How to choose Easel for Painting

How to choose an Easel for Painting? Check out this guide from Smart Art Materials.

How to choose an Easel for Painting? Check out this guide from Smart Art Materials.

First of all, why do you even need Easel for Painting in your art space? The easel is an upright support that is traditionally used by artists during the process of painting or for display. It's especially convenient when working with oil and heavy/medium body acrylic paint (unlike watercolor, fluid paint or anything runny).

Benefits of using easel: your neck doesn't get tired (like it does when you tilt over the horizontal surface), plus you stoop less; you get a better perspective of your painting as you look at it at the almost right angle; it's easy to step couple steps away once in a while to take a fresh look at your artwork.

Do you want to buy easel for painting but don't know how to choose one? I don't blame you, there are so many different ones. And they are not cheap... so it's important to buy something that does suit your needs. Which is why in this article I'll try to simplify things, guide you through the main differences between most common easel types and give you couple recommendations.

Single Mast, A-frame or H-frame easel?

First, you need to decide what frame will work best for you. There are three basic shapes - single mast, a-frame (tripod), and h-frame. Each one has its pros and cons, so let's take a look closer.

Single Mast Easel
This is the most basic and simple option. Pros: single mast easel is usually the most affordable, also it's foldable, which is great for storing, especially if you don't have the whole lots of room in your art space. Cons: there is only one con, but it's quite weighty - this easel is not very sturdy.

I think it's a serious downside, especially if you are planning to work on the large pieces, which is why I don't really recommend this easel. However, I believe it still can work for students, painting beginners, or anybody who has a limited working space, so check out this American Umatilla Single Mast Easel.

A-frame easel, Lyre, or Tripod Easel
This is a triangularly shaped easel with 3 legs that is mostly known as A-frame because it looks like a letter "A" when you look at it from the front. I like this easel and this is the type I own.
Pros: it's quite affordable, it folds flat for easy transportation and storage, and unlike single mast easel, the lyre is much more sturdy and stable. Another advantage of this easel for painting is that it's quite adjustable and fits perfectly in the corner thanks to the three legs shape. Check out Mont Marte Floor Easel - great rating, excellent quality for only $89!

Cons: a-frame easel is still not as sturdy as the h-frame. Also, the size of canvas that fits onto this easel is limited to approximately 80", so if you prefer large-scale paintings, check out the next one ⇓.

H-Frame Easel
This easel is called this way because it's H-shaped. It has a strong rectangular base and is essentially quite heavy. This type of easel is available with or without paint trays for storing art supplies. Pros: the most traditional, reliable, sturdy and stable easel out of all. The h-frame easel can hold the largest canvases, some of them are just giant and can handle up to 100"-120" paintings.

Cons: this easel is not easy to fold (although some models can be collapsed) and takes a lot more space, which is why it's more suitable for dedicated art space/studios. Another downside is that these easels are expensive - you wouldn't find anything good cheaper than $150. But if you don't mind the size of it, have a dedicated art space and want to work on large canvases, this would be a wise investment. Check out this one - US Art Supply Malibu Extra Large H-Frame.

Floor or Tabletop art easel for painting?

The tabletop easel for painting is good for anybody who a) works in a small scale b) has a workspace limited to a table. Pros: cheap, compact, usually has a drawer for your art supplies. Cons: can handle only small canvas/board.

Floor or Tabletop? I only recommend tabletop easel, like this Art Alternatives Marquis Adjustable Desk Box Easel for $24 for students that need to take it from home to school all the time or have a very limited workspace. Otherwise just get yourself a Floor A-frame or H-frame, because floor easel can handle small/medium/large painting support, whereas table top is only good for a small one. You know what I mean.

Stationary or Portable easel?

Portable or Plein Air Easel is designed for outdoors painting, Basic requirements for this type of easel is it's lightweight and ease of transportation/set up. Plein Air easel is A-frame with three legs, normally has a shelf for the palette and is made from lightweight metal like aluminum. The portable easel for painting is normally much cheaper than a regular floor one. Downside - it's not very sturdy and unfortunately can't completely replace regular stationary easel especially for large-scale paintings. This Transon Tripod is a great and cheap option - only $17! - that can be turned into a tabletop easel.

What about Display easel?

As you can guess by the name of it, this easel is meant for just one thing - Display. It's not good for painting because it's not sturdy at all and can't be adjusted. When do you need it? Well, it's nice to have a few of lightweight and collapsible display easels on hand when you are expecting visitors to your art studio and want to present more than one painting.

Usually, display easels are pretty cheap, for example, this US Art Supply "Easy-Folding Easel"  Display Easel is only $15.

So... which one?

Now, when you know all the types and differences, how to choose the right easel? Here is my recommendation: if you have a dedicated art space, get a sturdy H-frame, if not - your best option is the A-frame. I do have a dedicated painting space, but like I mentioned above, I own an A-frame easel and I've never had any problems or complaint about it.

And in the end, a little piece of advice - don't try to save too much on the easel. I know, it can be quite expensive, but unlike paint, it's a one-time investment, and if you make a wise choice, it will serve you many years to come. Let me know if you have any questions and check out more info about artist workspace essentials here.



6 thoughts on “How to choose Easel for Painting

  1. Houston says:

    Hi Olga,

    Just wanted to say how much I enjoyed reading your post on easels. I’m currently in the market for one and I was hoping to get your input. My daughter is 7 but she is obsessed with painting and I thought getting her an easel would be a great gift for her. My question is, what style would you suggest? I was thinking the tripod because that seems very stable and that does matter to me since my kiddo is only 7. With that being said, I know she’ll want to move it around the house and take it with her when we go see my parents. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

    • Olga says:

      Hi Houston, thanks for checking out this article. Yes, I would also recommend you to get her a tripod, also called A-shape. Check out this one – it’s portable, adjustable and lightweight, which is great for moving it around or taking it with her. And it’s only $26! Down the road, you can get her something more serious for a stationary work, like this one.

      Let me know if you are going to have more questions 🙂

  2. Jaime says:

    I definitely prefer the H-frame because it looks the most sturdy, but I was really looking for a bench easil with a build in seat. Have you seen or heard of anything like that? I had one in an art class years ago and would love to buy one, but I haven’t seen them in the art stores. Any chance you know where I can get one?

    • Olga says:

      Hi Jaime, thank for such a good question! Bench easels are not very common because they take lot’s of room and are hard to adjust, but they also have some awesome benefits. It’s pretty hard to find one in store, so you would have to order it online, for example this one – Martin Rolling Wooden Bench Easel

  3. Corey says:

    Great article. Nice that beginning painters have a place to go that will help them understand the difference between easels. I have a few different easels in my studio and I use them all. My most used is my H frame easel. I’m looking for an easel to put in the studio for my kids, the H frame is too big, but your article helped me decide which would be best for them. Thank you for sharing your knowledge!

    • Olga says:

      Hi Corey! Thanks for stopping by 🙂 Yes, sometimes I wish I came across website like mine when I was a beginner artist! That would save me so much time and money. But hey, that’s how I came up with the idea of this website – to help all the beginners and not only to make a wise choice when it comes to art materials 😉

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