Should I Buy a Sun Shade Sail or an Umbrella?

As a homeowner, you want to make the most of your outdoor space. But how can you enjoy your patio or terrace with the sun's rays beating down? You need an affordable, durable shade structure that's easy to install and effectively blocks out the sun.

Two of the most popular choices for shade structures are shade sails and patio umbrellas. But how do you know which one is right for you? In this ColourTree guide, we'll help you decide. We'll go over the following:

Shade Sails vs. Cantilever Umbrellas

A shade sail is a shade structure used by homeowners and businesses to cover swimming pools, patios, carports, or any outdoor space that needs protection from the sun's rays. They're made of durable material in either square or triangular shapes and fitted with rings on their edges to anchor them to posts or buildings. Cantilever umbrellas are attached to a free-standing mast on one side and can tilt and rotate to block the sun as it moves. Some are also made of durable, UV- and weather-resistant materials.

Let's look at the benefits and downsides of both shade sails and umbrellas to help you decide which is best for you.

Benefits of Shade Sails for Your Patio or Garden

With several positive features, shade sails are a smart choice for any outdoor space.

More coverage

Shades sails cover a wider area than umbrellas do. Sunshade canopies are perfect for outdoor spaces that need a lot of shade, like swimming pools, or large gardens and patios. Waterproof shade sails can even protect your outdoor space from rain. Often, multiple triangle shade sails are layered over each other, to create a larger shaded area that's guaranteed to block the sun's rays no matter the time of day.

Attractive appearance

Shade sails come in either triangles or squares. They're also made in a variety of colors to fit seamlessly with your outdoor aesthetic. If installed incorrectly though, shade sails can put in a mediocre appearance - they might not have enough tension and sag in the middle. That's why it's important to place them correctly and purchase a shade sail made from high-quality material, like 190 GSM non-recycled HDPE (high-density polyethylene).

Easy installation

All it takes to set up a shade sail is anchoring it to a post or existing structures. A fence, a pergola, or well-placed tree are good candidates for mounting your shade sail - they might also help it withstand the wind better. Once your shade sail canopy is installed, there's nothing left to do but clean it every so often.

Custom sizes

Many shade sails come in pre-made sizes, but you can often custom-order a shade sail to fit your unique space. Most umbrellas can't be made to order, limiting your choices on size.


If you want to maximize your coverage, a shade sail is your most affordable option. Although umbrellas are also inexpensive, shade sails cover a greater area, bringing you the most value.

two triangular shade sails cover an  outdoor patio

Downsides of Shade Sails

While shade sails are a great solution for blocking out the sun and protecting from rainfall, they do have a few downsides.

Not flexible

Unlike cantilever umbrellas, shade sails cannot be moved once they're placed. The shade coverage will, therefore, move with the sun throughout the day. For this reason, the placement of your sun shade sail is an important consideration.

More maintenance

Shade sail canopies are harder to keep clean than patio umbrellas. Since they're unmovable, you'll have to climb up on a ladder to wash off your shade sail if it accumulates dirt.


In some cases, you might need a permit from local authorities to erect a shade sail. Usually, this only applies to large sails that are considered as separate structures.

Pros of Cantilever Umbrellas

Adjustable coverage

Umbrellas have the advantage of being adjustable. Cantilever umbrellas, which are attached to a post and a base, can be tilted to keep the sun off your patio as it moves during the day. Since they dont need to be anchored to a stable structure like shade sails, umbrellas can also be moved from one place to another easily.

Aesthetic appeal

Umbrellas tend to be more visually attractive than shade sails. Although, your desired aesthetic can help you determine which one is better. Umbrellas create a more intimate atmosphere, whereas shade sales are better for a minimalist design.

Simple installation

Although both are easy to install, umbrellas have a slight advantage since they don't have to be anchored to anything.

terrace with table, chairs, patio umbrella

Cons of Patio Umbrellas

Less coverage

Umbrellas provide less shade than shade sails. As they cover a generally smaller area, patio umbrellas are usually better suited for smaller spaces like terraces or individual tables.

Less flexibility

Umbrellas are easy to move around, targeting your shade spot wherever you need it. Since they typically cannot be customized, however, you're limited in how well an umbrella fits in your garden or on your patio. Depending on the brand, shade sails are typically built from sturdier materials than umbrellas, making them waterproof, UV-resistant, and even weatherproof.

The Better Choice - Shade Sails or Umbrellas?

Your choice between a sun shade sail and a cantilever umbrella will depend on your needs. If you're looking for a single shady spot above a table and chairs at the edge of your pool, then an umbrella might suit you better. If you need a lot of coverage and a hassle-free shade structure, then an outdoor shade sail is your best choice.

ColourTree makes durable shade sails that block 95 percent of harmful UV rays, with edges constructed of layered, reinforced stitched seams and stainless-steel grade D-rings. Our sun shade sails come in a variety of colors and sizes, both as squares and triangles. We can also customize your shade sail in any size. Browse our selection of standard, waterproof, and super ring shade sails to learn more!


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