Pastel Pencils vs Colored Pencils: Which Pencil Is Better?

While they may appear alike, a detailed comparison of pastel pencils vs colored pencils show that they differ in their binders and artistic effects.

Colored pencils use a waxy binder to hold pigment, whereas pastel pencils have less binder.

Colored pencils are usually harder with a harder tip while pastel pencils tend to have a softer ‘lead’ and can be smoothed out more easily.

Pastel pencils and colored pencils are like cousins in the art materials world, but they do have some differences we should know as they affect the end result of your artwork.

Pastel Pencils vs Colored Pencils

What are Pastel Pencils and Colored Pencils Made Of?

Simply, colored pencils are like crayons, with wax or oil helping keep the compressed colored pigments together. 

All pencils, whether colored or pastel, contain pigments, which are the substances that provide the color.

What differentiates these pencils is the binder that holds those pigments together and gives them shape.

Colored Pencils:

  • Binder: They typically use a waxy or sometimes oily binder – literally, either a type of wax or oil is used to compress the binder to make the pencil lead. This is what gives the pencil its firmness and allows it to be sharpened to a fine point.
  • Pigments: Colored pencils can have a range of pigments, but due to the binder’s nature, they can be somewhat translucent, making them semi-transparent on paper.

Pastel Pencils:

  • Binder: Pastel pencils contain a minimal binder, which might be a gum Arabic or clay-based binder. This minimal binder is what makes the pastels softer and more crumbly than colored pencils.
  • Pigments: Pastel pencils often have a higher concentration of pigment than colored pencils. This gives them their vibrant and opaque appearance. Since they have less binder, the true color of the pigment shines through more directly, making them more saturated on paper.

To recap, so both pastel pencils and colored pencils use similar pigments for their color but the binders differ.

Colored pencils use a waxy or oily binder, making them firmer, while pastel pencils use minimal binders like gum or clay, resulting in a softer texture and more vibrant color payoff.

Sharpening

You can make both pencils super sharp for drawing. But colored pencils are a bit easier to sharpen and can hold a much sharper tip without breaking.

Blending

Imagine rubbing two colors together to make a new one. Pastels are softer, so they blend together better. 

How they look on paper

When you draw with pastel pencils, the colors look very bright and you can see the strokes more. But with colored pencils, it looks a bit smoother and not as bright.

You can also press a little more harder when coloring in with colored pencils as opposed to pastel pencils which can break if you use too much pressure.

Some artists like one type more than the other, but both are cool to use. You can even mix them up in the same artwork.

Which is Best – Colored Pencils or Pastel Pencils

I have summarized the pros and cons of pastel pencils vs colored pencils below but in summary, colored pencils and pastel pencils each offer unique qualities, and the best choice depends on your own needs, what suits your art style and personal preferences.

Colored Pencils: Known for their precision, they’re great for detailed work and are less messy than pastel pencils.

They allow for layering of colors, and their firm nature makes them durable. However, blending can be more challenging, and wax-based versions might develop a hazy film over time.

Pastel Pencils: These stand out for their vibrancy and ease of blending. Their high pigment concentration provides brilliant colors, and they can give artwork a rich texture.

On the downside, they’re softer and can break easily. They’re also prone to smudging, often requiring a fixative spray to set the artwork.

Pros and Cons of Pastel Pencils vs Colored Pencils

Pastel Pencils:

Pros (Good things):

  1. Bright Colors: They have super bright and bold colors.
  2. Easy to Blend: You can smoothly mix them together, like soft ice cream!
  3. Opaque: This means you can’t see through the colors. They cover the paper well.
  4. Great for Textures: You can see and feel the pencil strokes, which can be fun for certain artworks.

Cons (Not-so-good things):

  1. Messy: They can smudge and get your hands dirty.
  2. Break Easily: Because they’re soft, they can break if you’re not careful.
  3. Storage: They need special care so they don’t smudge or break.

Coloured Pencils:

Pros (Good things):

  1. Precise: You can draw fine lines and tiny details easily.
  2. Less Mess: They don’t smudge as much as pastel pencils.
  3. Sturdy: They’re harder and don’t break as easily.
  4. Portable: Easier to carry around without worrying about them.

Cons (Not-so-good things):

  1. Harder to Blend: Mixing colors can be a bit more challenging.
  2. Semi-transparent: Sometimes, you can slightly see through the colors.
  3. Waxy Build-up: If you color too much in one spot, it can feel a bit waxy.

How do they compare when it comes to pricing?

What I have found over the years is that the pricing of both colored pencils and pastel pencils can vary widely based on several factors – the best colored pencils aren’t always better than the best pastel pencils for example. Other factors come into play:

Brand

Established, renowned art brands tend to price their products higher than lesser-known or generic brands.

I always stick with Derwent, Prismacolor and Caran’Dache (but these can be a bit pricey but worth it if you’re going to take the use of coloring pencils seriously in your art).

Quality

There’s a distinction between student-grade and artist-grade materials.

Artist-grade pencils, whether colored or pastel, generally have higher pigment concentrations, better lightfastness (resistance to fading when exposed to light), and smoother application.

As a result, they’re usually more expensive.

Production Costs

The materials used in the pencils, including the quality and rarity of pigments and binders, can influence price.

Packaging

Pencils sold in sets or with specialty cases may be priced higher.

Regional Factors

Prices can vary based on import duties, shipping costs, and regional demand. There is also the local currency’s buying power.

Countries such as Australia or Canada have a lower dollar compared to the USA and they usually have higher taxes so that generally means materials will cost less to buy in the USA.

General Comparison:

Colored Pencils

These are widely available and come in a vast range of prices. Student-grade colored pencils are typically more affordable, but artist-grade pencils, especially those from top brands, can be quite pricey.

Pastel Pencils

Like colored pencils, there’s a range in price. However, because pastel pencils might be considered a more specialized tool (less commonly used than colored pencils), they might have slightly higher prices for comparable quality.

It’s good to note that while price can be an indicator of quality, it’s not the only factor. It’s possible to find reasonably priced pencils that perform well, and vice versa.

When considering price, it’s a good idea to read reviews, test the product if possible, and decide based on both budget and artistic needs.

I have purchased lots of expensive materials only to find them a waste of money, and on the flip side I have found some low cost gems.

Understanding Pastel Pencils

Soft Pastels Vs Hard Pastels

Pastel pencils are a type of pencil that comes in two main forms: soft pastels and hard pastels. Soft pastels are more versatile and offer rich, vibrant colors.

They are excellent for blending and can create smooth transitions between hues. Some popular soft pastel pencil brands include Derwent Pastel Pencils and Stabilo CarbOthello Pastel Pencils.

On the other hand, hard pastel pencils are firmer and less crumbly as they contain a higher level of pigment to binder.

They are great for detailed work and more precise lines. A well-known brand of hard pencils is Faber-Castell Pitt Pastel Pencils.

Quality and Brands

When choosing pastel pencils, it’s vital to consider the quality and brand. High-quality pastel pencils have a good pigment composition, which contributes to their vibrant colors and captivating intensity. Some key aspects to look for in quality pastel pencils are:

  • Consistency of color
  • Ease of blending
  • Firmness and durability

In addition to the brands mentioned earlier, you might also come across oil pastel pencils. These pencils have an oil binder which makes them smoother and more resistant to smudging. However, they might not be suitable for all types of artwork.

Selecting the best pastel pencils for your artwork depends on your personal preferences and your work style.

Experimenting with different brands and types will help you find the perfect fit for your artistic endeavors.

Understanding Coloured Pencils

Oil-Based Vs Wax-Based Pencils

Coloured pencils come in two main types: oil-based and wax-based. Each type offers unique benefits for artists and serves specific purposes.

Oil-based colored pencils have a harder texture, allowing you to create sharp fine lines for detailed work. They’re great for building up multiple layers without developing a waxy bloom on the paper.

On the other hand, wax-based pencils are softer and typically blend more easily, making them ideal for creating smooth gradients and building color intensity without much effort.

Quality and Brands

When choosing colored pencils for your artwork, remember that quality matters. High-quality pencils offer better pigments, smoother application, and longevity.

One popular brand among artists is Prismacolor pencils, known for their vibrant, easy-to-blend colors.

Using different types of pencils in your artwork can help you achieve a wide range of effects.

Whether you focus on fine details, intricate textures, or delicate shading, colored pencils give you the versatility and control you need to bring your creative ideas to life.

Comparing Pastel Pencils and Coloured Pencils

Usability and Preferences

When comparing pastel pencils vs coloured pencils, each type has its own unique characteristics. Pastel pencils are softer than colored pencils and easier to blend.

They are great for creating vibrant colors and covering large areas quickly. Coloured pencils, on the other hand, are harder and have a finer point.

They are ideal for detailed work and require much less pressure when creating fine lines and subtle color transitions.

Control and Detailing

The main difference between these two types of pencils is how they interact with the tooth of the paper.

Pastel pencils effortlessly glide on the paper, filling in the tooth with pigment. This provides a better option for artists who want to create bold strokes and have less concern about precision in their subject matter.

On the other hand, coloured pencils require a more controlled approach due to their harder texture. They are a key tool for artists who want to focus on intricate detailing since the fine point allows for precise lines and accurate shading.

Smudging and Blending

As you know, smudging and blending pencils (whether they’re colored pencils or pastel pencils) are an essential technique in art.

Colored pencils are more stable when it comes to smudging and require techniques or tools for blending.

Pastel pencils, on the other hand, offer easy smudging and blending capabilities, allowing for soft transitions and effects.

This ease of smudging with pastel pencils means artists might need to be more cautious to avoid unintentional smudges or consider using a fixative to set their artwork.

Let’s look at these distinct behaviors in a bit more detail:

Colored Pencils:

Smudging

They have minimal smudging due to their wax or oil binders. The lines and colors produced by colored pencils generally stay where you put them unless you apply significant pressure or use solvents.

Blending

Colored pencils can blend, but the process might be a bit more labor-intensive than with pastels. Artists can layer different colors, burnish them using a colorless blender or white pencil, or use solvents like mineral spirits to achieve a blended look.

The resultant blend is often smooth but might lack the soft transitions of pastels.

Pastel Pencils:

Smudging

Pastel pencils are known for their easy smudging ability due to their soft texture and high pigment concentration. This can be both an advantage and a disadvantage.

On the plus side, artists can effortlessly create soft transitions, fades, and gradients.

On the downside, unintentional smudging can occur, especially if the artwork is handled frequently.

Blending

One of the significant advantages of pastel pencils is their ability to blend effortlessly. Artists can use their fingers, blending stumps, or tortillons to merge colors smoothly.

Pastels’ soft and powdery nature allows for a broader range of blending techniques, yielding soft and dreamy transitions.

Sharpening

Colored pencils are generally easier and more straightforward to sharpen due to their harder consistency.

In contrast, pastel pencils require a gentler approach and may need more frequent sharpening, but they can achieve a soft, diffused line that’s unique to their composition.

Proper tools and techniques can aid in effectively sharpening both types of pencils without excessive waste or breakage.

Colored Pencils

Durability

Generally, colored pencils, especially those with a wax or oil binder, are harder and more durable. This means they can typically be sharpened to a fine point without breaking easily.

Sharpener Compatibility

Most standard pencil sharpeners are suitable for colored pencils.

For best results, especially with artist-grade pencils, a high-quality sharpener is recommended to prevent wastage and frequent breakage.

I love my Bostitch pencil sharpener but have a read of my review here.

Frequency

Because of their durability, colored pencils don’t need to be sharpened as frequently when used for general coloring.

But for detailed work, artists might sharpen them more often to maintain a fine point.

Pastel Pencils

Softness

Pastel pencils are softer and more crumbly due to their minimal binder content. This makes them more delicate and prone to breaking when sharpening.

Specialized Sharpeners

Some artists prefer using a knife or blade to sharpen pastel pencils manually to have better control and reduce breakage.

If using a regular sharpener, it’s best to turn the sharpener around the pencil instead of the usual method to minimize pressure.

Frequency

Given their soft nature, pastel pencils might wear down quicker and need frequent sharpening, especially when working on textured papers that can cause more wear.

Leveraging Different Mediums

Mixing Mediums

Exploring different art materials can lead to fantastic and unique results in your artwork. For example, combining pan pastels and traditional pastels with colored pencils adds depth and texture to your creations.

You might want to experiment with oil paints and watercolor painting, too. These diverse mediums can help you achieve a wider range of artistic effects.

By layering and mixing various art supplies, you’re able to refine your skills and expand your repertoire as an artist.

Imagine adding a light wash of watercolor pencils to your piece before layering colored pencils on top. This method gives your work a vibrant, dimensional feel.

Remember to keep your supplies organized and within reach to make the transition between mediums smooth and efficient.

Transitioning Between Mediums

Switching between different forms of art materials shouldn’t be complicated. To transition seamlessly, be mindful of the compatibility of different mediums.

For instance, water-based media like watercolor pencils work best with other water-soluble supplies. When pairing oil paints with traditional pastels, make sure to use a fixative for the pastel layer before applying oils.

This added step helps prevent smudging and muddying of colors.

Pay attention to the surfaces you’re working on, as well. Different mediums may require different types of paper or canvas to achieve the best results.

With a little practice and experimentation, you can elevate your art by skillfully leveraging various art mediums together.

Remember that it’s key to keep your workspace clean and organized. A tidy workspace makes it easier to transition between mediums and not lose focus.

Also, take care of your art supplies and store them correctly to ensure you’re getting the most out of your creative process.

Using these tips, you’ll create vibrant, striking artwork showcasing each medium’s best aspects.

Working with Colors

Range and Versatility

When creating art, you often seek a variety of colors to express your creativity. With colored pencils, you can achieve intricate lines and achieve a wide range of colors.

Think of bright colors, rich tones, and even vivid colors. Color pencils handle details well, which is great for your refined work.

On the other hand, pastel pencils offer you pastel colors and softer textures. If you’re aiming for smooth blending and broader strokes, pastel pencils are a good choice.

While they might not have the same level of versatility as colored pencils, they still produce delightful pastel tones.

Optimizing Color Intensity and Transition

The choice between pastel pencils and colored pencils also affects color intensity and transition in your artwork. Colored pencils allow for:

  • Layering colors
  • Achieving various levels of opacity
  • Building up rich, vibrant colors

With colored pencils, you can create detailed images with high color intensity.

Yet, if you prefer subtle transitions between colors, pastel pencils might be a better fit. Since they are softer and easier to blend, you can create smooth gradations and softer effects.

Remember that your choice between pastel and colored pencils will greatly influence the color range, versatility, and blending abilities in your artwork.

Keep your artistic goals in mind when making your decision, and enjoy the process of experimenting with different colors and effects.

Pastel Techniques and Tips

Creating Textures

Pastel pencils allow you to create a unique texture in your artwork. When creating fine details, make sure to sharpen your pastel pencils to a sharp point.

This allows you to add small details to your detailed drawings.

Experiment with soft pastel sticks to achieve an even broader range of textures. Play around and explore the infinite possibilities.

Blending Techniques

One of the best features of pastel pencils is how easy they are to blend. This blending ability helps you create smooth transitions between colors, making your artwork look more natural and realistic.

Try using your fingers or a blending tool to create fine color transitions and softer edges in your artwork.

When attempting to create hard edges, be extra mindful about avoiding smudging. Blending can be fun, so remember to enjoy the process and find your unique style!

Choosing the Best Set

When you’re trying to choose the best set of pencils, it’s necessary to consider your specific needs as an artist.

Are you aiming to cover large areas or looking for greater control over fine details? Your answer will help guide you to the perfect set of either pastel or colored pencils.

For high quality and professional results, a full set of Caran d’Ache Pastel Pencils offers rich pigmentation and nearly all 84 colors have high lightfastness ratings.

These pencils provide smooth application and dense color, making them a great choice for artists wanting vibrant and rich artwork.

But, if you’re just starting out or prefer a smaller set, investing in a good quality set of pastel pencils for around $30 might be more suitable for your needs.

Remember that each type of pencil has its own unique features that can enhance the overall quality of your artwork, so think about which characteristics will best complement your artistic style.

Colored pencils are generally harder than pastel pencils, making them ideal for artists who need greater control over their lines and details.

On the other hand, the softness of pastel pencils allows for easy blending and the creation of captivating intensity in your work.

The choice between these two types ultimately depends on your preference as an artist and the techniques you wish to employ.

With so many options available on the market today, your goal should be to find a set of pencils that cater to your artistic needs without breaking the bank.

Opting for a reasonable price while still achieving high-quality results is key when selecting the perfect set of either pastel or colored pencils.

Remember that as a visual artist, your primary focus should always be creating beautiful, expressive artwork showcasing your skills and talents.

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