The best thing you can do for your painting project is to choose the right tools to work with. Now, I’ve already told you about all of the wall painting equipment you need to worry about before getting your brushes and rollers. However, the fact remains that, aside from the paint, your painting instruments are the most important part of the process. So today, I thought that we should talk about which paint brushes are the best for getting a smooth finish.
Before I review several of the best painting brushes I’ve found, I’ll present a brief buyer’s guide. But first, let’s talk about why brush marks happen in the first place.
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Why Brush Marks Happen and How to Get a Smooth Finish
Full disclosure, I already have an article that explains how you can avoid streaks when using a brush. However, as easy as you think it would be, you need to use a certain technique to get that uniform look.
So let’s talk about what prevents us from getting it. As I explained in the article I’ve linked to, it comes down to three factors:
- The surface you’re working on
- The technique you’re using
- And the tools you’re working with
So you might be seeing bumps and brush strokes because the wall (or whichever surface) you’re painting is uneven. Fortunately, that’s simply a matter of preparation.
The next possible reason is that you’re not painting correctly. You can see the correct way to use a brush in the article I’ve linked to. In fact, I have a similar guide explaining how to get a smooth finish with a roller.
But this article isn’t about any of those things. Instead, it’s all about the tools you’re using. And since I already explained how you could improve the paint you’re working with in the first article I’ve linked to — let’s talk about brushes.
Features to Look Out for When Shopping for the Best Paint Brushes
Why do brushes matter in this equation? Aren’t they just a way to get paint from point A to point B? Obviously not, or we wouldn’t be talking about them. The truth is that brushes aren’t merely made for distributing paint — although that’s an important part of their job.
But really, if you’re working with a high-quality brush, you won’t even notice it’s there. Yes, this is one of those “you don’t know what you had until you lose it” situations. A great brush is something you take for granted until you have to work with a cheap one.
Only then can you truly understand the horror of shedding bristles, sharp edges, and rough handles. For example, I did my first few projects with a shoddy brush that actually left blisters between my thumb and forefinger. Once I invested in a quality brush, I realized just what I’d been missing. In fact, I still use that brush, along with several others I’ve collected over the years.
So what makes a good brush? Well, there are several things to consider if you’re in the market for one.
The bristles of a brush are incredibly important when you’re choosing one for your project. Obviously, they need to be firmly attached to the handle (I’ll talk about ferrules later on). Additionally, they need to be able to hold paint while you transfer it from the can to the surface you’re painting.
Furthermore, you also want to keep the origin of the bristles in mind while you’re shopping. That’s when you’re going to refer to the kind of paint you’re using. You see, if you dip a nylon bristle brush into an oil-based paint, you’ll see the paint run right off it. However, synthetic brushes do a much better job with latex paint.
If you really have your heart set on painting with oil paint, you’ll want to use natural bristles. These hold the oils much better, but they’ll go limp if you use them for latex (or water-based) paint.
There’s a silver lining between these two types of bristles, though. Nowadays, there are plenty of brushes on the market we can use for both latex and oil paint. They’re mostly nylon and polyester blends, but they work just fine with both types.
The end of the brush is also important for getting a smooth finish. There are two things you ought to consider: the shape of the edge and its density. Let’s start with the shape. Depending on the edge of your brush, you may be able to use it for different things:
- Trim brushes are regular flat brushes with a straight edge
- Wall brushes are thick flat brushes that are able to hold a lot of paint
- Angled sash brushes have an angled edge, and they’re made for cutting straight lines — they come in different thicknesses, so they can be used for a lot of things
These are your basic types of brushes you might run into. Now, how does density play into the edge of a brush?
Naturally, you want to get a high-quality brush that’s dense enough for you to work with. However, the bristles should ideally taper toward the tip. That would allow the brush to bend as you apply the paint, which is what you’re looking for.
Actually, if you want a smooth finish, you do want a fairly flexible brush. On the other hand, stiffer ones are also good for making straight lines. So there’s a time and a place for each of these brushes.
If you’re painting around the perimeter of a wall, you can use a brush that’s anywhere from 2 to 4 inches wide. However, if you want to paint your wood trim without tape, I suggest getting a smaller, 1–2-inch brush. Once again, an angled brush would help you get those nice, sharp lines.
Brushes come in all shapes and sizes, and the design of their handles largely contributes to that.
Now, if you thought that there was a hugely practical purpose to the shape of a handle, I hate to be the bearer of bad news. Actually, it does have a somewhat practical purpose. However, I could never say that a certain handle has a better shape than another. Ultimately, it will come down to what you like and what you feel comfortable holding.
Just remember that you won’t be holding the brush by the tip of the handle, like an artist. Instead, you’ll want to pinch it like a pencil near the bristles, with your thumb and forefinger.
And that brings me to my next point. Aside from shedding bristles, cheap brushes often have rough handles too. They’re incredibly course and made of very porous wood that will be ruined after one dip. So if you want to save yourself from blisters, invest in good brushes, preferably ones with alder wood handles.
I don’t know about you, but I can always tell a cheap brush from a quality one by looking at the ferrule. For those who don’t speak the lingo, that’s the metal bit that connects the bristles to the handle. As you can imagine, this is a pretty crucial part if you don’t want your brush to lose bristles or if you don’t want water to loosen the glue holding everything together.
Ideally, the brushes you’ll use will have stainless steel ferrules or at least ones made from a similarly durable material. Trust me — trying to fix a poorly made brush isn’t worth the effort. So it’s best to just get high-quality tools, to begin with.
Best Paint Brushes for a Smooth Finish
Since there’s not really much to say about painting brushes, I’m going to group my recommendations by the type of paint you can use them with. So we’ll start with latex paint brushes and move onto the ones that are compatible with oil-based paint.
Latex Paint Brushes
The first product I’ll mention is this Pro-Grade Home Wall/Trim House Paint Brush Set. It’s the same one I recommended in my article on how to avoid brush streaks. Despite the fact that I’m listing the brushes from this set as latex-only, they are actually marketed as all-paint brushes. Still, I can’t entirely trust brushes that are as affordable as these not to fall apart in oil-based colors.
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Plenty of people love them for latex paint though, so I can only imagine that they hold up better than you’d think. The bristles are made of thick synthetic filament blend and seem to be able to hold onto their paint. Additionally, the brushes taper toward the edge, and there are several angled ones for cutting straight lines. So aside from their suspiciously low price point, I wouldn’t have any qualms about using them to apply latex paint to my walls.
Still, I often find that I feel much more comfortable using brushes that are a bit more high-end. The Corona 3-inch Chinex Excalibur Professional Paint Brush is another product that should be great for latex paint. It actually comes in several other thicknesses as well, so you’ll be able to do detailing with it too. The bristles are dense yet soft enough to give you that smooth finish you want.
Really, you can’t go wrong with Corona. It’s one of the most famous brush brands on the market for a reason.
Aside from Corona, you should get used to hearing about two other companies: Wooster and Purdy. I’ll only be talking about their products from here on out. So what do they have for us in their “all-paint” brushes category?
First up, we have the Wooster Brush Softip Angle Sash Paint Brush. The one I’ve linked to is 2 inches wide, but you can also select 1, 1.5, and 2.5-inch options. The handle is solid plastic, and the bristles are dense but very flexible.
- Soft brush tips provide a smooth and even finish with...
- White nylon and gold polyester with chisel trim
- Brass-plated steel ferrule
- Pearl-yellow solid plastic handle with angle sash style
The end of the bristles is tapered, providing that soft tip they mentioned in the product name. And it’s pretty cheap for that kind of quality, possibly due to the plastic handle.
As for Purdy, the company makes several brushes that would be ideal for all paints. However, I’ll focus on two of them.
The Purdy XL Series Glide Angular Trim Paint Brush has nylon and polyester blend bristles and a long natural finish wooden handle. As you can see from the product name, the brush has an angular edge, which is great for cutting straight lines. It’s also available in widths from 1.5 inches to 3.5 inches, providing you with a fairly wide range of options.
I’ve also heard great things about the Purdy Clearcut Series Glide Angular Trim Paint Brush, which comes in different widths too — 2, 2.5, and 3-inch options. Aside from being a great cutting tool, it’ll also leave your paint looking smooth, no matter which type you use.
Oil Paint Brushes
Finally, let’s talk about some natural bristles. In the article about avoiding brush strokes, I said that my first choice when using oil paint was the Purdy Ox-Hair Series Ox-O Angular Trim Paint Brush. Of course, that’s still true.
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The brush is available in widths ranging from 1.5 to 3 inches, and its sharp edge is great for painting straight lines. However, this brush isn’t the only option. For one, the company’s Ox-Hair series is full of great oil-friendly brushes. Take, for example, their flat trim brush — the ox hair bristles are extra soft, which bodes well for that smooth finish we’ve been trying to achieve.
Lastly, you can also use the Wooster Black China Bristle Brush. That one comes in 3 and 4-inch widths, so it’s actually a wall brush.
Now, these last few brushes I’ve mentioned might be more expensive than the ones in the other categories. After all, these are natural bristles we’re talking about. And personally, I’d always go for the more expensive choice, no matter the type of bristle you’re looking for. I just figure that the more expensive a brush is, the less chance I have of ending up with bristles in my paint.
Final Thoughts on the Best Paint Brushes for a Smooth Finish
Hopefully, these short reviews and the buyer’s guide I’ve presented before have managed to shed some light on the subject of brushes. Any of the products I’ve mentioned should give you the results you want. However, don’t forget to prep your walls and choose the right paint as well.
While we’re at it, you also need to know how to use one of these brushes properly — and how to put them away once you’re done with them. Depending on the type of paint you used, you’d want to clean them in different ways. You obviously wouldn’t be able to rinse off oil paint with plain water.
Just make sure that you’re cleaning your brushes after each painting session to keep them around for as long as possible. I just know that keeping my brushes clean helps me feel less guilty about the amount of money I’ve spent on my collection over the years. These things are going to outlive me!