When you need a new watercolor brush, the first thing to decide is whether to go natural or synthetic. While natural fibers are more traditional than synthetics, some painters seek out the latter because they tend to last longer and are also almost always cheaper. Others prefer synthetic brushes because they are vegan or shy away from products sourced from animals. But opting for a synthetic brush doesn’t mean you have to compromise on performance. In fact, as technologies develop, synthetic fibers are getting harder to differentiate from the hairs of squirrels, mongooses, weasels, and other critters. Ahead, find our top five synthetic brushes and brush sets, best used with watercolor paints.
1. Da Vinci CosmoTop Spin Brush Set
If you like to purchase brushes in a set for economy, we’re fans of this group. It 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). Each holds a decent amount of water and keeps its form so you can produce long lines and maintain crisp edges. Firm and delightfully springy, the bristles are secure so you won’t lose hairs as you create expressive washes. Neither too stiff nor frustratingly floppy, they feel almost as good as sable—and perform well at a fraction of the price.
2. Princeton Aqua Elite Professional Watercolor Brushes
Painters looking for upgrade brushes should consider Princeton’s Aqua Elite series. This set contains four top-quality brushes that look, feel, and even perform like natural Kolinsky sable hair. They are satisfyingly springy, showcase excellent snap, and have a high water capacity—“thirsty” would be a fitting adjective. Soft and sensitive, their bristles glide smoothly on paper and respond seamlessly and without breakage to gestures fast and slow.
3. Robert Simmons Simply Simmons Value Brush Sets
Ideal for those who are counting their pennies or need brushes for a classroom setting, the Simply Simmons series checks off all the boxes of a good, basic synthetic brush. These 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.
4. Raphael SoftAqua Synthetic Watercolor Brush
The distinctive synthetic fibers on this watercolor brush make it a winning alternative to top-quality absorbent brushes made with real hair. The fibers have a meandering shape that creates additional space to hold water, meaning that the brush offers unmatched retention capacity. This makes the SoftAqua an excellent tool for creating highly pigmented and fluid strokes. Its bristles come to a fine point when wet, and they resist splaying when moved along paper. Not only does it perform well, but this synthetic brush stands the test of time, proving to be among the most durable watercolor implements you’ll find.