How to use water brush pens (Complete Guide)

How to use a waterbrush

It’s always exciting to try out new art supplies!! When I first learned about water brushes, also called aqua brushes, I’ll admit I was intrigued. So I got myself some and learned how to use them. In this post, I’m going to share with you a step-by-step guide on how to use water brushes!!

Let’s get into it… 

How do water brushes work?

A water brush, also known as an aqua brush or refillable brush, is a type of paintbrush that comes with its own refillable water cartridge in the handle. It also comes with a cap to protect its bristles which are made with synthetic plastic.

The purpose of these brushes is to make watercolor painting easier! Water brushes work by having their own water supply that is stored in the handle. This way the bristles remain moist and you can paint without needing to use another container for water. 

How to fill a water brush

Before you can paint with your brush, you’ll need to load the handle with clean water. Here’s how:

  1. Unscrew the top of the brush from the handle
  2. Set the cap and the head of the brush aside. 
  3. Hold the handle under running water until it fills up
  4. Screw the head back on tight, remove the cap, and your brush is ready to be used!

How to use water brushes

Water brushes are designed to have their bristles remain moist through a continuous supply of water from the handle. Whenever you need more water, simply squeeze the handle to release moisture into the bristles. The more pressure you apply, the more water will be released. There’s usually a “press here” or “push” phrase written on the handle.

  1. Start by loading the brush with pigment. To do this, place the brush above the paint color you wish to use and squeeze the handle until a drop or two of water is released.
  2. Mix the water with the pigment until you have enough loaded onto your brush. 
  3. Now it’s ready to be used! Paint with it like normal.

The more you work with your brush, the easier it’ll become to tell how much water you need to squeeze out.

how to use a water brush

Cleaning a waterbrush

One of the biggest advantages of using a water brush for watercolor painting is that you don’t need a separate container to rinse them. All you need is a paper towel or cloth! This is because the brush stays moist and the bristles don’t absorb the pigment because they’re made of plastic. Here’s how you can clean your brush when switching colors:

  1.  Using a paper towel or cloth, simply dab the brush and remove the excess pigment
  2. Squeeze the handle to release a drop or two of water then remove the rest of the pigment. 
  3. The brush should now be clean! 
how to clean a water brush step by step for watercolor painting

Wet-on-wet and wet-on-dry with waterbrushes

How to paint wet on wet technique using a refillable brush:

  1.  Fill the handle with clean water 
  2. Squeeze a few drops of water onto the paper and spread it out evenly.
  3. Now it’s time to load your brush with pigment. For more control of the water-to-paint ratio, while loading the brush, squeeze out only one drop at a time. 
  4. Be careful not to squeeze out more water as you’re painting, simply hold the brush without applying pressure.
How to use a water brush wet on wet

How to paint wet on dry using a refillable brush:

  1. Load the bristles with the color you want to use, remember you can control the water-to-paint ratio by controlling how much pressure you apply to squeeze the water out.
  2. Start painting with the wet-on-dry technique, you can create your first strokes then squeeze some water to dilute the mixture as you paint.

Pros and Cons of water brushes


  1.  You no longer need to use a separate container for water
  2. Easy to set up
  3. Cap protects the bristles and prevents water from leaking
  4. Affordable
  5. Small size so it’s easy to pack
  6. You can paint long flowing strokes without having to reload the brush


  1.  Made from plastic, can be easily damaged
  2. Harder to control water-to-paint ratios
  3. Not as comfortable to hold as a traditional brush 

Tips and FAQ

Can you fill a water brush with ink?

You can absolutely fill them with ink! However, it’s best to use water-soluble ink that way the ink doesn’t dry and clog the bristles. They can be very handy when creating calligraphy or illustrations.

What type of work is a water-brush best suited to?

Water brushes are a great option when you want to create quick sketches on the go! This is because they don’t require you to carry a separate container for water to rinse them as opposed to traditional brushes. 

They are also capable of producing a large variety of brushstrokes and techniques!

Can an aqua brush maintain a pointy tip?

The synthetic bristles of an aqua brush can maintain a pointy tip which is useful when painting details. However, unlike a traditional brush, a water brush isn’t as long-lasting and will lose it’s pointy tip with consistent use.

Is it easy to control water-to-paint ratios?

Controlling the water-to-paint ratio is very different when using an aqua brush compared to a traditional brush. This is because the bristles remain wet making it difficult to achieve techniques that require very little moisture such as dry-brushing.

What material are aqua brushes made from?

Most aqua brush bristles are made from synthetic plastic fibers. Although they don’t absorb water like traditional brushes, they still carry lots of moisture thanks to their design to hold water!

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