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Art pastels are like grown-up crayons, designed for beautiful works of art in chalky, velvety, and creamy finishes—depending on the pastel type.
From chalk pastels to pencil pastels to oil pastels and everything in between, we researched dozens of art pastels to find the best ones, evaluating pigment, quality, and use. Our top pick, the Sennelier Soft Pastels, come in dozens of sets in a variety of color collections, blend beautifully, and have a paint-like finish.
Here are the best art pastels.
Best Overall: Sennelier Soft Pastel Set - Set of 50, Assorted Colors, Wood Box
The color options are endless
Have a paint-like appearance
After hours of research and road testing, we can confidently say that Sennelier makes the best art pastels. We chose the soft pastels for their high saturation and paint-like texture once applied to the paper. But, what really wowed us is the seemingly endless color options. These soft pastels come in sets with introductory colors, skin tones, iridescent tones, dark colors, landscape hues, and more.
Best Oil: Pentel Arts Oil Pastels, 50 Color Set
Beginner and student-friendly
Need a little warming up
For the best oil pastels, look no further. The Pentel Arts Oil Pastels are a favorite among professional artists and amateurs alike as they come in a variety of colors, are easy to blend, and have a good price point for their quality. If you’re new to pastels or looking for a set for students, these are the ones you want. Just be sure to rub them in your hands before use, as they need a little warming up.
Best Chalk: Sargent Art Square Chalk Pastels
Aren't as dusty as others
The Sargent Art Square Chalk Pastels are our top choice for this category because, although chalk pastels don’t have the most vibrant colors, these have a stronger pigment compared to others. They also blend easily (though they aren’t as dusty as other more expensive pastels), have a good price point for the quality, and last a long time.
Best Pencil: Stabilo Carbothello Pastel Pencil, 60-Color Set
They can break when sharpening
If you want a high-quality pastel pencil, this set from Stabilo is the best of the best. The set features 48 pencils in a wide range of colors that have a charcoal-like feel. We love them because they are durable, easy to blend, and have high pigmentation. You can use them to highlight and shade, or blend them with water and a brush for a painted look.
Best for Kids: Sakura Cray-Pas Junior Artist Oil Pastels
Impressive color range
Aren’t just for kids
They are small
There’s a reason why this oil pastel set is considered a staple in kid's art. These beginner-friendly oil pastels come in a wide range of colors, are easy to use and learn the basics of pastel art, blend well, and have a fantastic price point, considering the quality. While they are kid-friendly and made for junior artists, these aren’t just for kids—they’re one of the best pastel sets for beginners, too.
Best Soft: Faber-Castell Creative Studio Soft Pastels
Easy to blend with any tool (including your finger)
They are not the softest
We dub these the best soft pastels because they boast bright, richly hued colors, are easy to blend with virtually anything (including your finger, a brush, or paper), and have the highest quality compared to other pastels at similar price points. With that said, these lean a little toward the harder side of the spectrum for a soft pastel, which works well for some techniques but might not be ideal for those looking for ultra-soft pastels.
Best Hard: Prismacolor 27050 Premier NuPastel Firm Pastel Color Sticks, 36 Count
They are a bit fragile
These Prismacolor hard pastel sticks live up to the hype with their vibrant colors, gorgeous velvet finish, and value. But, we also love them as a beginner-friendly hard pastel option because they are easy to blend, have a variety of colors, and aren’t too chalky. Their only flaw? They are a bit fragile.
Best for Beginners: Winsor & Newton Introduction to Fine Art Oil Pastels
Work well with oil paints and other mediums
High price for beginners
There are a few great choices for beginner-friendly pastels on this list, but this oil pastel set from Winsor & Newton is the clear winner for us. These are great for anyone looking to venture off into a new medium, as they work well with oil paints and other mediums, have a great consistency that blends well, and the set includes all of the colors a beginner might need. Our only hangup is the price as it is a bit more of an investment, especially if it is your first time using pastels.
Our top pick is the Sennelier Soft Pastels. These come in a variety of color-coordinated sets, including ones specifically made for landscapes, seaside works, and skin tones, and have a paint-like finish. For something more affordable and beginner-friendly, the Sakura Cray-Pas Junior Artist Oil Pastels are a great pick for artists of all ages and skills—plus, you can’t beat that $5 price tag.
What to Look for in Art Pastels
“The first thing to keep in mind is the price point,” says Linda Colletta, an abstract artist with over 25 years of experience. She explains that the price can dictate the quality of pastels, however: “High-quality pastels are extremely expensive and would therefore not be recommended for the beginner if just learning how to use the medium.”
There are three main types of pastels—soft, hard, and oil—and every artist has their own personal type, which makes this a must for choosing the best pastels. If you’re new to pastels, Colletta recommends trying all three different types of pastels first to see which ones you find the easiest to work with, for the type of artwork you are trying to create.
“You want to find a pastel that has the hues and intensity [desired] for your artwork,” says Colletta. This means selecting a set of pastels with the colors you want, but also experimenting a bit. “Each different type of pastel has its strengths and weaknesses in terms of color selections and vibrancy.”
What pastels are best for drawing?
According to Colletta, it depends on the type of drawing. “For realistic drawings with a lot of details, pencil pastels are best,” she explains. “They are designed just like conventional pencils in that they can be sharpened and have a finer point to create with,” she adds. If more abstract or larger-scale artworks are your thing, Colletta says standard pastels work great.
What are good pastels for beginners?
“Soft pastels are great for beginners because they are very easy to experiment with,” says Colletta, adding that the best pastel type for beginners depends on the type of drawing. “Oil pastels can also be fun for beginners,” she explains.
What is the difference between soft pastels and chalk pastels?
The biggest difference between soft pastels and chalk pastels comes down to materials and quality. “Soft pastels are normally composed of small amounts of chalk or clay, water, dry pigment, and binder,” says Colletta. She explains that this type of pastel can help in creating smeared lines, smooth effects, and generating extremely bright colors. On the other hand, chalk pastels are made out of inexpensive and low-quality pigments that can fade over time, Colletta adds.
Why Trust The Spruce Crafts?
Contributing writer Jessie Quinn has a Bachelor’s Degree from Academy of Art University and, as the daughter of an artist, has spent a majority of her life immersed in visual arts and various mediums, including painting and drawing with pastels. In addition to her artistic upbringing, Jessie loves to craft and has spent hours upon hours tracking down high-quality supplies for her projects. When researching the best art pastels, Jessie leaned on these experiences to inform her research. As a result, she put quality at the top of the list, while also considering pastel type, pigmentation, and use.