What are a water brushes, you ask? It’s simply a paintbrush with a water reservoir in the handle, eliminating the need for a cup of water while you work.
With just a gentle squeeze of the handle you can force water down the nib and through the bristles. Then with just a paper towel, you can clean your brush with just a few swipes or add a few drops into your watercolors.
Water brushes are wonderful to use with watercolor paints, water-based markers, water-soluable pencils, and Perfect Pearls. I literally “don’t leave home without them,” as there is always a water brush in my travel craft kit. For the purposes of this article, I’ll be comparing four different different brands so that you can decide which one may be the best for you!
The four brands of water brushes are Koi, Pentel, Niji, and Yakutome. Each one has certain advantages and disadvantages- some have more sophisticated water-delivery systems, some are meant for traveling, and some hold more water in the handle than others.
The first I’ll cover is the most basic and least expensive of the bunch, the Yasutomo water brush. It’s also the one I’m most familiar with- I bought a set of them at our local scrapbooking store and have used them for years!
The Yasutomo water brushes come in small, medium, and large size brushes (the water reservoir is the same on each size, by the way) and has the most basic system for filtering the water from the reservoir into the brush tip- just a small hole. The handle is a smooth and pliable plastic that’s easy to squeeze to coax a few drops of water into the brush. However, since the water-delivery system is so primitive, it’s hard to regulate the water flow.
Now as I mentioned, the brushes I’ve had I’ve used for years- mostly because I didn’t think much about it. So on one hand, I can say that they are durable, but the brushes themselves aren’t great quality. As you can see in the photo above, the water brush bristles are a little frayed and doesn’t really have a tip anymore. I only use this brush for “washes” of color- it’s not really good for detail work.
I found the Yasutomo water brushes for between $5-8 USD, depending on the size of the brush and are available at some local stores. I couldn’t even find them online- maybe this version is discontinued?
Next up…. Aquash Water Brushes by Pentel!
The Aquash water brushes are a little more sophisticated- as you can see, there is an extra nib inside the brush mechanism, that allows the water to wick up from the handle to brush tip, much the way a fountain pen draws ink to the nib. The Aquash water brush also has really nice nylon bristles that are tapered to a fine tip. The one I used for this review was the medium brush tip, yet it was so finely tapered I was able to do some very fine work.
The other advantage to the Pentel Aquash water brush is the handle shape. First of all, the handle is slightly flattened on one side to prevent your water brush from rolling away from you! Secondly, there is a bulb in the middle of the handle that a) fits nicely into the hand ergonomically and b) holds extra water! A gentle squeeze of the bulb forces extra water up through the nib when you want to wet your paints or clean out your brush. Love this feature!Â These water brushes by Pentel are available on their site and retail for $5.90 USD for the fine tip, the $6.50USD for the medium tip, and $7.90USD for the large brush tip. All hold the same amount of water, by the way, and all feature that fine tapered tip I mentioned. Sweet! But don’t rule out finding these on other websites for less- shop around!
Next, let’s talk about the Niji Water Brush, made by Yasutomo. I have a feeling that these are the new version of my tried-and-true waterbrushes.
This brush also has nice tapered tip made with nylon bristles. It has a plastic tube to aid the water flow from the handle into the tip, but it doesn’t wick as readily as the Pentel version. The handle is made of soft, easy-to-squeeze plastic and holds a nice amount of liquid. I tried it out by dipping the brush directly into a pot of Perfect Pearls and painting on paper:
I also used this waterbrush with my water-based marker set- I scribbled some marker on a piece of deli-wrap, then used the Niji water brush to pick up the color and use it like a watercolor paint on this Zentagle I’m working on:
It really is a wonderful way to control the intensity of a marker- and the water brush is the key!Â I liked the tip and felt the water flow was good when I cleaned off the tip. The medium-tipped brush runs between $6.00 and $8.00 USD on various websites, so it’s comparable to the Aquash.
Lastly I thought I’d try the “mini” version of a water brush – the Koi Travel water brush made by Sakura of America.
This little dynamo has nylon bristles in a very tight taper. Just by feel, these seemed to be the highest-quality brush tip- the bristles were very tightly packed and the tip very pointy- perfect for detail work! This tip also features the same high-quality nib that I mentioned that you’ll find in a fountain pen.
Since this is meant for traveling, there is a small plastic plug to screw into the handle- then the nib has a cap so that you can carry your brush in two parts, and it’s only 3 inches worth of space. By the way, even the travel water brushes come in small, medium, and large brush sizes.
Even the the barrel is small, it held enough water to complete the above project with water left over. So if you are pressed for space, this one is a gem! The one I demonstrated with is a medium tip, which retails from $5-7 USD, depending on where you can find it.
I have to say, I think the Koi is the highest-quality water brush- so if you aren’t put off my re-filling, this may be a great option.
Overall, though, I have to say the Pentel Aquash is my personal favorite- the handle holds extra water, the nib and bristles are great, and the bulb feels great in the hand.
No matter which one you pick, though, I recommend you have at least ONE waterbrush on your work table. My crafty friend Jen also reminded me that you can fill a water brush with Ranger Blending Solution to use with your alcohol inks- isn’t that a great idea? She demonstrates how she does it here.
I’d love to hear from you about the brand of water brush you use, or other ways you use it…. feel free to leave a comment below!
UPDATE 7/12/2012: I’ve had a few recent comments about travel watercolor kits, and I’d like to remind you all that I did a comparison of “reasonably priced” travel kits here: http://www.crafttestdummies.com/craft-product-reviews/comparison-of-travel-watercolor-kits/
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