Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Paint Brushes 101 – The Basics

For the aspiring scale-modeler, it can be intimidating to stand in the brush aisle at a craft store. The choices seem endless with the multitude of brands and types of brushes, not to mention the option of natural sable or ox bristles, and synthetic white or gold nylon or taklon. Should you go for cheap bulk or expensive high-end brushes? Should you get wee-itty-bitty brushes, long whippy-thin brushes? Which ones are better for vehicles? Which ones are best for dry-brushing? Which ones are good for free-handing?

Let’s discuss the broader styles of brushes and what they’re good for. But first some terminology!

Round: Long closely arranged bristles for detail. This is my work-horse. I use my No. 0 Round for detail, blending, base-coating particular areas, washing, pretty much everything.

Flat: The name kind of says it all: a wide, flat brush with long bristles. I don’t use Flats a lot. I find that because of their longer bristles they tend to be harder to control than Brights. I’ll use Flats for bulk washing.

Bright: Similar to a Flat, but with shorter bristles, meaning the brush is easier to control. In a pinch its straight toe can act like an Angle. Very utilitarian. I’ll use this type for tanks, or larger surfaces that need a smooth finish. I also use Brights for washing, both bulk and precise. The cool thing about Brights is that after you’ve worn them out they make really good dry-brushes! Loading a Bright with paint and running the belly of the bristles along the edges of armor is a sinfully easy technique to get edge-lining done.

Filbert: I like Filberts a lot, I find them to be very useful in getting smooth blends on areas that are too big for a Round. You can also roll the brush left or right to reduce its coverage mid-stroke, pretty neat for capes or cloth! I also use Filberts for washing, edge lining and dry-brushing just like I would with a Bright.

Fan: Truth be told; I haven’t used one of these and I don’t see myself using one anytime in the near future.

Angle: I do love Angle brushes! The straight cut of the toe works great for areas requiring straight lines or blocking, the angled toe means you can ease into tight areas, holding the brush like a knife with the longer bristles away and pulling towards yourself with pressure can give you some really nice sweeping strokes. It works like a Bright for washing, edge-lining and dry-brushing.

Mop: Not a fan of these. Generally they’re too soft for dry-brushing, base-coating, or washing.

Rigger: Also called “Liners”, I use these for eyes, script, text and free-handing. With thinned-down paint or inks you can use a good Liner just like a pencil!

Spotter: Imagine a really small Round. I hate these things and I hardly ever use them. They don’t carry enough paint in their tiny bellies to make them worth using, usually the paint is dried enough to become useless in the time it takes to go from the palette to the model. This brush is a common buy for rookies to do eyes or detail work with, and it’s a mistake! As I’ll explain later, you don’t need a small brush, you need a brush that will hold a point!


Brushes are sized with a numeric system, the larger the number the larger the brush. For example: a No. 0 is smaller than a No. 1, and both are smaller than a No. 2. Brushes smaller than a 0 are gauged with more zeros; where the number of zeros is indicated by another number on the left of a slash. For example: a 5/0 is actually 00000, and a 2/0 is actually 00, a 20/0 is smaller than a 10/0, and both are smaller than a 5/0. Sometimes larger brushes are labeled by using the length of the toe, an example being ½”, where the toe of the brush measures a half-inch across. The smallest brush I use is a 10/0 Liner, and the largest brush I use is a ¾” Bright.

Thanks for reading! Join me next time where I’ll be discussing pricing, materials, and what to look for in your favorite brand of brush!


(Credit where credit is due for the pics!)


  1. The only time I have used a spotter is for the speckled urban camoflage on one of my Stealth Teams. Very good for consistent dots.

  2. Reminds me of Biology and the anatomy of a flower...