Acrylic vs. Watercolor Brushes

(AKA, what's the difference anyway?!)

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What’s the difference between acrylic and watercolor brushes? Does it matter what kind of brushes you use? Here’s how I distinguish them (click to watch the Instagram video):

As I briefly cover in the video, its definitely not a make or break deal. If you’re a beginner, it’s best not to worry yet if you’ve got the “right” supplies. I suggest that you try a few different inexpensive brush sets and see if you have your own preference.

If you’re a beginner, it’s best not to worry yet if you’ve got the “right” supplies.

If you need a concrete recommendation, here's a good starter paint brush set (see image below, $5.99 on Amazon Prime) that is advertised as "good for" watercolor, acrylic, oil, and all kinds of other paints. But don't let that confuse you!

Simply use this set to test different brush sizes and shapes. The soft bristles of this set will lend more to watercolor paints, but you definitely won't ruin them if you try them with your acrylics.

Breaking out of the beginner's brushes

When you're ready to “up your game” with your art practice and techniques, selecting paint brushes according to your medium can start to make a noticeable difference!

Test your current stash of brushes to see what kinds of brushes you have already, then get to your local craft store and pickup what’s missing.

Shopping Tip:

Higher quality brushes are usually sold individually (not as part of a set), and tend to come labeled with the medium they're best used for (watercolor, acrylic, or oil paint).

In addition to brush type (according to medium), you should also pay attention to brush shape and size.

Brush shapes come in: round, flat, fan (as well as chisel, square, etc., but I don't tend to use these shapes much)

Brush sizes come in numbers: the smaller the number, the smaller the brush, and vice versa.

I tend to keep 1 of each of the following shapes and sizes, in BOTH an acrylic and watercolor brush type.

  • 1 large flat brush (#12)

  • 1 fan brush

  • 1 medium round brush (#12)

  • 1 small round brush (#8)

  • 1 fine detail round brush (#3)

You might choose to store the two sets separately so that they don't get mixed up. However, I prefer to store all of my paint brushes upright in a glass jar within easy reach of my easel. As I am painting, I reach for whatever brush appeals to me.

It doesn't have to be complicated!

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