En plein air is the French saying meaning ‘open in full air’ and has become a well-known phrase for the act of painting outdoors.
Painting outside is one of the most enjoyable ways to get creative, no matter how skilled you are as an artist. This all sounds lovely, but the truth is you’ll need a quality easel if you’re going to be standing or sitting outdoors for long periods.
Unfortunately, there is a surplus of equipment that is too heavy to carry around or very pricey. To help you out, we’ve found some of the most durable, affordable, and portable easels out there.
Of course, there are a few things you should consider before buying any design.
Here I will explain the different types of easels, which ones suit different painting styles, various prices to suit all budget needs, and my overall pick for the best.
At a Glance – Our Choice of the Best Plein Air Easels On the Market
- Sienna Plein Air Pochade Box and Tripod (Best Overall)
- Magicfly French Easel with Sketch Box (Superb Budget Option)
- En Plein Air Pro Professional Series (Best Lightweight Option)
- T-Sign 66″ Artist Easel Stand (Best Easel Stand)
- Guerrilla Painter Pochade Box
- Creative Mark Cezanne Half Box
- Tri-C Aluminium Field Easel
- Martin Jullian Classic-Style
Note: The links above take you to more information, current prices, and customer reviews on Amazon. If you do purchase something, we get a small commission, which has absolutely no effect on the eventual price that you pay.
- Best Plein Air Easels – Product Round-up & Reviews
- Buyer’s Guide – Key Considerations
- So, Which Should I Buy?
Best Plein Air Easels – Product Round-up & Reviews
Sienna Plein Air Pochade Box and Tripod
Sienna are market leaders when it comes to plein air easels and make products that are beautiful, versatile, and fun to use. Their Plein Air Pochade Box is a great example of this, offering a superb combination of beauty and functionality.
It has been designed with versatility in mind, and is essentially an easel and palette in one.
The easy to use canvas holders are designed to hold a variety of canvases, and both canvas panels and stretched canvas can be held in the adjustable canvas holders too. It includes a removable tempered glass palette that is perfect for use with oil and acrylic paint (the tempered glass is easy to remove and clean after use).
The lid of the pochade box is held firmly in place at any angle thanks to the lid adjustment arm, and the lid will even go completely flat for watercolor painting. It also includes a handy brush tray that stores on the back of the lid with magnets
The tripod is sold separately, but if you already have a camera tripod the tripod mounting plate has a standard ¼ x 20 threaded hole as the fastening point.
Even the turning knobs have been thought through. Here, they include ergonomic easy-grip star knobs to adjust the canvas holders and the lid angle arm (many cheaper easels use wing nuts which are much harder and less comfortable to turn)
This allows you to lay the lid down entirely if you want to create watercolor paintings. Just remember, the maximum height of canvas you can use here is 15”.
It can fold up into a smaller unit and is crafted from a mixture of poplar, birch, and maple, which makes it relatively lightweight, yet tough enough to be used outside.
Sienna have also used an eye-catching cherry stain lacquer on the wood to enhance and protect its natural grain.
Two sets of palette blocks are also included which let you use other add-ons, such as the sienna watercolor palette and pastel box (sold separately).
- Perfect small easel for plein air as well as studio
- Eye-catching cherry stain lacquer to enhance and protect the natural grain
- Adjustable mast can hold panels as well as stretched canvas
- Can be angled vertically to see the palette easily
- Doesn’t come with a tripod (see below)
Here is Sienna’s own tripod they recommend you use with the above. You can find cheaper alternatives, but if you can afford it, it makes sense to use the same brand.
En Plein Air Pro Professional Series
If you’re looking for the ultimate light-weight yet sturdy easel, check out this one.
The Plein Air Pro is incredibly portable, weighing in at a feather-like 3lbs., thanks to the use of lightweight aluminum making up the frame and the ABS palette and shelving construction.
Note that the Plein Air Pro is designed to work best with 16”x 12” canvases, although it can support smaller 6”x 8” varieties.
Included in the package is an abrasion-resistant palette, along with two storage shelves and a thick, weatherproof PVC cover to protect your easel. The palette itself is effortless to clean and has a built-in value scale to help with color mixing. As well as this, the entire mechanism is easy to fold away and adjustable to meet your artistic needs.
It’ll also suit anyone who loves to take their easel on an adventure. The sturdy, lightweight design and the protective case will keep your equipment safe wherever you go.
- Lightweight aluminum and ABS material makes it light (3lbs.) but tough
- Large palette features a value scale and is easy to wipe clean after use
- Construction is easy to fold away
- Everything packs in the 60L convertible backpack
- Price – You have to pay a little extra for this high-end equipment
Magicfly French Easel with Sketch Box
If you want a French-style easel but you’re on a budget, it’s hard to beat this one from Magicfly.
Made from hand-sanded beech wood, it holds canvases up to 34″ in flat or upright position – so ideal for both watercolor and oil painting. It’s designed for outdoor use and adjusts for sitting or standing, whichever you prefer, plus it’s foldable and light-weight (15 lb.) so easy to transport.
It’s can be adjusted up to 71″ height to cater to most heights of people, and the fully adjustable angle lets you lay it flat or set in the completely vertical position
You get a storage drawer with separated compartments, shoulder strap and leather handle
- Superb budget choice
- Hand-sanded beech wood
- Can hold canvases as large as 34″
- Probably won’t last a lifetime
T-Sign 66″ Artist Easel Stand
If you want to keep costs to a minimum, the T-Sign 66″ is a serious contender. Made of lightweight aluminum alloy, it’s sufficiently tough for using outdoors or as a tabletop painting easel in the studio.
It’s super versatile too. As well as using it for canvas paintings, you can also use it to hold whiteboards, large pads of papers, chalkboards, posters, Pictionary, art stand, you name it.
With an adjustable height from 21″ to 66″, you can use it stood up or sat down, and comes with a fabric carrying case
- Superb value for money
- Versatile, use it as an easel, art stand, etc.
- Includes fabric carrying case
Guerrilla Painter Pochade Box
Next up is the Pochade box by Guerrilla Painter. The best feature here has to be the storage space. Here you get three large compartments underneath the palette, which helps to organize your brushes and paints. The palette itself provides plenty of room to experiment with mixing colors, but you get the option of purchasing palette extensions, too, for even more workspace.
Just be aware that the lid can hold canvases or watercolor blocks that are a maximum of 9”x 12” in size. So is best suited to artists that paint on a smaller scale or in studios with limited space. That said, the Guerrilla Painter easel can support canvases up to 20” by using the tie-down strap to hold the material against the lid. This can, however, throw the balance off a little and make painting a little unstable.
The lid itself can be adjusted up to 180 degrees to lie flat, which is excellent news for watercolor enthusiasts. Any finished paintings can also be stored inside the lid, which is protected from the other contents during transport. The downside is that the basswood laminate construction is not very protective or durable. So this easel will not stand up to knocks, bangs, or weathering and is best used at home.
- Plenty of storage space – There are three compartments underneath the palette to store your materials
- Adjustable – The lid can flip down 180 degrees if you want to paint using watercolors
- Small – Can easily fit into small home studios and can collapse down
- Basswood laminate construction is weak and damaged easily
- Doesn’t include a tripod, so you’ll have to purchase one separately
- Only provides adequate support to canvases up to 12”x 9” in size
Creative Mark Cezanne Half Box
Cezanne Half Box by Creative Mark mimics the famous Mabef French Easel on a smaller scale. The best aspect here has to be the overall aesthetic. The manufacturers have oil stained the natural Elm and Beechwood easel and storage containers, as well as including brass plated hardware and linen shoulder straps, for a truly rustic look.
The Cezanne Half Box is different from the other plein air easels we’ve mentioned so far, in that it has built-in legs, rather than a removable tripod stand. This means the whole item weighs 10lbs, which is a little more than most. But, that said, it can support canvases that are up to 32” in height and will collapse down to fit a carry case that measures 20” by 6.75” when you need to transport it.
In terms of storage, the easel features a self-contained, box draw, with dividers to help organize your art supplies. The only downside we’ve found is that the wooden legs occasionally slip on uneven surfaces, and the wingnuts tend to become loose over time. But that’s nothing you can’t tighten up with the right tools!
Overall, we’d recommend this to anyone wanting an authentic-looking, French-style plein air easel. The stained wood and quality brass plates are beautiful. That said, you’ll need to protect this design from cold or wet weather conditions that could warp the wood over time.
- Looks great – The oil-stained Elm and Beechwood look beautiful
- Can support larger canvases up to 32” in height
- Plenty of storage for your art materials
- Built-in legs occasionally slip on uneven surfaces
- Wingnuts become loose after a few uses
- Heavy – The Cezanne Half Box is heavier than most plein air easels we’ve mentioned
Tri-C Aluminium Field Easel
This lightweight easel is a great portable tool for any painter wishing for plein air. It is extraordinarily light and easy to fold up (it comes with a carry case), meaning anyone can grab and go. For those on a tight budget wishing for low priced, portable easels, this is your new best friend.
- Can hold canvases up to 32” inches
- Adjustable tripod legs for uneven terrain
- Doesn’t have the traditional painting aesthetic
- No storage drawers
- Hard to clamp on taller canvases
Martin Jullian Classic-Style Wooden French Sketch Box
This is another French-style easel with a little more oomph than the Coronado, but you do pay almost twice extra. The wood is made with elmwood, with brass and brass plated hardware, meaning you will get a quality built easel which can stand the test of wind and temperamental weather.
There is an exclusive Jullian locking system on the metal drawers, adding extra safety and durability. The synthetic leather strap, handle and carry case all give this easel the extra special care you would want in a quality easel.
- Classic French style is always a winner
- Durable wood and excellent finish
- Carry case, handle, light easel is good for portability
- More expensive than the Coronado French style
- Slightly heavier at 13.8 pounds
- Minor final assembly (this isn’t much of a downside though really!)
Buyer’s Guide – Key Considerations
Plein air easels vary in sizes, which in turn affects the size of canvas they can support. For this reason, it’s good to consider the maximum length and width of the canvas the easel can hold.
The last thing we want to carry while walking our chosen creative space is bulky, heavy equipment. For this reason, you should consider the easel’s weight, size, and portability. A lot of modern designs have built-in legs and compartments that can fold down into a smaller carry size, whereas others require a separate tripod stand which has its own setup instructions.
If you want your easel to withstand the outdoors, you’ll need something that can take a fair amount of knocks and weathering. This can be harder to figure out than you think, as a lot of lighter woods, like birch are great for transporting but are easily damaged.
A lot of plein air easels come with a built-in palette to place your paints in. The most robust types are made from glass and are also the easiest to clean. You can get good quality plastic palettes too. These are often less expensive and lighter weight than glass. The downside is that synthetic varieties are a little harder to clean than glass palettes.
Plein air easels can be made from a variety of materials. Birchwood is lightweight but won’t be durable enough to withstand heavy use. Oak, on the other hand, is more robust, but more weighty and expensive. There’s also the option of plastic, which is usually affordable, but prone to cracking around joints. Tripod stands are often made from metal, which is robust and sturdy but can add a fair amount of extra weight to your carry load.
So, Which Should I Buy?
When it comes to choosing the best plein air easel, there’s no right or wrong choice. It simply depends on your artistic needs.
For example, if you plan on traveling a lot, across all sorts of terrain, you’d benefit from using the Plein Air Pro Professional. This is the most durable of all the designs we’ve reviewed and offers plenty of workspace, but the bad side is that it’s also the most pricey.
If you’re shopping on a budget or are a beginner, then go for the Magicfly.
The Sienna Plein Air Pochade Box and Tripod is our top pick, as it combines value for money with quality craftmanship.