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How to Find the Perfect Patio Umbrella

Sure- all umbrellas have a pole, ribs and fabric – so what sets them apart? Simple as it may seem, choosing the best umbrella for your space will require answering just a few questions. For starters, what type of umbrella are you looking for? What will it cover- loungers, a dining table, maybe a whole deep seating set? What type of fabric do you like? What sort of stand works for your space? Our buying guide will help you narrow down your options and choose the perfect shade for your space.

Patio Umbrellas

Types of Umbrellas

In days past, you had one option for shade – it was round and came in 3 basic sizes. These days, you can really customize your umbrella for your space and style with so many types available. The most common styles are Market, Cantilever (or Off-Set), Drape (or Garden), and Beach. Nowadays you will find umbrellas as small as 5' and as large as 13' with additional shapes such as square and rectangles. Let's dive in to each.

  • Market Patio Umbrella - For years market umbrellas were traditionally found in commercial areas such as hotels, apartments, farmers markets, etc. but a surge in residential market umbrellas has taken place over the last decade or so. So what does Market refer to? Merchants have long used canvas fabric combined with pole structures to cover their wares in outside shopping areas (the market) and they constructed their shade in much the same way with a center pole and 4 to 8 crossbars coming off a center pole for support. Because these coverings were seen so frequently in the market – the name stuck. Market umbrellas come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and functions. The most common shape and size is the 9 foot octagonal. Modern day market umbrellas are still made the same way with a pole and ribs to support the fabric but it's how they function that has much improved with features such as auto and collar tilt systems. A wind vent is added in the upper section of the canopy to allow air to flow from underneath to effectively reduce the heat trapped below the canopy. Larger sizes may have double wind vents in order to facilitate greater circulation. Market umbrellas can be used free-standing or with a patio table that will accommodate the pole.

  • Cantilever or Offset - These two terms are interchangeable and refer to any type of patio umbrella that does not have a center pole. The Cantilever style is constructed similarly to the Market except the pole is located either on the side or outside of the canopy. When you need to shade a seating area, choose the Cantilever style as it will provide the shade needed without obstructing the view between your guests. Other great uses include over your hot tub, the grill (with sufficient clearance) or even your swimming pool to create a refuge from the sun. Most cantilever umbrellas are 9 feet in diameter or larger and are not quite as portable as other styles due to the size and heavier weight of the base.

  • Drape and Garden Patio Umbrella - These two terms are interchangeable and refer to the style that has been around for many many years. It is also referred to as a Garden or Patio Umbrella. The look and frame closely resembles a rain umbrella with an aluminum center pole and many steel ribs to support the fabric. Drape umbrellas usually have a valance extending down from the edge of the umbrella.

  • Beach Umbrella - Almost any style can be taken to the beach, but if you are looking for a true beach umbrella, then look at the end of the pole. Beach poles will have a closed and tapered end (similar to a spike) so that it can easily be stuck in the sand to create shade wherever you need.

Canopy Fabrics

Canopies are usually made from the same outdoor fabrics as found on outdoor furniture and include Vinyl, Spun Polyester, Olefin, Sunbrella. The fabric is a crucial element and can affect the life of the umbrella.

  • Woven Vinyl - This is probably the material that you remember from you grandmother's backyard. It has been a staple for many years and provides great shade at a more economical price.

  • Spun Polyester - Synthetic fabric that is used in outdoor furniture and accessories. Spun Poly is an economical fabric choice that will bring several seasons of enjoyment.

  • Olefin - This is an excellent fabric choice for those who are looking to add shade to their space on a budget but are not looking to sacrifice quality. Olefin is a highly durable synthetic material with improved fade resistance over lesser grade fabrics. Olefin fabrics are available in many colors that will beautifully match the most popular colors found in outdoor furniture. Olefin fabrics require a little more care than some of the acrylic fabrics but will give you several years of protection from the sun.

  • Sunbrella - This is the most well-known fabric brand in the outdoor furniture industry. Sunbrella fabrics are 100% solution dyed acrylic fibers that are unmatched in strength to withstand rain, UV rays, fading and stains. Easy to clean plus mildew resistance make Sunbrella an excellent choice for outdoor use. Most Sunbrella fabrics carry a minimum 5 year warranty.


Frame Options

Every frame needs a structure support system which consists of the pole, hub and ribs (canopy support). There are 4 main types of materials that are used to build frames. Each one has it's uniqueness. Let's take a look.

  • Aluminum - By far, this is the most common material. It is lighter in weight compared to most metal materials, naturally rust-resistant and has the strength needed to support the umbrella in windy conditions. Aluminum frames are available in many colors and most have powder-coated finish to protect from scratches. The ribs of an aluminum umbrella may be made from steel, aluminum or fiberglass.

  • Wood - Several types of hardwoods are used in the frame construction. Teak is one of the most popular types along with Marenti. Although beautiful, wood frames require additional care when compared to other frame types. The ribs of a wood frame are usually fiberglass or wood.

  • Fiberglass - If you are looking for the most wind-resistant frame, then give serious consideration to one containing fiberglass ribs or pole. Fiberglass frames are strong and flexible and will withstand stronger winds more than other materials. It is also lightweight and easy to move around the patio. Some aluminum, wood and steel frames use fiberglass for the ribs to provide additional protection against the wind. Fiberglass is resistant to salt and great for environments such as the beach or pools using salt as a part of their water treatment.

  • Steel - Several commercial umbrellas are available with stainless steel frames. These are excellent for areas where there may be many people handling the umbrella. Steel is also used for the ribs of the drape umbrella.

Lift Methods

The plain truth is an umbrella that doesn't open won't provide any shade. The solution is to raise the canopy – but how? With a Lift Method of course!

  • Push-Up - To open, you simply place your hand under the hub (the portion where the ribs come together around the pole) and push up. A pin is placed underneath the hub to secure the canopy. To close, simply remove the pin and gently lower the hub.

  • Pulley - An advancement to the push-up system was made when an integrated cord and pulley system was added to the hub making it easier for raising and lowering the umbrella. A two pulley system is the most common but some do have a 4 (or Quad) pulley system that makes it even easier to open the umbrella. A pin is placed underneath the hub to secure the canopy. To close, simply remove the pin and gently lower the hub.

  • Crank - This system uses an internal pulley system and is the most convenient lift system with a crank located on the pole. All it takes to raise and lower the canopy is a few turns of the crank. Another added convenience of the crank system is the ability to adjust the opening of the canopy at any point as well as tilt the umbrella.

Tilt Systems

Just as the sun moves across the sky, so can your umbrella. The ability to tilt and deflect the sun at any time of the day is priceless. Picture yourself enjoying that morning cup of coffee outside without the sun shining directly in your eyes. With a tilt umbrella, you can move the canopy down so that the sun is hidden from sight.

  • Push Button - The umbrella can be tilted in 2 directions by pushing the button located in the upper portion of the pole.

  • Auto or Crank - An added feature of many umbrellas with the crank lift system is the ability to use the crank for tilting the canopy by turning it clockwise until the tilt level desired is reached.

  • Collar - A collar (or ring) is located just above the crank mechanism and is turned to engage the tilting system. The collar tilt is the most convenient of all tilt systems and works well when used with a dining table.

Other Considerations

How much shade do you need for your table or conversation area? Achieving the shade you are looking for can be challenging. Learn how to Get the Shade You Need.

Now that you've decided on the perfect umbrella, you need to be able to stand it up securely. Find out what weight base you need for Supporting Your Umbrella.

Get the most out of your umbrella by caring for it properly. There are just a few things you need to know about How to Care for Your Umbrella.


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