This story is a gallery of the most common brushes and paint pads available.
What has been said about the use of high-quality primers and paints also goes for the tools you use to apply them. Applying a coat of expensive top coat with a bargain-basement brush undermines your effort. High-quality brushes and paint pads not only get the paint on the wall more evenly and with less effort, they will produce more-durable and better-looking results. Quality brushes apply paint in a thicker, smoother film, which results in maximum hiding and a uniform sheen. Conversely, lower-quality brushes often leave ridges in the paint where dirt can collect and mildew can grow. Paint with brushmarks in it can fail earlier in the thin spots.
Brushes are categorized by the material used in the bristles.
Natural-bristle brushes, made from boar's hair, should be used only when applying oil-base paints. Their natural oils let paint flow out smoothly. If you use a natural-bristle brush with a latex paint, the bristles, which are hollow, will soak up a large amount of the water in the paint and will quickly become limp and unmanageable.
Synthetic-bristle brushes, made from nylon, polyester, or a nylon-polyester mix, can be used to apply all latex paints, and many can also be used with alkyd coatings. Nylon will retain its shape longer when you're faced with a large paint job requiring latex paint. Some synthetic brushes have hollow bristles; they are made solely for the application of oil-base paints, not latex.
Paintbrushes have more jobs to do than simply get the paint on the wall. The best brushes will do these things:
-- give you the best paint pickup (paint loads quickly and evenly)
-- provide the best transfer (put as much paint on the wall with one stroke as possible, and do it smoothly)
-- level effortlessly (leave a smooth film without brush marks)
-- cut in sharply (create a sharp straight paint line)
Quality brushes have split or flagged ends that are flexible, qualities which help produce a smoother finish. The bristles are tapered, with those in the center slightly longer than those at the edge. There should be a divider at the heel of the bristles to provide a reservoir for the paint. Quality brushes feature bristles at least half as long as they are wide (for example, the bristles on a 2-inch-wide brush should be at least 3 inches long).
A bare wood handle, rather than plastic or painted wood, will give you a better, more comfortable grip (which you'll be grateful for after cutting in the edges of a wall for an hour). A quality brush should be bound with a rust-resistant metal ferrule that is nailed on, not just crimped to the handle.
You can get by with just one brush when painting, but a collection of several sizes will serve you better. A 4-inch brush with bristles 3/4 to 1 inch thick is good for general exterior painting; a 3-inch brush will do for most interior painting. Use a 2-inch brush to cut in corners for interior work. And get a 1- to 2 1/2-inch angled sash brush for interior and exterior trim, window frames, and moldings.
Some paint pads are made of a plastic foam and are often cut in blocks or cut to resemble a paintbrush. Others are made of nylon fabric attached to a foam pad on a plastic plate that snaps in and out of a plastic handle. The pad can be removed from the handle for cleaning and reuse.
The pile of the nylon pad is similar to a roller cover and is about as thick. Paint pads come in different textures and are replaceable. Some professional painters like pads for cutting in at the ceiling line.
Paint pads can be used to apply latex or oil-base paints, stains, and floor finishes. They are not recommended for primers because they do not enable the penetration that brushes do.
Paint pads have one distinct advantage over brushes or rollers: They allow you to get to hard-to-reach spaces, such as corners and behind radiators, where neither brushes nor rollers will fit. Lamb's wool pads are ideal for applying exterior stains because they hold a lot of stain, are relatively dripless, and can be used on rough and textured surfaces.
Pads vary in size from 1 inch square to about 4x9 inches. Some models have wheel guides that are handy when painting against an adjoining wall, trim, or ceiling. Many pads come with their own paint tray and lid.