Watercolor is heralded as one of the most accessible painting mediums there is, suitable for any age and skill level. Beloved for their ease of use and portability, watercolors require little in the way of equipment. While the end result is dependent both on happy accidents and on the skill of the artist, a good brush is also part of the equation. Watercolor brushes are traditionally made from natural materials, but there are now many synthetic options available, designed to retain water and evenly transfer pigment across the paper. Size, shape, and flexibility all determine the kind of effect a particular brush will produce. If you are new to watercolor, take a look at these synthetic watercolor brush sets to find the ideal tools to get you started.
1. Princeton Real Value Brush Set
These affordable brushes are made of Golden Taklon, a high-quality synthetic hair ideal for water-based media. Less floppy than squirrel hair, Taklon has a bouncy feel and steady flow rate similar to sable or hog hair. Though a bit less durable than natural bristle brushes, Taklon brushes hold their shape even with hard use, and their “snap” makes them well suited both to fast sketching and to detail work. This set comes with seven brushes that won’t shed on your painting. A useful range of brush sizes and shapes, including two rounds, two shaders, and two liners, makes it a great starter pack.
2. Robert Simmons Simply Simmons Value Brush Sets
Ideal for students who are counting their pennies or need brushes for a classroom setting, these brushes still won’t break the bank. The Simply Simmons series checks off all the boxes of a good, basic synthetic brush. The brushes hold a surprising amount of water; feature pliable, well-shaped tips; and are finished with handles that are comfortable to hold. They are also quite tough—bristles aren’t prone to shedding—which is great for beginners who might apply a heavier hand. We wouldn’t say these offer the best longevity, but they do give beginners an excellent feel for working with watercolor brushes of different sizes. Brushes are sold in sets of four or five in different combinations of tip types, so you can choose your favorite assortment.
3. Da Vinci CosmoTop Spin Brush Set
A favorite of experienced watercolor artists, da Vinci’s Cosmotop Spin brushes are a big jump up in price but offer such exceptional value we’ve included them in our roundup. Neither too stiff nor frustratingly floppy, they feel almost as good as sable, and they hold more water and retain their shape better than other brushes that cost as much. Each brush is handmade in Germany with handles of sustainably sourced wood. This set includes rounds in two sizes, a finely pointed cat’s tongue, and a bright brush (which has a flatter tip that rounds toward the ferrule).
4. Zen Art Professional Brushes for Watercolor
Ideal for experimentation, this economical set of 14 synthetic and squirrel-and-synthetic brushes offers a variety of shapes, including cat’s tongue, flat, round, filbert, angle, fan, and rigger. With superior water absorbency, these brushes retain their shape for a crisp, even brushstroke, and their short handles offer greater control. They come packed in a roll-up carrying case perfect for taking to class or on painting expeditions.