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Quality Paint Brushes

Listed under Blog, brushes, Corona, Mythic paint, Ron Taylor Posted Feb 05 2013

Quality Paint Brushes are they worth it? Seems like an odd question really, as you would think the answer would be yes. Unfortunately, you will still struggle to find high quality brushes in a lot of UK outlets.

Quality brushes are hard to find off the shelf

You will see Purdy Monarchs, a fine brush, I’ll grant you, but you won’t see other Purdy lines widely on sale on a walk-in-and-buy basis. Wooster and Proform (who produce the excellent Picasso) are all examples of excellent quality US made brushes that are difficult to find unless you shop online. Another example of an excellent US made brush line, Corona, bucks this trend by being available at Brewers.

I feel the answer to this problem lies both with the stockists and, to a lesser extent, some painters’ reluctance to change.

Quality Paint Brushes, Warwickshire (2)

UK stockists sell premium paint that deserves a premium paint brush

All stockists are out maximize profits, that is indeed why they are in business. But what I can’t understand is that whilst they will quite happly charge upwards of £70 for 5 litres of a premium brand paint, they are totally unwilling to sell you the best tools to apply it with. I say tools, because I include roller covers in this as well. No, what they want to sell you is own branded gear that has had none of the product testing that the brands mentioned above have recieved, but they want to sell it to you at a comparable price. Now, this might be OK if the majority of these brushes performed as well as their US counterparts, but they don’t. In fact they don’t even come close.

DDC will order you any Purdy brush from their line that is imported to the UK. I know, as I’ve bought many, but what you won’t see is the full range on the rack next to Purdy Monarchs and own branded gear. It’s like they don’t want us to know about angled and semi-oval brushes. It’s like they don’t want us to know about anything other than the Elite Range (soon to be rebranded the XL Elite, I believe). Why, when Purdy also produce a myriad of styles and ranges of brushes?

I understand space is at a premium in stores, and every brush by every manufacturer would be impossible to sell and display. But what we need is choice, even if it’s a small one.

North American paint stores value premium paint brushes

Walk into a local hardware store in any US or Canadian town or city and you will see a staggering choice of styles of brush. Pro brushes happily hang next to cheaper brushes aimed at the homeowner, and I don’t mean the packs of DIY brushes sold here in the big sheds for under a tenner, with bristles not even fit for cleaning oil and grease off an old car engine. I mean DIY brushes that you can actually paint with.

This is because the North American public are aware of the benefits of synthetic and natural bristle brushes in different types of paint. They are also aware of the benefits of angled  brushes, square ferruled brushes, semi-oval and the like.They are aware why some US brushes are thinner or thicker with various types of handles.  Here it seems we should have to be content with a thicker fill, flat brush with either a beavertail or kaiser handle.

I won’t, though I could, go on at length about my favourite brushes and what I use them in. But I walked into a small Benjamin Moore store on a freezing cold New York day in 2008. This store only sold Purdy and Benjamin Moore brushes, but the choice was very impressive for such a small shop. I walked out of there with 2 x 2″ Benjamin Moore brushes for under $15. These are, to this day, some of the best brushes I’ve ever used for acrylic trim and emulsion paints.

Quality Paint Brushes, Warwickshire

Do UK painters want change?

Well, it seems some do, but others are not that bothered.

I’ve complained that outlets don’t stock the products, but would UK painters buy them in sufficient quantities to justify them doing so? Honestly, I have my doubts.

With good quality 2.5″ angled brushes costing upwards of £12 each, this is going to put many off. The majority prefer to buy multipacks of standard brushes (usually Purdy) at a heavily discounted price. I have no issue paying £20 for a tool that will make my life easier and the job better. But that’s not the same for everyone.

That we need to educate stockists and professionals alike to the benefits of different bristle, handles and angled brushes in differeent products seems patronising. But that is what needs to happen, if the situation is to change for the better.

Years ago, I would use bristle brushes in emulsion and acrylic primer/undercoat and the finish was universally awful, especially in the acrylic primer. But that was all we had. Now I wouldn’t dream of using bristle brushes in anything other than oil primer. I don’t need to, because the choice of synthetic bristle brush is extensive, online obviously, so I don’t have to.

But some painters will still use natural bristle brushes in water based paint, despite there being better options available. Why, when a good synthetic brush will allow you to apply water based paint easier, faster and leave a better finish?


Best brush for each paint type

Some people will also use the wrong synthetic brush in acrylic, emulsion and oil paints. Synthetic brushes have different bristles for a reason. They are tailored to a specific type of paint or viscosity of paint. For instance a thin US made paint, like Mythic, won’t benefit from being applied with a stiff, thick bristled brush like a Purdy Pro Extra. It will leave far to many brushmarks and a better brush for this, probably the best, would be a Corona Tynex/Orel Ontario, because it is soft and supple. But for a product like Sikkens XD Oil High Gloss the Corona’s benefits in the Mythic would be lost because of the heavy, thick nature of the product. The Purdy, however, would be ideal. 2 synthetic brushes, 2 totally different applications.

As I mentioned, cost is a consideration. Many painters are not as obsessive about brushes as I am (believe me I’ve spent a small fortune over the years) instead, they are just happly to stick with what they know.

Thing is, other brushes will work better. But with a lot of premium brushes only being available online, it limits the opportunity for those who don’t research what is available, on the internet.


Ron taylor hand painted kitchens warwickshireRon Taylor, a specialist painter and decorator based in Kenilworth, is the Traditional Painter responsible for hand painted kitchens throughout Warwickshire.

Ron is one of the UK’s leading authorities on the specification and application of water based and waterborne paints.


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6 comments to “Quality Paint Brushes”

  1. Avatar photo Andy Crichton

    Thanks Ron for airing your / our frustrations so well.

    You say it is patronising to talk in terms of educating the suppliers and the trade, but what is more patronising than the average trade outlet selling junk out-dated brushes at proper prices, and saying there you go! ?

    It is incredibly short sighted and atrocious PR from the paint suppliers too, at this time, with all the paints moving over to water based / water borne. Whether folks like it or not, there has never been a more important time to be plugging suitable and good quality brushes.

    You have been ahead of the curve transitioning to water based in 2004, but is it any wonder that all you hear nowadays is decorators and homeowners moaning and cursing about this ” rubbish” water based paint, as they slap it on with their Hamilton Perfections or Homebase saver pack, not a drop of conditioner in sight, no pre-soaking of brushes… Or as you say, swinging an off the shelf Purdy Monarch, thinking they have the best synthetic brush for any paint in any tin. Water based paint is getting very very good, what a missed trick not to be selling equally improved brushes.

    In the States they worked it out years ago that good paint merits a good brush. They happened to have been almost exclusively water based for decades, so have worked out what works well and when with a wide variety of mixes. In the UK, traditionally it has been the same approach, ie we want the best brushes for what we have. The difference between US and UK being, it has been exclusively oil based for woodwork and vinyl matt for everything else here. Pure bristle for your oil paint, folks, and anything that works in water based, we won’t look too close. Hamilton Perfection is the benchmark. Perfect recipe for status quo.

    And since 2010, its been head in the sand, mainly I am sure because merchants aren’t run by decorators. And the attempts at synthetic bristle have been so woeful from hamilton, no wonder their head honcho got assy with me at the 2010 paint show when I said I was spoilt for choice from the US brands.

    In 2010, I was stupid enough to take a Wooster brush into a DDC, saying how great it was for oil eggshell, and they looked at me like I was some kind of demented painter. Oooh, they wont like that at Head Office, we do Purdy. Yes, nearly 3 years on, we all know how many Purdy they deign to display!

    So be it.

    I cant remember the last time I went to a brick and mortar store to buy a brush. You do your research online, you find a supplier online and you get the brushes delivered to your door or to site. Try it out, write about it honestly, and so it goes on.

    Who in a store is going to give customers more info about a brush than you can get from a Ron Taylor blog. It also costs professionals a lot of money to go to a store just to get a brush from someone who doesnt know what they are talking about. And from feedback here, DIY love to read online, and then go buy what has been recommended by a pro.

    It is great that Corona are in Brewers, it is also telling that you can only buy Picassos online in the UK.

    It is an interesting time, and for those manufactures that get it, ie the companies we are associated with, coincidentally! the next few years is going to be a positive experience, but for those that go the old route, and bang on about price and good value inexpensive… they should hit an almighty brick wall in the near future, because the mature water-based paint and synthetic brush market in the USA now is a glimpse at the mainstream market in the UK in a few years time, and all being well, cheap own brand shouldn’t get a look in when the public finally get to know what they need, compared to what they have been sold.

  2. Charles Budd

    Great article Ron and brilliant reply Andy.

    With the possible exception of using Mirka sanders with dust extraction, changing the brushes I use has been the biggest equipment boon to my the speed and quality of my decorating over the past couple of years. The advice I’ve read on Traditional Painter, as well as illuminating discussions on the Painters Pitstop, have opened my eyes to brush choice. The Wooster FTP, Proform Picasso, Axus sash brushes… are now my choice for nearly every job… and I’m still experimenting.

    I hope more and more decorators and DIY painters read blogs like this, as it will improve the quality and speed of the decorating that people do.

  3. Pat Jones

    What a great post by Ron Taylor and follow up from Andy Critchon. I for one would love to hear Ron Taylor tell us his favourite brushes and their use(s)

  4. My Hand Painted Furniture Joseph and Son

    Fantastic post Ron. Before I took my business online and got talking to people like Andy and Jack in America (legend!) I had almost no knowledge of quality kit from the US. In the west of Ireland the problem is even worse. I buy everything I use on the internet. Even high quality paint is had to get around these parts and everything is at a very high cost. Fair play for raising this important issue for our trade as a whole

  5. c montague

    has anybody used elder & jenks brushes i was told they were the oldest brush company in america

  6. chris montague

    has anybody used the Elder & Jenks range of brushes

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