For probably 1000s of years, brushes were made with wooden stocks and animal hairs, mostly pig bristle, vegetable fibres and horsehair. Of these, pig bristle was most widely used as it has the most suitable properties for use in painting;
Paint pick up; being a natural product it has a cell structure which allows paint to be absorbed easily which means more paint delivery per load-up.
Smooth delivery; bristle hair has a natural taper. This means that paint will flow smoothly to the tip rather than delivering all at once (“dumping”) as do straight filaments. This allows for precision when painting and is especially useful when cutting in.
Smooth finish; hair is split naturally at the ends. These split ends (“flags”) give bristle very fine points. As with tapered filaments this helps with precise painting.
In recent years, however, synthetic filaments have largely overtaken natural bristle. This is due mainly to paints changing from being oil based to being water-based as water tends to make bristle curl and therefore makes painting more difficult.
Synthetic filaments are for the most part made with nylons and polyesters and are produced with different profiles and stiffness/softness in order to maintain the properties found in bristle ( paint pick-up, smooth delivery of paint, smooth finish) but for use with water-based paints as well as oil-based.
A good brush maker will know how to blend different filaments to achieve the same performance characteristics as natural bristle. At Pioneer, we have spent many years in researching different filaments and testing to find the best blends.
Our Technofil mixture is a good example of this; typically we will have three layers all angle cut to give a smooth construction to the brush head. At the lower level, we use highly absorbent filaments such X cross shape to increase paint pick up.
In the middle levels, we use solid round filaments to give good bend recovery. At the top level, we use flaggable filaments to recreate the split hairs of natural bristle. In all, a balance of natural bristle properties but for water-based paints as well as oil.
Paintbrush filament technology – by Peter Samuel of Pioneer Brush.