Whether varnishing your oil painting, woodworking project, or something else entirely, you are—perhaps—seeking different characteristics in your varnish brush of choice. Some prefer long, while others short; wide is best for certain projects, while narrower brushes work expertly for others. Varnish brushes can also be used to apply gesso to prep your canvas. No matter what brush you choose, the strength and smoothness of the bristles themselves are paramount to achieving uniform coverage. ARTnews recommends the five best varnish brushes, below.
1. Royal Brush Golden Taklon Paint Brushes
This very affordable set comes with brushes in three different widths: 1 inch, 2 inches, and 3 inches—making it ideal for the varnisher who works with both small and large surfaces. The bristles are crafted of taklon (a type of synthetic fiber) and camel hair; the mixture is durable and soft to prevent streaking as you paint. These brushes don’t shed, and their perfectly flat structure makes it easy to reach nooks and crannies. The wooden handles are varnished to prevent splintering over time.
2. Liquitex Professional Freestyle Brush
Need a brush that makes long, wide strokes? Consider this one from Liquitex, which features a 4-inch-wide head with bristles firmly anchored in a short handle. The shortened length keeps your hand close to the work surface, enhancing control and precision. The bristles are on the stiff side, so this brush is best used with varnish that has noticeable viscosity, to minimize stroke visibility.
3. eHomeA2Z Foam Paint Brush Pack
While natural bristle or bristle-and-synthetic blend brushes are recommended for oil-based products, synthetic brushes, including foam brushes, are better for water-based varnishes. These polyurethane foam brushes are ideal for craft projects or small-format jobs, and their price makes them a good option for educators. They also won’t drip hairs into your varnish as a comparably priced bristle brush might. They require a pretty thorough cleaning to remove all of the varnish from the foam, but as long as the varnish is water based, you can reuse them again and again. Note that they can also be used with oil-based products like polyurethane if you are willing to throw them away after one use, but stay away from shellacs or lacquers, which will dissolve your brush.
4. Purdy Ox-Hair Series
We recommend this brush for artists who are comfortable using animal hair in the studio. Made with real ox hair—which is becoming increasingly difficult to find in a varnish brush—the bristles are incredibly soft and stay soft and pliable even after months of use. They hold a lot of varnish (or paint), and they don’t shed or fray. This brush is available in four sizes and with either a flat or angled edge.
5. Magimate Large Paint Brush
This brush measures a whopping 8 inches in width, which makes it ideal for really large varnishing projects. Consider that large-scale oil or acrylic canvas that you’re looking to finish . . . or the handmade dining room table that you labored over for weeks. This brush is the choice that you should be making. It has an unusual ergonomic handle with an opening for your fingers and another for your thumb, which helps relieve wrist strain. The synthetic filaments are soft but they stay together as you work. While you might encounter loose hairs here and there, they are generally securely set in a durable metal ferrule.