Choosing the right brush size for watercolor painting

Since brushes come in a variety of forms and sizes, it might get a bit overwhelming, so do you really need all of them?

Ideally, you should have at least one small (sizes 3-4), one medium (sizes 5-7) and one large (size 14+) round brush. Furthermore, it will be useful to own a smaller brush (below size 1) for details, and a very large brush if you intend to paint on large surfaces. An ideal brush collection would consist of about 20 brushes of different sizes and shapes.

The best brush sizes for beginners

To start out as a watercolor artist, you should have at least three round brushes in different sizes.

One small brush (sizes 3-4), one medium brush (sizes 5-7) and one large brush (size 14+) are recommended. With this setup, you can gain a large amount of versatility with very limited supplies.

If you have a bit of a budget left over, you could consider getting a brush below size 1 for tiny details.

It’s time to start painting now. Spend no more time researching which brush is best or which shade of blue you should use in which circumstances.

As someone who fell into such a trap myself, I can only recommend that you try to avoid this situation at all costs.

Start a painting and see where it takes you.

What is the best brush shape for watercolor painting?

A round brush is undoubtedly the best brush shape for watercolor painting. It is capable of holding a lot of water and can be used to paint in several different styles.

You should always choose this brush shape if you’re just starting out and unsure which to buy. It’s suitable for any artist, regardless of their skill level.

There are, however, other brush shapes that can be quite useful for certain paintings. In the next chapter, I’ll discuss them in more detail.

I do want to mention micro brushes, though. They can be considered round brushes, but since they do not have many hairs, I thought I would put them separately. I would always advise having at least one of those brushes in your collection. I’ll tell you why in just a second.

Also read this article, to find out if you watercolor and acrylic paints can be used together.

watercolor brushes next to watercolor paint

Why do we need different brushes?

Round brushes

In most cases, you’ll begin painting by blocking in your different tones, shapes, and colors. For backgrounds and underpaintings, I would recommend using a large round brush, perhaps about a size 12-14, or larger, if you are painting on a large canvas.

In comparison to smaller brushes, it is able to fill an area rather quickly and creates a pretty evenly spread surface.

When it comes to the first shapes and shadows, you should use a medium sized round brush, around a size 7. It is able to hold a good amount of water for these areas, and if done correctly, the water can be spread pretty evenly.

Brushes in the sizes 3 and 5 range are likely to be the ones you’ll be using the most. Besides being great for creating first details, they can also be used to color in smaller areas. 

The round, size 5 brush is probably my favorite all-around brush. This brush would be my first choice if I could only use one brush for an entire painting. In many aspects, it’s great, and in others, it’s good.

Flat brushes

There is a place for flat brushes in watercolors as well. You can use them when trying to paint sharp lines or angles. 

It’s better to use an angled flat brush, however, since it enables you to paint more precisely, which is also why it’s often used with acrylic and oil paints.

Ultimately, it all comes down to personal preference. Test out a bunch of different brush shapes and sizes and stick to what you like.

Alternative types of brushes

In order to add more depth to your painting, you should use a micro brush, below size 1. When used correctly, it can transform a 6/10 painting into a 10/10. You can use it for wrinkles, reflections, and shadows, etc.

Setting the right details in the right places can bring a composition together beautifully. But it takes practice. Getting the best result requires knowing where to put how much detail.

If your first painting doesn’t turn out the way you’d like it to, don’t give up. Try again and again and you will get the hang of it.

Finally, I thought I’d mention the fan brush. This type of brush is often used to paint trees, flowers, grass, or even sand.

You might want to give it a try and see how you like it. The first time you use such a shape can be a little strange, but you’ll get used to it pretty quickly.

fan brush
This is what a fan brush looks like

Is it worth it to spend a lot on watercolor brushes?

Beginners, who are only trying watercolor painting for the first time, are not required to use expensive, high-quality brushes.

5-10 dollars for 3-5 brushes will definitely be enough to start out with and see, if watercolor painting is something you enjoy. Maybe don’t buy the cheapest option out there, but don’t spend too much.

If you become or already are a hobby painter who enjoys painting in their free time to escape all the daily stress, you can afford to spend a bit more on brushes.

It may even be worth purchasing one or two very high quality, round brushes in a small to medium size. Since this size and shape of brush will be the one you’re going to use most of the time and is extremely versatile, it’s a wise investment.

Depending on your budget, I would suggest 2 really good brushes at a cost of about 20-30$ each, maybe even up to 50 dollars. But always keep in mind that there is no need to spend a lot of money on an expensive brush if you’re a hobby artist.

You should be able to buy the rest of your brushes for less than $5 each. Due to the fact that you won’t use all of the unique sizes and shapes, you won’t need the best of the best for all of them.

However, if you are a professional artist, you might consider investing in higher quality brushes. Five to ten really good brushes that last a lifetime will be better and make you happier than cheap brushes that break down after two years.

You don’t want your brushes’ hair to fall onto your artwork, since it is hard to remove it without damaging the painting at the same time.

Using brushes you like will make your paintings and especially your painting experience much better, I promise. However, don’t spend money you don’t have right now.

Speaking of money, I’d also recommend reading Why watercolor paper is so expensive and why it’s worth it and Can Expensive Watercolor Paints Be Worth It?

watercolor brushes and paints on a table

This is how a professional brush collection should look

If you’re a professional artist, you’re gonna have more and more brushes, as you’re gonna discover new ones as you go.

In fact, most artists just have way too many of them. Having close to a hundred brushes isn’t necessary, but there are plenty of artists that have even more.

For those artists: Scale down. For the rest: Follow this list and you should be fine.

  • 10-15 round brushes ranging in size from 1 to 20+
  • 3 flat brushes; one small, one medium, and one large. You can also use an angled brush if you prefer.
  • 3 micro brushes for details, all below or way below size 1, maybe one with just a couple of hairs
  • Extra tip: Use a sponge. It could be useful in some situations and is inexpensive.

These brushes should all be of very good to excellent quality. You wouldn’t want to work on a slow computer all day, so why go cheap on brushes?


Because of their versatility, round brushes are generally the best brush shape for watercolor painting. To properly complete a watercolor painting, you should have a small, medium, and large brush. Adding micro brushes and flat brushes to your brush collection can be quite useful in some cases.

2 thoughts on “Choosing the right brush size for watercolor painting”

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