Pastel Pencils: A Comprehensive Guide

Art has a language all its own, and the tools we use to express it can make all the difference.

For those who love the soft, dreamy quality of pastel art but crave the control and precision of a pencil, pastel pencils become an indispensable part of their creative journey.

Let's explore the world of pastel pencils, their benefits, drawbacks, and their unique influence on various drawing styles.

What are Pastel Pencils?

Pastel pencils are a hybrid artistic tool that combines the properties of traditional colored pencils and soft pastels. They consist of a pigmented core, similar to that found in soft pastels, encased within a protective wooden sheath like a conventional pencil. The result is a tool that embodies the softness and vibrancy of pastels but also offers the control and ease of use typically associated with pencils.

Artists primarily use pastel pencils for fine art drawings, particularly when they require precision and control. However, the versatility of these pencils allows for a wide array of applications, from quick sketches and mixed media projects to detailed soft pastel works that require an extra level of precision.

Advantages of Pastel Pencils

When comparing pastel pencils to their more traditional counterparts, several advantages emerge:

  1. Rich, Vibrant Colors: Pastel pencils, much like soft pastels, have a high concentration of pigment. This results in more vibrant colors that can create striking, dynamic pieces. The color intensity of pastel pencils significantly surpasses that of regular colored pencils, making them an excellent choice for artists seeking to inject a dose of vibrancy into their work.

  2. Blendability: Pastels are renowned for their blendability, and pastel pencils are no exception. The soft core allows colors to be seamlessly blended together, creating beautiful gradients and smooth transitions. This blendability can bring a level of depth and softness to your artwork that is often challenging to achieve with regular colored pencils.

  3. Versatility: One of the notable strengths of pastel pencils is their versatility. They can be used on various surfaces, from traditional pastel paper and canvas to wood, opening up a multitude of creative possibilities. Moreover, they're not just for detailed work. The thick, soft core also allows for broader, more expressive strokes, giving artists the freedom to switch between precision and expressiveness as needed.

  4. Less Pressure Required: Unlike colored pencils, which often require substantial pressure to deposit color onto the paper, pastel pencils allow for a rich color payoff with minimal effort. This attribute can be particularly beneficial for artists prone to hand strain or those looking to create artwork over extended periods.

Disadvantages of Pastel Pencils

Despite their many advantages, it's important to note that pastel pencils do come with their share of drawbacks:

  1. Fragility: Pastel pencils, due to the softness of their core, are more fragile than regular colored pencils. Their cores can easily break if excessive pressure is applied, or if they're accidentally dropped. This necessitates careful handling and can sometimes make them less suitable for on-the-go sketching.

  2. Dust Production: Like all pastels, pastel pencils produce dust. This can not only be messy but also pose a potential inhalation risk if not properly managed. Artists need to be mindful of this and consider implementing safety measures such as wearing a mask or working in a well-ventilated space.

  3. Fixative Requirement: To prevent smudging and to preserve the artwork, the use of a fixative is often necessary when working with pastel pencils. However, the application of fixative can slightly darken or alter the original colors, which some artists may find undesirable.

  1. Shorter Lifespan: Due to their softer core, pastel pencils tend to wear down and need sharpening more frequently than colored pencils. This can lead to a shorter lifespan for each pencil and may mean that you'll need to replace your pastel pencils more regularly.

Drawing Styles that Suit Pastel Pencils Best

While pastel pencils can certainly be used across a wide variety of drawing styles, they are particularly well-suited to certain genres and subjects:

  1. Portraits: The blendability of pastel pencils makes them ideal for creating the smooth transitions often necessary in skin tones and facial features. They can help to achieve a level of realism and depth in portraits that is often challenging with other mediums.

  2. Landscapes: The vibrant colors and broad strokes achievable with pastel pencils allow artists to effectively capture the natural beauty of landscapes. From the subtle tones of a morning sky to the rich greens of a forest, pastel pencils can bring a landscape to life in a captivating way.

  3. Still Life: The combination of rich pigmentation and control that pastel pencils offer can help to bring still life subjects to life. Whether it's the shiny skin of an apple or the delicate folds of a cloth, pastel pencils can render these details with a level of realism that's hard to beat.

  4. Wildlife Art: The ability of pastel pencils to create both fine details and texture makes them an excellent choice for wildlife art. They can effectively portray the softness of fur, the intricate patterns of feathers, or the rough texture of scales, allowing artists to create compelling and lifelike depictions of animals.

Artwork created with Pastel Pencils

Many artists have created stunning and diverse artwork using pastel pencils. Here are some of my favorite examples:

Pastel pencil drawing of an owl (source)
Pastel pencil drawing of a croissant by Tang Yaling (source)
Pastel pencil drawing of a tiger by Marion Tubiana (source)

Popular Sets of Pastel Pencils

When it comes to selecting a set of pastel pencils, there are several popular choices renowned for their quality:

  1. Faber-Castell Pitt Pastel Pencils: These pencils are widely recognized for their excellent pigmentation and smoothness, making them a favorite among many artists. Additionally, they're oil-free, which allows for easy blending and ensures compatibility with other types of pastels.

  2. Derwent Pastel Pencils: These pencils offer a soft, powdery texture and a wide range of colors, making them perfect for those seeking to create detailed work with a traditional pastel look. Derwent is a respected brand in the art world, and their pastel pencils live up to their reputation.

  3. Caran d'Ache Pastel Pencils: Known for their high pigment concentration and exceptional lightfastness, these luxurious pencils are often the go-to choice for professional artists. Although they come with a higher price tag, many artists believe the quality justifies the cost.

Features of Pastel Pencils

Understanding the general features of pastel pencils can help you make the most of this versatile medium. Here's a quick overview:

Pigment QualityPastel pencils typically have a high pigment quality, which allows them to produce vibrant, intense colors.
BlendabilityThese pencils are renowned for their excellent blendability, which allows for smooth color transitions and can add a level of depth to your artwork.
VersatilityPastel pencils can be used for both detailed work and broad, expressive strokes. Additionally, they can be used on a variety of surfaces, making them a highly versatile tool in an artist's arsenal.
Ease of UsePastel pencils provide the control of a pencil with the added benefits of pastels. This makes them user-friendly and a great starting point for those new to pastels.
Durability While they can be fragile due to the softness of the pastel core, with proper care, these pencils can be long-lasting.


Pastel pencils combine the best of two worlds, offering the vibrancy and blendability of pastels with the precision and control of pencils. While they come with certain challenges, the advantages they offer make them a unique and valuable addition to any artist's toolkit. Whether you're a seasoned artist looking to experiment with a new medium, or a beginner starting your artistic journey, pastel pencils can unlock a world of creative possibilities.

If you enjoyed this article check out other articles about colored pencils:

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