A good watercolor brush should do at least one fundamental thing: hold water well. Ones made of synthetic hair do a fine job, but those with natural hairs have much better liquid-holding capacity. This is due to their fibrous anatomies that excel at picking up and retaining water for lengths of time. They also tend to feel more like extensions of the artist’s hand, being more sensitive to shifts in pressure. Our picks below will help you find your next go-to brush or upgrade.
1. Winsor & Newton Series 7 Kolinsky Sable Watercolor Brush
If there’s any family of watercolor brushes with celebrity status, it would be Winsor & Newton’s Series 7. These sable brushes have every desired quality an exceptional watercolor brush should have: high water capacity, satisfying spring, and a structured tip that retains its shape and hairs. Developed in 1866 to meet the artistic standards of no other than Queen Victoria, the Series 7 has remained a favorite among beginner and experienced watercolorists. And these brushes sit at the top of our list not only for how they deposit color evenly and smoothly but also for their longevity and relatively accessible price point. In this case, you can definitely trust the hype.
2. da Vinci Russian Red Sable Brush Set
Da Vinci’s brushes come in as a close second to the Series 7, and they offer a more economical option if you’d prefer to purchase a set rather than individual brushes. This assortment includes rounds in five sizes, including a size 0 that is exceptional for miniature painting. Also made of sable, these are not quite as springy as the Series 7, but what impresses us is their ability to carry a surprising amount of water for their size, so you can lay down a lot of paint before loading up again. The brush heads also hold their tips very well, to yield consistent strokes with no streaking.
3. Princeton Good Mop Brush
A good mop brush is key to achieving great color blending and washes. We are partial to these budget-friendly ones, which are sold individually, depending on your size preference. Made of goat hair—an economical alternative to sable—they are very soft, yet quite durable. They admittedly don’t have as strong a water capacity as other brands, but these are decent brushes with no major flaws that will hold you back.
4. Isabey Kolinsky Sable Round Brush
If you can afford to invest in these top-quality brushes, we assure you that they won’t disappoint. Handmade using hand-selected kolinsky sable carefully sourced from Siberia, each elegant tool balances beautifully in the hand and responds to the slightest of gestures. The hairs are dense and long, capable of holding an impressive amount of paint and water. They are a touch softer and springier than the Series 7 brushes, maintaining a perfect point and belly when wet. We wouldn’t be surprised if these brushes last not just for years but for decades.
5. Raphael Kolinsky Sable Fine Point Round Brush
These brushes are particularly beloved by miniature artists as they offer just the right amount of stiffness for drawing fine lines with watercolor. Made of top-range kolinsky sable, they maintain superbly fine points while in action, snapping wonderfully back into shape. They give you so much control over contours that using one is almost akin to drawing with a pencil. Plus, they hold a good amount of paint without quickly drying out.