Waterbrush Comparison: Which is the Best?

Waterbrush comparison - 02

Here's a comparison of various popular waterbrushes that artists use.

What are waterbrush good for?

A waterbrush is actually a brush with a water reservoir behind. It's a very convenient tool for artists on the go, especially those use sketchbooks. You have the best of both worlds with the versatility of using a brush without having to bring a separate water supply.

Waterbrushes are best used on smaller pieces of work, and for me that would be smaller than A4. For A4 and larger, I prefer normal brushes because they can control washes more easily. For example, to make a large even wash, with a normal brush, you can use reload with the pre-mixed colours and can be sure that each stroke is of the same intensity. With a waterbrush, even if you pre-mix and reload, water inside the reservoir will continue to flow, affecting the intensity.

One of the main challenges of using the waterbrush controlling the water flow. Getting a flat or gradated wash is certainly possible with a waterbrush but it requires practise.

The other challenge is cleaning the waterbrush when you can to switch colour. This involves wiping the bristles with tissue to get the paint out. Usually I will wipe, then squeeze some water, and wipe again until the bristles are relatively clean. Cleaning a normal brush of course is as easy as cleaning it in a container of water but you have to have bring a container.

The waterbrushes compared

The waterbrushes that I'll compare are in the photo above, from left to right, we have

I've put two pocket brushes to compare the size. They are actually all pretty small and can fit into a pencil case without any trouble. The Holbein one might feel a bit tight because it's long. None of the waterbrushes can fit into the 12 half pan watercolour box except for the Da Vinci Maestro pocket brush.

By the way, the "large", "medium" and "small" refers to the size of the brush tip and not the size of the brush.

Waterbrush comparison - 03
These waterbrushes all use synthetic bristles. There are actually waterbrushes that use a mixture of synthetic and animal hair, but I found them to be of poor quality because the hair keeps falling out, and they leak.

Among the waterbrushes I have, Holben's the only one that use white coloured bristles, the rest are transparent bristles. I prefer white bristles compared to transparent ones because they look and feel more artificial although in terms of performance there's not much difference.

The bristles all taper to a point. For detail work, the transparent bristles are sharper while the Holbein is more difficult to control, relatively speaking.

The largest brush, Holbein in this case, is about size 6 of a normal brush. The normal brush has more of a belly shape to hold water.

Let's go through them one by one listing the pro and cons in point form.

Waterbrush comparison - 04
Derwent waterbrush
+ Brush tip comes in three sizes: small, medium and chisel
+ Waterbrushes are numbered so that you can identify the brush tip to pick
+ The squarish cap base prevents the waterbrush from rolling around on the table
+ The body holds a decent amount of water
+ Nice sharp point
- Body a bit tough to squeeze
- No breather holes in the ferrule. Pigment will get pulled back into the ink reservoir

Waterbrush comparison - 05
+ Brush tip comes in three sizes: small, medium and large
+ Cap is transparent so you can see the brush tip inside
+ 9ml model holds a decent amount of water
+ Nice sharp point
- 4ml model is too short, awkward to hold, like a short pencil
- 4ml model does not hold a lot of water.
- No breather holes in the ferrule. Pigment will get pulled back into the ink reservoir

Waterbrush comparison - 06
Niji - Recommended
+ Brush tip comes in four sizes: small, medium, large and flat
+ Cap is transparent so you can see the brush tip inside
+ Body holds a decent amount of water
+ Nice sharp point
- Small cap inside the body makes it inconvenient to refill water from running tap.

Niji is actually made by Kuretake Japan, the company that makes the popular brush pens.

By the way, this is a waterbrush that's commonly rebranded and sold. Meaning, I've bought a few other waterbrushes under other brands and they all turn out to be Kuretake. You can identify Niji/Kuretake brushes easily by the useless clip they stick on the cap.

Waterbrush comparison - 11
This is the filter cap you'll see when you unscrew the Niji body. The major downside is that small black-coloured filter cap that acts a filter to the body. There's a tiny hole that provides and control water when you squeeze the body.

If you want to refill from a running tap, you'll have to remove that filter cap, a task for those with longer finger nails. You can still refill without removing that cap but it involves dipping the opening into water and squeezing the body to suck water up, and that's not easy to refill the entire body.

And you cannot use the waterbrush without that filter cap because when you screw the body to the grip, that connection is not airtight, squeezing the body will cause the water to leak from the threads.

Waterbrush comparison - 08
I usually bring a few Niji waterbrushes out because of the inconvenience of refilling. Actually, I usually bring spare waterbrushes out for other brands as well so as not to refill water while I'm outdoors.

Notice those clips on the cap? They are stuck to the cap and you can't actually use them as normal pen clips. Peculiar design choice.

Waterbrush comparison - 07
Holbein - Recommended
+ Brush tip comes in two sizes: medium and large
+ Cap is transparent so you can see the brush tip inside
+ Body holds a decent amount of water. More than other brands
+ White coloured bristles feel less artificial than transparent ones
- Bristles are thick and not easy to use for detail work
- Gets worn out quite fast
- Not easy to find in western countries

Holbein is my favourite waterbrush because of the white bristles even though it has quite a few disadvantage. My next favourite would be Pentel waterbrushes.

Pentel - Recommended
+ Brush tip comes in three sizes: small, medium and large
+ Different coloured caps differentiates the brush sizes
+ The body holds a decent amount of water
+ Nice sharp point
- Medium-size does not have breather holes

Waterbrush comparison - 09
This is a stopper you see in some of the waterbrushes capped to the body. It's useless and you can throw it away.

Waterbrush comparison - 10
For some waterbrushes, water might come out from the ferrule that holds the bristles rather than out from the bristles. Shown above is the Sakura waterbrush. Quite a few waterbrushes do that so take note.

Be careful not to squeeze the waterbrush too hard or the water will drop at unexpected places, affecting your artwork.

I normally use waterbrushes with watersoluble media such as coloured pencils, watersoluble graphite. For watercolours, I prefer normal brushes even if I have to be inconvenienced by bring a separate container of water for washing the brush. For sketchbooks, waterbrushes are great.

In the photo above, I've fitted a Da Vinci Maestro pocket brush inside the watercolour box.

Video review

Here's the video review to see the waterbrushes in action.

Waterbrushes offer the convenience of normal brushes with a built-in water supply. They perform more or less the same. Main difference is just design of the body and bristles.

In order of preference, I would go with Holbein first. Then it's a mix between Pentel, Sakura and Derwent. Then Niji because of its refilling system.

If you do detail work, I recommend Pentel or Sakura.


All links below are direct links to the items on Amazon.

Pentel Aquash waterbrush (US | CA | UK | DE | FR | IT | ES | JP)

Sakura waterbrush (US | CA | UK | DE | FR | IT | ES | JP)

Derwent waterbrush (US | CA | UK | DE | FR | IT | ES | JP)

Niji waterbrush (US | CA | UK | DE | FR | IT | ES | JP)

Holbein waterbrush - Difficult to find, even on eBay.

Search Jackson's Art Supplies (UK) and Utrecht Art Supplies (USA) too.

That little black cap is great if you want to remove the tip section from the body when you store it in your pack. (which I do) - It ensures that the brush won't leak. Sakura has them and of the ones I've tried they are my favourite because they do great detail work plus they are long lasting. They hold their shape - whereas Derwent (for example) lost it's shape after a few usings.

I think the weird not-clip on the Niji pens is actually a combination anti-roll and anti-choking feature. You'll notice the Derwent caps also have small holes in the corners, like ballpoint pen caps, so you can still breathe if the caps become lodged in your airway.

In reply to by Nancy (not verified)

Now that you mention it, it does make sense. I guess the clip isn't as useful as a pen clip. Maybe people don't use the waterbrush clip like a pen clip.

Hi. I like the kuretake waterbrushes. They are straight sided and fit in my pen case. You can easily fill them with the black plug in by holding under a running tap and squeeze until they squirt water.
I usually have a couple in my kit filled with diluted ink. You need to pull the plug out to do this.

You can see my use of them on Instagram @digger_71

In reply to by Aleesha Sattva (not verified)

Aleesha you commented on the water brush with a little black cap to keep it from leaking. Could you please send me a link to that very brush cause i cannot find it anywhere.
thank you
ps this in reference to Parka blogs video on the best water brushes from August 2017

Pentel was my pick until I got the Caran D'ache medium water brush. I find they don't continuously dispense water as quickly as the Pentel. The only thing I don't like is that the Caran D'ache fine size isn't a brush. It's actually a stiff fiber tip not unlike a marker's tip. It does the job of being a fine tip, but I find it is just too abrasive on my paper. I liked that the Pentel dispenses a large amount of water more quickly, but maybe that's part of why the Caran D'ache doesn't do that continuous leak thing that the other water brushes do.

Thanks for the detailed comparison. You say the largest Holbein corresponds to a #6. Could you estimate a few of the others, particularly the Pentels? I have a set of Pentel but don't have any traditional brushes to compare. (Yes, I am very new at this!)

I got a very small brush in my Koi travel size wc and it has the black plug. I LOVE this black plug because I can actually store this pen with water in it in two pieces inside my Altoid mint can paint set up. It's SO tiny. I would like to have another one. but don't know where to find it.

Hi! Is it possible to ask about the amount of pressure it takes to get the water out for these? I love the convenience of water brushes but I'm more used to traditional brushes and find it annoying when the water squeezes out when I don't want it to.

In reply to by Par (not verified)

The water won't flow until you apply the stroke. It's not going to drip water on its own. And if you need more water, you squeeze.

In reply to by Teoh Yi Chie

Thank you for answering! It must just be mine then. The bristles on my brush are never dry because of a constant flow of water and it's a little inconvenient at times. I'll look into some of the ones you recommended. Thank you!

In reply to by Par (not verified)

If you use the waterbrush without squeezing, it would still always be wet because the water will replace those that you used. But if you hold the waterbrush vertical with bristles pointing down, it should not leak or drip.

Thanks for these reviews. It really helps when trying to purchase supplies that one actually will use. Question: Where did you get that wonderful pencil case in the eleventh picture of this article...it's brown, soft, folds flat and open, holds many pencils.
I've been looking for something like that. thank you so much!

I work for Holbein Canada and don’t understand the hard to find comment. We literally ship hundreds of our brushes out to our customer stores every month. All of which are linked through our website.

In reply to by Brett Danvers (not verified)

I agree about Kuretake/ZIG/Niji waterbrushes, they are definitely very easy to fill under a running tap without removing the black plug. In fact, I had them for years, use them almost daily and never once removed the black plug for any reason.

Just put them under running water and squeeze 2-3 times and they're full.

Hi Teoh! Wondering if your review/opinion of different waterbrushes has changed in the last few years, since this review is from 7 years ago... Are there any changes, or any new brands that are better but less expensive than Pentel? Any thoughts you have would be great!

In reply to by yesha (not verified)

I still like the Holbein over the Pentel. Both are good brush pens. The Pentel one is not that expensive. Anyway, it's best to get a brand that's easy for you to replace cheaply.

Hi Teoh- Could you tell me the brand of the pencil roll in ypur photo. Just what I'm looking for. Thank you!

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