If you have ever used pastels before or wanted to try pastels, pastel pencils are an appealing alternative. They offer the same feel as regular pastels, but they’re encased in a standard pencil shell to create fine tips for detail work and to reduce the pastel’s messiness. Artists usually develop a preference for a specific feel in the pencil, whether soft and creamy or fine and hard.
While all of the brands listed here meet the basic standards for high quality pastel pencils, they reflect the full spectrum of pencil leads available. We’ve noted which brands tend to be harder and which are a bit softer, so if you are new to pastel pencils, you might want both types to find out which feels better to you. All of these brands, though, were selected based on the wide range of colors they offer, the overall strength of the pencil leads, and their artist-quality ratings for lightfast, fade-resistant colors.
The Stabilo Carb-Othello pastel pencils are a top favorite and are known as one of the best brands available. They are super soft, but they work well for adding detailed designs. Plus, they are partially water-soluble, allowing artist to use a wide range of techniques. The pencils come in up to 60 colors, and are fairly inexpensive. Read Full Review
The Stabilo Carb-Othello pastel pencils have a reputation as one of the top brands available. The pencils are super soft, but they sharpen well and are a good choice for small drawings or adding details to larger drawings made with regular pastels. The pencils are also partially water-soluble, making them somewhat unique among other pastel pencils and allowing artists to use techniques similar to those used for watercolor pencils.
These pencils are fairly inexpensive for pastel pencils, especially compared with some of the other top brands, making them the best all-around choice for beginners or professionals. The Carb-Othello pencils come in up to 60 colors, an adequate range for most beginners, but some artists find they need to supplement the palette with colors from other brands.
The Faber Castell pastel pencils are another highly popular brand among artists. They offer a slightly larger palette with up to 60 colors, but their main advantage is the pencils’ firm, sturdy lead and smooth feel. As a small drawback, the brand can be expensive, though the prices vary considerably. Read Full Review
The Faber-Castell pastel pencils are one of the best choices for detail work, with extra-strong leads, a good range of colors, and the brand offers as many as 60 colors, making it one of the largest palettes of pastel pencils available. They are easy to work with and require minimal fixative after the project is finished, but may be harder to blend than some of the soft brands.
The PITT Pastel Pencils have a standard wooden casing with the colors marked on the end of each pencil, though some artists prefer more to have the entire pencil casings colored to be able to pick out the right shade from a large tray. Their price is a bigger issue, since it varies widely and may be relatively high if the pencils are bought individually. Still, these are many artists’ favorite pastel pencils.
The Derwent brand is a good choice for anyone looking for a basic, all-purpose set of pastel pencils. Like the top-quality Carb-Othello pencils, they are water-soluble and can be used with watercolor pencil techniques, but they are also good for standard pastel techniques. The brand also offers a good range of colors with 72 shades in its palette. Read Full Review
If you've heard about problems with Derwent's older pencils, you might want to give the brand another try. Derwent reformulated their pastel pencils about four years ago, eliminating many of the complaints about the old pencils’ difficult, scratchy texture. The new version of these pastel pencils is soft and water-soluble, and they have a larger lead than standard pencils, providing plenty of colors for artists to use. The pastel pencils come at a reasonable price, making them a good choice for anyone who needs a wide range of colors. While there are fewer colors now, the brand still has one of the largest palettes available with 72 colors in its color range.
Gioconda Soft Pastel Pencils come in only a limited color range with 48 colors available, but are reasonably priced and offer quality pastel pencils for a minimal investment. Like most of these brands, this brand also offers pastels in a similar color range, allowing artists to combine both pastels and pencils for larger projects. Read Full Review
The Koh-i-nor Gioconda Soft Pastel Pencils come from a good quality brand. The pencils have cedar wood shell, but each pencil comes with a colored tip to help artists pick out the right color as they are working. The brand has a limited color range with only 48 colors available, and the pencils can also be difficult to find individually. However, they are reasonably priced, especially when they are purchased in a larger 24 or 48-piece set.
These qualities make the pencils a good choice for beginners who want to test out pastel-pencil techniques without making a large investment in a particular brand. The brand also offers sets of soft pastels in a similar color range, so that artists can easily work with both the pastels and the pastel pencils on larger projects.
The Cont Paris pastel pencils are a long-time favorite for artists and a top choice for quality and consistency. The brand is one of the more expensive brands available and offers only 48 colors, so some artists have to supplement the palette with colors from other brands, but for many artists’ they are still the first choice for pastel pencils. Read Full Review
The Cont pastel pencils have a relatively firm lead, but they are still exceptionally soft and smooth to work with. They are an excellent choice for artists who want to create very small, fine details in their work. Like other pastel pencils, the Cont pencils can be fairly fragile as well, so they require careful sharpening and use in order to avoid breakage.
The pastels come in only 48 colors, so some artists may need to supplement with additional colors from other brands. They can be expensive compared with most of the other brands on this list, but even with the extra cost and the limited palette, the brand is very popular for its consistency and smooth, creamy feel.