If you use watercolor or gouache and sometimes paint outside your studio (be it en plein air or simply in another indoor location), travel paintbrushes are a great addition to your toolkit. Designed for safe carrying, they’re equipped with detachable handles that double as protective caps. Don’t think you have to sacrifice quality for convenience, however: There are many artist-grade travel paintbrushes that perform just as well as, or even better than, conventional ones. Ahead, find five that we especially like, for an array of budgets and skill levels.
1. da Vinci CosmoTop Spin Travel Watercolor Brush
No animals were harmed in the making of da Vinci’s CosmoTop Spin, our very favorite watercolor brush, which is also available as a round travel brush. Neither too stiff nor frustratingly floppy, CosmoTop Spins hold more water than other synthetics and feel almost as good as sable at a fraction of the price. This ingeniously designed portable version, with pieces that screw together for extra security, will fit in all travel watercolor sets.
2. Isabey Siberian Blue Squirrel Quill Mop
Highly capable and smartly designed for portability, this mop is the only brush you need if you’re painting small—which, if you’re traveling, is likely the case. Featuring Siberian blue squirrel hair that is soft and dense, it soaks up a tremendous amount of water so you can produce sweeping watercolor washes. Detailed lines are just as attainable since the hairs come to a precise point that doesn’t split. The cap fits onto the bottom to become a well-balanced, full-length handle, and the gold-tone brass finish makes this brush look extra sophisticated.
3. Raphael Le Voyageur Wallet Set
If you feel you need more than one travel brush, we suggest this set by Raphael. You get three brushes made of synthetic fibers designed to emulate sable: two rounds of different sizes and a larger, pointed quill. This assortment allows you to paint broad strokes with ease as well as lines that require finesse. The brushes show excellent snap, don’t shed, and— like the Isabey mop—come with protective caps that double as handles. The trio also comes in a faux leather wallet-style carrying case—a stylish and convenient way to keep your tools in one place.
4. Princeton Neptune Series Travel Brush Set
Another synthetic line of brushes, the Neptune series is designed to perform like squirrel hair. These brushes are softer than the Raphaels and less expensive for a set of four rounds. While they have less springiness, they carry a heavy load of water, are flexible, and hold their points beautifully. Handles made of wood make these brushes a pleasure to hold and move across the working surface. In short, this is a great high-grade option without the high price. Some, though, may find the bristles too floppy.
5. Da Vinci Travel Series 1503 Brushes
These highly coveted brushes are the very best you can carry with you on the go. They are made with the finest Kolinsky sable—the hair of the tail from winter coats of male critters—resulting in full-bodied brush heads with impeccably sharp points. While pricey, the 1503s are seriously thirsty brushes with highly controlled pigment release, the tightest snap, and solid construction. Like our top pick, they’re smartly designed, featuring a cap that screws on to become a handle. This cap also features a hole for ventilation, so if you’re in a hurry, you can put the brush away without waiting for it to properly dry first.