Black Tulip brush set

Black Tulip

I received a set of watercolor brushes from Zen Art supplies sent to me for evaluation. I thought I might as well write a review on the blog of these brushes.

They call the brush set “Black Tulip” and it contains 6 different brushes with the same design. The brushes are made of synthetic hair and have a black handle with a red and white finish. They call them handmade from Japanese synthetic squirrels and say that they have the same properties as squirrels and sable brushes. They are “perfect for beginners and professional artists” The price for the brushes is on their website € 29.95 (earlier this year the price was 49.95), the set contains 6 different brushes, which means that the average price per brush is about € 5. It is very cheap for these brushes.

The brushes are soft with good elasticity, they have a nice tip

There are two round brushes in this set with sizes 10 and 8, they are far too similar in size. The big one should be at least 12 and the small one should be smaller, maybe 4. Furthermore, there are two flat brushes of size ¾ inches and size 8 respectively, it is a much better choice of size, they are just the right difference. The large one is quite large, although I would have liked to have seen that the large one was 1 inch, but the small flat brush is good in size for a smaller flat. In addition to these, there is a large (¾ inch) flat pointed brush that they call “Cats Tongue” and a rigger to draw lines with, personally these two types of brushes are not something I use.

They call their brushes “synthetic squirrel” something that even appears on every brush. It suggests that they can hold a lot of fluid, let’s test it. I chose a few different brushes of similar size, a top quality sable hair from Da Vinci, a synthetic squirrel from Raphael which they call SoftAqua and an old synthetic rubbish brush without a name that is very worn and scattered.

To test the ability of the different brushes to hold liquid, I painted on the same paper different surfaces of the same size with the different brushes and with only one brush dip in color. the result is disappointing for Black Tulip, they can not paint even near as large an area as Da Vinci or SoftAqua but end up in the same category as my old worn “noname” synthetic brush. Now you can say that such a comparison is unfair, to compare a fairly cheap brush with the best there is, but if you call your brushes “Foux Squirrel”, this commits to a certain quality, even though they are cheap.

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da Vinci Maestro no 8
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Old worn synthetic brush without name no. 8
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Raphael SoftAqua no 0
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Black Tulip round no. 8
The ability to hold a lot of liquid is important for a watercolor brush
Left to right: da Vinci Maestro No. 8 – Raphael SoftAqua No. 0 – Old worn synthetic brush without name No. 8 – Black Tulip round No. 8.

The ability to hold a lot of liquid is important for a watercolor brush but it is not the only thing that counts, elasticity, tip and precision are also important properties for a brush. Black Tulip are very compliant, they have a fantastic tip and are quite elastic. The shape of the round brushes is very pointed, but in a way that I find somewhat difficult to handle, it requires a lot of precision in handling to give a good result, but if you gradually learn to master them, the tip works great.

Black Tulip round no. 10
Black Tulip round no. 10

Synthetic squirrel hair brushes have a tendency to spread and the hair splits at certain types of brush strokes, a property that I find very annoying. Raphael’s SoftAqua behaves like this, Escoda Ultimo does the same but it is a feature that Black Tulip completely lacks. The reason is that all so-called synthetic squirrel hair brushes use hair that is developed to hold a lot of liquid, a property that they share with real squirrel hair, with this comes other properties such as that the hair divides like a fan at fast, short brush strokes. The reason why Black Tulip does not behave is simply that they are just synthetic squirrels by name, they completely lack all the properties that characterize synthetic squirrels, for better or worse. They hold as much liquid as a worn old rubbish brush, but they tip well and are quite nice to paint with, but you have to dip in paint all the time.


Black Tulip are simple brushes that are affordable, € 30 for 6 brushes is cheap, especially considering that they are nice to paint with. Don’t expect amazing brushes though, they are simple and affordable brushes that are nothing special. Their ability to hold liquid could be better, the round brushes have a good tip, the flat ones are like other cheap flat synthetic brushes, nothing remarkable. The rigger is good if you like such brushes, but the very idea of a rigger is to be able to draw long lines, something that requires the hair to hold a lot of liquid. The brush they call Cats Tongue I do not understand, but it’s a personal thing, I do not like that type of brush. At a slightly higher price you can buy the two brushes I usually recommend to my students (read about these here) it is probably a better option.

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2 years ago

For a larger sized quality round brush, would you recommend a size 8 in the da Vinci Maestro, as in the demo here?

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