My Most & Least Used Brushes for Watercolor & Gouache

A bunch of my brushes

Now that I’ve put a number of miles on each of my brushes, I can tell by their level of wear which ones are the most used… and which still have their caps on! 

My Most & Least Used Brushes by Category

Wash Brush

Purpose: Watercolor loose skies, backgrounds, wetting an area for wet-on-wet

Most Used: Isabey Petit Gris 6235 Cat’s Tongue #4

Also Great: Rosemary Sienna Oval ½”

Not Used As Much: 

  • Firmer brushes; I like my washes very soft.
  • Princeton Neptune is not quite as preferred, but is do-able.
  • Larger or smaller brushes of the same type. There’s something about the ½” or so size that is perfect for me. Quick to cover a whole page, but not sloppy or puddly. 

Medium Pointed Round

Purpose: Everyday painting and swatching in both watercolor and gouache

Watercolor Most Used: Rosemary Pure Sable Series 99 or Rosemary Sable Blend Series 401, #6 or #8

Gouache Most Used: Princeton Velvetouch #6 or #8; Rosemary Beginner Series 201 #8

Swatching Most Used: Princeton Velvetouch #4 or #6

Not Used As Much: 

  • Large rounds; #10 is borderline and #12 is too large. Perhaps this would be different if I worked on larger paper, but I also find these brushes a bit difficult to work with because of the amount of water they release. Once I get up this large, I typically want to switch to an oval or a flat.
  • Rosemary Red Dot series, which is their synthetic sable. They’re fine, but I find that I typically go for either my real sable/sable blend (for lovely soft brushstrokes) or a firmer synthetic (for gouache, swatching, and nonsense). These sort of fall in the awkward middle between the two. 
  • Any brush with an anonymous black handles which makes them difficult to quickly tell apart (this includes Rosemary Red Dot and Rosemary Pure Sable). I like when brushes have a distinctive handle, so I don’t mix up the various types. For example, I like that the Rosemary Series 401 have wooden handles, the Rosemary Beginner Series 201 have hot pink handles, and the Princeton Velvetouch have dark red handles.
  • Princeton Heritage is just a bit less preferred than Princeton Velvetouch as it is less springy.
  • Princeton Neptune, Rosemary Sienna, Black Velvet, or other soft synthetic squirrel brushes (or smaller petit gris brushes) are not springy enough for me, even for watercolor.
  • Long rounds with extra-long bristles. I find them weird. Save it for liners.

Small Pointed Round

Purpose: Small details in watercolor and gouache

Watercolor Most Used: Escoda Reserva Kolinsky Sable #2, Rosemary Sable Blend Series 401 #2, or Rosemary Sable Blend Series 401 #4

Gouache Most Used: Princeton Velvetouch #2 or Princeton Velvetouch #4


  • #2 is ideal for small details and #4 is a bit of a middle ground between detail and regular that I find useful.
  • I don’t see enough difference between #2 and #3 to justify the brainspace on choosing between them.
  • #1 and smaller are too small IMO – they just run out of water or paint immediately. Might be different if I was painting on even smaller, mini pieces of paper.


Purpose: Long, fine lines

Most Used: Grumbacher Goldenedge Liner #2 (I haven’t tried many, this was a recommendation by Mind of Watercolor and I like it fine)

Not Used As Much:

  • Larger or smaller sizes. Size 1 seems to fizzle out of water immediately while size 3 or larger don’t get a fine line as easily. 


Purpose: Gouache skies, watercolor or gouache large areas, square-shaped areas, pointed shapes

Most Used: Winsor & Newton Series 995 ½” or ¾”

Not Used As Much: 

  • Princeton Velvetouch or Rosemary Beginner Series 201, my usual go-tos for synthetic, struck me as being too firm in this case, and not holding enough water. I like them in rounds but in flats they seem to go drybrush almost immediately. 995 series is still synthetic but has a slightly softer touch which lets me spread water and thin paint more evenly. 
  • 1” flats; just too large for the paper sizes I usually work on.

Note: I have used flats more in gouache and have only recently started in watercolor, so I haven’t tried many brands or types. I think I might like to experiment with Rosemary Red Dot flats (what I consider an “awkward middle ground” between soft and firm in rounds might actually be good for me in flats), sable flats (if I get really into doing watercolor with flats), and smaller flats.

Water Brush

Purpose: Travel/plein air with watercolor

Most Used: Pentel Aquash Medium

Not Used as Much:

  • Kuretake/Niji. Many people prefer this one because it’s got a stopper while the Pentel is just a little dribbly all the time. I can’t fault that, but I still find the Kuretake hard to get my head around. The stopper makes it harder to fill, and the way it releases water when you squeeze it seems less useful to me. While the Pentel can release more or less water depending on how much you squeeze it, the Kuretake has only one mode: it drips one giant drop from the side that is much too large (in my opinion) to directly put on the page or even onto my palette. I have found that I should only squeeze the pen when I am hovering over my cloth to clean it. If I want extra water for my background or my palette, I’m SOL. I’ll acknowledge that the stopper aspect does solve certain problems (like how Pentel always dilutes the paint a bit too much) but I find it doesn’t suit my intuition very well.
  • Also the standard Kuretake is right out, as it is just too long to fit in my pocket toolkit. The compact one fits, but it harder to find in stores. They also have a mini which is ludicrously small and runs out of water too fast.
  • Likewise, the Pentel mini is simply too small.
  • Any brush pen with a larger or smaller brush head. Medium is correct.

Entire Categories of Brush That I Don’t Really Use

  • Asymmetrical shapes like dagger or angled flat. Can’t get my head around it.
  • Fancy shapes like fan. Too limited use case.
  • Mop brushes, hake brushes, or any large brush that is not flat. Many people like these. I find they make water control too difficult.
  • Textured foliage brushes with different length bristles (premade or DIY with scissors). I seem to get better results from a regular brush that is old and scruffy, but not intentionally damaged.
  • Travel brushes (i.e. regular brushes with a clever cap that turns into a handle). I have a few that I’m going to keep in case I start doing plein air with regular brushes… but so far the convenience of my water brush wins out, even though it looks worse. Worse comes to worse I can just use these at home and not take advantage of the travel feature.
  • Escoda Versatil. This is probably my least liked brush that I tried.

Bonus: Brush Pens

Brush pens aren’t really brushes, but I decided to decide which of these I like too. Here’s my test sheet.

They’re all good! I think it comes down to preference of feel:

  • Kuretake feels firmest and most conducive to making angular shapes
  • Tombow Funenosuke feels like a felt tip pen
  • The three widths of Zebra Zensations have different feels: the dark gray thick one feels like a felt tip, the light gray medium one has a softer brushy feel, and the thin blue one has a firmer feel.

My personal favorites were the Zebra medium and fine (light gray and blue). The brushy light gray one is the hardest to write ordinary text with, but I like it for large stylized script or drawing. The fine blue one is similar to the Kuretake that I tested first, but seems more conducive to making rounded shapes. To me personally, this looks more like “my” handwriting.


If I were to buy a brand new set of brushes from scratch, this would be my shopping list:

  • Isabey Petit Gris 6235 Cat’s Tongue #4
  • Rosemary Sable Blend Series 401 Pointed Rounds #2, #4, #6, #8 (just #2 and #6 if saving money)
  • Princeton Velvetouch Pointed Rounds #2, #4, #6, #8 (just #4 and #6 if saving money)
  • Grumbacher Goldenedge Liner #2 (not a strong brand preference here)
  • Winsor & Newton 995 Flats ½” and ¾”
  • Rosemary Red Dot Long Flat 1/4″ or 3/8″ ????? (experimental)
  • Pentel Aquash Medium water brush