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Anatomy Of A Brush – Synthetic Innovations

The creation of a quality paintbrush involves skills perfected over centuries. Although some of the processes have become automated over time, many aspects of a brush are still manufactured by hand. I have been designing brushes for over 20 years and the craftsmen I have worked with are experts at synthetic innovation and evolution.  The same brushmaker I work with today, brought synthetics to the market many years ago and continues to invent new synthetic treatments and methods to ensure maximum performance.

The part of the brush that does the painting is commonly divided into two types: natural hair and synthetic filament. The quality of the brush and what the brush is best used for are dependent on hair type, blend, and construction. At Willow Wolfe we only use synthetic filaments that are treated to rival that of natural hair.

Natural Hair
Natural hair is made from animals. Sable is soft with a fine tapered point and “flags,” which are similar to split ends, allowing them to hold colour and spread evenly.  Hog Bristle is a stiffer, coarse, natural hair that often has flagged tips for heavier bodied paint.  New synthetics are far less expensive and rival that of natural hair. Natural tends to break easily and wear quickly.  It is also expensive and becoming increasingly rare. Of critical importance is the fact that synthetic is cruelty-free.

Due to production requirements and the high cost of many types of natural hair, synthetic filaments were created from man-made materials.  They have changed over the years and there are many misconceptions about synthetics.  The diameter of a synthetic filament and the blend of different filaments affects how soft or stiff a brush is and how the brush performs with various media. New treatments to synthetic filaments further amplify their performance.  Treated synthetics can hold more colour than ever before and outlast natural hair.

Examples of Synthetic Hair Type and Blend

Crimped Wave Synthetic is found in many of our mops. It is crimped to mimic the shape and movement of natural hair.  However, it is not just the blend and treatment which ensures a whisper soft finish. It is also the expert tapering used in our mops.  They are so soft, this synthetic blend and the way the shapes are tapered, feel similar to the fine softness of chinchilla.   This brush is recommended for softening and blending, decoupage, and varnish because it shows minimal brushstrokes.

Cultured Synthetic Sable is used in our Chisel Blenders, Filberts, Wash and Flats to name a few and have a blend of different size synthetic filaments that allows for even paint distribution and flow throughout the bristles. The synthetic filament is etched to produce pockets which hold more water and pigment for exceptional flow and spring.  The brush holds paint and water and releases evenly due to the pockets.  In addition, the blend of different diameters offers exceptional spring and snap to our brushes.

The CALLIA Dodo Drybrush, Peak Drybrush and Dome Drybrush are comprised of stiff synthetic filaments with flagged tips much like split ends and this filament is called Flagged Synthetic Bristle. This blend allows paint to settle on the outside of the hair, while at the same time distributing the paint evenly throughout the bristles for textured effects. Can you imagine how innovative and inventive it was for these master brushmakers’ to learn how to split the tops of each synthetic strand. A truly remarkable innovation.

The CALLIA Fine Round uses an incredibly smooth synthetic, created with a fine taper. The paint and water flow easily from the tip with incredible control due to


Interlocked filaments as they are used today are created using heat to set the shape of the brush. This process is critical to performance.

Handle and Ferrule
The handle of a paintbrush is frequently made of wood, and several brush lines use environmentally conscious coatings on the wood. Brushes with short handles allow you to get in close for detail work. For that and their handle balance, short- handle brushes are recommended for many applications. However, for working on canvas where a long handle is preferred, our new brush line SENECA is perfect.  Handle balance involves the thickness of the handle in the mid-section and how it tapers to a point, making the brush comfortable in the hand. Our brush lines have several painted layers including primer, paint and finish coating to prevent cracking.

The ferrule is the metal band that connects the brush head to the handle and is usually glued on both ends and crimped near the handle. A good quality brass ferrule will resist corrosion.

Have you experimented with different paintbrushes for your art? If not, I hope that this article has shed some light on the topic.

With Love,



Written By:

Willow Wolfe

Willow Wolfe is widely recognized for challenging and modernizing today’s world of art supplies and education. An award-winning art teacher and the author of a library of internationally available learn to paint books and articles, her approachable style and step-by-step painting methods have taken her to events, seminars and engagements across the globe.

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