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 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.
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.
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 Conté 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 Conté 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.