Princeton Travel Brush Sets Review

Planning on traveling? Got a small space to work in? We visited Neskowin Beach on the Oregon Coast for my hubby’s birthday, and I was fortunate because Princeton Artist Brush Co. recently sent me their two Princeton travel brush sets for this review.  These brush sets contain the travel version of the Neptune synthetic squirrel brushes and the Aqua Elite synthetic Kolinsky Sable brushes.

Both sets contain four round brushes in sizes 10, 8, 6 and 4, along with a carrying case that closes with a magnet.

Princeton travel brush cases

Each set fits nicely in the hand, making them perfect for taking on such a trip. At home, they’ll be perfect for those times I’m sitting in my recliner with only my lap for a painting surface.

Size reference of Princeton travel brush case

Both sets are part of Princeton’s NextGen line, brushes formulated to have the carrying capacity of natural hair with the durability and affordability of synthetic hair.

Princeton Travel Brush Sets – Look and Feel

The Neptune is a synthetic squirrel, the softest brush that Princeton carries, and the one that holds the most water.  The Aqua Elite is a synthetic Kolinsky, with each individual hair pleated like natural hair.

The travel brushes combine the look of the standard brushes in the line with metal – a rich wood tone with copper for the Neptune, and a dark gray with brushed silver for the Aqua Elite.

Princeton travel Aqua Elite And Neptune brushes

The handles separate into two pieces.

Case of Neptune travel brush by Princeton

The brush end fits into the handle creating a capsule for storage.  As with all travel brushes in this style, some care must be taken when sliding the top over the brush. If hairs are bent backward, they will break and it is seldom possible to repair them. I clean the brush, and shape the tip while it is wet, making sure all the hairs lie close together. If I have time, I let them dry in shape before putting the tops on, so that moisture doesn’t collect in the ferrules.

Closed in case Elite and Neptune travel brushes

When in capsule size, the travel brushes range from approximately 4 inches to 4.5 inches (10.6 cm to .11.43 cm).

Princeton travel brush closeup example

When you are ready to paint, you slide the other end of the brush portion into the handle for a full-sized brush.  At full size, the brushes range from approximately 8 inches to about 6.75 inches (20.32 cm to 17.145 cm).

Two travel brush sets in cases by Princeton

The cases can be laid out flat.

Princeton travel brush cases lay flat

They fold forward to shut, but they can also be folded back …

Princeton travel brush cases can be folded back to create a stand for brushes

To form a standing holder for the travel brushes.

The Video

​​​​Princeton Travel Brushes – Performance

The biggest question you probably have is ‘How do these two sets compare?’

The cases are the same.  Both types of brush have the same hair and performance as the standard Neptune and Aqua Elite brushes, although the balance is a bit different.  I was a bit leery about the shape, but found it fit nicely in my hand, and the metal is so light that the balance was almost perfect for me.  Effects that required holding the brush in the middle or above were harder to do, but I seldom need to do that.

Synthetic or natural hair – which is best? Natural animal hair still performs better, and with the proper care will last longer.  It also costs more (a lot more) and it comes from an animal, which is an ethical issue for many.

A good brush has hairs that don’t shed (except for mop brushes), a ferrule that fits the handle tightly, and is capable of holding and evenly releasing a good amount of water and pigment.

Both the Neptune and the Aqua Elite are GOOD synthetic-hair brushes.  They’re my favorites, but let’s look at their characteristics so you can decide if they might be yours.

Neptune and Elite travel brush sets showing open case of brushes


Princeton gives the Neptune a stiffness rating of 1 and recommends it for watercolor only. They give the Aqua Elite a stiffness rating of 2, recommending it highly for watercolor, and okay for oil paint.  And that means what? Stiffness affects how much snap and spring a brush has and that affects how long you can paint before your brush loses shape and how well the hairs will stay together as you twist and turn the brush.

Most people have a definite preference for how stiff a brush should be.  I prefer a softer brush, though I often move to a stiffer one for the last small details in a painting.


Testing snap of Princeton travel brushes

You test for this by gently bending the hairs on a dry brush, to see how well they snap back into shape.

The Neptune has almost no snap.  It is very like the brushes used for Chinese Brush Painting in this respect (though there are other differences between the two).

The Aqua Elite has plenty of snap, returning to shape almost immediately.   

Brush tips of Princeton travel brushes

Here you can see the difference in how well the two brushes returned to shape. Snap gives your first clue about the way a brush will paint, but spring is even more important.


Spring describes how well the hairs of a brush hold shape when you are painting with a wet brush. This is probably the characteristic that makes the biggest difference between natural hair and synthetic. 

To make it easier for you to focus on the brush tips,  I only used water in this test.  I did twists and turns and varied the pressure. You can see it easier in the video.

The Neptune has good spring.  It holds together well if you keep the pressure light and even.  When the hairs do separate, it tends to divide into two or three clumps.  As long as the brush is wet, it returns to shape once you lessen the pressure.

 The Aqua Elite has good spring.  However, when it splays, the hairs separate in a more fan-like pattern.  I think this may be the biggest difference between the two brushes.  The hairs also return quickly to shape once the pressure is decreased, but you’ll get a different kind of mark that you do with the Neptune.

Pressure, and where you hold the brush is key.  I found with practice I had few problems with splaying, and I could even use it for special effects.  But it did take practice.


‘Thirsty’ is a term that refers to how much water/paint a brush will soak up.  If you put a damp brush into wet paint, the brush will soak up some of the color.  This is good when you deliberately want to lighten the color.  It can be a problem if you are trying to put more color down.

Watercolor wicking example with travel brush by Princeton

The Aqua Elite has good wicking capabilities.

The Neptune is Princeton’s most ‘thirsty’ brush.  That means it will soak up more color.

In my example, the two brushes soaked up about the same amount of color, but the Neptune picks up more.


Because the Neptune has such dark hairs, I couldn’t get a good photo to show this.  Both brushes have great carrying capacity.  The Neptune does carry more.

Release refers to how evenly a brush will let go of all that water it has soaked up.  Both of these brushes have good release, but when you change the pressure, more water is released.  If your pressure is uneven as you paint, your color will be uneven as well.


The Princeton Neptune and Aqua Elite Travel sets include four rounds brushes in sizes 10, 8, 6 and 4.  The metal handles can be fitted together to create either a full-length brush or a capsule size for storage.  The leather-like carrying case have a magnetic snap. They fit in the hand when closed, but can be folded into a stand for the brushes.

The Neptune handles much like a Chinese painting brush. It may be difficult (but not impossible) to get detail, definition and truly dark colors. But for exactly the same reasons, it will be easy to get softly blended colors, flowing effects, and glowing transparency.  The Elite gives better detail, definition and darker color. It will also give you softly blended colors, drippy effects and glowing transparency, but not as easily as the Neptune. The Elite would probably be better for a beginner who wants to experiment with a wider range of effects.

They’re neat, they’re elegant, and they’re ready to travel when you are!


I did a good portion of this review while vacationing at the Oregon Coast.  One night there was the most gorgeous sunset – all orange and blues.  Now, orange and blue are complementary, and they glow when put next to each other.  Mixing them gives you mud.  I painted in fading light, and could barely see my colors by the time I was done.

watercolor sunset painted by Sandra Strait with travel brushes

I decided to add some shine by scraping, so I pulled the handle end off the brush, and use the edge of the hollow to scrape with.  Handy for a travel set!

Watercolor Sunset by Sandra Strait

After the sunset was over, I went inside and did another quick painting from memory, again using the Neptune set.

Watercolor painting of monkey by Sandra Strait

I did this Mandrill on a rough surface watercolor postcard.  These guys have rather wiry hair and the Aqua Elite brush was perfect for the textural effects.


Princeton Travel Brush Giveaways

There is currently a World Watercolor Month Giveaway for a travel set of the Aqua Elite Synthetic Kolinsky Travel brushes.  It only runs through August 1, so be sure to enter soon!

Also, be sure to check out my Life Imitates Doodles Weekly Wednesday giveaway on July 31st.  I’m giving away one of the single Neptune Synthetic Squirrel Travel brushes!

Other Princeton Brush Reviews on Doodlewash


Princeton Artist Brush Co. sent an Aqua Elite Travel Brush set and a Neptune Travel Brush Set for the purpose of this review. I received no other considerations, though this post contains affiliate links which help support Doodlewash community features. As always, all opinions expressed are my own.

Recommended3 recommendationsPublished in Art Supply Reviews
  1. June Hadaway 3 years ago


  2. Jodi Ballenger 3 years ago

    Very comprehensive review. Thanks Sandra!

  3. Karen Fortier 3 years ago

    Thanks for sharing your review on these!

  4. Laura (PA Pict) 3 years ago

    Thanks so much for the really thorough review. I have been pondering getting a set of travel brushes that have protective “lids” so this was a timely review for me.

    • Author
      Sandra Strait 3 years ago

      Thank you, Laura! I’m glad you found the review helpful!

  5. Pat Walsh 3 years ago

    Very helpful review. Thanks for the info. Have them on my wish list now! LOL

  6. Walt. F Pierluissi 3 years ago

    Wao!!!!, thanks for such a splendid information… I liked the professionalism of your study and also the conclusions… Well done Sandra.

  7. Gayle 3 years ago

    Extremely helpful – thanks for sharing

  8. Laura Hale 3 years ago

    Thank you for such a complete review. They both look great.

    • Author
      Sandra Strait 3 years ago

      Thank you, Laura! I’m glad you found it helpful!

  9. Sharon Bonin-Pratt 3 years ago

    Outstanding and comprehensive review. The really nice thing about such a thorough review is that most of us can’t afford to purchase both sets of brushes, but with all this detail, we can make a more informed decision. Thank you for taking time to put both sets of brushes through rigorous tests.

  10. Sharon Bonin-Pratt 3 years ago

    And all 3 paintings are wonderful, Sandra!

    • Author
      Sandra Strait 3 years ago

      Thank you, Sharon, both for the compliment on my paintings and letting me know what you found helpful about the review. That helps me in my upcoming reviews!

  11. mlaiuppa 3 years ago

    I am such a brush addict, especially travel brushes that I will simply have to track down both sets of these Princeton brushes. I’m not familiar with Princeton so appreciate such a thorough review.

  12. LoriCtoo 3 years ago

    Very interesting review. Great information! I will definitely be checking them out because I have been wanting a good compact travel set. I always enjoy your thorough reviews and appreciate your descriptions for those of us who are always learning!

    • Author
      Sandra Strait 3 years ago

      Thank you, Lori! I’m glad you found the tutorial helpful!

  13. Anindita 3 years ago

    Thank you for the depth review! These are all my wishlist brushes

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