilliantly for this too.
Because the brushes are soft, and due to their unique shape, they hold a lot of paint in their bristles. Meaning you get an uninterrupted flow onto your surface.
This brush is brilliant for creating multiple thin lines at once. Use it with oil, acrylic or watercolour.
When dipped in very fluid paint, the brush splays and bristles gather together. The problem with this is that although some of the grouped bristles will create thin lines, some will also create thicker lines. So a single stroke can create unpredictable results.
If you’re working on a very large landscape painting that involves painting lots of grass, or similar then this is a good tool to use so that you’re not painting it individually strand by strand. You can lay down the texture in no time, but you haven’t got as much control over the lines you create.
The Silver ultra mini brush sets include miniature synthetic brushes that are made at the size 20/0. They have really tiny tips. These are good for very fine detail and creating short crisp lines. These brushes can be used with watercolour, oil or acrylic.
Spotter brushes are like extra small round brushes. They aren’t able to load as much paint into the bristles, however. So you’ll find that the line your painting will cut off pretty quickly.
The way to use this brush, is with a dotting action. So if you’re working on hyperrealistic portraits, you might use it to shade or highlight pores in the skin or light reflected on the lips. If you’re a landscape painter, you might use the brush to create tiny highlights in water or dot the leaves on trees in the distance.
If you’re just beginning on your oil painting journey and you’re not quite sure what supplies to get, start with this beginner’s guide. It’ll teach you about all the tools and materials you need to start oil painting and give you valuable advice on how to use the materials to get the best results.
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