I really enjoy using pastel pencils because of how easy they are to blend and their ability to add color to darker papers instead of just white. Some really neat effects can be had when using a black piece of paper since you are basically using the paper as the shadow areas leaving you to add mid tones and highlights.
If you landed on this page looking for colored pencils then see my reviews of some of the best colored pencils used by beginners and professionals.
Reviews For The Best Pastel Pencils
Get the pros and cons on these popular sets of pastel pencils that will suit the beginner and professional artists.
#1. Faber Castell Pitt Pastel Pencils
Comes in a metal tin with 60 pastel pencils and is the largest set available by Faber Castell. Has a good variety of colors. Could be an excellent choice for the beginner or professional artist. Smaller sets of 36, 24 and 12 counts are available or individual pencils are available also. I was unable to find a lead diameter for these. But customer reviews show these can be good for finer detail applications.
I have seen a few negative ratings for sharpening but had a hard time finding anything else negative. Sharpening pastel pencils can be somewhat tricky anyways. Customer reviews show this pencil worked well when blending. This pastel pencil comes with the ATSM stamp of approval for safety. Larger barrel size makes this a comfortable pastel pencil to use.
#2. Derwent Pastel Pencils
This product comes in a nice wooden case with 72 colors. Magnetic bar helps hold pencils in their location during transport. Buy 1 pencil or get a 12, 24 or 36 set. Derwent also carries a 12 pack set designed for skin tones.
There are not as many reviews for this product. But the ones I read were positive except when using a pencil sharpener. Use a hobby knife or razor blade when sharpening then refine your tip with some fine grit sandpaper. Customer reviews suggest that they enjoyed this pencil and would recommend to others. I have a set of watercolor pencils by this company and they are of high quality. This brand has been around for a while and is quite popular among many artists.
#3. Conte A Paris Pastel Pencils
This is a set of 48 assorted pastel pencils and is available in a 24 count set also. The 24 piece set comes in a metal tin while the 48 comes in a cardboard box. That is not good for storage and transport meaning you may need to find a case when not working at home.
I read claims to this pastel pencil having a harder lead which would mean a lesser lightfast rating. While also reading that it has a softer core. The cause of this conflict appears to be that Conte A Paris may have improved their lead softness. What I can say is that I have a old set and the lead is on the harder side. I am pleased with their quality. Customers who bought this item, were happy with the product.
#4. Koh-I-Noor Gioconda Pastel Pencils
This is a 48 count pastel pencil set that comes packaged in a nice presentable tin case. The color range is Koh I Noor Gioconda Range which seems to be somewhat popular. Sets of 12, 24 and 36 are available. I am not sure about the availability of purchasing single pencils but my best guess would be there is not. Further research required.
I am unsure whether the name is on the pencil or not due to conflicting research. Though it does seem this pastel brand lays down smooth with the occasional gritty spot in the lead. Hard to find hard facts about the availability to buy single pencils. More research may needs to happen before making a buying decision.
#5. Stabilo-Carbothello Pastel Pencils
This 60 piece set comes in a wooden case and is available in 12, 24, 36 and 48 but in a tin case. Single pencils are also available. This set is for a more professional artist and not for children due to the toxicity of some colors. Read the labels of art materials for this kind of information. Blenders, gloves and masks may be necessary for safe use.
This brand of pastel pencil is for professional use only and should be out of reach of children. With that said. There is positive customer reviews pointing toward a quality pastel pencil. There are a lot of art materials that use more traditional ingredients. This insures the purest form of the pigment is not lost.
#6. Caran D’ache Pastel Pencils
These pencils are the largest set I reviewed and come in a nice wooden case of 84 assorted pastel pencils. I was able to find smaller sets of 12 and 20. Also you can buy one at a time. Definitely more for the serious artist as these can be somewhat expensive.
The large amount of colors are very versatile allowing you to do portraits to landscapes. I was unable to find very many reviews and I accredit this to the price which is quite high. Customer reviews showed happy satisfied people. There was one mention about doing without the wooden case to cut down on cost.
The Best Pastel pencils versus Traditional Pastels
Soft Pastels are the purest forms of pigment. With enough bonding agent to make the core firm. Can use like a crayon even though pastel pencils are way different. Thought of as colored charcoal for awhile. It is much harder to get fine detail with this form of pastel and can be quite messy.
Traditional pastels have a larger variety of colors than the pastel pencils.
Use stick pastels for larger areas and pencils for finer details. This helps when laying out your base colors.
Best Pastel Pencils Buyers Guide
Diameter of the Lead
Characteristics of the Best Pastel Pencils
Being made with more pigment than bonding agent allows this type of pastel to put more color on the paper. Generally not used in pencils because of how soft and fragile the lead is. Checking different brands you can find some pastel pencils to be softer than others but requires a surface with more texture to accept the pigment. Use a gentle touch to insure the lead does not break as these pastels are not as compressed. Blending and layering of colors is had without much pressure applied. More dust comes from the use of softer pastels. You may need to use your finger or blending tool to push the pigment into the texture of the paper.
Though better at making finer lines this pencil does not blend and layer as well as the softer ones. Also they need more pressure to get the pigment to apply to the surface. Pushing the pigment into the texture of the paper is more difficult which can cause hand fatigue. Some harder pastel pencils will have a waxier core that will leave a sheen when applied. Making it appear shiny which can be good or bad. This is dependent on the subject matter and the effect the artist is going for. Most of the pastel pencils out there are probably considered to be hard even though you will find some to be softer. This type of pastel usually requires some kind of fixative spray to secure the pigment to the tooth of the paper.
This type of pastel is hard or soft due to the effects of hot and cold temperatures. The reason for this is the binding agent in the pigment is oil and wax based. Don’t confuse this with crayon’s which have a more waxier binder while oil pastels are really considered to be a paint medium. Warmer pastel tends to be more fluid while the colder is firmer and requires more pressure. They are like oil paints when using some linseed oil to blend and soften lines. No fixative spray needed for this type of pastel.
For beginner’s I recommend buying small sets of stick pastels along with some pastel pencils. The softer pastel sticks can lay out the big areas of base color while using the pastel pencil for finer details.
Blending With Pastel Pencils
The traditional way of blending with pastel pigments is to use your finger or a cotton swab. These methods are great for larger areas but the finer details such as hair and strands of grass texture is hard to achieve with your finger. This is where a blending tool can come in handy. There are plenty to choose from but I recommend a blending tool that has a fine point because after you have put your color on your paper it can be used to pull the paint into a grassy texture fairly easily. The Color Shaper Pastel Blending Tool is a good option as one end is a broad point and the other is a fine point.
Best Pastel Pencils Q & A
I found this quick video for beginners in pastel painting showed some basic techniques using pastel pencils. It also demonstrates how quickly you can lay down color to your paper.
How do you use pastel pencils?
In most cases you want to start with your lighter colors and work to the darker colors. Your finger or a q-tip can be used as a blending tool. Since most pastel pencils are harder and more powdery you may need to use a fixative spray. These types of sprays can help to build layers of colors by using the fixative and allowing it to dry then applying more pastel colors over the top.
Can you use colored pencils with pastel pencils?
You can use colored pencils with pastels. A good example of this is to try using the pastel pencil to do the out of focus work in the background and use the colored pencil for the foreground work. This gives a nice photo realistic effect.
How do you sharpen pastel pencils?
The best way to sharpen a pastel pencil is to use a razor blade or hobby knife to carve away the wood then refine the lead by rubbing on fine grit sandpaper. As pastel pigment is way softer than a colored pencil so a light touch is needed to ensure there is no breaking. I have also found that you can use a handheld pencil sharpener but the tip can break off in the sharpener and is a real pain to get out.
Materials suited for the Best Pastel Pencils
When beginning in pastels there are a few things you should consider before buying. It is important to remember that other materials can affect the cost and can get pretty high in price.
There are many different types of papers for pastel painting. Coarser textures like sanded paper and bark paper can use up the pencil quicker. While velour and pastel cloth are much easier on the life of the pencil. Different surfaces allow for different textures. You will find quite a bit of variety when searching out the best surface to work on. I will be reviewing some of these in a later article and will provide a link to this content when finished.
This is an optional tool that gives you something firm to tape your paper to. This will hold it in place and provide a portable backer for your art when working in the field. Read my review on the best drawing boards.
Your finger and the pencils themselves are for blending. You can find different types of blenders to use for pushing the pastel into the texture of the paper. These can be a good tool for getting into small and finer detailed areas by giving you a finer tip to work with.Stumps and even erasers can be used to achieve different styles of blending also.
Note: Some pastel pencils are toxic! Wear proper safety equipment to insure safety while using.