Understanding Brush Shapes & Hairs

Round Brushes

Round brushes are one of the most commonly used brushes in painting, and it is what most people imagine when they think of an ‘artist paintbrush’. These brushes are ideal for sketching, outlining, detailed work, and creating thick to thin lines, making it a versatile tool for any painter, designer or illustrator. You can get round brushes with either a pointed or blunt tip, each of which has a different purpose for painting. Pointed tipped brushes are very useful for detailed work. Whereas, Blunt tipped brushes are a useful tool for filling in colour.

It is important when looking for a round brush that there is a good spring in the bristles and they snap back into shape when you take the pressure of the brush. These round brushes are available in a variety of sizes and bristle types, including hog, pony, sable and synthetic. 


Flat Brushes

Another very versatile brush shape is the flat. A flat brush’s paint capacity is determined by the bristles it has and by their length. A Short-haired flat brush will hold less paint than a long-haired flat brush. They can produce solid lines in varying thickness depending on the weight, when used on their side. 

There are two types of flat brushes. A long flat and a short flat, known as a bright. The long flat has more flexibility when painting due to the longer hairs and is able to carry larger amounts of paint. These brushes are ideal for washes and varnishing. Long Flat brushes have a squared side edge, allowing you to create controlled strokes with a solid edge. 

The bright, has shorter hair, which generates more resistances with the surface making it ideal for applying short, strong ‘dabbing’ marks of colour. Bright’s are generally one of the harder brushes, however, the stiffness of the bristles can vary. Also, due to the shorter hairs, they are offer more control for detail. 

It is important when choosing a flat brush, to look at the brush head and compare the width of the brush to the length of hair, in order to enable you to judge whether the range suits your painting needs.



Filbert brushes are somewhere between a flat and a round with a flat tip, long bristles and rounded into an oval at the tip.  Filberts come in a variety of lengths and fibre types, therefore, meaning that different varieties of filberts will provide different results. Depending on the thickness of the paint used and the angle at which the brush is held, filberts are very useful for producing a variety of different marks.  You can produce a broad brush stroke with a soft top line by keeping the brush flat, allowing strokes to instantly blend with each other. Or you can turn the brush on its side, to produce thinner lines. 

They are a good brush for blending soft rounded edges, and a particular favourite for figurative painters. Most artist working in either oil or acrylic will have a filbert in their brush collection. 



Fan brushes are shaped like a traditional hand fan, with a thin, soft layer of bristles spread out. The bristles are generally thinner, so it is important not to pick up too much pigment as it will clog the brush hairs up. 

These brushes are good for smoothing and blending out brushstrokes, feathering and is perfect for painting grasses, branches and hair. A fan brush can be a creative tool in creating a sense of depth and adding texture to your work.