Oil and acrylic paintings these days are most often created on canvas. Canvas replaced wood panels for painting during the Renaissance because stretching canvas across wooden bars allowed for larger paintings that were portable, because they were lighter and could be rolled, as well as being a more stable surface with less warping and cracking than a wooden panel. The first artist canvases were made from high-quality Venetian hemp sailcloth and the word canvas derives from cannabis (hemp) – canvas made from linen was introduced soon after and cotton is a more recent choice of fibre.

Whether you are stretching your own canvas or buying ready-prepared stretched canvases or canvas boards, there are many types of canvas fabrics to choose from. The characteristics you require of your surface will determine which you choose. The weight of the fabric, the material it is made from and the surface preparation, in different combinations will each give a different painting experience and will affect the final appearance of your painting.

At Jackson’s we stock a good variety of canvas that should cover most artists’ needs. You can get a huge range of sizes and surface characteristics in ready-to-paint stretched canvases, just unwrap them and go! Or you could add a final coating of a ground to it to customise your surface. There are thin canvas panels and Ultralite boards which are great for plain air painting because they are lightweight and will fit in most pochade boxes. If you wish to stretch your own canvas we have 40 variations of canvas by the meter or by the 10-meter roll.

Many artists try painting on different canvases, primers and grounds until they find the surface that works best for how they paint. The surface qualities can profoundly affect some artists’ painting, even more so for techniques like staining in oils or acrylics. You can compare some of the canvases that BESTON’s stock by ordering sample pieces of the Claessens Linen or the Claessens Linen sample book or the Belle Arti sample book.

canvas


Here are some things to consider when choosing which canvas to paint on:

Material

There are two major fibre types used to make canvas: cotton and linen (flax). Some speciality fibres such as hemp and jute are also used for canvas – we do jute, and although it is a different fibre it is usually considered an extra-rough linen because it is very similar.

Cotton

Cotton is economical but not as strong as linen and it hasn’t been time-tested like the linen used by the old masters. Cotton is easy to stretch and stays tight on the stretcher bars. Linen is made from flax and is stronger because it has longer fibers which means that it is less likely to tear at the staple line or at the sharp outside corner of the stretcher bar. It also means that you can use finer and thinner linen for the same strength as heavier cottons. The stiffness of linen means it is harder to pull when stretching and you need to take care to keep even tension across the canvas or it can ripple along the edges later. Some artists choose to buy ready-prepared linen canvases because linen has a reputation for being much more difficult to stretch than cotton. Unprimed cotton is usually a cream color and unprimed linen is usually a brown because it is unbleached, but we have some primed Italian cotton that has a coating on the reverse that makes it darker on the back. Cotton Duck Canvas has more tightly woven threads than plain cotton canvas – the term ‘duck’ comes from the Dutch word for cloth, duck.

We stock two types of cotton by the metre: Cotton Duck is the most common canvas in the world, it has many uses outside of art (canvas bags and so on), it usually has a noticeable weave and is quite thick. We stock it in three weights. Because of its low price it is our most popular canvas sold by the metre (and the roll) and for our bespoke canvases – the 12oz primed, to be exact. Our Italian Poly-cotton is an artist’s canvas, it is made for our industry so it has a tighter weave, a finer thread and an overall smoother surface, even the ‘medium’ texture Italian cotton is finer than the cotton duck we stock. There is also a super fine texture called No-Grain. The addition of polyester means the fabric will not ‘relax’ as much as all cotton and become loose over time.

canvas

Cotton canvas
From the left:
BESTON’s 8 oz, 10 oz (primed & unprimed), and 12 oz (primed & unprimed).
Then Belle Arti 586. 575, 564, 576.

Linen

Linen is more expensive than cotton, partly because cotton canvas is much more common and there are many non-art uses for it, so the lower price is a result of the marketplace. There is professional quality artist cotton canvas as well which is more expensive because it has a much smaller market demand. Linen is also more costly than cotton because it takes many more steps to process the flax fibres and because its inelasticity makes it harder to weave into fabric.

At Jackson’s we stock linen by the metre from three manufacturers. The French linen canvas from Artfix is made of smoother, more tightly spun yarn than the Italian linen from Belle Arti, and also has a more regular, tighter weave and is really strong. The Belgian linen from Claessens is between the two. Because the famous Artfix company uses the highest grade of flax and has amazing quality control it is a superb linen. If you paint, scrape, repaint, scratch back, repaint, impasto, scumble glaze, and generally are hard on your surfaces then the French linen is a great choice as it will survive the rough treatment. Because it is so tight it can be a chore to stretch it, though and it is our highest priced canvas as well. Claessens is located in the middle of the Flax District in Belgium. Their linen is made using small scale production and longstanding traditional sizing and priming methods. They apply the primers by hand with a palette knife. The Italian is made with a bit coarser thread and more irregular weave but is a very good quality and we are lucky to have gotten such a good price on it, it is lower priced than it should be for the quality. It is also easier to stretch than the French linen. We also stock jute for a coarse 3D texture and at a low price for its thickness.

In addition to the great strength of linen and the fantastic surface it gives for painting, linen has cache among art collectors and so artists will usually mention in their materials list -that it was specifically linen they painted on. Also there is something romantic about painting in oils made with linseed oil on a linen canvas – both being made from the flax plant.

canvas

Unprimed linens
From left – finest to roughest: 549, 60, 596, 40, 548, 90, 581.


Weave

In addition to choosing the fibre type you also need to consider the weight and the texture of the weave. Similarly to paper, canvas is measured in grams per square meter (gsm) or ounces per square yard (oz). If the linen has a heavy weight then one or both of the following is true: it is a thick, tough yarn and/or it is tightly woven. Lightweight linens have an open weave and generally a fine yarn, they are easier to stretch and are more responsive to tightening procedures. The lighter weight canvases are usually used by artists who draw and/or have a light touch in their work, but even some impasto painters can use them as their paint skims over the air holes.

A fine canvas has minimal texture and can be almost smooth, while a rough canvas has a very pronounced weave. The choice of no grain, extra-fine, fine, medium, rough and extra-rough texture in a canvas affects the feel of painting and the final appearance. Do you want to see the grid-like weave, to have your brush skip over the bumps to leave bits of white to sparkle, or to build up layers of paint on the weave high points; or do you want a surface where the canvas is not a noticeable feature? Do you want a texture that thick paint can grab onto or a smoother, slicker surface for thin paint to glide over? A smooth texture is often important to portrait painters as a coarser texture can distort the appearance of skin, so extra-fine linen canvas is sometimes even called Portrait Linen. The ‘No Grain’ texture is almost as smooth as paper and is also great for portraits.

The terms ‘super fine’, ‘extra fine’, ‘fine’, ‘medium’ and ‘rough’ refer to the texture of the weave not the weight. Texture is not necessarily a guide to the weight. You can have a lightweight canvas with a rough or medium texture or a heavier weight canvas with an extra-fine texture. Our 574 Italian universal primed linen is both lightweight and so fine that it feels like a sheet of paper, but because it is linen it is strong enough to stretch tightly. Some artists particularly love the 574 canvas because it can take watercolour and inks. Our 568 universal primed Italian linen is strong and heavy enough for large scale work, has enough give to be able to stretch nicely, has a tight weave so can be used for both glazing and impasto work and everyone says it is just plain beautiful.

canvas

7 linen canvases with light behind to show the weave.
From left – finest to roughest: 549, 60, 596, 40, 548, 90, 581.


Weight

The heavier the weight the more tension the canvas fabric can take without tearing, so for very large stretched canvases you might wish to choose a heavier canvas. Weight is how much fabric there is per area so it is determined by both thickness of the thread used to weave and how tightly it is woven. A coarse/rough canvas can be loosely woven so it could be lighter weight than a fine canvas that is tightly woven. But usually, a thick thread makes a heavy canvas and a thin thread makes a light canvas.

Unprimed canvas can be considered light-weight at about 5 oz (140 g); medium-weight at about 8 oz (230 g); heavy-weight at about 10 oz (280 g) or more. When the canvas is primed the weight listed includes primer so it can be hard to compare the weight of the actual canvas as some have a much thicker layer of primer than others. When we have the information, we list the canvas weight on the Jackson’s website both before and after priming.

canvas

Shown is a variety of linen weaves – the looser ones fray more at the edge – these would be more lightweight than tightly woven canvas using the same size thread.

 


Brand

Jackson’s stocks four brands of artist canvas available by the metre: Artfix (French linen), Claessens (Belgian linen), Belle Arti (Italian linen and cotton), Jackson’s (Indian cotton). These highest quality canvases are also used for our Bespoke stretched canvases, our professional-grade ready-made stretched canvases and our Handmade Linen Boards.

canvas

6 Artfix Linens – primed and unprimed.
From the left: Extra fine, fine and medium.

canvas

8 Claessens linens
From the left from Very Fine to Heavy.
From the left 13, 109, 706, 112, 66, 166, 170, 70.

canvas

17 Belle Arti linen canvases from Finest to Jute.
From the left – top row: 511, 549, 574, 649, 540, 007, 596, 696.
From the left – bottom row: 535, 537, 533, 548, 536, 568, 581, 681, 565.

 Indian Cotton canvas.
From the left 8 oz primed, 10 oz (primed and unprimed), 12 oz (primed and unprimed).

We also do a wide selection of ready-made stretched canvases and boards that use other artist-grade and student-grade canvas.


Rolls of canvas

rolls of canvas

Canvas comes in rolls which are 210 cm or 183 cm wide. A full roll is 10m long. You can purchase the full roll or metres cut off the roll (these must be whole metres, not partial). We also offer half-width rolls which are easier to ship and to store in the studio if you are not making very large canvases. Folding primed canvas can crack the primer so it must always be sent and stored on a roll, even if it is just one metre cut off the roll. But unprimed canvas can be removed from the roll and folded which can save on shipping charges as a roll is quite long and attracts over-sized shipping charges.

When measuring to purchase canvas to stretch your own, be sure to account for the amount required to go up the sides or around to the back of your bars (whichever depth you choose) plus the additional amount you will need to grab and pull with your pliers which you will later trim away or fold under. Also account for the different widths of some of the rolls of canvas.

  • Cotton canvas by the metre, 5m or 10m – on a roll or folded (not all canvases are available in all formats)
  • Linen canvas by the metre, 5m or 10m – on a roll or folded (not all canvases are available in all formats)

Stretched across bars or mounted on a panel

Depending on their painting style some artists like the bounce of a canvas stretched across bars, others prefer the lack of movement of canvas glued to a panel (also called a board). The rigid support can be made of solid wood, plywood, MDF, heavy card, thin stiff plasticised card, or Gatorboard (plastic impregnated foam board). The canvas can be cut off shear with the edge of the support or it can be wrapped around to the back and glued down.

Read more about mounting canvas to a panel in this blog article Making a Canvas Painting Panel.

canvas


Sizing and Priming with a Ground

The final thing to consider would be the primer on your canvas. Creating a stable structure before you begin adding paint will help to ensure that the painting will remain in the best condition for the longest time. You can choose from a variety of primed surfaces or go with unprimed and treat the surface yourself.

Canvas comes either uncoated or with a primer coating. Jackson’s stock unprimed, universal primed, oil-primed, gesso-primed and glue-sized canvas by the roll and on many of our panels and professional-quality stretched canvases. Not all types of coating are available on all types of canvas or in all types of format (stretched, panel or by the metre). The priming can be sprayed on in one to seven coats with less expensive student-grade canvases being one coat and most artist-grade canvas being two to four coats. Claessens apply their primer by hand with a palette knife to make sure it is scraped into the weave for the best adhesion and protection of the canvas, then for the oil primed linen they follow up with a final coat of primer applied with a roller.

You can add your own additional coating on top of a ready-made universal-primed canvas. You may wish to:

  • Make the surface more white.
  • Colour the surface but keep a gesso texture by adding a tinted ground, a mid-tone coloured ground or a black ground.
  • Make the surface absorbent enough for watercolour painting by applying a few coats of Watercolour Ground.
  • Add an oil ground for the unique texture that provides.

Sizing

You can paint on unprimed canvas directly with acrylics but if you are painting in oils and you want the painting to last, you will need to seal the surface. Oil paint dries by oxidation, slowly absorbing oxygen from the air. If canvas or paper is in contact with the oil in oil paint or oil primer it slowly corrodes the canvas fibre. To prevent this canvas needs to be sealed from oil penetration. This sealing process is called ‘sizing’ and the sealant is called ‘size’ – so ‘to size’ your canvas means to seal it. Size is either hide glue (rabbit skin glue RSG) or acrylic polymer. The secondary purpose of size is to stiffen the fabric so it has less bounce. RSG comes as pellets that are soaked to soften them and then gently warmed to use as a size or part of the recipe of genuine gesso. Warming RSG is not a smelly process, the reputation for smelliness comes from leftover liquid glue rotting in a corner of the studio days later. It doesn’t rot after it is dried on the canvas. If you do decide to use it be aware that if you do either of these two things the glue will be less effective: over-heat it or use it after it has rotted from sitting out as a liquid for days. Recent studies have shown that RSG is problematic as a size because it continuously absorbs moisture from the air, causing it to swell and then when the air is dry it shrinks. Over time, this constant change in the surface under the brittle layer of oil paint causes the oil paint to crack. RSG is now understood to be the main factor of cracking in old oil paintings. So for a more lasting solution many artists now use a fluid acrylic polymer or a PVA size to seal the canvas and GAC 400 can be used to stiffen the canvas.

A wide range of traditional and modern canvas size (sealant) can be found at Jackson’s.

Glue-sized canvas

Purchasing canvas that is already glue-sized saves a step when you are stretching canvas and it also makes the linen easier to stretch evenly as the added stiffness helps it keep the weave shape.

canvas

Belle Arti glue sized linen canvas.
From left: extra fine, fine and rough.

Priming

The type of ground affects many things about the painting. The amount of tooth affects how well the paint adheres and how much brush-drag you feel as you paint. The amount of absorbency affects the glossiness and brightness of oil colour as the oil is absorbed by the ground and if pigment is also sucked in, the colour will be diminished. An oil ground is often less absorbent and quite smooth for a silky painting experience where the colours sit proud and vibrant. After you have sized the canvas you can apply one or more coats of a ground, the surface you will apply paint to that gives the right amount of tooth, also called providing a ‘key’ for the paint to stick to. Priming your own canvas will allow you to really work the first coat into the weave (to create a good barrier against oil paint penetration) and then to make the additional coats as smooth or textured as you wish. Unless you sand the dried primer for a really smooth surface, there will probably be some brush mark texture.

Acrylic primer
Acrylic primer usually acts as both size and primer. If you are using acrylic primer to provide a barrier to oil paint check if you need another coat by holding the canvas up to the light – if pin holes of light show through then you need more primer to seal it. When a canvas says it has Universal Primer that means it is an acrylic primer than can be used with acrylic or oil paint. If it is labelled as acrylic ‘gesso’ this sometimes means it is more absorbent than acrylic ‘primer’, though this varies a lot my manufacturer. To apply it you usually thin with water for the first coat and scrub it into the weave or scrape it on with a palette knife. Then get a bit thicker for each following coat. Applying primer too thickly may result in cracking when it dries as it will shrink a lot. So building up the surface with many light coats is better than one heavy one. A light coat is often dry enough in 30 minutes to apply the next one so a batch can easily be done in one day. For the smoothest surface many artists sand between coats.

Oil primer
An oil-primed canvas can only accept oil paints. Although oil paint can be applied to an acrylic gesso primer, acrylic paint will not permanently adhere to an oil-primed canvas and will eventually peel off. Oil primer contains oil paint and so you must apply a sizing of some sort first as a barrier. It usually need a few weeks to cure as well, so the surface is properly ready to paint on.

Genuine gesso
Genuine gesso is a very absorbent surface, which is what is needed for painting with egg tempera or encaustic. It is made in the studio and applied warm as it contains RSG. It will crack on flexible surfaces and should be used only on rigid surfaces, usually wooden panels. We now have a ‘gesso hand-primed’ canvas available in an Italian linen that has quite a delicate dry surface that is very absorbent yet it doesn’t easily crack (though it could if handled badly).

Surface texture
Some painters like the look of the texture of the weave showing through so they do not add many coats of primer, just enough to seal the canvas and give a white ground. Renaissance masters preferred a super-smooth surface created by applying many coats of primer, sanding between each, until the weave was completely obscured.

Clear primer
Some artists require a clear primer because they wish to use the colour and texture of the canvas as an integral part of the painting. If you like the colour of the canvas and don’t want a white ground you can prime the canvas with a fluid acrylic medium like Matt Medium or a ‘clear acrylic gesso’ to soak into the fibres and fill the weave holes. It usually takes a few coats.


canvas

Belle Arti Extra Fine grain linen.
From left: unprimed, glue sized, universal primed, oil primed.


canvas

Belle Arti fine grain linen.
From left: unprimed, glue sized, universal primed, oil primed.


canvas

Belle Arti medium grain linen.
From left: unprimed, universal primed, oil primed.


Canvas at BESTON’s Art

stretched canvases

The canvases in this article are available at jacksonsart.com in a variety of formats – ready stretched, mounted on panel and by the metre – ready to be delivered to your studio.

You can compare some of the canvases that Jackson’s stock by ordering sample pieces of the Claessens Linen or the Claessens Linen sample book or the Belle Arti sample book. With the Belle Arti book you get refunded the purchase the price of the book when you purchase one of the canvases. Since we don’t have a way of letting the website know that you have previously ordered the sample book you will need to order the canvas on the phone and let the operator know you have purchased the book.

 

 

Assembling stretcher bars seems a little mysterious the first time you do it. The bars don’t seem to be able to meet at the corners, because at first they don’t look cut at an angle. But as soon as you know the process, it is really very simple to put them together.

Stretching your own canvas allows you to control the quality of materials and customize the size of your stretched canvas. You begin the process by assembling your stretcher bars into a frame on which to stretch your canvas. Beston’s stock three sizes of wooden professional stretcher bars (the profile is measured by depth from the wall): 43mm, 21mm, 18mm. The profile you choose will depend on what you want it to look like, how you want to frame it, and also the strength you need because larger canvases may warp from the pulling of the canvas if the bars are not heavy enough.

What they look like
stretcher bars

When your stretcher bars arrive in the post they look like this. Left to right: 18mm, 21mm and 43mm.
The 18mm and 21mm bars may seem to be flat on one end so it looks like they won’t fit together, but don’t worry they will.

You can assemble them without tools, but a mallet (or hammer and scrap of wood) and a measuring tape or stick help.
Also – They come with little wooden wedges. The wedges (or keys) are used later on, after you have stretched the canvas over the bars, to add a bit more tension at the corners, before you start painting.


The width of the bar is cantilevered (slanted downward towards the centre of the canvas) so that the canvas doesn't rest across the whole of the width of the wood but only touches the outside rim and floats above the rest. You can see that in the profile of the bars here.

The width of the bar is cantilevered (slanted downward towards the centre of the canvas) so that the canvas doesn’t rest across the whole of the width of the wood but only touches the outside rim and floats above the rest, so when you paint the bar shape will not imprint on the canvas.
You can see that bevel in the profile of the bars here.


how to assemble Stretcher bars for canvas

The corners have slots cut into them so that they fit together at a right angle and make strong corners.


On one end of the bar has a slot in it

The 18mm and 21mm bars have one end of the bar (A) with a slot in it that looks square at the end and the other end (B) has an angle cut and a thin piece of wood meant to insert in slot A of the other bar. At first they may seem not to be able to fit together.
(The 43mm shape is the same on both ends of the bar and it less confusing.)



Fitting them together

Fit them together by making sure a (B) fits into an (A)

Fit them together by making sure a (B) fits into an (A)


Keep the slope of the bars to the inside of the square of your canvas frame.

Keep the bevelled slope of the bars to the inside of the square of your canvas frame.


Fit them together by inserting (B) into (A) while insuring that all bars slope to the inside of the square.

Fit them together by inserting (B) into (A) while insuring that all bars slope to the inside of the square.


stretcher bars for canvas

After you have slotted all your corners together, and inserted any centre bar you might be using, then use a mallet to tap them fully tight. They slot together tightly so although you might be able to fit them together by wiggling them with your hands, you will probably need a mallet for the last bit of insertion. If you use a regular hammer instead it will dent the wood, so you will want a small scrap of wood between your hammer and the stretcher bar to protect the bar. Dents in the bar might show as dents when the canvas is tightly stretched ever them.
(Centre bars provide extra stability for larger sizes. Both CSP18 and CSP21 have a slot for a centre bar starting at size 30 inches, CSP43 has double slots starting at size 80cm. The double slots allow a centre bar in each direction, one crossing over the other.)


stretcher bars for canvas

The final step before stretching canvas on the bars is to insure your stretcher frame is square. One way to do this is to measure the diagonal measurement in two directions (like an X), them wiggle and adjust your square until the two measurements are the same.

After you have assembled your bars the next step would be to stretch your canvas over the stretcher bar frame you have just assembled.


Click on the underlined link to go to the current offer on Stretcher Bars on the Jackson’s Art Supplies website.

For centuries painters have used canvas to express their creativity, and to this day canvas remains the painting surface of choice for beginners and masters alike, especially for acrylic painting.

Canvas is a versatile painting surface and comes in a variety of shapes, sizes and forms to suit every need and every budget. Beston offers a multitude of canvases and canvas panels in a variety of different shapes & sizes. Lets take a look at the different types of canvas, and how to go about choosing the type that will work best for you.

Why Use Canvas

Canvas is very flexible in terms of size and can be used for everything from tiny paintings to large, expansive works. However, the two main reasons why canvas is such a popular surface among painters is due to how great it feels under the brush, as well as its obvious longevity. Canvas is also much lighter and easier to transport than traditional wood surfaces that was also often used.

What Makes A Great Canvas

When choosing a canvas there are a number of things to consider, such as fabric, texture, and priming. All of these have an effect on the quality of the canvas and what kind of painting it is most suited to.

Fabric

The fabric used in most canvases are either linen or cotton. Of the two, linen is considered the best due to the quality of the surface and its durability, however, it is also very expensive. Cotton is a more affordable option that provides an excellent surface of suitably durable quality.

Texture

Canvas is constructed of natural fibres that are woven together, producing different textures depending on how finely it is woven. Different textures are suited to different types of painting, where the smooth surface of finely woven canvas is best suited to smaller, detailed work, rougher weaves are best for broad brush strokes, as well as larger sized paintings.

Prime or No Prime

In order to create a surface that will show the true colours of the paint, most canvases are primed with gesso (pronounced “jesso”), a mixture plaster of Paris, glue, chalk or pigment, preventing the paint from being absorbed into the fabric of the canvas. While the majority of canvases are primed, some artists use unprimed canvases for the dull, textured colour it produces.

Types of canvases

Canvases are available in various forms to suit different applications and budgets. The main types are stretched canvas, canvas panels, canvas pads, and canvas rolls.

Stretched canvas

Stretched over a wooden frame, called stretcher bars, stretched canvas is one of the most popular types of canvas for acrylic painting. Most commonly made of cotton, the canvas is primed with gesso to create an ideal painting surface. Canvases are primed for either oil painting or acrylic painting, so make sure you get the right one.

Frames come in different sizes and thickness, referred to as deep (thicker) or traditional (thinner). The choice of frame usually depends on how the painting will be displayed — if you intend to frame the artwork, then a traditional thickness is better, while deep frames are suited for unframed paintings, or if you’d like to add detail to the side of the canvas.

Canvas Panels

Stretched canvas can be a bit expensive, especially for beginners, and canvas panels offer a high quality, more affordable alternative. Usually made from primed cotton canvas that’s mounted onto a rigid board, these panels are great for practice and are lightweight and easy to carry, making them perfect for students. While canvas panels offer nearly the same quality surface as stretched canvas, they don’t age as well, and is thus mostly suited for practice.

Canvas Pads

Other common forms of canvas include canvas pads, as well as canvas rolls. Canvas pads are sheets of primed canvas that are spiral-bound in a book. The sheets used in many pads can be stretched or mounted, but as with canvas panels they don’t last as long as stretched canvas. Canvas pads are ideal for novices, students or just for practice.

Canvas Rolls

If you’re an experienced painter who likes to prepare and stretch your own canvas, or if you’d like to create very large paintings, then you can get canvas rolls. These rolls of canvas are made from either linen or cotton, come in different weights, textures and fibres, and are available either primed or unprimed. They’re usually sold by the yard, or in rolls, which can get quite expensive.

Before you invest in any canvas, do some research and check out all the options in order to choose the type of canvas that is best suited to your needs, and your pocket.

This article provides a great reference guide for fine artists that are working with oil and acrylic and are trying to find more information on how to choose the best paintbrushes to achieve the desired painting effects.

We’ll look at:

  • How to choose your brushes by size, shape, and material.

  • Anatomy of a brush, learn what the different parts are called.

  • How to take care of your brushes.

  • Why buying a brush set could be a good idea.

Let’s get started.

When Choosing Brushes You Should Consider:

Size – The rule of thumb about brush size is that big brushes should be used for large areas and loose brushwork, and small brushes should be used for small areas and details.

Material – Synthetic or natural? Soft or stiff? Find out what kind of bristles fit best your painting style.

Shape – Each shape delivers different stroke styles, and a different effect. Learning which shape to use to get the wanted effect is very important, and requires some experimenting. Have fun with it.

Keep reading for more details about each of these categories.

Parts of an Art Paint Brush

Part of BrushDescription
HandleWhere you hold the brush. Usually made from painted or varnished wood, but it can also be made from plastic. The length can vary from short to really long.
Bristles or HairsThe part of the brush that holds and applies the paint. They can be natural or synthetic. Good quality brushes have firmly held bristles. It’s important that they don’t fall out while you are painting, for aesthetic reasons and because you may create messes on your painting when you try to remove them.
FerruleUsually made from metal, it connects the handle to the hairs, and keeps the bristles in shape. A good ferrule does not rust or come loose.
HeelThe part of the ferrule that squeezes the hairs and keeps them in place.
CrimpThe part of the ferrule that secures it to the handle.
ToeThe very end of the bristles, where they touch the canvas.
BellyIt’s the wide part of the hairs beyond the ferrule; in a round brush it the middle area of the bristles, before narrowing to a point.

MakeSure You Take Good Care of Your Brushes

Once you are done collecting info on how to choose a brush, you may want to read the extra info at the end of the article about:

  • How to clean your brushes;
  • How to store them;
  • And the convenience of brush sets.

Now let’s get started talking about the three main aspects of a brush to consider: size, material, and shape.

Paint Brush Sizes

The rule of thumb about brush size is that big brushes should be used for large areas and loose brushwork, and small brushes should be used for small areas and details.

The size of a brush is indicated by a number on the handle, and it refers to how thick the brush is at the heel, where the ferrule meets the hairs. Sizes vary from 000, 00, 0, 1, 2, etc.

Different manufacturers have different sizes for the same number, so if you buy supplies online, always refer to the measurement of the brush, not just the size number, especially if you are not familiar with the manufacturer.

How to read manufacturer measurements:

Length: distance from the edge of the ferrule out to the tip of the hair in the brush’s center.

Diameter: distance across a round ferrule at the point where the ferrule ends and the hair begins.

Width: distance across a flat ferrule at the exact point where the ferrule ends and the hair begins.

A brush’s width is different from the width of the paint stroke that the brush makes. The actual width of the stroke varies according to the amount of pressure used, the angle at which the brush is held, the media used, and the flexibility of the brush hair.

The brush stroke will vary depending on how you hold your brushes too. Holding your brush close to the ferrule gives you most control, great for painting details; holding near the end gives you lose strokes.

What Bristles are Better for You?

When buying brushes for acrylic painting, you can get both the stiff bristle brushes used by oil painters and synthetic brushes made for smooth watercolor painting. It all depends on the effect you want to obtain with your brushwork.

Stiffer brushes will leave visible marks on the painting, with more textural results. Softer brushes will give you smoother brushstrokes, with more blending.

Nylon brushes are best to lay flat paint areas, while natural bristles give a more uneven texture.

For oils you need thicker bristles to move the dense and heavy paint around. For watercolors you need a softer brush because the medium is very fluid. Acrylic paints are softer than oils but thicker than watercolors, so your brushes can be somewhere in the middle.

Spring Qualities of Brush Bristles

Most brush manufacturers produce synthetic brushes made specifically for acrylic painting. These are more resistant and springier than those made for watercolor. They are durable and keep their shape well, and make a great choice for beginners.

The first time you use a brush it has a protective coat that keeps it in shape. With your thumb you can break that stiffness and test the flexibility of the bristles.

Moving the hairs with your fingers from side to side will give you an idea of the spring qualities of the bristles and how they’ll handle while you are painting.

Expensive Sable Brushes Are too Fancy for Acrylics

Even though natural bristle brushes created for oil paint can be used with acrylic paint, you may want to avoid expensive sable brushes.

When painting with acrylics you need to keep your brushes wet or immersed in water for a long time, so that the paint does not dry on the brush, and this excessive moisture can ruin the natural fibers quickly.

Never store brushes standing on the bristles, or they'll get deformed.

Types of Artist Brushes

Fan– with fan-shaped bristles, they come in many sizes and thicknesses, and they are great for painting grasses, tree limbs, bushes, blending cloudy skies, and highlights. Natural hair is more suitable for soft blending and synthetic works well for textural effects.

Flat – with long bristles and square ends. They hold a lot of paint and can be used for bold sweeping strokes or on the edge for fine lines. Flats are very useful to cover a big area of paint, or the background.