Same old problem, there’s too much choice, so how do you choose the right pastel pencils? If you are struggling, this guide will help you choose the best pastel pencils for beginners
ALL lists are subjective, we all favor our own brands for our own reasons, not the least of which is familiarity. You get to know the quirks of a brand and adapt to them.
Bearing that in mind, these are 7 of the best pencil pastels readily available. Choose one from the list and buy a set. As you experiment you can always mix and match colors from other brands as you go along.
Disclaimer: When you buy something via my affiliate links, I sometimes earn a commission at no extra cost to you. I only recommend trusted sites.
|Brand||Full Set||Singles Sold||Approx Price||Color Chart|
|Stabilo Carbothello||60||Yes||$92 (£80)||Yes|
|Faber-Castell Pitt||60||Yes||$140 (£123)||Yes|
|Caran D’ache||84||Yes||$350 (£300)||Yes|
|Conte a Paris||48||Yes||$92 (£57)||Yes|
The Best Brands of Pastel Pencils
These pastel pencil brands are not in order of preference.
1. Stabilo Carbothello Pastel Pencils
Talking of personal bias, these are my favorite pastel pencils. Why? Because they were the first pencils I ever bought!
There are 60 pencils in a full set and they will cost you about £80 in the UK or as low as $92 in the US. (currency converter). T
These pastel pencils are middle of the range when it comes to hardness. Not too brittle and not too soft. They sharpen well using both electric and crank sharpeners and their own dedicated hand pencil sharpener.
They are soft enough to mix with chalk pastels and that’s exactly why I bought them in the first place. You can draw over a thin layer of pastel and still maintain clean fine lines.
Harder pastel pencils like Faber-Castells Pitt Range are sharper if you need to draw fine details, but in all honesty, I am a realist painter and it has never been an issue for me. Don’t forget you need less finesse when you paint larger pieces.
Carbothello pastel pencils have a good range of colors but they are nowhere near comprehensive. No pastel pencil range can cover all the demands of every painter.
They perform at their best when you use them on tinted paper or when combined with an underpainting of pan-pastels or gouache. This is how I used them, and with careful blending, I was able to achieve a full-color range.
Lightfastness might worry some people. All pigments vary in their stability. Carbothello pastel pencils have a clear light grading so if you are concerned you might replace the rogue color with another more stable brand.
Personally, I don’t worry about it. Some colors might fade in direct sunlight over time, but in most cases, paintings are displayed well away from the sun. And besides, you can always frame a painting with UV-protected glass.
These are the right pastel pencils for me and are perfectly suitable for professional use. If you are unsure where to start, you can’t go far wrong. These pencils are a safe choice, have a good color selection, and have been around for decades.
There are not enough pastel artists online. Jason is very honest with his techniques and approach to art. Definitely, one to watch. (Not affiliated)
2. Faber-Castell Pitt Pastel Pencils
There are 60 pastel pencils in this range and after a search online they average about £123 for a full set for $90 from Jerry’s Artarama in the States. (currency converter). Otherwise, expect to pay about $140 for a set.
Faber Castell Pitt pencils are hard pastels and they are great for detailed work. They will not draw over a layer of soft pastel as easily as Carbothello pencils but they will sharpen to a very sharp point. You can use an electric or crank sharpener without worry.
The color range is fairly good, they wear well, and the pigments are strong with vibrant colors. They are hard enough to block shade and draw with a satisfying creamy texture.
Pitt pastel pencils are made with a water-based binder which means you have the scope to experiment with watercolor washes.
Like Carbothello the modest range of 60 colors can be augmented using mixed media.
These are the best pastel pencils for artists who strive for finer details. They are a good choice.
3. Caran D’ache Pastel Pencils
If you want a wide range of colors right out of the tin, then choose the Caran D’ache pastel pencil set. There are 84 different colors and it’s the best selection of any leading brand.
These are top-of-the-range pencils when it comes to high-quality pigments, but that comes with a hefty price tag. How does £300 ($350) for a box set sound? Ouch. (currency converter).
Well, they come highly recommended should you choose to spend 3x as much money. They are ideal for professional artists.
The colors are rich, vibrant, and lightfast. They blend well, with a soft creamy feel, and lie somewhere below Carbothello pastel pencils in hardness.
They don’t sharpen well with mechanical sharpeners and they are too expensive to risk breaking the points too often. These are pencils that should be sharpened with a blade and kept sharp using fine sandpaper.
For presentation, they win hands down, but at this price, I should think so. They come in a beautiful wooden box with 3 cushioned trays. They are a joy to look at but it’s a luxury I can easily live without for a cheaper deal.
Caran D’ache pastel pencils are the best for color choices and high quality.
4. Derwent Pastel Pencils
There are 72 colors in the Derwent range and they come in a fancy wooden box just like the Caran D’ache Pencils, and similarly, they are expensive. A boxed set of Derwent pastel pencils can be found for £149 here in the UK and $150 in the States, again at Jerry’s Artarama (currency converter).
You pay far less for a set in a metal tin. If you want a wooden box you’ll have to pay the premium. Usually about £20 ($30)
The colors are strong and rich, and handily, you can download their color chart from their website.
They also have color charts for lightfastness covering their entire pencil range which is amazing. Most colors stand up well but why bother manufacturing Magenta with a rating of only 2? and I was disappointed to see that Ultramarine had a rating of only 3!
Derwent pastel pencils do have a tendency to crumble in use. To be fair, that’s pretty standard for most pastel pencils, but it is a pain in the backside. Use a blade and sandpaper to sharpen them, or a dedicated Derwent sharpener.
My issue with Derwent, and I have used their products for many years, is availability.
I bought my box set of pastel pencils many years ago and I know Derwent still make them, so it’s disconcerting when you can’t find the larger sets of 72 pastel pencils in stock on their own website, and none on Amazon either.
You can find smaller sets of 48 easily and you could always top up individually, but how many people are going to buy a whole set that way?
The Derwent brand is tried and tested. They make good quality pencils and they are an excellent choice if availability doesn’t put you off.
5. Cretacolor Pastel Pencils
There are 72 colors in the Cretacolor pastel pencil range and the full set will cost you about £75 or $119 give or take. (currency converter).
Arguably not the most vibrant of colors. The darks are fine but the lighter colors can be insipid. Landscape painters might wish for more greens.
They sharpen well with a blade but are too brittle to use with a mechanical sharpener. These pencils crack and crumble easily. You can sharpen them to a nice sharp point but the tip will chip if you apply too much pressure, and that’s frustrating.
You shouldn’t judge by appearances, but that said, they do have a ‘budget’ feel. The packaging is cheap and they certainly don’t match the quality of Pitt and Caran D’ache pastel pencils.
They are OK, the color range is pretty good and you can add water for new effects.
Strangely I cannot find any information regarding lightfastness. Even their official website ignores this issue, and their accompanying video is cheap and nasty. Not inspiring at all. It puts me off.
I’ve been looking for good pastel painting classes and this one stands out for me. Maxi knows his trade and combines hard and soft pastels. Only one issue, it’s a Spanish course with English subtitles, but for the price you pay, it’s a minor point.
Find this course on Domestika and search for more, it’s full of gems. It’s not all Spanish-speaking. Some of the drawing courses are top-notch.
6. Conte a Paris Pastel Pencils
With only 48 colors to choose from, these pencils will leave you wanting more. I suspect that they are designed to complement their other pastel ranges and not intended to be used alone.
You can buy a full set for about £57 or $92. (currency converter).
These are soft pastel pencils and have a creamy smooth consistency, perfect for blending and complimenting chalk pastels.
Conte pastel pencils are not designed for fine detail, especially on smaller works. They have a whopping 5mm lead diameter which encourages broad strokes over larger areas. If you need pinpoint control use Pitt Pencils instead.
Considering this is a post to help you choose the best pastel pencils and not the best complimentary pencils to use with other pastels, these wouldn’t be an obvious choice for me.
Pastel artists will probably have little use for Conte pastel pencils. The color range is inadequate and if you can’t use them for detail why use them at all? Use traditional pastels or soft pastel sticks instead.
7. Koh-I-Noor Gioconda Pastel Pencils
With another selection of only 48 pencils, this brand falls flat for me, that’s not enough for a standalone brand. Not only that, they are not generally sold singly. That’s a big thumbs down.
Do you want to buy a whole new set just to replace one color? No, these aren’t the right pastel pencils for most serious artists.
The colors are however very rich, you might even say neon, and for that reason, they do have their fans.
In my opinion, they are handy for adding some intense color when needed. In other words, very sparingly.
Rich pigments go hand in hand with softness and that means they are difficult to sharpen. You’ll have to use a blade and accept that these pencils are going to crumble easily as you use them.
These are not pencils I would use for detail, but they are very slim so that compensates slightly.
In my opinion, these are good pencils if you prefer a very bright palette. They are cheap, but that’s irrelevant if you run out of your favorite color and have to buy another set.
They retail for about £40 for a full set in the UK, and more in the US, about $90 (currency converter).
Related to Buying Pastel Pencils
How to Sharpen Pastel Pencils
I hate sharpening pastel pencils. They invariably crumble before your eyes. Faber-Castell pastel pencils are the hardest pencils with the least wastage.
I sharpen my pencils with a dedicated sharpener or with a craft knife. I keep the tips sharp, as best I can, with a sheet of super fine sandpaper. But even when you do that, some pencils disintegrate.
It doesn’t take much to shatter the soft cores inside. A careless drop or rough handling and you are in trouble. It’s very frustrating and I will, on occasion, superglue the broken tips back in. Desperate admittedly, but it works.
This is a very handy video to watch. Says it better than I can.
Some people use hand-cranked and electric sharpeners, it’s a matter of preference. It’s so instinctive for me to twist the tip of any pencil over sandpaper that I don’t even think to do it any other way.
A sharpening device will only work with the harder brands.
If you use branded sharpeners just be aware that they are only as good as the sharpness of the blade itself. All blades lose their edge over time. They have to be razor-sharp to work.
Will Pastel Pencil Colors Fade?
There’s a problem with comparing the brands for lightfastness. There is no universal lightfast grading standard and you have no idea how each brand calculates its scales.
Caran D’ache and Derwent both use the Blue Wool Scale but even this is not a true indicator of color permanence. A pigment can be lightfast in perfect conditions but not in combination with other chemicals.
Don’t lose sleep over this one. If a brand scores its own color as not lightfast, swap the color for another brand. It’s all you can do.
And don’t think this problem is unique to pastel, it’s not. Watercolor has similar issues.
I write about fading in more detail here: Does Art Fade? Does Pencil Fade? Do Paintings Fade? I Found Out
Pastel Papers Are Just as Important
The surface of your paper will determine how well your pastels adhere to the paper. Your paper stock must have a ‘tooth’.
Some papers are more textured than others and some will wear down your pastels fast.
I first learned to paint on a WHITE illustration board which was a mistake. You really need tinted paper to maintain color harmony easily, and plenty of texture to hold multiple pastel layers.
Another important video. for pastelists. Learn to choose the best paper
If you are a beginner, try Canson Ingres pastel paper, it’s thinner with a different texture but very good paper. It was my paper of choice for many years when I did pastel portraits. I liked to use the mid-grey.
Should You Use Fixative on Pastel?
Fixative is not as important as some artists would have you believe. It has its uses, but I’ve painted plenty of pastel paintings without it.
Most amateurs think it’s essential to spray the finished artwork. Let me assure you that this is not a good idea. In my experience, most brands of fixative darken the tone. They can ruin all your hard work. Be very cautious about how you spray your work.
I only use fixatives to deliberately darken and bind my underpaintings before I carry on painting a new layer over the top. I use Winsor and Newton fixative but only because I’m used to it.
Frame your pastel paintings under ant-static glass if you are worried.
This article goes much further: How to Protect and Preserve Your Drawings
Best Pastel Pencils For Artists: Final Thoughts
What I love about pastels is their immediacy. It’s a drawing medium, and I’m much more at home with a pencil, but make no mistake this is painting. They are the same pigments as paint but held together in a dry binder.
Yes, pastels can be messy but there is no drying time to hold you back, no stinking turps, and no varnish. Nor is there the problem you get with watercolor which dries lighter than you intended.
The mark you make is the mark you get. and it’s all instant.
I’m a big pastel fan.
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