Soft Pastels Colors: Best Pastel Guide

Soft pastels are my favorite medium, they are a unique and versatile art medium, offering a myriad of opportunities for artists and hobbyists alike.

With over 20 leading brands from around the world, the range of soft pastels colors are wide and varied, with over 700 different colors and even more when you factor in the different shades available for each color.

The number of colors offered by soft pastel brands can vary significantly based on the brand, its target audience, and its range. 

Here’s a general breakdown:

Smaller or Starter Sets

These can start with as few as 6 to 12 primary and secondary colors, intended for beginners or artists looking to test a particular brand.

Intermediate Sets

These can range from 24 to 72 colors. They typically include a broader spectrum of hues, shades, and tints.

Professional or Complete Sets

Larger, professional-grade sets can offer anywhere from 100 to over 700 colors. These sets are designed for serious artists who want the most extensive range possible.

Total Number of Soft Pastels Colors By Leading Brands

Because most brands find it almost impossible to make it easy for their customers to find the ranges or palettes of their soft pastels colors, my team and I have taken a long time to go through each brand and we have listed and linked to each of their color ranges:

  • Rembrandt by Royal Talens offers around 218 colors which are all viewable here.
  • Sennelier has a range that exceeds 525 colors which are all viewable here.
  • Unison offers more than 400 colors that can be viewed here.
  • Schmincke offers more than 400 colors as well. Color chart available here.
  • Blick Art Materials offer their own branded soft pastels that come in 180 colors, if you’re looking for something a little more budget-friendly. Color palette is available here.
  • Mungyo is a leading manufacturer of soft pastels from Korea. They have over 200 colors available. When I first saw this brand on Amazon I had assumed they were a cheap Chinese brand not worthy of attention, but I was wrong. They are quite a good quality pastel and their color chart is available here.
  • Girault is another older brand that is well known for their quality soft pastels. With 352 colors and shades in the range, you can purchase each color individually or in a box set. Colors are viewable here.
  • PanPastels are not your typical pastel that comes in stick form. They are pastel pigments that come in small pans that can be applied using tools such as brushes or even Q tips. They come in 92 colors which you can view here.
  • Terry Ludwig pastels are a specialist supplier of hand-made soft pastels sold in low volumes. These are aimed more at the professional artist. Their retail store is by appointment only but that have a massive range of colors to chose from, a full set of Terry Ludwig soft pastels come in 763 colors, which can be viewed here.
  • Daler-Rowney soft pastels come in over 180 colors and the chart can be found here.
  • Faber-Castell ​soft pastels come in over 70 colors and a pdf can be downloaded from here.
  • Holbein ​soft pastels come in 144 colors and the color chart can be viewed here.
  • Jack Richeson soft pastels come in 500 colors, and can be viewed here.
  • Art Spectrum soft pastels (and also extra soft pastels!) come in over 150 colors and the color chart can be viewed here.

If you fine the above a little hard to follow, I have reformatted the above soft pastels colors listed data into table for easier readbility.

Soft Pastels Colors by BrandTotal ColorsLink to Color Chart
Rembrandt (Royal Talens)218view
Sennelier>525view
Unison>400viewed here
Schmincke>400available here
Blick Art Materials180available here
Mungyo>200available here
Girault352viewable here
PanPastels92view here
Terry Ludwig763viewed here
Daler-Rowney>180found here
Faber-Castell>70download here
Holbein144viewed here
Jack Richeson500viewed here
Art Spectrum>150viewed here

Yes, some of these colors overlap and yes, these are just a few examples, and it’s worth noting that soft pastel companies might occasionally update their range, adding or discontinuing certain colors. So the total number will vary year on year.

Rembrandt Soft Pastels Colors have 218 in the list
Rembrandt by Royal Talens Color Chart

On average, many professional-grade soft pastel brands tend to offer between 200 and 400 colors, with a few exceeding that to offer 500+ shades of the same colors.

The exact number varies by brand, and some specialized brands might focus on a more curated selection of unique or particularly high-quality colors rather than sheer quantity.

Now that you have a good idea about the soft pastels colors available to you, let’s dive deeper into their composition, types, and selection criteria.

Senneliers soft pastels colors are over 525 sticks
Sennelier’s Color Chart for Soft Pastels Colors

This way you know which soft pastel’s are best suited for your style of art, which work for artists of all skill levels and which brands of pastel have the colors you need.

This is because not all soft pastels are made the same or suit every artist.

I have some links to purchase some of the brands below if you are interested. You can also try your local art supply store (which I think is best, build a relationship with the owners and support local business).

Schmincke soft pastels colors number over 400
Schmincke Soft Pastels Colors Chart

Soft Pastels Composition

Soft pastels are essentially composed of pigment, water, and a trace amount of either chalk or an artificial binder. This composition grants them their distinct texture and blending capabilities.

Types of Soft Pastels

Soft pastels are not one-size-fits-all. They come in a diverse range, from colors to sizes:

  • Color Range: Some manufacturers pride themselves in offering a staggering variety, with some boasting as many as 500 distinct colors.
  • Sizes: Pastels are often available in cylindrical sticks, further categorized into:
    • Whole sticks
    • Half sticks
    • Thick sticks
    • Pans (small pans of pastel pigments that look like makeup pans)

Shopping Guide for Soft Pastels

When you’re in the market for soft pastels, several factors can influence your choice:

  • Color: Opt for pastels that display pure and vibrant hues. The best quality ones tend to have the brightest colors.
  • Pigment Concentration: Soft pastels generally contain a higher pigment concentration and less binder compared to their counterparts like hard pastels and pastel pencils.
  • Color Range: In comparison to most paint ranges, soft pastels typically offer a broader spectrum of shades.
  • Quality Grades: Pastels are generally available in two primary grades:
    • Artists’ Quality
    • Students’ Quality

The difference between Artists’ Quality and Students’ Quality soft pastels is primarily based on the quality of the ingredients used, the pigment concentration, and the production process. Here are the key differences:

Artists’ Quality (or Professional Quality):

  1. Higher Pigment Concentration: They generally have a higher pigment concentration, which results in richer, more vibrant colors.
  2. Greater Colorfastness: Artists’ Quality pastels are typically more lightfast. This means the colors are less likely to fade over time when exposed to light.
  3. Purity of Colors: These pastels often contain single pigments, which gives clarity and brilliance to the colors. It also makes color mixing more predictable.
  4. Consistency: Artists’ pastels usually have a smoother and more buttery consistency, making them easier to blend.
  5. Price: Due to the higher pigment concentration and better-quality ingredients, they are generally more expensive than Students’ Quality pastels.
  6. Range: They often come in a wider range of colors.

Students’ Quality:

  1. Lower Pigment Concentration: These pastels have a lower concentration of pigment and often contain fillers, which reduces the intensity of the colors.
  2. Reduced Lightfastness: Colors may fade faster over time compared to their professional counterparts.
  3. Mixed Pigments: They might have multiple pigments in one stick, which can make color mixing less predictable.
  4. Texture: The consistency might be slightly harder and less smooth compared to Artists’ Quality pastels.
  5. Price: They are more affordable, making them a good choice for beginners or those on a tight budget.
  6. Range: Typically, they come in a more limited color range than Artists’ Quality pastels.

While Artists’ Quality pastels are designed to meet the needs of professional artists, with the focus on longevity, purity of color, and consistency, Students’ Quality pastels are more budget-friendly and are suitable for learners and hobbyists. 

Investing in Artists’ Quality is advisable if you’re serious about pastel work and intend to sell or exhibit pieces but for practice, experimentation, and learning, Students’ Quality can be a pretty good starting point.

Types of Pastels

In this section, we will explore different types of pastels. Knowing the distinguishing features of each type will help you choose the perfect one for your artwork.

Remember that each type serves a different purpose, so selecting the appropriate one is vital to achieve the desired effect.

Soft Pastels

Soft pastels are a popular choice among artists due to their vibrant colors and smooth texture. They are made of pigment, chalk, and a binder like gum arabic.

With their powdery consistency, you can effortlessly create rich and blendable artwork. These pastels are ideal for creating subtle color gradients or making bold statements.

Hard Pastels

Hard pastels are firmer than soft pastels, containing less pigment and more binder. This makes them less vibrant, but they offer greater control and precision.

You can create fine details and sharp lines with ease using hard pastels.

They are perfect for adding refined touches or creating complex patterns in your pastel artwork.

Pastel Pencils

Pastel pencils are similar to regular colored pencils, but they have a pastel core instead of graphite.

They provide the convenience of regular pencils while offering the benefits of pastels.

These pencils are great for adding intricate details to your work or sketching out your composition before committing to color.

Chalk Pastels

Chalk pastels share similarities with soft pastels, but they have a lower pigment concentration and a higher proportion of chalk.

This results in a more powdery and sometimes dusty texture. Chalk pastels are perfect for creating light, delicate effects in your artwork.

They can be a more affordable option, making them a good choice for beginners or those on a budget.

Oil Pastels

Oil pastels, as the name implies, have an oil binder that gives them a creamy and smooth consistency.

They work well for creating bold, intense colors and are resistant to smudging.

These pastels are excellent for artists who want to create bold, vivid artwork that keeps its color and form over time.

Main Brands of Pastels

Art Spectrum – Popular for their vibrancy and texture, suitable for layering techniques.

Blick Art Materials – Blick Art Materials offers a wide range of art supplies, including their own branded quality soft pastels in various formats.

image 47

One of their most popular products is the Blick Artists’ Soft Pastels, which come in sets that cater to both beginners and experienced artists.

These pastels have a smooth consistency and can be easily layered for optimal blending.

image 48

Blue Earth – Known for their consistency, resembling the texture of clay.

Cretacolor – Known for its good quality, especially considering its price point.

Daler-Rowney – Their “soft pastel” range is known for its purity and consistency.

Diane Townsend – Offers various lines, including “Thickly Soft Pastels” and “Terrages”, each with unique characteristics.

Faber-Castell – Their soft pastels are of good quality, with a smoother consistency suitable for blending.

Girault – Known for being somewhere between the hard and soft pastel range, allowing detailed work alongside blending.

Great American Artworks – Recognized for their softness and buttery feel.

Holbein – Renowned for their consistency, these pastels are neither hard nor soft.

Jack Richeson – The brand’s “Handrolled” series is particularly popular for its vibrant shades and consistency.

Mungyo – Offers both gallery-quality and student-grade pastels. Their gallery range is particularly popular for its quality at an affordable price.

Mungyo soft pastels colors are in excess of 200

Mount Vision – Handmade pastels that offer a broad spectrum of vibrant colors.

NuPastel – While harder than typical soft pastels, they’re known for their durability and less dust.

PanPastel – These are unique, as they are soft pastels in a pan format, applied using special tools and applicators.

Rembrandt – Known for its excellent quality and wide range of colors. They offer a good balance between softness and hardness.

Richeson Soft Handrolled Pastels – Offers a broad range of colors with a soft, buttery feel.

Schmincke – Offers extra-soft pastels with a smooth consistency and vibrant colors.

Sennelier – Renowned for their extra soft pastels, they are buttery and offer intense colors.

Terry Ludwig – Handmade pastels known for their softness and extensive range of vibrant colors.

Unison – Handmade pastels that are highly regarded for their texture and color range.

Creating with Pastels

Pastel Techniques

Pastels offer a unique and versatile medium for creating stunning artwork.

One of their key features is their ability to blend colors to achieve various effects and edges.

You can do this by using your fingers, a paper towel, a piece of cloth, or a cotton ball.

To achieve the best results, work from dark colors to light ones, and use light layers in your work.

Coloring Techniques

When working with pastels, you need to consider the color combination and create a color palette that complements your composition.

You’ll discover that soft pastels provide vibrant colors and allow for artistic smudgy lines. Keep in mind that unlike other mediums, you cannot mix pastels on a palette.

Instead, layer your colors directly on the paper or canvas.

To create seamless transitions between colors, practice using gentle motions and pressure when applying pastels, and be aware of how the different colors interact with each other.

Experiment with various methods of applying pastels: try holding the sticks on their side to fill in more extensive areas, or use the sharp edges for creating fine lines and details.

Breaking the pastels into smaller pieces can provide you with more control over your work.

Remember, mastering soft pastel techniques requires patience and dedication, but your efforts will be rewarded with beautiful and mesmerizing artwork.

Pastel Quality and Price

Student-grade Pastels

Student-grade pastels are perfect for beginners who are starting to learn pastel techniques. These pastels have a lower price point, making them accessible for those on a tight budget.

The main difference between student-grade and professional-grade pastels is the quality of pigments used.

Student-grade pastels might have lesser pigmentation and may not be as vibrant as professional-grade ones.

Some popular student-grade options include Faber-Castell Creative Studio Soft Pastels and HASHI Non-Toxic Soft Pastels.

Professional-grade Pastels

Professional-grade pastels offer exceptional quality and utilize high-quality pigments.

These pastels provide better color intensity and blending capabilities compared to student-grade ones.

Artists seeking the highest quality pastels usually prefer professional-grade options due to their superior performance.

Some noteworthy professional-grade pastels are:

  • Terry Ludwig: Known for handmade pastels and their softness and extensive range of vibrant colors.
  • Richeson: They are known for very soft handmade pastels that feel like a dream to use.
  • Rembrandt Soft Pastels: Renowned for their pure pigments and buttery application, creating vibrant artwork becomes easier with these pastels.
  • Sennelier Soft Pastels: Available in various color collections, they blend beautifully and have a paint-like finish.
  • Schmincke Soft Pastels: Known for being the softest pastels on the market, they may be more fragile but deliver stunning results.

When choosing between student-grade and professional-grade pastels, consider your skill level, project requirements, and budget.

High-quality pastels might be pricier, but they can be a worthy investment for your art journey.

Material and Consistency

Soft pastels are known for their smooth consistency, which makes them a pleasure to use.

They achieve this texture because they contain less binder than other pastels.

A common binder used in soft pastels is gum binder, providing the right balance between softness and stability for the dry pigment within the pastel stick.

The primary ingredient in soft pastels is the dry pigment, which is responsible for the vibrant colors these pastels deliver.

The ratio of dry pigment to binder plays a key role in the final quality and performance of the product.

A higher concentration of dry pigment results in stronger colors and improved blending capabilities.

Some soft pastels use a resin binder to create a slightly harder yet still blendable pastel. Resin binders produce pastels that are less prone to breakage, making them an ideal choice for artists who want the benefits of soft pastels without the fragility.

When selecting soft pastels, consider the balance of these materials to find a product that suits your artistic needs.

Look for pastels that boast a smooth consistency, high pigment concentration, and a binder that provides the desired level of durability and workability.

The following list provides a summary of these soft pastel materials for a quick reference:

  • Smooth consistency
  • Less binder (gum or resin)
  • High dry pigment concentration

Remember, choosing the right soft pastel material and consistency is vital for achieving your desired results.

You can ensure a rewarding and enjoyable artistic experience by considering and understanding these key aspects.

Colors and Effects

Delicate Pastels

Pastel colors, or “tints,” are the softer versions of primary and secondary colors. They are created by adding white to the original color.

As a result, pastel shades like pale pink, light blue, and soft green appear mild and soothing.

These colors often evoke a calming sense of relaxation and have been associated with feelings of peace and serenity.

Vibrant Colors

On the other hand, vibrant colors are intense and energizing. They can create a dynamic, eye-catching effect in your artwork.

These colors usually showcase more saturation than delicate pastels, making them very lively and attention-grabbing.

Selecting a vibrant color palette can add a sense of depth and richness to your creations.

Bright Colors

Bright colors, though not as intense as vibrant colors, still possess noticeable saturation. They can make your artwork appear lively and fresh.

Combining pastel colors with a few carefully chosen bright colors can create a balanced and harmonious composition.

This variety of techniques and color selection offers more opportunities for you to experiment and innovate in your artistic journey.

Remember, the key is to balance soft pastels, vibrant colors, and bright colors in your work.

By doing so, your artwork will capture your audience’s attention and evoke the intended emotions and mood effectively.

Buying Pastels

When looking for a set of the best soft pastels, focus on the right materials and color variety to match your artistic needs.

Here are some top picks to help you make a good choice:

Mungyo Soft Pastel 64 Color Set Square Chalk: This set offers excellent value with a wide array of colors, perfect for those on a budget.

Faber-Castell Creative Studio Soft Pastel: These soft pastels provide good quality for artists of all levels, making them a versatile option.

As mini sticks you can try them out without having to commit to a full size set.

HASHI Non-Toxic Soft Pastels: A great choice for students who are looking for non-toxic and easy-to-use pastels.

To make your purchase decision even smoother, look for free shipping options provided by some retailers.

Keep in mind, professional-grade pastels offer a higher quality experience and may be a vital investment if you’re serious about your art.

Brands like Richeson, Terry Ludwig, Rembrandt Soft Pastels and Schmincke Soft Pastels are designed to deliver exceptional results.

Lastly, be careful when choosing soft pastels; their fragility requires proper handling and storage to preserve their integrity.

Pastels and Other Art Supplies

Soft pastels are a versatile and vibrant medium for artists. They blend seamlessly, allowing you to create nuanced shades and textures.

But to get the most out of your pastel artwork, it’s vital to pair them with other suitable art supplies.

Acrylic paints, oil paints, and art mediums like pastel brushes all play a significant role in enhancing your pastel artwork.

Let’s explore how these supplies complement soft pastels and elevate your artistic creations.

Acrylic Paints: These quick-drying, water-based paints are an excellent choice to use alongside soft pastels.

You can apply acrylic paint as a base layer on your canvas, providing a solid foundation for your pastel work.

This technique gives your pastels more depth and richness, as well as making colors pop.

Oil Paints: Oil paints, like acrylics, can provide a firm foundation for soft pastels.

With their slow-drying nature and luxurious, buttery texture, oil paints enable you to achieve a unique combination of rich color and delicate pastel gradients.

Art Mediums: Using additional art mediums can enhance your work further when working with soft pastels.

For example, a fixative spray helps preserve your pastel art by preventing smudging. This way, you can ensure that your pastel creations remain vivid for a long time.

Pastel Brushes: Equipped with soft bristles, pastel brushes make blending and smoothing pastel colors easy.

By mastering the use of these brushes, you can create natural-looking gradations and textures in your pastel art.

Experiment with various brush sizes and shapes to achieve diverse effects, from soft edges to intricate details.

Incorporating these essential art supplies into your pastel routine will unlock a broad range of artistic possibilities.

Remember, the right combination of tools and techniques is the key to creating stunning soft pastel art.

With practice and experience, you will develop your unique artistic style and bring your pastel creations to life.

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2 Comments

  1. Would be nice if there was one file or image that had all the colors on it listed out. Is that possible?

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