The best pastel pencils offer a versatile medium for artists. They combine with traditional pastel drawing as well as being a convenient way to draw in colour, suiting anyone from beginners to professionals. In this guide, we'll look at the best pastel pencils available in terms of binding, application and lightfastness as tested through our own experience using each product, and we'll consider how they compare.
Pastel pencils are a form of pastel encased, like most pencils, in wood. The pastel core contains pigment, to give it colour, and binders, usually including chalk, for body. This differs from the pencils in our general selection of the best coloured pencils, which use wax with other binders. Pastel pencils are versatile for using with mixed media, and some are even water-soluble. However, if the latter is a priority, you might be better looking at the best watercolour pencils. For now though, le's take a look at the best pastel pencils available today.
The best pastel pencils
Caran d’Ache’s pastel pencils come with one of the highest price tags in this list, but quite deservedly so. These pastel pencils are richly pigmented, and nearly all the colours in the range have high lightfastness ratings.
I find the texture of the pencil to be smooth as it goes down, and it leaves dense colour on the paper. They feel a bit harder than a soft pastel, and the core is quite thick. A handy perk is the hexagonal barrel, which means the pencil won’t roll away. The wood is smooth and easy to cut with a blade too. All in all, these are the best pastel pencils for professional use.
Cretacolor’s pastel pencils have a smooth, chalky feel that sits a bit more on the firmer side. This makes it easy to sharpen them to a reasonably good point, and I found they keep a point for a longer that many others, making them good for adding details and producing fine lines.
The colour intensity of these pencils is excellent, with the pigment going down with a nice density. They tend not to blend as readily as other pastel pencils, though they do transfer to the surface well. The core is also on the thin side, making it a little more fragile.
Koh-I-Noor’s Gioconda pastel pencils are bright and especially soft. In fact, they're one of the softest pastel pencils I’ve used, and they blend readily, though there is some loss of colour intensity. The range of different colours is a little narrow as well, though it offers enough for most artists.
For the price, the colour is surprisingly intense, and exceeds expectation. Most of the colour range is lightfast as well. The casing is good quality and easy to sharpen with a blade but is also narrow and strong enough to sharpen with a pencil sharpener. The Gioconda pastel pencils are surprisingly good quality, and are easy to use, suiting beginners and professionals alike.
Stablio’s Carbothello range has a fairly chalky feel, though I found them to be quite smooth going down. They are comparatively soft, so they blend reasonably well and leave nice, dense colour.
Because of their softness, they tend to wear down quite quickly and produce a fair bit of dust. This means they don’t hold a point for long and so suit bolder marks. The barrel for these pencils is narrow enough to fit into a pencil sharpener, though like most pastel pencils, the core may break, so I still recommend sharpening with a blade. They are lightweight and easy to hold.
These pastel pencils can comfortably compete with more expensive brands, coming close in colour intensity, and the colours stay bright when blending too.
Faber Castell’s Pitt pastels are a versatile option that performs well for their price point. They feel quite smooth, are well pigmented and lay down colour fairly well – they do need a bit more pressure to produce really dense marks though. This means they can get a bit dusty.
In terms of softness, Pitt pastels sit somewhere in the middle. I found they were hard enough to hold a reasonable point, but soft enough to blend a bit. Overall the Faber Castell Pitt pastels are a solid all-rounder, able to perform well for a variety of different uses. They are a good choice for anyone upgrading to more professional materials.
The Derwent Pastel pencils offer a softer option with a slightly chalky feel more like a traditional pastel. These pencils readily transfer pigment to the page and work well on a variety of different surfaces. They are particularly good at blending. For the cost, the intensity of colour is good as well.
The pencils have a round wood binding that 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 sharpening with a blade. Otherwise, I found the pencils quite robust. I rate Derwent’s as the best pastel pencils for anyone seeking a versatile option that feels closer to a pastel block.
Conté à Paris pastel pencils are quite a chunky pencil that is roughly in the middle regarding softness and blending. They are particularly useful for the range of marks they can make, as the thicker core can produce broader lines. They also blend quite well. These pencils suit anyone working on larger pieces or wanting more expressive marks.
These pencils are difficult to sharpen with a sharpener, and a bit tricky even with a blade. This is partly because the core is too fragile for a sharpener, but the casing quality lets it down too. The fragility of the core makes it particularly vulnerable to breaking.
General’s Multipastel pencils lean much more towards the chalky end of things, with a much firmer core than other pencils. They seem to perform better on rougher papers as a result. The hardness means that they hold their point well and require less sharpening. This makes them capable of producing some really fine details.
The colour of these pencils is quite weak, looking a bit washed out. The hardness also means than these pencils don’t blend much either, suiting direct mark-making instead. Whilst lacking in colour, these are the best pastel pencils for producing very fine marks.
How to choose the best pastel pencils
Picking the best pastel pencils depends 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 softer pencils, and if you are more interested in fine details, look for ones on the harder side.
All pastel pencils tend to be harder than conventional soft pastels and should produce less mess. Another thing to consider is how easy they 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.
Finally, more expensive 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 overlooked for beginners.
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.