Brush glossary

There are a huge variety of hair types, head shapes and handle lengths available when you’re choosing a brush. And that means there can be a lot of specialist terminology involved.

Our glossary will help you understand some of the most important terms used.

Acrylic brush: synthetic brushes, with the mix of hair specially made for use with acrylic colour.

Balance: the correct weight and shape of a handle in relation to the weight of the brush head.

Belly: the middle section and thickest part of the brush head, or the individual hair filament itself. Sable filaments have excellent bellies, which result in well shaped, round brushes.

Blunt: a hair which is missing its natural tip. Finest quality brushes do not contain blunts or trimmed hairs.

Bright: a type of brush with a short, flat head that creates sharp edges with control. Bright was a painter.

Bristle: hog hair. Coarse, strong hair, suited to thick brushwork in oil, alkyd and acrylic painting. Different qualities of hog brush are available. The most expensive ones carry the most colour and retain their shape best when wet.

Camel: a pseudonym for a mixture of miscellaneous hairs of low quality.

Crimp: the compressed section of the ferrule, which holds the handle to the brush head.

Designers’: an elongated, round sable brush, most commonly used for illustration work.

Egbert: an extra long filbert.

Fan: a flat fan-shaped brush, used for blending and available in both bristle and soft hair.

Ferrule: the metal tube which supports the hair and joins it to the handle.

Filbert: a flat brush with an oval shaped head, available in both bristle and soft hair.

Flag: the natural, split tip of each bristle. Flags carry more colour and are evident on the highest quality hog brushes.

Flat: usually called long flat. A flat hog brush with a chisel end.

Goat: used to make good mop wash brushes.

Gummed: newly made brushes are dipped in gum to protect them in transit.

Interlocked: a bristle brush whose hairs curve inward towards the centre of the brush.

Kolinsky: the highest quality sable hair.

Length out: the length of the brush hair,  from where it’s exposed at the ferrule to the tip.

Lettering: a very thin, long, chisel-ending sable brush, traditionally used for lines and letters in signwriting.

Liner: see Lettering.

Long flat: see Flat.

Mop: a large, round, domed brush. Often made from goat or squirrel hair, and used primarily to cover whole areas in watercolour.

One stroke: a flat, soft hair brush which allows an area to be covered in one stroke. Traditionally used in signwriting for block letters.

Ox: ox ear hair is used for flat wash brushes.

Pencil: see Spotter.

Polyester: Synthetic hair is made of polyester. Different diameter filaments, varying tapers, different colours and different coatings result in as many possible variations in synthetic brushes as in those made from natural hair.

Pony: a low cost cylindrical hair without a point. Often used for children’s brushes.

Quill: bird quills were originally used for ferrules, before the development of seamless metal ferrules. Still used in some squirrel brushes.

Rigger: a very thin, long, round sable brush, traditionally used for painting rigging in marine pictures.

Round: a brush available in both bristle and soft hair. There are different types of rounds made in soft hair.

Sable: used for the best soft hair brushes, particularly for watercolour.  The conical shape and scaled surface of each hair provide a brush with an unrivalled point, responsiveness and colour carrying capacity. There are different qualities, the finest  being taper-dressed kolinsky sable – used for Winsor & Newton Series 7 brushes.

Short flat: see Bright.

Snap: see Spring.

Solid-dressed: sable which is sorted into bundles of equal length prior to brushmaking. The resulting brushes are not as responsive as taper-dressed sables.

Spotter: an extra short and small sable round brush, used for retouching photographs and other high detail work.

Spring: the degree of resilience of brush hair and its ability to return to a point. Sable displays excellent spring.

Squirrel: hair that makes good mop brushes but does not hold its belly or point well.

Stripers: see Lettering.

Taper-dressed: Kolinsky sable which is sorted into different lengths prior to brushmaking. Brushes made with taper-dressed sable have wider bellies and finer points.

Wash: a large, flat, soft hair brushes, used primarily for flat washes in watercolour.