Oil Stick Vs. Oil Pastel: What’s The Difference And Who Needs Them?

Oil sticks and oil pastels

Oil sticks and oil pastels are both oil-based art supplies. While they have a lot in common, there are also some key differences between the two types of mediums that artists should be aware of before deciding which one to buy. This article will compare these two art supplies and answer questions about who needs each type of supply.

Oil Stick

Several brands of oil sticks

Oil sticks are the perfect paint substitute for artists who want to enjoy the thrill of oil painting without having to contend with paintbrushes. They come in cylindrical sticks and consist mostly of pigment, drying oil (such as linseed or safflower), and wax. Oil Stick Paints will dry like regular oils, but they're also compatible with other mediums.

 Pros Cons
  • Dries like oil paint
  • Creamy consistency
  • Used as a drawing tool
  • Works on canvas, paper, wood, aluminum panel
  • May be used with oil mediums
  • Expensive
  • Forms a thick film after prolonged storage

Oil Pastel

Various brands of oil pastels
 Pros Cons
  • Does not need preparation before use
  • Easy to blend and layer
  • Less expensive than oil sticks
  • Used as a drawing tool
  • Creamy consistency
  • Does not fully dry or cure
  • Prone to smudging unless properly protected

Oil Stick vs. Oil Paint

Appearance - Winner: Oil Pastels

Oil sticks in cylindrical stick form, wrapped in paper and plastic to protect the paint stick. They’re softer to touch compared with oil pastels. Oil pastels come in stick and block form, each having its advantages over the other form. Block oil pastels are better for adding details and than cylindrical sticks. 

Both mediums can be messy, but you can use a pastel holder for oil pastels. However, you cannot use these holders on oil sticks because of their less rigid composition, but you can use rubber gloves or finger gloves to minimize the mess. 

Pigments - Winner: Oil Sticks

Oil sticks use pure, high-quality pigments with wax and a drying oil as binders.  Oil pastels also use high-quality pigments, but some low-priced brands use more binders, resulting in a stiffer consistency.

Preparation of the surface - Winner: Oil Pastels

Oil sticks adhere better on primed surfaces, either using acrylic gesso or oil primer. Priming improves the lifetime of your painting and prevents the leaching of oil to the back of your surface. Unless you're using canvas which will also need priming, oil pastels won't need any necessary preparation before drawing.

Application - Tied

Both oil sticks and oil pastels are drawing tools, so even if you have not perfected your brush skills, you can still make excellent art with these mediums. Because they contain oil, hence the name, they glide smoothly over paper.

Layering - Tied

Both mediums layer well. The oil sticks dry well, but it needs to cure for 6 months before it full dries, giving you enough time to add more layers. During the curing period, there is still a tendency that adding layers may result in accidental smudging. 

On the other hand, oil pastels do not fully dry, making layering more challenging unless you add a fixative to areas you have already finished.

Blending - Winner: Oil Pastels

Oil sticks need special blending sticks to use for blending your colors. Since these are consumable, it's an additional expense to your oil sticks.

These blending sticks are colorless, solvent-free, and linseed oil-based blending medium that improves color transparency and blending.

Depending on your oil pastel blending techniques, you can blend oil pastels using a paper towel, Q-tips or blend on their own. You may use linseed oil, walnut oil, or mineral spirits to blend your oil pastels, but these supplies are not a necessity. 

Use in Mixed Media - Tied

You may use oil sticks and oil pastels in mixed media. You may even use both mediums in one artwork. Oil pastels usually add details, while oil sticks add dimension to your drawings.

Finish - Winner: Oil Sticks

Oil sticks use safflower or linseed oil, allowing them to dry after curing it for 6 months after adding the last layers. It also contains siccative agents that aids in the drying process of oil pastels.

Understand that oil sticks behave like oil paints, so you need to apply a retouch varnish over it to preserve it and prevent dust and moisture from damaging it. Oil pastels, on the other hand, contain linseed oil but don't have siccative agents. Since linseed oil is a non-drying oil, oil pastel paintings remain workable even after years.

To keep it in good condition, artists practice archival framing to protect their oil pastel drawings. However, you may also apply oil pastel fixatives to save your work from smudging or getting scratched.

Storage - Winner: Oil Pastels

On the one hand, oil sticks need special attention to keep them away from heat and form a film on the exposed parts to protect themselves from drying out. If left for prolonged periods, the film becomes harder and removing it needs help with a blade or cutter. 

It is best to store your oil sticks covered in plastic to prevent excessive filming and hardening, leading to unnecessary wastage. Oil pastels do not need extra protection from storage, though we prefer you get a good storage box to prevent breaking the oil pastels.

Safety - Tied

Oil sticks contain siccative agents that aid the drying process. However, siccative agents may contain lead, cobalt, and other heavy metals, which are not safe for human use.

Oil pastels don't fare any better since some of their pigments have some heavy metals, such as lead chromate in chrome yellow. Other heavy metals to watch out for in oil pastels are lead, cadmium, and cobalt.

Even if these mediums have toxic pigments, you can still use them with proper safety measures since they are only hazardous if ingested. It is, therefore, important for artists to wash their hands after each use of oil sticks and oil pastels to remove all traces of the toxin.


The safflower seed content of the oil sticks makes it more expensive than linseed oil used in oil pastels, not that oil pastels are cheaper. You do have affordable alternatives for oil pastels, though, one thing you don't have with oil sticks. Some cheaper brands use quality pigments and even look professional when used with the right oil pastel paper.

Oil Stick & Oil Pastel FAQ

Can you paint over oil sticks?

Yes. However, you cannot treat this work as an oil stick drawing or an oil painting, but rather as a mixed media art where the oil sticks are the dominant media. The oil paint only works for adding accents or details to keep the art piece's structural integrity.

Also, keep in mind that while they both contain oils, oil sticks contain wax, rendering them richer. Artists may use medium and thinners that work with oil paint to dissolve the oil sticks enough to use them as oil paints.

Are oil pastels the same as oil sticks?

No. Oil pastels and oil sticks are different mediums and have unique characteristics. Oil stick drawings dry completely after proper curing, while oil pastels remain workable even after a long time unless you apply a fixative to them. Also, oil sticks need a blending medium to blend them; while you may blend oil pastels using friction only.

Can you melt oil pastels to make paint?

Oil pastel manufacturers' do not recommend melting oil pastels with heat (either in the microwave or conventional oven). However, you can use mineral spirits to dissolve oil pastels so that you can use them as any wet medium. You may even dip the tip of the oil pastel in mineral spirits, pick the pigments with a brush, then apply it as if using paint.

How do crayons and oil pastels differ?

Crayons and oil pastels differ in various ways, the most prominent of which is the binder used in the composition. Crayons mainly use wax, while oil pastels use a combination of non-drying oil like linseed and wax. You may blend oil pastels, while you can do it with crayons because of their composition, making crayons more stable than oil pastels.

Children usually use crayons for coloring, while professionals use oil pastels for creating art. For fun art sessions, you may also try neon pastels. One child-friendly brand is Crayola Neon Pastels that work well with Crayola Oil Pastels

Lastly, crayons are very discriminating on the surface to use, mainly paper. You may have encountered Sakura Cray-Pas products, but don't let the name mislead you. It is an oil pastel made with safety measures required of crayons, making it safe for kids' use. Even the professional-grade Expressionist set is non-toxic for your utmost safety.


Take some time to look at our guide comparing these two types of mediums so you can decide which one suits your needs best! The bottom line is that oil sticks vs. oil pastels are both excellent choices for artists, but one may be better than the other, depending on your needs.

Use oil sticks if: 

  • You want your artwork to dry and cure fully.
  • You're patient enough to prime your surfaces before painting.
  • You want to make an oil painting but are not comfortable with using a brush.

Use oil pastels if:

  • You don't have issues with the non-drying finish of your work.
  • You're okay framing your artwork.
  • You're an art student looking to master a new medium.

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