Even if you think you know all about paintbrushes, it doesn’t hurt to go over some basics. Paintbrushes come in a variety of sizes, styles and bristle types and each plays a part in the end result of your paint job.

Small-sized brushes are used for working in smaller areas and for detail work, whereas large brushes are better when painting a larger surface. Square or flat-tipped brushes are good for general painting projects because they can cover a large area in less time. Angular, or chiseled brushes are ideal for cutting into corners and painting trim, molding and windows.

Paintbrushes are made with either natural bristles or synthetic bristles and each type works better with particular paint types and on particular surfaces.



  • Bristle Types

    Natural bristle filaments are made from animal hair, commonly from sable, squirrels, and hogs. These brushes work best with oil-based, alkyd paints, stains, and varnishes. They don’t work well with water-based paints because the bristles get wet the same way hair does, and so become limp and less effective. Natural-bristle brushes also don’t work well on rough surfaces, which can break the bristles’ flagged ends.

    Artificial-filament brushes are made from nylon or polyester, or both. They work well on rough surfaces and with any kind of paint. In addition, nylon-filament brushes are durable and generally less expensive than natural bristle brushes. Polyester filaments are popular with do-it-yourselfers because of their low price. They retain their stiffness better than any other kind of brush. The drawback is that because they are a stiffer-type brush they have less flex and leave more brush marks on surfaces. Also, they are not as easy to clean as nylon.

    Nylon/polyester blends are the most popular synthetic paintbrushes since they combine the best qualities of both for great performance. The polyester bristles are used in shorter lengths for stiffness when using water-based paints; nylon bristles are used in longer lengths for precise tipping and durability during use.


  • Brush Quality

    Better brushes hold more paint and therefore let you apply more paint with each stroke, plus they do it in a smoother fashion. They don’t leave brush marks and they hold on to their bristles. A first-time painter with high-quality brushes and rollers can do as fine a job as an experienced painter with cheap ones.

    When looking for high-quality brushes, don’t rely solely on price. When in the store, check to make sure the brushes have:

    • Flagged (split) ends. These provide a finer, more even finish.
    • Flex. They should have a definite flex at their tips and spring back into shape.
    • “Chiseled” bristles. They should have shorter bristles on the outside and longer bristles in the center, with a tapered appearance.
    • Bristles 1-1/2 times as long as the width. The bristles on a quality 2″ wide brush will be at least 3″ long.

    There should be no gaps in the bristles. When the bristles are pulled, no more than a few should come loose. If bristles pull out easily, the brush is probably poorly constructed.

    Check brush ferrule quality (the ferrule is the metal part that attaches the bristles to the handle). Look at the way the ferrule is attached. The more securely it is attached, the better. Nailed-on ferrules are more secure than crimped ones. Also, look at the size. The wider the ferrule, the better. Check the ferrule’s type of metal. Tin ones usually rust quickly and are used on low-end, disposable brushes. Nickel-plated tin will rust but does so more slowly than regular tin. These are used on good-quality brushes designed for extended use. Copper and stainless steel ferrules will never rust and last forever if properly taken care of.

    Handles are either made of plastic or wood. Unvarnished, wooden handles are usually considered most comfortable because a painter’s hands don’t sweat as much when using them. And since wood is more textured, these handles don’t have to be gripped as hard. Check the handle shape as well. Flat handles have no contouring and so are not as comfortable for extended use. Kaiser handles are better because they are shaped to be more comfortable during a long paint job. Beaver-tail handles are best because the handles are thicker and better shaped for extended use.

    Helpful Tips

    Moisten brushes in water (for latex-based paints) or paint thinner (for oil-based) before use to get the best painting results.

    Dip only 1/3 to 1/2 of the brush bristles into the paint.

    Tap the brush against the inside of the can to remove excess paint from the bristles.

    Paint from the top down, in 4-ft. to 6-ft. sections.



For larger areas such as walls, rollers, pad applicators, and other specialty tools are used to make your paint project go easier and quicker.


  • Roller applicators

    Roller applicators are ideal for painting most walls and ceilings. Roller covers are made up of 2 parts: the core (paper) and fabric covering (nap or pile of fabric). High-quality roller covers have fabric that is stitched or sewn down. Also, the thicker the nap, the more paint it holds, which will allow for more paint to be applied to the surface you’re painting. When selecting a cover, choose a shorter nap (3/16″ or 3/8″) for painting smooth indoor surfaces, such as plaster, wood or metal. Longer naps (3/4″ or 1-1/4″) should be used for rougher surfaces including textured walls, masonry and stucco. Roller cores are typically plastic or phenolic (i.e., a hard, dense material made by applying heat and pressure to layers of paper or glass cloth sealed with synthetic resin — the more layers, the stronger and better the core). Plastic cores often soften and lose their shape faster than phenolic cores.

    Regarding the roller itself, the best-quality ones generally have a steel frame, a metal cage and a threaded handle that can hold an extension pole.

    • Moisten rollers in water (for latex-based paints) or paint thinner (for oil-based) before use to get the best painting results.
    • Don’t overfill the roller tray; fill it to about 1/3 of its capacity.
    • Initially apply paint in “W”, “N” or “M” pattern using an upward motion with even pressure to reduce the chance of dripping or spattering.
    • Roller strokes should be straight, and not dragged to the left or right.
  • Pad Applicators

    Foam-pad applicators consist of an absorbent pad with a handle and come in a variety of shapes and sizes. For edging, cutting in and painting flat trim, pad applicators provide a convenient alternative to brushes. Because they’re flat, they leave less surface texture in the paint and they tend not to drip or spatter. Their flexibility also makes them ideal for reaching inside tight areas (like vents of heat registers).



Considering the cost of good paintbrushes and rollers, it’s worth the effort to clean them properly. Below are some tools and tricks that make cleaning brushes and rollers easier and more effective.

  • Remove Excess Paint

    Wipe brushes repeatedly on the edge of the paint can to remove excess paint from the bristles. Scrape rollers with the curved portion of a paint stick or with a 5-in-1 painter’s tool.

    Helpful Tip

    If taking a break and planning to paint again in a few hours or the next day, wrap a brush or roller sleeve in plastic wrap to keep it moist; or suspend a brush in a container of water or solvent (depending on the type of paint). To keep brush bristles off the bottom of the container so they don’t bend, insert a length of coat hanger wire or a skewer through the hole at the end of the handle so it supports the brush on the rim of the container.


  • Clean with Water

    If you used latex paint, rinse brushes and rollers under running water as you scrape and squeeze out the paint. It also helps to wipe brushes on the bottom of the sink under the water and comb out the bristles with a brush comb. Repeat until the water runs clear.


  • Spin Out Liquid

    Place the brush or roller onto a brush/roller spinner and lower it into a large bucket or trash can (Line the can with a plastic bag if you like). Pump the spinner like an old-fashioned top to remove all liquid. Rinse the brush or roller and repeat spinning. This same process is used for alkyd- and alcohol-based paints after they are cleaned.


  • Clean with Solvent

    Brushes used with oil-based paint must be cleaned with the appropriate solvent. To avoid waste and avoid harming the environment, use a three-container approach. Partially fill three containers with solvent. Rinse most of the paint out in the first container, blot it on newsprint, and then spin the brush in a spinner. Next, rinse it in the second container, blot, and repeat spinning. Repeat the process using the third container. Then pour all the thinner into a sealable container and allow the paint to settle out for a few days at least. When the thinner is clear pour it off into another container marked “used thinner” for reuse.


  • Wrap and Store

    Dry the bristles with a rag and wrap them tightly in a piece of butcher paper to help them keep their shape – otherwise they’ll fan out over time and become useless for any detail work. Wrap the original cardboard sleeve over the brush, or use brown paper and tie it with string or a rubber band. Hang the brush by the hole in the handle over a nail or hook. When a cleaned roller sleeve is thoroughly dry, store it in a plastic bag to keep it clean.

    That’s it! You’re on your way to becoming a paint applicator expert and, thus, a better painter.