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Homeowner’s Guide to Paintbrushes

Choosing the right brush makes all the difference. Here's our list of the best paintbrushes to use for a variety of DIY projects.

Every editorial product is independently selected, though we may be compensated or receive an affiliate commission if you buy something through our links. Ratings and prices are accurate and items are in stock as of time of publication.

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Paint Brush Gettyimages 1249257101Iuliia Isaieva/Getty Images

How To Choose the Best Paintbrush

Like there’s a lid for every pot, there’s a paintbrush for every job. Choosing the right brush for a DIY task can be the difference between an average result and a quality one!

Here are the things to consider when choosing a brush:

Synthetic Bristles

A good, quality synthetic brush can be used on all types of paint but works best with water-based formulas. Typically made of nylon, polyester or a combination of the two, synthetic filaments don’t swell up with water like natural bristles can, so they apply latex paints smoothly and easily.

Natural Bristles

Just because you can use synthetic-bristle brushes to apply oil-based paints doesn’t mean you should. Natural animal hair (usually hog or badger) performs overwhelmingly better at applying oil-based paints, stains and varnishes.

Shape

A flat brush is best for painting walls, while a coned, round one directs paint into carved moldings. For jobs that require cutting into corners, angled brushes are a must.

Size

The size of a brush is measured by its width. Brushes typically range from 1/4-in. (for exacting details) to six inches (for covering large exteriors and masonry).

Ergonomics

If you’re about to embark on a large painting project, choose a paintbrush with a handle that’s designed to keep hands from tiring or cramping. Shorter handles are best for detailed painting and rubber grips prevent slippage.

Cost

There’s an old saying in Spanish: “Lo barato sale caro.” (The cheap comes out expensive.)

“When buying paint brushes, it’s important not to skimp on quality,” advises Andy Raker of Clark Paint, “Always buy the best you can afford.”

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Best Paintbrush for Oil-Based Paint

As far as oil-based paints are concerned, there’s just no substitute for natural filaments. Made of soft, white China (Chinese hog hair) bristles, the Purdy White Bristle Series Paintbrush is a versatile painting tool specially designed for use with indoor and outdoor stains, polyurethanes, wood conditioners, lacquer thinners and other alkyd products.

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Best Paintbrush for All Paints

Paint a wall, enamel trim or clear-coat a table. The Purdy Series Swan Enamel/Wall Paintbrush could give a masterclass in doing it all. This brush is recommended for interior and exterior environments and is touted for providing no-drag application. Designed for all paints and stains, the medium-stiff synthetic-bristle brush is no slouch when you’ve got work to do.

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Best Paintbrush for Trim

For ultra-smooth woodwork and trim that looks polished and refined, choose the lightweight Richard Elegance Trim Brush with Soft Grip Handle.

Held like a pencil, the bristles form a cone with tapered ends to spread paint evenly and meticulously. On top of that, it puts paint down into the cracks and crevices where other brushes can’t. A popular brush style in Europe, America has finally discovered how awesome this little trimmer brush can be.

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Best Brush for Staining

You’ve stripped, scraped and sanded, so why leave the all-important staining step to chance? The Wooster Bravo Stainer is an Italian stain brush designed for use with oil-based stains and wood toners.

Made of white China bristles, the Bravo promises a stained-wood project you can be proud of. Features include nickel-plated steel ferrule, removable bucket clip and threaded hardwood handle for attaching an extension pole.

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Wooster Paint Brushesvia Amazon.com

Best Paintbrush for Cutting-In

“Cutting-in” is the art of painting a straight line that separates or defines an area without the use of masking tape. The Shortcut Polyester Angle Sash Brush by Wooster combines a full-size angled head and a short, soft-grip handle for excellent control and less hand fatigue. The result is a brush that makes following edges precisely along ceilings, around trim or above baseboards quicker and easier.

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Best Paintbrush for Masonry

You get three great rough-and-tumble brushes in one with the KingOrigin Block Brush Three-Pack for interior and exterior surfaces. Stain wood fences and cedar decks, limewash porous brickwork or waterproof weather-beaten exterior siding.

These block brushes feature double thickness and a super-grip plastic screw handle so you can attach an extension pole to coat concrete driveways or reach high cement walls. It also makes an excellent marine paint brush.

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Best Paintbrush for Varnishing

Breathe new life into your latest yard-sale find with the help of the Liquitex 1300704 Varnish Brush. Strong synthetic bristles will render foolproof results without leaving brush marks or streaks behind. And because it comes in four-, six- and eight-inch widths, the brush is ideal for vanishing large-scale surfaces.

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Best Paintbrush Set

If you’re a novice DIYer looking for a great paintbrush starter kit, the Bates Paintbrushes Four-Pack is it. The set includes four heavy-duty, synthetic brushes in a range of sizes (1-1/2-in. to three inches) and shapes (three flat and one angled) for tackling any home improvement chore. Expert DIYers who like having extra brushes around for last-minute odd jobs will covet this set, too.

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Toni DeBella
Toni DeBella is a freelance travel, lifestyle and digital content writer based in a medieval hill town in central Italy. Her work has been featured in such publications as Fodor's, The Telegraph, Walks of Italy, Italy Magazine, Frommers.com, Touring Bird (via [email protected]) and more. Most recently she authored the 2020 edition of DK Eyewitness Sicily travel guide. When Toni is not roaming around Europe, you'll find her tending her alley-side container garden or honing her clay-court tennis game.

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