The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







Different styles of paintbrushes
Different styles of paintbrushes

The term brush refers to a variety of devices with bristles, used for cleaning, grooming hair or painting. See below for other, less common meanings.


Brushes for cleaning

Brushes used for cleaning come in various forms and sizes, such as very small brushes for cleaning a fine instrument, toothbrushes, the larger household version that usually comes with a dustpan or a broomstick. Some brushes, usually used for professional cleaning could be even bigger, like some hallbrooms, used for cleaning wider areas. A very important usage of cleaning brushes can be found in the industry. Thousands of different cleaning brushes can be found in the food industry (brushes for cleaning vegetables) for example. Those brushes are unique ones, made specially for a given machine.

Paint brushes

Paint brushes are used for applying ink or paint. These are usually made by clamping the bristles to a handle with a ferrule.

Paint brush can also refer to the digital equivalent one would find in a bitmap graphics editor, i.e. a virtual brush that can modify a digital picture.

Paint brushes can have three shapes:

  • Round: The long, closely arranged bristles of these brushes enable them to hold more paint than other similarly sized but differently shaped brushes. This is why many artists prefer them for painting large areas and for color washes.
  • Flat: These spread paint well
  • Fan-shaped: These mix paint well.

Brush care

  • Paint must be cleaned from brushes immediately after use. This is especially true for oil and acrylic paint because removing dry, set residue can take bristles off or ruin a brush's shape.
  • Never leave brushes bristle-end down in a container of water, turpentine, or any other solvent (if you want to clean them, do it by hand or with a wet cloth). This is because the bristles of the brush spread out against the bottom of the container and, will, if left too long, set that way (like hair).

Sizes and materials

Decorators' brushes

The sizes of brushes used for painting and decorating, usually given in mm or inches, refer to the width of the head.

Common sizes are:

  • ⅛ in,  in, ⅜ in,  in, ⅝ in,  in, ⅞ in, 1 in, 1 in, 1 in, 2 in, 2 in, 3 in, 3 in, 4 in.
  • 10 mm, 20 mm, 30 mm, 40 mm, 50 mm, 60 mm, 70 mm, 80 mm, 90 mm, 100 mm.

Bristles may be natural or synthetic.

Handles may be wood or plastic; ferrules are metal (usually nickel-plated steel).

Artists' brushes

Artists' brushes are usually given numbered sizes, although there is no exact standard for their physical dimensions.

From smallest to largest, the sizes are:

  • 7/0 (also written 0000000), 6/0, 5/0, 4/0, 000, 00, 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 16, 18, 20, 22, 24, 25, 26, 28, 30.

Sizes 000 to 20 are most common.

Bristles may be natural -- either soft hair or hog bristle -- or synthetic.

  • Soft hair brushes are made from Kolinsky sable or ox hair (sabeline); or more rarely, squirrel, pony, goat, or badger. Cheaper hair is sometimes called camel hair... but doesn't come from camels.
  • Hog bristle is stiffer and stronger than soft hair. It may be bleached or unbleached.
  • Synthetic bristles are made of special multi-diameter extruded nylon filament.

Artists' brush handles are commonly wooden, but the cheapest brushes may have moulded plastic handles. Many mass-produced handles are made of unfinished raw wood; better quality handles are of seasoned hardwood. The wood is sealed and lacquered to give the handle a high-gloss, waterproof finish that reduces soiling and swelling.

Metal ferrules may be of aluminum, nickel, copper, or nickel-plated steel. Quill ferrules are also found: these give a different "feel" to the brush.

Landscapes and golf

Brush can also refer to untamed grassy areas, as well as so-called "Transitional Zones "—areas between canopy forests and field type habitats.

In golf, it is synonymous with the "rough"—the area outside the fairway.

Computer graphics

Additionally, in 3D computer game development, brushes are the solid polyhedrons that make up the level geometry.


In electric technology, it is often necessary to make an electrically conductive connection between a stationary wire and a moving part, most commonly a rotating shaft. Most importantly, in an electric motor or an electric generator, the coils of the rotor have to be connected. To accomplish this, two metal (usually copper) rings a affixed on the shaft and springs press small carbon blocks --called brushes-- onto the rings which conduct the current. As the brushes are slowly abrased they might have to be replaced, provided this is possible at all.

(If the copper rings are split in parts with "interlaced" connections, you get an arrangement called a commutator.)


A large, bushy tail of an animal (particularly a fox) is sometimes called a brush.


Brush, Colorado is a town in the USA.

Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04