Princeton Neptune Synthetic Squirrel Brush Review

Playing with new Princeton watercolor brushes is always fun, but playing with new watercolor brushes with one of your best painting buddies during World Watercolor Month? Now that’s a memory! Today I’ll be showcasing the popular Princeton Neptune synthetic squirrel brush line here on Doodlewash.

My mentor and friend, artist Tonya Lee (a World Watercolor Month Artist Ambassador), is exploring the newer Princeton Elite synthetic sable line of watercolor brushes over on Scratchmade Journal. Even though I smoosh around a squirrel brush and Tonya swashes a snappy sable, we both painted to the same prompts. We hope you enjoy seeing our collaboration as much as we enjoyed the time we spent together creating it.  Maybe someday we’ll all get to meet each other over art and good food at a Doodlewash Symposium (hint, hint, Charlie!)

Overview of the Princeton Neptune Watercolor Brushes

The Princeton Neptune four brush pack I was sent comes in a reusable vinyl envelope that houses a ¾” flat with an aquarelle handle, as well as a ½” oval wash, 4 Round, and 12 Round. I also received the Princeton Neptune 3/8” dagger, a favorite with sketchers for loose, expressive work. I personally own 4 other Princeton Neptune brushes I purchased open stock. I did not receive any compensation for this review, nor will I receive any from future sales of the product. The brush standards below were established by Bruce MacEvoy at his site, Handprint.

Clean shaping

The Princeton Neptune brushes come to a clean point or bevel after loading. The rounds don’t come to as long a point as my other squirrel brushes, which I prefer. None of my brushes had extra or loose hairs.


Princeton Neptune Brush comparison review
Squirrel Mop (left), Squirrel/Synthetic Blend, 8 round (Center) and Neptune Synthetic Squirrel, 8 round (right).  All three brushes painted the swatch from the same puddle of color.  Notice how the Neptune doesn’t dilute the wash, a common problem with squirrel brushes.

Brushfection! Not too wet, not too dry, but juuuust the right amount of color for the job. Neptune also has one of the most even releases of any of my brushes.  Other synthetic brushes are prone to “kisses”, the small puddles of water released at the beginning or end of a stroke.  Because of their even release, Princeton Neptunes paint equally well on cellulose and cotton papers. Paint rinses out of the brushes easily in a cup of clean water.


Thirsty Neptune brushes wick a little over half their capacity from a bead of excess paint on the paper. They can also lift highlights or soften edges in a pinch.  All squirrel brushes, including Neptune synthetics, are able to glaze additional layers of paint without lifting the dried wash(es) underneath.

Lining and edging

The Neptune flat is my first choice to stamp crisp lines, create geometric shapes, or block in large washes. Neptune round brushes work best when generating organic lines and edges. Straight lines and edges are easier to create with Neptune brushes than with pure squirrel, but you will still need a steady hand.


Neptune brushes are engineered with enhanced snap and resilience, but leave marks that are indistinguishable from pure squirrel. A fully loaded Neptune round brush gently pushed to a 90 degree angle will spring back to the original upright position, but may flatten or form a doe foot shape. All of the bristles track together during changes in pressure and direction. During painting, the brush can be re-formed to its original shape with a quick rotation of the brush on the paper or mixing palette.

Brush Variation

Neptune brushes create line-free flat and graded washes. They each make a wide variety of organic marks, shapes, and lines, too.  The aquarelle handle on the flat can scratch or push paint, worked well as a bone folder to break down a full sheet of 300# paper, and also made quick work of removing a painting from a block.

Balance, Elegance, Durability, and Value

Most artists appreciate the handsome cherry and brass finish of Neptune brushes as much as their light weight and superior balance. My personal brushes still look and work as well as the new set I received for this review. Modestly priced, Neptune brushes represent an excellent value.

Using Princeton Neptune Brushes for Sketching

Princeton Neptune brushes for journaling and sketching

Tonya from Scratchmade Journal and I both created a nature journal page for wild sea roses.

My first Neptune brush demo is for Doodlewashers who enjoy working in a journal. I chose Hahnemüle Harmony A4 (9 x 12) 140# cold press cellulose paper and Van Gogh paint for this nature journal entry. I wanted to create the light, breezy feel of a summer day beside the ocean on this page. Notice that even though I painted alla prima (all at once) using squirrel brushes, I achieved a wide range of pastel, bright, and dark colors. I didn’t experience any pooling or pilling, problems common to cellulose sketchbook paper.

Princeton Neptune Brush Example
Looking Glass Falls is located in Tonya’s beloved North Carolina Mountains.


For my second piece, I painted a plein air style sketch on 300# Hahnemüle Leonardo cold press watercolor paper using artist quality paint.

Foreground: (single wash)  The foliage and large diagonal rock show the textures and shapes possible in a single wash.  Brushes are shown where they were used.
Midground: (multiple washes)  The falls and river were painted in three layers with the 12 and 4 round; the rocks above and beside the falls required two layers with the ¾” flat and the ½” oval wash.

My recommendation for Doodlewashers interested in Princeton Neptune Watercolor Brushes.

Smooth and intuitive, Princeton Neptune brushes make great starter brushes.  Because the set doesn’t reflect a savings over open stock, I recommend buying watercolor brush sizes and types you already use and like.  The flats are my favorite Neptune brushes, but I reach for all of my Neptunes time and time again.  As your skill grows, the Neptune brushes become favorites in places where you need an even, juicy release of color.

Princeton Neptune watercolor brushes are reasonably priced, widely available, and their performance has earned them a spot in many artists’ kits beside mine. And who can resist the beautiful nature sketches Tonya created with her Princeton Elite watercolor brushes? When you visit Scratchmade, notice how she was able to achieve totally different marks than I did with her brush set.  I can’t wait to use my Elite brush to try Tonya’s technique of dropping little areas of analogous color into flower petals to create a fresh glow.  Her painting style reflects her radiant personality to a T.  It was an honor (and a whole lotta fun!) to collaborate with Scratchmade for this review:  thank you Charlie and Tonya for the opportunity.

Don’t forget to check out my Instagram account, and Tonya’s to see even more pieces we painted while trying out our brushes. Have you ever tried the Princeton Neptune or Elite brushes? What brushes do you reach for over and over again? Share your watercolor brush wisdom or ask more questions below.  

Princeton Artist Brush Company is an Official World Watercolor Month Sponsor.

Recommended3 recommendationsPublished in Art Supply Reviews, World Watercolor Month

16 thoughts on “Princeton Neptune Synthetic Squirrel Brush Review

  1. Thank you, Bekki and Tonya, so much for this detailed review of Princeton squirrel brushes. I own a few but have been hesitant to try them – now I’m excited to try. Your painting of Looking Glass Falls is lovely, and I also like the botanical sketches of sea roses. Shows the range of what can be achieved. I’ve been painting for years but in oils. Watercolors are a newer mystery to me. Still sorting it all out.

  2. Your art is absolutely glorious, but that waterfall… you make me want to paint with these brushes! But I’d not pull it off as beautifully as you have. I noticed that the Elite also made perfectly pigmented washes, so it’s great to know that the Neptune does also. How neat! 🙂

    It was truly a pleasure to partner with you and make art together. And yep, totally on for a Doodlewash symposium! (Hint, hint, Charlie!)

    1. I’ve never had a bad Princeton brush. I haven’t used the Snap! line, but my guess is that they’ll give all the performance of a good synthetic. I find the snappier Princeton brushes work best if you barely touch the tip of the brush to a damp sponge or rag after loading color but before touching the paper. I call this “tipping off”. That extra little motion pulls off the first bead of water that can flood and ruin a wash. Good luck!

    2. Hey there, June! I haven’t tried the Snaps with watercolor, but those are the brushes that I LOVE with acrylics! They are very affordable, hold a point or edge, and don’t mind a bit of use and abuse. lol! I think they could also work for watercolor, so please let Bekki and me know how they work for you!

  3. Hi Tonya. These were the ones on Charlie’s shop that he recommended and I think he said used so I was thinking they were for watercolors. I have not tried them yet. Package says Golden Taklon synthetic hair for acrylic, watercolor, tempera. I may return them for the Neptune. I bought the pouch you designed in both sizes. I love them.

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