This post may contain affiliate links. We may earn a small commission from purchases made through them, at no additional cost to you.
One of the most important tools of any artist is their easel; however, the large variety available can be overwhelming and confusing. Whether this is your first time buying an easel or you would just like to know what other options are out there, we have created this guide to the different types of easels available so you can find the perfect easel for your needs, methods, and workspace.
Table of Contents
- 1 Easel Definition and Use
- 2 The Different Easels Available
- 3 Important Considerations When Choosing an Easel
- 4 Frequently Asked Questions
Easel Definition and Use
An easel can be defined as a stand that holds your canvas or painting whilst you are working on it. There are many different types of easels available, from various upright easels to a table easel for painting on a desk, but all provide a sturdy surface to lay your canvas on.
Benefits of Using an Easel
There are many different benefits that easels provide to both you and your artwork. The main reason why artists use easels is that it allows them to step back and view their artworks in the same way they will eventually be displayed. This gives you a better perspective of the proportions and spacing of your painting.
An easel lifts your canvas to a comfortable height, allowing you to look at it straight on instead of bent over while painting. This makes them good for your posture and prevents neck and back pain. Easels also give you more freedom of movement to easily use the whole canvas or change the angle of it. If your canvas is on an easel, you can reposition your piece to areas with more even lighting making your colors truer and reducing eye strain.
You can also move your canvas outside of your studio entirely and take your art with you with the right easel.
What Should Your Easel Be Made Of?
Before exploring the different varieties of easels available, it is helpful to know how the material that they are made of may affect their uses. There tend to be two main types of easel materials; namely, a metal easel and a wooden easel. Metal easels are normally made from lightweight metals such as aluminum and because of this are more portable but also less stable. A wooden easel is typically made of beech or elm wood and tends to be heavier than metallic easels but also more stable.
Both usually have rubber feet to avoid unwanted shifting or slipping and which one you choose will depend on the one that better suits your needs.
The Different Easels Available
Before choosing an easel, it is helpful to know the different types of easels available. We have compiled a list of the various easel types out there as well as what characteristics make them unique. We explore each of these easels’ various uses, strengths, and weaknesses to allow you to see how they may be able to benefit you and your art style.
A-Frame or Lyre Easel
One of the most recognizable easels is the A-Frame easel. Also known as a Lyre easel, this easel has three legs. Its two front legs form an “A” shape when viewed from the front, hence its name, and the easel leans on the one at the back leg like a tripod. More budget options use this back leg to adjust the angle of your canvas, however, many also have a center column that can be tilted instead.
This easel is very economical, it is lightweight so can be moved around relatively easily and takes up very little space when collapsed for quick and simple storage. It can, however, become unstable with heavy canvases and usually does not come with any built-in storage or ledge to hold your art supplies.
The H-frame easel is a very popular and versatile studio easel. Like the A-frame easel, it gets its name because they are shaped like the letter “H”. This easel is much sturdier than the A-frame easel, however, this also makes it bulkier and heavier. Although they usually come with wheels, these easels are harder to move but this can be beneficial if you have a more enthusiastic painting style.
Its square base means that it is very stable and hard to topple, making it the ideal option for energetic artists or impasto painting. The angle of the canvas is easily adjusted without compromising this stability. H-frame easels usually come with a shelf for your paints and some more expensive options have crank mechanisms to quickly adjust the height of your canvas.
Radial or Single-Mast Easel
Most often used in schools, the radial easel or single-mast easel is another versatile choice. The radial easel either has a box-like base, or three short tripod legs. These support a slender upper mast or section which hinges to easily adjust to suit various canvas sizes and tilts. This flexibility does come with some disadvantages, however, as it is not as sturdy or stable as an H- or A-frame easel but does tend to cost less.
Convertible or Hybrid Easel
The convertible or hybrid easel is the most versatile easel for artists. This easel looks similar to an H-frame easel however it can easily change between an upright easel and a flat-lying easel. This makes it suitable for almost all mediums from thick acrylic paints to watercolors. The convertible easel is sturdy and suitable for a wide range of canvas sizes and often comes with some built-in storage for your art supplies.
This easel does, however, need a lot of space and tends to be more expensive than conventional H-frame easels.
If you enjoy painting large works in a studio, then a giant easel may be right for you. Giant easels are a special type of easel made sturdy enough to accommodate big pieces up to over 8 feet tall. This large easel requires a dedicated space as they are very difficult to move and tend to become permanent once set up.
Giant easels are also very expensive but make working with large canvases much easier as they are often motorized to effortlessly adjust the angle and height of your work.
If you prefer painting whilst sitting at your workbench or desk, then using a tabletop easel for painting can still provide you with all the benefits of conventional easels. As their name suggests, these easels are placed on your tabletop and allow you to paint vertically or at a variety of angles. Tabletop easels resemble miniature versions of conventional A- and H-frame easels, which make them sturdy, easy to store, and very portable.
A tabletop easel is a small easel that takes up very little space, usually includes storage, is one of the most cost-effective options, and is great if you are just starting out with vertical painting. They can even fold horizontally for watercolor painting and is also a great easel for drawing.
Many tabletop easels have a fixed height that depends on the height of your table; however, some higher quality ones have the option to extend below table level if this is more comfortable.
Field or Plein-Air Easel
Field easels are designed for painting outdoors, which is why they are also known as Plein-Air easels. These easels are easy to set up, very lightweight, and are usually made from aluminum but there are heavier wooden varieties as well. Their telescopic legs allow you to adjust their height but also enable them to collapse into a compact, neat bundle, often with a shoulder strap or bag for easy carrying.
These easels do not have storage, however, so you will have to carry your art supplies separately, and metal varieties can be unstable on windy days.
French Box Easel
A French box easel is essentially a field easel with a storage box built into it. This box replaces the central column providing you with ample storage on the go for art supplies or even wet canvases. The French box easel also has adjustable telescopic legs and can convert from a standing to a tabletop option.
It is very portable and adjusts to many angles, but the box means that it is not as stable and can be heavy to carry.
While not technically an easel, the Pochade box is used by many Plein Air artists. A Pochade box is a wooden case with a foldout board, which is used to rest your canvas on. It often comes with slots for paint brushes and lots of storage for art supplies.
The box’s surface can be adjusted to various angles and tripod stands are available if you prefer to stand while you paint.
A workstation is an all-in-one station that includes an easel, a bench, and ample storage for art supplies and materials. Workstations are large and require a lot of space but usually have wheels to move them around. They are extremely stable making them a great option for people with accessibility issues.
Bench easels offer a smaller alternative to workstations. As their name suggests, they are a combination of a bench and easel and are much more compact than workstations. They are great for painting outdoors as they collapse into portable bundles, and you do not need to find a chair if you prefer sitting whilst painting.
If your kid is the next van Gogh, then a children’s easel is perfect for them to hone their painting skills. Children’s easels are very sturdy and durable and are usually adjustable to match your child’s height as they grow. This adjustability is also useful if you have kids of different ages. Many are also double-sided or include a chalkboard or whiteboard on the other side to allow children to plan out their designs.
Children’s easels include storage for art supplies, which helps to keep paint and tools confined to the area and easy to find.
Display easels are not used to paint on but rather used as statement pieces to display your work. They lack stability but this is not much of a problem. The main purpose of a display easel is to give your painting an elevated, classic feel, which is great for shops or auction exhibitions.
They often have very intricate and unusual designs or engravings that add to the look and feel of the display.
Important Considerations When Choosing an Easel
As you can see there are many different types of easels so choosing one can be overwhelming. Which easel you use will depend on many different factors such as how portable you want it to be, where you want to paint, the mediums that you use, the easel price, how much space you have available, and the dimensions and weight of your canvas.
How much space you have available in your home or studio is a great place to start when considering which easel to buy, particularly if you prefer painting indoors. An H-frame easel is a relatively large easel that requires a dedicated space and giant easels are not practical if you have limited space in your studio. Radial easels take up the least amount of space and the single back leg of A-frame easels allows them to easily fit into corners that other square-based easels cannot.
Both of these easels also fold flat which allows them to be stored easily.
A workstation may also be a good option if you have limited space depending on your needs. They may be large, but they are also self-contained and provide you with a “mini art studio” and compact dedicated painting place. If you do not have a lot of floor space, then a tabletop easel is the best option.
They are a small easel, so easy to store and perfect if you paint in a living space, such as on the dining room table, as everything can be moved and cleared away at the end of the day with less risk of damaging your piece.
Mobility and Portability of Your Easel
The mobility of your easel is very important to consider when choosing one. If you paint in a studio, being able to move your easel without having to deconstruct it is handy if you have limited floor space or have better lighting in another place. Giant easels and workstations are large, cumbersome, and essentially permanent so should be avoided if you are looking for something more flexible.
H-frame and convertible easels can be bulky and heavy to move but most are manageable if they have wheels. A-frame easels and radial easels are better as they are lightweight and easily collapsible making them ideal if you want to move your easels around.
If you enjoy painting outside or traveling with your art then your easel will need to be more than just lightweight. You will need an easel that is not only light and easy to carry but also one that is simple to break down and set up again in a new location. Radial easels are lightweight but cumbersome to carry and A-frames tend to be unstable if used outside.
Field and French box easels as well as Pochade boxes are made specifically for painting Plein air and as such, are very compact, easy to carry, and have a variety of storage options. If you prefer sitting while painting then a bench easel may be better for you, however, French and tabletop easels are a more versatile option, you will just need to find a flat surface to rest them on.
The painting medium you use has a big impact on the type of easel that would benefit you the most. Using acrylic and oil paints is fine if your easel is upright, however, thinner paints such as watercolors or acrylic pouring paint will run down your canvas. A-frame easels cannot be adjusted horizontally and often have a limited tilting range so are not useful if you use these mediums.
Many easels such as the H-frame, radial, and French box easels tilt forward at various angles which is great if you use pastels. If you do not use pastels this also has the added benefit of ensuring less dust settles on your canvas when you are not using it.
Having a canvas that can lie horizontally makes using thinner paints easier. It is also the ideal easel for drawing or applying varnish to paintings. Some H-frame, radial, and tabletop easels can fold horizontally, however, they do require some maneuvering which can be cumbersome. Convertible easels are perfect for artists who enjoy experimenting or using a variety of different mediums as they can switch between being upright or horizontal relatively quickly and easily.
Your preferred canvas size can also impact the type of easel that you choose. Larger canvases and thicker paints are heavy and require a sturdier easel that won’t topple over. These easels should also be able to adjust the height of the canvas, especially if you use a variety of canvas sizes so that you are not stretched or hunched over while you paint.
Tabletop easels are perfect if you work on a small scale as they take canvases up to 32 inches and you can use a tabletop easel for painting or drawing. If you feel they are too restrictive of your movements, you may prefer an A-frame easel as they can comfortably accommodate small to medium canvases but can become unstable if using a tall or large canvas. If you typically work with medium to large canvases, then you should consider an H-frame or radial easel.
H-frame easels tend to be sturdier however radial easels take up less room.
If you want the option of using smaller to larger canvases, then a convertible easel is the most versatile studio option while a field easel may be better for outdoors. Both can comfortably hold various canvas sizes, however, be mindful that larger canvases are heavier to carry if you are painting on the go.
Giant easels are specially built to accommodate large and very large canvases and make them easier to handle. They have great stability and are extra strong, but it can be difficult to paint smaller works on them.
It is important that irrespective of which easel you choose, always check the weight limit of your easel and ensure that your canvas is reasonably below it to account for the weight of paint and varnish of the finished piece.
The easel price is another important consideration when choosing an easel. Every easel will have a budget and premium option; however, some types of easels are generally less expensive than others. If you are a beginner, you may be more unsure and so may not want to spend as much money on an easel as someone who is more experienced and surer of their art style and needs.
Generally, A-frame, radial, and tabletop easels are cheaper than other easels of the same quality, with tabletop easels usually being the least expensive. Specialty easels such as giant and convertible easels and workstations are more expensive overall as they are more complex and serve specific purposes.
More expensive easels are often of better quality or come with more features than more budget options. Higher quality easels are also more durable and often have higher weight limits before becoming unstable meaning that they are more versatile.
You now know about the different types of easels available as well as which ones would be the most beneficial for your needs. Check out local or online art stores to see the different easels they have and compare prices. Investing in a good-quality easel can improve your art and last you for many years.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Kind of Easel Is the Best?
The best easel for you depends on a variety of factors such as the medium you work with, the size of canvas that you usually use, as well as where and how you prefer to paint. If you prefer to paint in a studio, then an H-frame easel is one of the most versatile options. If you prefer to paint outside, however, then a French box easel will be a better choice. There are also many different specialty easels available for more specific needs.
What Is an Easel Definition?
Easels are traditionally used by painters and are defined as a support, usually upright, that is used to secure your canvas while you paint. There are many varieties of easels, and each serves different functions depending on the canvas sizes and mediums that an artist uses. Some easels are also used to exhibit finished pieces.
Why Do Artists Use Easels for Painting?
The main reason for using easels is to secure your canvas in place at a comfortable height. It results in better posture while painting and allows you to step back and view your entire work to ensure shapes and proportions are correct. Many artists also make use of a table easel for painting or drawing at their desk.