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The Best Paint Brushes to Buy for the DIY’er

Buying paint brushes for trade or DIY use was, until fairly recently, a simple choice of cheap versus expensive. There wasn’t that much else to differentiate a good brush from a bad one.

Now there’s a wealth of choice and even professional painters will argue which types and brands are better than others. Some brushes are better with water based paints, some painters prefer an ‘angle-cut’ brush to a standard ‘straight cut’ brush – and so on.

As an occasional but enthusiastic DIY’er you don’t really need to concern yourself with any of this. At the end of the day you just want a brush that gives a decent result and one that will still be workable when you come to use it again. Likely at some distant point in the future?

There are loads of brands to choose from but, for the sake of clarity, I’m going to narrow it down a few simple choices…

Set of Hamilton Paint Brushes
Hamilton Perfection
(available from amazon.co.uk)
The original ‘trade quality’ brush and still popular with some old-timers. If you prefer the traditional type of brush with natural bristles Hamiltons are hard to beat.

Brushes with a natural bristle are excellent all-rounders although they work better with oil based paints when they’ve worn down a bit. If you’ve ever tried to paint an intricate window frame with a brand new brush you’ll know what I mean?

They can stand a fair amount of abuse but, especially if you’re going to have them stood unused for long periods, it’s essential that you clean them thoroughly after each use.

Purdy Paintbrush
The Purdy Monarch Elite
(available from amazon.co.uk)
A good all-purpose brush and the most popular brand with professional decorators. The bristles are synthetic and easy to keep clean. If looked after properly a Purdy brush will last for years – even if used on a regular basis.

They give a good result in water or oil based paints and, unlike with natural bristle brushes, you can paint a nice straight line even with a brand new one.

They can be expensive if you buy them individually although sets of 3 or more are always available at a substantial discount. Some of the larger DIY stores do stock these brushes but you’ll also see a lot of imitations which are nowhere near as good. So don’t buy unless they bear the Purdy name.

What Size?

Popular sizes of paint brush are:

  • ½” for fiddly bits:
  • 1″ for window sashes and narrow areas;
  • 1 ½” for window frames, architraves and narrow skirting;
  • 2″ for wide skirting, panels and small doors;
  • 2½” for doors and large panels;
  • 3″ for walls and ‘cutting-in’ prior to rolling.

Ideally you’ll need a couple of each smaller sizes but you’ll probably get by with just one 2½” or 3″. You may even find a 3″ brush a bit unwieldy and a single 2½” will probably do just as well?

I find the 1½” and 2″ brushes to be the most versatile of the lot and you can’t have too many of them.

Pointed tip paint brushes
Axus Precison Brushes
(available from amazon.co.uk)
For detailed work (intricate cornices and small sash windows, for example) a regular paint brush might not cut it? You could get away with using a kid’s art brush, if it’s a one-off, but a set of precision brushes like these can be a good investment.

Masonry Brushes

For painting masonry walls you probably don’t want to waste good money on a paint brush that’s likely to get ruined? Which is a fair point.

There are some brushes marketed as ‘masonry brushes’ (the ones that look like a scrubbing brush with a handle) which I’m not a great fan of. But if you’re comfortable using one of these then go ahead, they do the job and are not expensive to buy.

Where to Buy?

The fare on offer at your local DIY store is best avoided, to be honest. Even their ‘quality’ brushes are nowhere near as good as what you’ll get elsewhere for less money.

Buying online is obviously the easiest option; there are a few specialists decorating suppliers and, of course, amazon have more paint brushes than you can shake a stick at.

You could also try your local decorators’ merchant who’ll not only have a better choice but usually have an offer on when you buy a set of 3 more. There are loads of independent merchants as well as chains like Brewers, Dulux Decorator Centre and Leyland who’ll all be able to give you advice.

If you have to pay full price always ask for a discount though, as they do sometimes try it on with non-regulars.

At the end of the day there isn’t a perfect brush for any given situation, a lot of it comes down to personal choice. But if you want to get the best possible finish it’s always worth investing a little extra on quality brushes.

If you have any questions please feel free to post a comment below…


9 thoughts on “The Best Paint Brushes to Buy for the DIY’er”

  1. I’ve seen your recommendations for paint brushes, but do you have any suggestions for rollers for use with gloss paint? I’ve recently used foam rollers which have come away from the inner core and the paint finish has not been great. Are there alternative types of roller or any particular make that you might suggest? Thank you.

    • Foam rollers tend to be best for occasional use since there are no loose fibres that are going to be pulled into the paint surface. As you’ve found though, they can let you down so it’s best to buy the best quality you can afford.. Brands such as Wooster and Purdy are pretty good but any brand name such as Harris, etc will perform better than a generic non-branded product.

      The finish tends not to very good with a foam roller though, often you’ll get an orange peel effect on teh surface that doesn’t look too great.

      For a more professional finish a regular-style roller with an ultra-short pile will be better. Mohair rollers were traditionally used for applying gloss although they can be expensive.

      For any fibre-based roller though, you can’t use them from new because there will always be some degree of loose material that will work its way into the paint. It’s best to break a roller in for a while, using it for emulsion or undercoat only until all the loose stuff has worked its way out.

      Obviously, for one time use, this isn’t going to be practical. I’d say stick with the foam rollers really.

      Also, worth pointing out, for a proper pro-finish you should only use a roller for applying the paint but finish by ‘laying-off’ (side to side and then up and down) with the tips of a traditional paint brush to get rid of the afore-mentioned orange peel effect.

      A bit of practice is required to develop a good technique but it is worth the effort for the result you’ll achieve.

  2. using a new brush and new paint, get small particles like sand in the coat of paint. Using oil based Dulux Once Satinwood.

    • Bit late now Paul but never use a new brush with a gloss or satinwood finish. You should wash out thoroughly and only use on emulsions, primers and undercoats for the first few times.

      New brushes should have a warning label on them.

  3. The bitterness of poor quality, far outlasts the sweetness of low prices!
    College lecturers are often heard telling their students “Buy the best tools you can afford”.

  4. How can I achieve clean lines when painting between ceiling and walls? I have used tape but still have a gap in the corners.

    • Run a pencil lightly across the point where the walls and ceiling meet and this will give you a guideline to work to. If you’re not an experienced painter it may take a bit of practice to paint exactly to the line but, with a bit of practice, it’s easier than you think.

      Ideally, use a hard pencil to make a fine line that can only just be seen and paint just over it so it can’t be seen afterwards. You may find thinning the paint a little will help you control the brush more accurately.

    • My preference is Purdy; some other painters like Wooster brushes or Hamilton. It also depends how often you are going to be using the brushes because if you are only going to be using for a one-off project it sometimes makes sense just buy some cheap brushes for the job and then throw them away.

      The ones I would avoid would be the B & Q or Dulux own branded brushes because they are still quite expensive but nowhere near as good as the premium brands like Purdy and Wooster.

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