The best pastel pencils are a great choice for artists seeking versatility. They can be combined with traditional pastels, they're brilliant for drawing in colour and they can be great to use with mixed media. Some are even water-soluble. On this page, we've gathered the best pastel pencils on the market based on our own reviews, in which we tested them in a range of different styles of art.
In our tests, we evaluated the pencils below in terms of binding, application and lightfastness, considering how they compare to each other. For more traditional pastels, see our best oil pastels guide, and if you want something wetter, check out the best watercolour pencils. But in the meantime, these are the products that get our vote as the best pastel pencils available today.
The best pastel pencils available today
Why you can trust Creative Bloq
The best pastel pencils for professionals are pricey but deservedly so. Richly pigmented, nearly all 84 colours have high lightfastness ratings. Smooth going down, they leave dense colour. Harder than a soft pastel, the core is quite thick. The hexagonal barrel means the pencil won’t roll away, and the wood is smooth and easy to cut.
Great for details
Quantity: 12 – 74
On the firmer side, these have a smooth, chalky feel. They're easy to sharpen to a good point and keep a point for longer than many others, putting them among the best pastel pencils for fine details. The colour intensity is also excellent. They tend not to blend so readily, though they transfer to the surface well. The core is a little fragile.
Nice and soft
Quantity: 12 – 48
Koh-I-Noor’s are the best soft pastel pencils I’ve used. They're bright and blend readily, though with some loss of intensity. With only 48 pencils, the range is narrow but offers enough for most artists. For the price, the colour is surprisingly intense and most are lightfast. The casing is good and easy to sharpen with a blade but narrow and strong enough for a sharpener.
Best for blending
Quantity: 12 – 63
These have a chalky feel, though I find them quite smooth going down. They blend reasonably well and leave nice, dense colour, putting them among the best pastel pencils to balance intensity and easy blending. Because of their softness, they tend to wear quite quickly and produce a fair bit of dust, so they suit bolder marks (see our full Stablio CarbOthello review for more details).
Quantity: 3 – 60
This versatile option performs well for the price point. They feel quite smooth, are well pigmented and lay down colour fairly well – they do need a bit more pressure to produce dense marks, though. This means they can get a bit dusty. In terms of softness, Pitt pastels sit somewhere in the middle: hard enough to hold a reasonable point but soft enough to blend a bit.
good for combining
Quantity: 6 – 72
This softer option has a slightly chalky feel more like a traditional pastel. They readily transfer pigment on a variety of surfaces and are particularly good at blending. The round wood binding is smooth and easy to cut through. The core may be a bit too brittle to use with the range’s sharpener, so I recommend a blade. It's a versatile, malleable option that feels closer to a pastel block – good to combine with other media.
What are pastel pencils?
Pastel pencils are a form of pastel encased in wood (as with most pencils). To give it colour, the pastel core contains pigment and it also contains binders (usually including chalk) for body. This element is what differentiates the pastel pencils from the pencils in our best coloured pencils list. Ordinary pencils use wax with other binders rather than chalk.
How to choose the best pastel pencils
Picking the best pastel pencils for you will depend a lot on your working style. You may want to compromise between softness and how much the pencil can blend versus being firm enough to produce crisp lines. If you have a more expressive or painterly drawing style, opt for soft pastel pencils, and if you are more interested in fine details, look for ones on the harder side (note that all pastel pencils tend to be harder than conventional soft pastels and should produce less mess).
Another thing to consider is how easy the pencils are to sharpen. The core of a pastel pencil tends to be quite fragile, and it may be necessary to use a blade to sharpen it. Also, more expensive pastel pencil ranges generally contain more pigment, meaning the colours are brighter, and they are more likely to be lightfast, so they won’t fade over time. This is important for professional work but might be sacrificed for beginners in favour of value.
Note that one challenge of pastel pencils is the dust they produce. To stop this lingering on the page, it's a good idea to draw using one of the best artists’ easels.
How we tested the best pastel pencils
To test these pencils we used them in a range of different art projects. We tested them in terms of binding (how well they stick to a surface) application (how well they go on the surface) and lightfastness (how well the colour stays) as well as number of colours and overall value. We also evaluated whether they'd be best suited for beginners, intermediate users or professionals.