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Battle for the best paint brush

Listed under Blog, brushes Posted Apr 08 2012

In November 2010, I went to the National Painting and Decorating Show on the hunt for best of class paint brushes. What I learned was – The Americans are coming and the Brits are rightfully worried. (That still stands true in Autumn 2011 – and Spring 2012)

Latest update on the current state of play in the best paint brush story.

American paint brushes

Help identifying the best brush for different paints in UK

The ultimate aim is to produce a reference table of brush v paint. But that is a way off still. However, if it helps, after going round the block looking for what works for me, here is my current brush selection for the paints I use day-in day-out from: Little Greene, Mythic, Annie Sloan, plus primers from Zinsser, Blackfriar/Classidur and Dulux. I now feel pretty comfortable that the following meet my needs for quality and speed.

Best brushes for water based eggshell

picasso is it the best brush Picasso or FTP, FTP Picasso? The 3″ Wooster FTP is as quick and accurate as a 2.5″ Picasso in general use with Little Greene acrylic eggshell paint, or Mythic eggshell / semi-gloss paint, but being really picky, the finer tipped Picasso leaves an even better finish than the FTP.

Third in the list is the Wooster Alpha. Until mid 2011 I found the Alpha was the best brush by miles for painting lots of woodwork quickly and nicely with acrylic eggshell, until the other 2 appeared. So it shows really how most decorators and all DIY can’t go wrong with any of these 3 brushes in the above paints on woodwork.

Best brushes for oil based eggshell

FTP bosses sticky paint Little Greene oil eggshell for instance, is sticky, so a Picasso would too fine and flimsy. For conventional brushing on and laying off of oil eggshell paint, I am having great success with the Wooster FTP brush.

When hand-painting kitchen cabinets, I tend to roll on oil eggshell with a dense black foam roller (from Fat Hog – in Leyland stores) and lay off with a Wooster Alpha 1.5″. (This approach is quick and takes advantage of the super fine Alpha bristles and the balance of the brush, so I can get a super light touch when laying off).

Best brushes for acrylic matt emulsion
I use Little Greene acrylic emulsion paint (now Absolute Matt or Intelligent matt) and Mythic acrylic latex wall and ceiling paint. The Picasso is a new breed of brush, and if you persevere for a long time, then it will outperform all other brushes for speed when cutting in razor sharp lines, and it holds so much paint too. With plenty of practice and concentration on the basics, you should be able to paint a 7 foot line with one load. Lee Howen has been painting like a champ with the weird looking Picasso ergo which, he is over the moon with.

The Wooster FTP has huge capacity and is accurate, and apart from having a bit of a clunker handle, which is quite a big consideration actually with lots to do, it is in the same ballpark as a Picasso.

A 2.5″ Wooster Silver Tip is very easy to use, and is very precise for cutting in acrylic wall and ceiling paint as well. It doesn’t hold much paint, so it is slower overall than the Picasso or FTP. But that shouldn’t stop anyone from having and using one. And it is cheap as chips too.

Again, the Wooster Alpha, not as all round good as the Picasso or FTP, it does have much more capacity than the Silver Tip, but not quite as easy to paint straight lines with.

Best paint brush in vinyl matt and contract matt emulsion
I haven’t used any of these paints in such a long time, but on the forums, the Picasso and FTP and Silver Tip seem to be favoured and the Alpha has died a death!

Best brushes for Annie Sloan chalk paint
First coat over a waxy or varnished surface, a 3″ FTP annihilates the Picasso.

As an idea of how good the FTP is, in the picture, that waxed drawer is about 3 feet wide.

wooster ultra pro in chalk paint The brush that painted those 4 lines, a 2.5″ Wooster Utra Pro soft, needed to be loaded once for each line. The first 3 lines gradually improved, till the 4th line, which finally got close to being solid and productive, but a solid 3 feet line was about the brush’s limit.

A 3″ FTP did the equivalent of all 4 lines better, sharper and faster with just ONE dip in the chalk paint. The 2.5″ Picasso did the equivalent of 2 lines before it ran out of oomph.

Second coat of slightly thinned down chalk paint, the Picasso will do a better job than all other brushes except the FTP, which excels with heavy body paints.


Best paint brushes for Dulux Supergrip primer
Supergrip is a fast drying water based high adhesion primer similar consistency to Zinsser Bullseye, and I have found little difference in the quality of finish between FTP, Picasso, or my first ever Wooster brush, the ultra pro sable. They all lay off the primer beautifully and are equal choices if you roll the primer on and tip it off. But for direct brushing, the FTP and Picasso are probably twice as fast as the ultra pro sable.

Best paint brush for Zinsser Coverstain
This is a sticky oil based stain block primer, and the FTP is my brush of choice to “boss it around”.

Best paint brush for Zinsser BIN
I haven’t brushed a lot of shellac-based BIN to be honest. I suspect the FTP is the first brush to try, although it is a shameful use of a brush!

So… please bear in mind, I use a fairly restricted range of paints and for one reason or another, I haven’t used vinyl matt or oil based gloss in over a year now, so my recommendations are quite specific. The general painting contractors out there buying the usual suspect paints will tell a different story to me in terms of brush selection, and hopefully in the near future, we can offer a reliable and comprehensive reference to cover the bases.

In principle though, the best brush syndrome is becoming a matter of best brush by degrees. The massive leaps in quality brush-making have been made, and for the forseeable future it is all about tweaking. So in theory, none of these brushes are anything less than excellent, but with the right paint, some are more excellent than others.

Quick summary

If your painter and decorator is using run-of-the-mill contractor brushes, ask them why they are so far behind the times!

If you are a decorator and swear by Hamilton Perfection S brushes, I suggest you cut the beautiful varnished handles off this synthetic atrocity and make a pendant.

If you use the very good Purdy Monarch Elite brush, I suggest you give it a good clean in Krudcutter, hang it up and keep it on the van as a spare till you have tried the FTP. I did!

If you are a professional decorator or a keen DIY painter, and want to see instant improvements in applying acrylic primers undercoats and top coats, go buy yourself a Picasso, if you can find one. For wall and ceiling paint, a Silver Tip or Picasso, and for heavy paint or oil paint, the Wooster FTP is the way to go. With little effort, you will work faster and better than ever before.

A quick thought on brush selection

There are tricky personal decisions to make with brush choice in terms of handle lengths and also do you prefer angled sash or conventional straight, or angled oval. But first things first, find the brush with the bristles that leave the finest finish in the paint you are using, then the brush that is constructed best for capacity / speed of working, and then work on the ergonomically best brush for your style of painting, hand size. That should result in your best brush.

2010 thoughts on best brush for oil paint

I would always have said Hamilton Perfection were the best brushes on the market. Chinese hog hair, stainless steel ferrules, and the most exquisite varnished handles. The bristles are long, and the more they wear down, the fewer brush marks they leave in the paint. So, Hamilton, obviously still a no-brainer brush of choice for professionals using oil paint? Nah! Hamiltons are so 90’s.

Guess what, sometimes you have to get off the island to see what else is out there.

I loved the finish possible with Purdy Monarch Elite brushes. Despite what the sales manager from Hamilton told me about how good his products are, and how bad Purdy brushes are, I have no problem whatsoever saying that he is way off base! The Monarch Elite don’t seem to ever shed hairs, the synthetic filaments are soft and springy, hold a lovely chisel edge, and for laying off the paint, the 1.5″ brushes in particular are so light you can almost use them like a feather. What’s not to like?

I was very happy with Purdy Elite till I discovered what has become my “go-to” oil based brush for painting oil eggshell on kitchen cabinets – the Wooster Alpha, 1.5″ flat version. I can cut into really tight corners, and for panels, I lay on with a foam roller and lay off with the Alpha, which is even more light and delicate and fine than the Purdy.

Hamilton Perfection S seem to be diabolically bad in oil paint. They say you can use the Hamilton Perfection S (synthetic) in oil paint as well as in their preferred acrylic paint. In theory they are comparable to the Purdys ie they are similar in terms of dual usage and in a similar price band, but I couldn’t believe how many hairs the S lost during use in oil eggshell, and to boot, the finish was stringy. (Does the “S” stand for “sheds” or even “shite” maybe?)

In their defence, the handles and the feel of Hamilton S are superior to Purdy, ie the handles are so well finished with the added touch that the varnished handles don’t bubble in a vapour box brush keeper. But despite all this detail, I don’t find the Hamiltons as balanced or comfortable to hold as a Purdy.

Top Leicestershire decorator Lees Decor has had trouble with his Alphas used in Little Greene oil eggshell and stored in a vapour box. The ends went into a curly perm after a couple of days. I haven’t experienced that quite so quickly, but I have seen it, and heard from other decorators too.

According to the former TDS, sales of vapour boxes are declining also. This may not be so surprising, seeing as the hand of paint companies has been forced by anti pollution laws, and it is common knowledge anyway that they are forever tweaking their products without telling us, and sometimes “new and better” things happen for the worse.

2010 thoughts on best brush for water-based paint

For applying acrylic primers and wall paints with a brush, I embrace, advocate and love US made brushes, and Wooster come out on top for me, with paint brushes for every occasion.

Wooster and Purdy are much better than the best of British, Hamilton Perfection S brushes

The Hamilton Perfection S (Synthetic) on the right looks and feels the same as the hog hair Hamilton Perfection, except the bristles are a unique blend of Dupont Chinex and polyester filaments specially made to excel with acrylic paints.

The brush on the left is the Wooster Ultra Pro Sable. Synthetic filaments, simple flatter handle, no fuss.

There is no comparison. The Hamilton S feels like a yard brush compared to the Wooster Ultra Soft which is a fantastic little brush to lay off water-based primer without the tram lines left by Hamilton Perfection S.

If you want to paint dead straight lines with emulsion, the Wooster Silver Tip is the business.

For laying lots of emulsion on walls, a 4″ Ultra Pro firm is a top brush, according to David “Aggie” Agnew.

It seems a bit nerdy and faintly ridiculous to talk about the best brush in the world for painting trim, but now in Autumn 2011, it is looking like the Picasso is more advanced than anything before it. So one day next year, after plenty of practice with the Picasso, I will probably have to revise my opinion that the Wooster Alpha is the sharpest, smoothest most comfortable brush I have ever picked up and used on windows and door frames.

I had a New Zealand PAL Legend brush for trial, and wondered whether I would have to revise my opinion yet again?

UPDATE I tried the PAL with Little Greene acrylic matt emulsion: it takes a lot of feeding with paint to get up to speed for cutting a straight line, but once loaded, it cuts well. Just not as well as a Wooster Silver Tip or even an Alpha. The weight is delicious, if that is a possible adjective in this scenario, exceptionally comfy, just not as ergonomic as a Wooster Alpha.

I don’t usually care about the cost of a brilliant tool, as it will pay for itself many times over, but the PAL is not brilliant and even if it were, it is over-priced really. About £20 for a 2.5″ brush, which compared to £13 for a similar size Alpha, is dear. Must be the cost of transport? It hasn’t been used since the short test.

2010 Conclusion

Hamilton’s brushes are traditional, but paint formulations even from traditional companies like Little Greene are adapting to environmental demands, and Wooster first, and Purdy a pretty long second seem to be geared up to the paint that’s out there now, rather than what was there years ago.

This is a traumatic time for painters with so many changes in paint formulas enforced by government legislation. Consequently this has a ripple down effect with brush selection, and there is a lot of chopping and changing to find the right brush for the job in hand.

(Here I explain where my journey with the Wooster Alpha best paint brush has reached, by Spring 2012.)

What are your favourite brushes?

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17 comments to “Battle for the best paint brush”

  1. acmasterpainter

    [watch out!] Battle for the best paint brush – via #twitoaster https://traditionalpainter.com/battle-for

  2. Jgdecor

    Have to agree with Andy here. The American brushes are better designed to cope with modern waterbased paints. Surprisingly they work very well with oil based paints, though as of yet I have only used it in gloss and satinwood.

  3. acmasterpainter

    Thanks to @JGDecorator for his interesting insight on American paint brushes https://traditionalpainter.com/battle-for

  4. BurtonTDSDerby

    @acmasterpainter oh my days I almost forgot the Silver Tips have landed 😀

  5. chris Spence

    Have to agree by far the most able and all rounder in 2012 is the silver tip. I have the proforms and although brilliant and way out front of the competion, wooster,purdy and Benjamin moore,”ha who’s the new runner in this race”?

    Ok its 2012 and i have a good hunch that Benjamins brushes are going to create waves amongst the top 3, after watching numerous trials and tests and still waiting in vain for my order im going out on a limb and backing this baby, but alas what i do have i have to agree are very hard to compete with accept for the cheepest wooster out there which continues to out perform its rivals and one and the only one i will do any cuttin work with,the silver tip flat. I find the angled sash loses shape and swells somewhat but the flat keeps its shape and stays thin for the all important cut.

    I want a Benjamin NOW !!

  6. Traditional Painter

    Have got your Benjamin Moore brushes in yet, Chris?

  7. ann mcclean

    Great site ,
    i am painting with chalk paint ,could you let me know all
    suitable brushes . and where i can purchase them ?
    kind regards

  8. Andy Crichton

    Hi the Wooster FTP 2.5″ is my favourite for chalk paint. Google “wooster brush UK” which will provide suppliers for you to approach for best deal right now

  9. james handyside

    I have been decorating for nearly 30 years and used all types of brushes and paint products. Come on, you cant beat our own worn down cutter when painting traditional sashes.where Hamilton brushes are concerned,yep they used to be grat brushes, but the bristle quality is very bad.I used to know a chap that was a salesman for Hamiltons and I bought some brushes from him. I still have an unused 3″ brush to compare with the modern equivilent.There is no comparison.The bristles in the 20 year old brush are so shiny and springy and smooth. the new ones are harsh and leave your paint with tram lines until they are worn down some. Carona china brisle ooz quality.

  10. Andy Crichton

    Sadly, you won’t find any disagreement here with your assessment of the demise of Hamilton Perfection natural bristle.

    I actually put a call out a while back asking if anyone had an early 1990’s Perfection so we could see the difference with our own eyes. If you could post us a picture of your “originals” next to a recent version, that would maybe explain a bit what many old school decs know to be true, but can’t demonstrate.


  11. Sam


    I am about to paint some pine bedroom furniture, I’ve just been to a little greene stockist to buy my oil based eggshell where they also recommended a trade primer undercoat and some perdy brushes. I have noticed that the undercoat is water based and wanted to know if this is ok under oil based eggshell? I would also like your thoughts on the brushes please as I want the best finish. I would also like to know that once sanded will I need to treat the knots before priming (the furniture is over 10 yrs old). Your help and advice would be much appreciated


  12. Andy Crichton

    Hi Sam, in short, as long as you don’t break through clear lacquer on the pine furniture when sanding down, you do not need to worry about knots bleeding through. So, I would clean it down with a degreaser, and sand with a 180 grade abrasive.

    When dry, and sanded, remove all dust, wipe with a tack cloth.

    I would use a high adhesion primer over lacquer.

    We favour the performance of oil based Tikkurila Otex or Zinsser Coverstain primer. A reliable high adhesion water based primer that blocks stain is Classidur Extrem, which I have heard from the horse’s mouth is the former Blackfriars Problem Solving Primer with an extra twist of secret ingredient for using outside, so I’m happy to recommend that. (And my recommendation of current BFPS primer is now on hold till further notice!)

    Once the lacquer has been primed, you are good to go with the finishing coats. There is no issue with applying 3 coats of oil eggshell straight over water-based primer. Denib between coats and clean with a tack cloth.

    There seems to be no need for the water based undercoat you have unless it is a specific adhesion primer.

    Purdy brushes, which one? The Elite Purdys at the merchants beginning with B are fine for oil paint.

    We rate the Foxes, not just because we are on the label, but they are outstanding in water based AND oil based paint. So for a water based primer and Little Greene oil eggshell, one brush does it all really well. If you have big panels, consider a high density foam mini roller (no pre wash required) or wash out a Fox flock sleeve the night before first use. Lay off with the dryish brush to remove any orange peel.

    If you find the eggshell a little sticky, I would ease it with Owatrol oil, up to 10%, but only add a bit at a time till it feels nice for you. Pour enough paint for half an hours work, and when you have finished, throw any scrap paint in a scraps tin, not back in the original tin. That will keep your oil paint in top condition.

    You can keep your oil and water based brush in the GoPAint! Store and Go gel in between use, and for many months afterwards.

    Hope that helps, and if you have any questions please ask.

  13. Sam

    Thanks for this, I sanded with a 180 phew! And have applied 2 coats of the primer undercoat so ready to start painting tomorrow. The brushes I got were purdy xl elite monarch, they said they were fine for both waterbased and oil so I’ll keep my fingers crossed and will be sure to get them rollers too. Thanks again for your help


  14. John

    Nice review. I’m NZ based so the Pal legend has pretty much been the best you could get here until more recently the Wooster and Monarch (ABC) are now readily available. Purdy are simply too expensive to buy here, Im talking crazy $$$, so the few that were importing have stopped as they dont sell. I know a painter who has a brother in US who sends over Purdys for him and he swears by them.
    After reading your praise of the Wooster ftp I’m keen to give them a go. Was’nt much impressed by the silver tips so hopefully FTP is nothing like them. Pal legends have a downfall in that the tips are too soft and quickly fray/ spilt.
    Never tried a Purdy so cant compare that but lets see how the Wooster FTP stacks against the Pal legend. As for the Picasso I will have a lookout to see if they sell here. Do you know a good place to order brushes online and ship to NZ?

  15. Andy Crichton

    Thanks for getting in touch. Brushes are very personal I guess. One of our kitchen painters, Matt in Wales, has used the Pal Legend for years. I have one and whilst I love the whole idea of it, so well made and full, I rarely used it.

    The Silver Tip is a soft brush more like the Legend I would think for laying off, but not in the same league for construction and it wouldn’t hold as much paint. It may be that the feel and action of the Legend is difficult to get past? The FTP is firmer than the Silver Tip, but for all its performance, you may not like the handle.

    MyPaintbrush will export all over.

  16. Keith Webster

    I’ve been a decorator for 36 years and based on what you have said I’ve just bought a 3 pack of Wooster silvertips and a 3 inch Wooster superflow brush. I’ve got a small job to do later this week where the customer is supplying the paint and it will be Valspar undercoat & gloss which is acrylic as they no longer make solvent based paints. I have to say I’m not a fan of Valspar I remember it from years ago when it was a cheap paint widely regarded in the trade as poor quality, the joke was if you wanted to thicken it up add water.

    I’ve used Hamilton perfection brushes for as long as I can remember but the quality does seem to have slipped, they are particularly poor with acrylics hence the search for a suitable acrylic brush. I have to say they are cheap, a 3 pack from Screwfix for just over £10 and a 3 inch for £8.99, I normally use a perfection 3 inch for emulsion but at £15 they are not cheap so will give the Wooster a go.

    What I wanted to ask is what is the general consensus regarding acrylic glosses and eggshells, personally I’m not a fan and I’ve had issues with adhesion where the paint will split & craze. Solvent based paints present no such issues and you don’t need to de grease or clean before painting in most cases. I remember the Dulux rep doing a presentation when acrylics first came out must have been the early 90’s he said in 5 years there will be no solvent based products, seems the trade in general and old dogs like me have resisted that but the EU insistence that all the good stuff be taken out of paints along with the VOC ruling means that solvent based paints aren’t what they used to be in terms of longevity.

    The obvious benefits of acrylics are fast drying times, easier to apply and not yellowing which in rooms with poor uv saturation is a real issue, do experienced decorators now favour acrylics and if so why.

  17. Andy Crichton

    Great post, thanks.

    Hamilton Perfection natural bristle brushes were never designed with acrylic paint in mind. As I’m sure you noticed on site, most of the tradesmen trying out acrylic paint for the first time used their stock in trade Hamiltons. No wonder acrylic got such a bad rap early on for quality of finish!

    Acrylic paint has been on the continent, and in USA since the 60’s (A German export!) I used acrylic paints in USA in late 80’s, marvellous really. I too attended Dulux promo of acrylic paint in late 80’s and realised that most decorators will never change if given a free rein! They basically ignored the facts, that acrylic paints have been very good for decades in climates far more extreme than anything you see in the UK. With the exception of niche paints like Dacrylate, acrylics have been incredibly late to the game in the UK. And when they did start to make inroads off the back of legislation in 2010, as I said above, brushes in UK were plain wrong to help with the transition to acrylic.

    The general thinking was oil primer and waterbased topcoat to achieve the adhesion and the finish in the most effective way. Waterbased primers have come on miles though, and primers like Tikkurila Akva, Sikkens BL water based primers, provide fabulous adhesion with some body in them too. Dulux Supergrip from the early 90’s onwards stuck to anything too. But none of these can hold back stains, so you need to make provision for that.

    With finishes, the posh paint companies showed the trade paints a clean pair of heels till recently, and now you have access to a whole raft of great acrylic and hybrid waterborne paint. And as waterborne gets better, UK trade oil paint gets worse, as bean counters focus on trying to meet price points, not quality levels. Tikkurila and Sikkens oil glosses knock spots off UK trade glosses, and Ben at Paints and Interiors has knowledge of other amazing continental oil paints that prove the price point theory.

    If you want the advantages you describe of waterbased paint and achieve a good finish, it is possible, with so many good brushes around now.

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