Battle for the best paint brush
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.
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 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
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.
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.
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.
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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