8 Best Pastel Pencils For Artists In 2023: Reviews & Buying Guide

A realistic drawing of a fish done in pastel pencils

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Pastel pencils are breakthrough art supplies for adding precise details, even on the smallest parts of your drawings. Aside from the lesser mess than traditional pastels, you can sharpen pastel pencils to a fine point for effects and coloring.

In this blog post, we will discuss some of the best brands of pastel pencils on the market and what makes them stand out from the competition. We'll also provide tips on using and choosing the right set of pencil pastels for your needs.

Our Top Picks

Best Overall: Stabilo Carbothello Pastel Pencil


Best for Beginners: Art-n-Fly Pastel Pencils

Best Budget: General's Pastel Chalk Pencils

Best Artist-Grade: Derwent Pastel Pencils

Best for Fine Details: Faber Castell Pitt Pastel Pencils

Best Pigmentation: KOH-I-NOOR Artist Soft Pastel Pencils

Best Skin Tone Set: Dainayw Skin Tone Pastel Pencils

Most Versatile: Cretacolor Fine Art Pastel Pencil Set

1. Best Overall: Stabilo Carbothello Pastel Pencil

A pastel drawing of a dog and a girl done in Stabilo Carbothello pastel pencils

Why We Think It's Great

  • APPLIES SMOOTHLY: Soft enough to provide excellent color coverage while still being easy to control.
  • EXCELLENT PIGMENTS: Uses high-quality pigments with good lightfastness.
  • LARGE 4.4MM CORE: Better than the usual 3mm core found on other brands. 
  • WORKS ON LIGHT AND DARK PAPER: Excellent opacity for better coverage. 
  • WATER-SOLUBLE: Apply the pastel pencils, then wet them later with a damp blending brush for a watercolor effect.

What We Don't Like

  • They can be chalky.
  • It is difficult to get fine details.

What Our Editors Say

“We love this set of pastel pencils from Stabilo because of the range of vibrant and earthy tones it offers. You can use it for anything, from portraits and animals to landscapes. 

We also appreciate the build quality of the pencils because they are thick and equipped with a protective casing. If you drop the pencil, the wooden barrel on its end will protect the lead from shattering inside.”

Country of Origin: Germany | Product Options: Set of 12, 24, 36, 48, 60 | Safety: AP-Certified

Related: How to Blend Oil Pastels

2. Best for Beginners: Art-n-Fly Pastel Pencils

Colorful drawings made with Art-n-Fly pastel pencils

Why We Think It's Great

  • HIGH-QUALITY PIGMENTS: Stronger and brighter colors when applied on paper. 
  • OIL-BASED CORE: Reacts better to solvents for a natural painterly look without developing a wax bloom.
  • EXCELLENT LIGHTFAST RATING: The colors won't easily fade when exposed to sunlight.
  • LAYERS SMOOTHLY: Applies and blends easily for color subtlety and richness that’s perfect for your project.
  • EASY TO SHARPEN: These pastel pencils are sturdier than regular oil pastels.  

What We Don't Like

  • The core is hard for oil pastel.
  • There are duplicate colors in the set.

What Our Editors Say

“Art-n-Fly Pastel Pencils are a perfect starter set for artists who love using pastels but hate the mess. The set comes in a thick, cylindrical case for easier transport. 

We love that these pastel pencils blend beautifully, almost as good as oil-based colored pencils. You can use them for design, adult coloring, and other similar projects.”

Country of Origin: USA | Product Options: Set 48, 72, 120 | Other: Uses Reforested Wood

Related: The Best Oil Pastels

3. Best Budget: General's MultiPastel Chalk Pencils

Drawings using General's pastel pencils

Why We Think It's Great

  • USEFUL FREEBIES: The set includes a pastel pencil sharpener and eraser.
  • ACID-FREE: Made with excellent pigments for rich color saturation that won't yellow over time.
  • ADDS GOOD DETAILS: Sharpen these pastel pencils using regular rotary sharpeners. 
  • IDEAL FOR DETAILS AND EFFECTS: Perfect for adding accents, roughing, and aging effects to your projects. 
  • BUDGET-FRIENDLY: This pack of multicolor pastel pencils offers good value for money.  

What We Don't Like

  • They are not comparable to regular soft pastels.
  • The pastels are hard, almost like colored pencils.

What Our Editors Say

“We like these pastel pencils because they have good coverage, especially with dark paper or paper toned with pastels. If you want to change the values on paper, it is best to darken the colors with a black pastel pencil. We recommend practicing this technique first before working on an important project.”

Country of Origin: USA | Product Options: Set of 12, 24, 36 | Safety: ASTM D-4236 Standards | Other: Uses FSC Wood

4. Best Artist-Grade: Derwent Pastel Pencils

Colored and grayscale drawings with Derwent pastel pencils

Why We Think It's Great

  • INTENSE COLORS: Highly pigmented and blendable, making them ideal for creating vibrant masterpieces.
  • POWDERY TEXTURE: The velvety texture is perfect for artists who want to create soft, blended effects.
  • WATER-SOLUBLE: Easily achieve a watercolor effect on your artwork.
  • ERASABLE: Simply use a kneadable eraser to remove small marks.
  • LIGHTFAST: Excellent lightfast rating of 87%, so your artwork can last a long time.

What We Don't Like

  • The pastel pencils are scratchy to apply.
  • They are harder than regular soft pastels.

What Buyers Say

“These pastel pencils are very versatile. They can be used alone for drawings or with soft pastel sticks for detail. I have never had an issue with breakage like some other brands.

The lead is somewhat soft but not chalky at all. They blend easily and the color selection is very good. A great value for a quality product.”

Country of Origin: UK | Product Options: Set of 6, 12, 24, 36, 48, 72 | Safety: ASTM D-4236 Standards

5. Best for Fine Details: Faber Castell Pitt Pastel Pencils

A cat drawing made with Faber-Castell pastel pencils

Why We Think It's Great

  • LIGHTFAST: Rest assured that your colors will stay bright and won't fade over time.
  • VIBRANT COLORS: Achieve rich and beautiful colors that will take your artwork to the next level.
  • COVERS FASTER: Designed to lay down a layer of color quickly and evenly, so you can get the job done faster.
  • EASY TO SHARPEN: The wood casing is soft and easy to hone with a craft knife.
  • METAL CONTAINER: The perfect way to store your best pastel pencils.

What We Don't Like

  • They won't work with soft pastel sticks.
  • Your project may need more fixatives.

What Buyers Say

“Compared to other pastel pencils I've used, these are smooth, consistent, and have good color laydown. No crumbling, breaking, scratching or misfires.

They blend extremely well and react perfectly to different degrees of pressure. You really do feel in control with these pencils.”

Country of Origin: Germany | Product Options: Set of 24, 36 | Safety: ASTM D-4236 Standards | Other: Uses Recyclable Plastic

6. Best Pigmentation: KOH-I-NOOR Artist Soft Pastel Pencils

Artwork done by KOH-I-NOOR Artist Soft Pastel Pencils

Why We Think It's Great

  • MADE OF 100% FSC WOOD: California cedar wood casing protects the pastel pencils from breakage.
  • SMOOTH LAYDOWN: The soft 4.4mm core is easy to use for detailed work.
  • BLENDS BEAUTIFULLY: Use a blending stump, Q-tip, or even your fingers to create subtle gradations of color.
  • EXCELLENT SATURATION: High-quality pigments produce rich, vibrant colors.
  • AFFORDABLE: They come in a wide range of colors at a reasonable price.

What We Don't Like

  • The wood splits during sharpening.
  • Its metal case is not the best quality.

What Our Editors Say

“We recommend the Koh-I-Noor pastel pencils because they have excellent pigmentation and blendability for laying down beautiful colors on paper. It also offered most of the colors we needed and went on smoothly.

However, these pencil pastels are so soft that you can't sharpen them using a traditional sharpener, so use a craft knife instead.”

Country of Origin: Czech Republic | Product Options: Set of 12, 24 | Safety: AP-Certified Other: Uses 100% FSC Wood

7. Best Skin Tone Set: Dainayw Skin Tone Pastel Pencils

A portrait of a woman and an old woman coloring with pastel pencils

Why We Think It's Great

  • HIGH-QUALITY PIGMENTS: Made with top-quality pigments for rich color saturation.
  • WIDE RANGE OF COLORS: From light to dark, there's a pastel pencil perfect for your portrait project.
  • LARGE 5MM CORE: Perfect for artists who want to lay down thick, bold strokes of color.
  • LIGHTFAST: Colors stay bright and vibrant for a long time.
  • EXCELLENT COVERAGE: Good opacity, especially when working with dark paper.

What We Don't Like

  • They are tricky to sharpen.

What Our Editors Say

“We appreciate this set of skin tone colors to help pastel artists with portraits. These pencil pastels have good pigmentation with excellent lightfastness at an amazingly low price, making them perfect for various projects.

Best of all, this brand offers a 100% money-back guarantee, so rest assured that you're getting the best quality.”

Country of Origin: China | Product Options: Set of 12

8. Most Versatile: Cretacolor Fine Art Pastel Pencil Set

Pastel painting drawings of a dog and a couple

Why We Think It's Great

  • COMPLEMENTS SOFT PASTELS: Use it with your Cretacolor traditional soft pastels to create detailed artwork. 
  • VERSATILE: These pastel pencils can be used for dry and wet techniques.
  • HARD PASTELS: While they require a bit of effort to blend, they offer more control and precision.
  • BLENDS WELL: The soft, velvety texture is perfect for creating smooth transitions of color.
  • ERASABLE: Easily fix your mistakes with a regular eraser.

What We Don't Like

  • This set is expensive.

What Our Editors Say

“We like the Cretacolor Fine Art Pastel Pencils for their high-quality pigments and a whopping 72 set of colors! We found some excellent shades that were not present in other brands. 

These pencil pastels also work well with soft stick pastels. Plus, they are not chalky at all. We highly recommend them if you have the budget.”

Country of Origin: Austria | Availability: Set of 12, 24, 36, 72 | Safety: AP-Certified

Related: How to Draw with Watercolor

Final Verdict

Pastel pencils are unique drawing tools that offer artists many possibilities. You can use them to create both realistic and abstract drawings with stunning results.

We chose Stabilo CarbOthello Pastel Pencils for the best overall spot for their excellent quality, lightfastness, and versatility. They don't crumble easily, perfect for traveling and student artists. The colors also stay vibrant for a long time.

Tips for Using Pastel Pencils for Beginners

Go Slow on Colors

Don't use too many colors when using pastel pencils to avoid getting a cloudy appearance on your drawings. Instead, start with 2-3 colors, blend as you go, and see how the colors look.

Start with Light and Mid-Tones

Going for dark colors is a no-no when working with pastel pencils, so avoid using them first. Start with light colors and mid-tones instead, and add layers to darken the colors. 

For example, if you're doing a chocolate brown shade, start laying a lighter brown first, then add a darker tone, blend, and add more layers to get the shade you want.

Master the Blending Technique

Blending your pastel pencils after applying them to paper is one of the most important techniques to master for a smooth and natural-looking finish. Since pastel paper is textured, some colors may not cover some portions. Blending pushes some pigments onto the paper to prevent your work from looking patchy.

When blending pastel pencils, do not put too much pressure as it can result in the burnishing of the paper. Add a little pressure, making a circular motion on small portions of the drawing to blend the colors well. You can also use a blending brush, a blending stump, or cotton swabs.

Control the Pressure

There are two reasons you should apply your pencil pastels using controlled pressure. One is that they are generally more expensive and softer than colored pencils, so applying too much pressure on them can cause breakage.

The second reason is a mistake you can't afford since it will ruin your drawing. Too much pressure can also cause burnishing, which changes the paper’s surface to make it look shiny. You can't apply more pencil pastels on top when an area is burnished.

Sharpen your Pastel Pencils

Sharp pastel pencils yield the best results when adding details to your drawings. Sharpening them can be tricky since they have a high pigment-to-binder ratio, so they disintegrate easily compared with colored pencils. 

On the other hand, oil pastel pencils are more resilient to breakage, so you can sharpen them using an artist's sharpener.

Keep Them Away from Dust

Even though most pastel pencils are less messy than traditional pastels, they still produce fine dust. Take extra precautions by working in a ventilated area, wearing a dust mask, or using an air purifier to prevent allergies.

Choose the Right Art Supplies and Tools

Use quality soft or oil pastels, pastel pencils, blending tools, and erasers if you want your drawings to look amazing.

Color shapers are brush-like tools with rubber tips for blending colors in small areas. These tools also add texture to your pastel drawings with various tips for different purposes. But unlike brushes, color sharpers are easier to clean since you can easily wipe pastel pencils off them.

Blender brushes have short, angled bristles that you can use to blend or add details to your drawings. Aside from pastels, you can also use these brushes to blend charcoal pencils.

On the other hand, double-ended erasers give you some freedom to eliminate errors. The softer eraser on one end is best for erasing light colors, while the harder eraser can remove dark colors. However, you can only erase once as multiple applications on one area may damage the paper's surface.

Store Your Finished Work Properly

One way to protect your pastel art projects is to apply an acrylic fixative or add a piece of glassine paper in-between your drawings to prevent smudging and smearing. You can also use a clear book to store individual pieces for your showcase.

Best Pastel Pencils Buying Guide

A pastel painting of a kettle and apple

Buying art supplies can be challenging if you don't know what you're looking for. When it comes to choosing the best pastel pencils, here are a few things you'll want to keep in mind.

  • Colors

Pastel pencils come in many colors, so consider the type of art you'll be creating first. If you're a beginner, you might want to start with 12 basic colors and a set of skin tone colors for your portraits. But if you're an experienced artist, you might prefer a set of more specialized colors.

  • Quality

Some brands are known for their high-quality pigments, while others use cheaper materials that can result in lower-quality art.

Professional pastel pencils have stronger and more intense colors and excellent lightfastness. On the other hand, student-quality pastel pencils have cheaper pigments and more fillers for less intense colors.

  • Type

Your pastel pencils should complement the traditional pastel you use for a particular project. For instance, soft pastels need soft pastel pencils, and oil pastels require oil pastel pencils.

  • Casing

Most professional-grade brands use a wooden box to prevent the pencil pastels from breaking while giving your desktop a lovely and vintage look. Other products use a metal case with a plastic or foam bed to protect your pastel pencils.

  • Price

Start with a smaller pastel pencil set if you’re on a tight budget, then build your collection later. There are several high-quality brands at affordable prices. However, we recommend investing in artist-grade pastel pencils if you're a professional artist.

Pencil Pastels FAQ

A pastel drawing of a wolf

1. Why are pastel pencils expensive?

Pastel pencils are pricey because of the amount and quality of pigments in their composition. Start with student-grade pastel pencils if you're not ready to spend money on expensive professional-grade brands.

2. Are colored pencils the same as pastel pencils?

On the outside, pastel pencils are very similar to colored pencils. You'll only know the difference once you apply them to paper. 

While colored and pastel pencils contain binders to keep the pigments together, the main difference is their amount of pigment and finish. 

Colored pencils have a smooth finish that you can't separate from paper. On the other hand, pastel pencils have a chalky or oily finish reminiscent of regular soft and oil pastels. Additionally, pastel pencils are less messy than traditional pastels, and there is no need to buy pastel holders, making them easier to use.

3. How do you blend pastel pencils?

You can use several things to blend pastel pencils - a blending stump, a color shaper, a blending brush, a cotton swab, or even your fingers. 

If using your finger, wrap it with a paper towel before blending to prevent stains and the natural oil on your finger from messing up your drawing.

4. Are pastel pencils good for beginners?

Yes, pastel pencils are good for beginners because they give more control over your pastel drawings. Some beginner artists prefer pastel pencils over colored pencils because they are softer to apply. You can also practice your pastel art without the mess, thus less exposure to fine dust.

5. What is the best way to sharpen pastel pencils?

Use a sharp craft knife or a sharpening block to sharpen soft pastel pencils. Slowly cut away a portion of the wood casing with a craft knife. Press the pencil against the sharpening block, maintaining an angle to get a sharp point.

Why Trust Glytterati?

Our team of editors is passionate about art and craft projects, so we only recommend products that we genuinely believe in. We provide honest, unbiased reviews of the best art supplies, and we often consult with industry experts to make our content professional and friendly, even for beginners. So if you're looking for new ways to improve your creativity, we can help!

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