Painting outside is a joy, but it can also be an expensive task. Painting can already be an expensive hobby, so many people forgo plein air painting because it seems like it would be prohibitively expensive.
However, much of that cost is locked up in the portable easel that you use, and in this new era of shopping online, you can find excellent models that do everything you need but also come at a price that you’ll love, too. It’s not always clear which models those are, which is why we’ve assembled this list of reviews of the best plein air easels of 2020.
We walk you through the upside and downside of each model and help you understand why they are, or aren’t, worth the price. We’ve also included a buyer’s guide, so if you’ve never shopped for plein air easels before, you can learn everything you need to know before you buy.
|En Plein Air Pro Professional Series Package|
|Sienna Plein Air CT-PB-0910 |
(Best for the Money)
|En Plein Air Pro Traveler Series TS-PKG||9 lbs||4.4/5|
|Guerrilla Painter 9×12 101.12||6 lbs||4.1/5|
The En Plein Air Pro Professional Series Package is our top choice and the best plain air easel for oil painting overall. It supports canvasses up to 22-inches, which is great for a plein air easel. But, the real selling point on this easel is that it folds down to fit in a small 22x12x8 backpack, which makes it easy to carry around, and is small enough to qualify as a carry-on on many airplanes. It also includes a PETG plastic palette that makes mixing your oil paints on the go easy.
It’s easy to set up, in large part due to the telescoping legs, which go up in seconds and provide a wide, stable base. This model also features expanding shelves that give you a place to rest your brushes or paints when you’re not using them. One downside to this model is that paint may nearly-permanently stick to the PETG palette if you don’t promptly clean it, so keep that in mind. Overall, this is one of the best portable easels on the market, but the included palette and backpack easily boost it to the top of our list.
The Sienna Plein Air CT-PB-0910 is our choice for best for the money. At first glance, you might think that it was a box, but the lid folds up and can lock in place to serve as the easel. It includes a brush tray that folds out, giving you a convenient place to store your brushes while you work. It also supports canvasses up to 15-inches tall, which isn’t overwhelming, but it’s good enough for a model this portable.
There’s also palette space on the interior of the box which is exposed when it is open. You could mix your paint on the wood, but cleanup would be far easier if you use palette paper or spring for a glass tray, neither of which comes with this model. It also lacks a tripod, so you’ll either need to order one separately or use the easel on whatever benches and tables you can find. The good news is that this model weighs less than nine pounds, so it’s easily portable everywhere you go. Overall, this is a very well-built portable easel, and you’re getting a great deal for the money.
The En Plain Air Pro Traveler Series TS-PKG is a good choice for painters looking to work outdoors and primarily with watercolors. This set includes an excellent tripod that is stable enough but can telescope to works as either a standing or sitting easel support. This model is especially good for watercolors due to the easel size of 12-inches by 15.75-inches, which is great for 1/4 sheets, and is thin enough to clip the paper down if there’s a bit of a breeze.
However, this model is a bit on the small size, which knocks it down a few places on our list. It also comes with a watercolor palette, which claims to have wells for 17 colors, and 5 mixing wells, but users have reported that they instead received one with 12 color wells and no mixing wells. While that’s not a huge problem, it is less value than you would expect when you go to buy. Overall, this is a great model for watercolors, but due to its small stature and palette inconsistency, it can rise no higher than third on our list.
The Guerrilla Painter 9×12 101.12 is another example of the box-style portable easel, but it doesn’t have the same upside as many of its competitors. It is very compact, and less about five pounds when empty, so it’s easy to carry around. It also comes with a universal tripod mount, so you could buy the tripod that best suits your needs or use one you already have. However, at this price, we’d like to see a tripod included in the package.
It also has a maximum canvass size of 9-inches by 12-inches, which isn’t tiny, but it’s certainly not as big as some other entries on our list. That limits your canvass size, and if you creep towards the upper size of that range, you run the risk of painting on the box itself. It also comes with a wooden palette, which can be a real pain to clean up unless you invest in palette paper or a custom glass insert. Overall, you’re not getting great value for this purchase relative to other entries on our list, and you can spend about the same amount of money to get a better deal.
We hope that our reviews have already given you some ideas about what to look for and what to skip when you shop for a plein air easel. There’s a lot to consider before you buy, but we’ve laid out some of the most important factors here for you so that you can make a well-informed decision. By considering each of the factors below, you’ll not only be able to get a great deal, but you’ll get an easel that you’ll love using, too.
Plein air easels need to be portable. That means they need to fold down compactly and be lightweight. Keep in mind that you’re also going to have to transport, at minimum, paint and brushes, so if the easel comes with a bag, backpack, or box that makes that process easier, then it gains a lot of value.
Tripods, when included, can also add a ton of value to the experience. Be on the lookout for tripods that set up quickly, as some will take forever to set up and take down, which wastes your time. Also look for tripods that can be used as either a standing or a sitting tripod.
If you’re taking something outdoors or traveling with it, you’re going to want to make sure that it can stand up to at least some abuse. We’re not recommending that you throw your portable easel against a rock, but there’s always a chance you’ll drop it by accident, and it would be good to know that it will survive the fall.
Unfortunately, a lot of portable woods include birch at least somewhere in their design, and birch is one of the weakest woods. It’s also one of the lightest, which is why it gets used. If you can, avoid birch, and in general, be careful with your portable easel.
Many portable easels come with a built-in palette. The best models come with a glass palette, which is the easiest to clean, but also the most expensive and the heaviest. The next-best tier includes a plastic palette, which are harder to clean, but much lighter, and will give the glass a run for its money regarding longevity.
Other portable easels try to get away with giving you a wooden palette. You could use these bare, but they’re very hard to clean. Instead, it’s better to tape palette paper over them before use, as you can throw the paper away when done and avoid the cleanup process altogether.
The En Plein Air Pro Professional Series Package is the top plein air easel on our list, due to its large maximum capacity and ease of setting up. The Sienna Plein Air CT-PB-0910 comes in second with a great included brush tray and maximum canvass size but misses out on first since it lacks a tripod. The En Plain Air Pro Traveler Series TS-PKG is great for watercolor painters due to its sizing and inclusion of a watercolor palette but sinks on this list because of its small maximum size. The Guerrilla Painter 9×12 101.12 is compact, but it doesn’t include a tripod and has a poor maximum canvass size.
We hope that our reviews have led you to an easel that will keep you happily painting away outdoors for years to come. We know it’s not always easy to shop online, but with all the information we’ve given you, you should be able to find an easel that meets your budget and has all the features you need.