The Ultimate Guide to Soft Pastels: Everything You Need to Know

Are you looking for a new medium to experiment with as an artist? Soft pastels may be just what you need. These versatile tools offer a unique look and texture to your artwork that can’t be achieved with other mediums. In this ultimate guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about soft pastels, including what they are, which ones are the best, how to use them, and more.

What are Soft Pastels?

Soft pastels are drawing tools that are made of pigment, chalk, and binder. The pigment is pure and free of fillers, which results in vibrant and intense colors. They are softer and more powdery than other pastels, such as hard pastels, and can be easily blended and layered to create various effects. Soft pastels also allow for a range of techniques, making them a great tool for artists of all levels.

Which Soft Pastels are the Best?

There are many brands of soft pastels on the market, each with their own unique qualities. Here are some of the most popular ones:

  • Schmincke Soft Pastels: These pastels are known for their smoothness and intense pigment. They are also durable and lightfast, making them a great investment for serious artists.
  • Rembrandt Soft Pastels: These pastels are a go-to for many artists due to their versatility and affordability. They come in a range of colors and are easy to blend and layer.
  • Sennelier Soft Pastels: These French-made pastels are known for their creamy texture and high pigment concentration. They also come in a range of unique colors, such as iridescent and fluorescent shades.
  • Unison Soft Pastels: These pastels are handmade in the UK and are beloved by many artists for their smoothness and wide variety of colors. They are also easy to blend and layer, making them a versatile choice.
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Hard Pastels vs. Soft Pastels: What’s the Difference?

Hard pastels are another type of pastel that is harder and less powdery than soft pastels. They are often used for details and precision work and can be sharpened to a point. Soft pastels are better suited for blending and layering and can create a more painterly effect on your artwork. It’s recommended to use both types of pastels together to achieve a range of textures and effects.

Blick Soft Pastels Review: Are They Worth It?

Blick Art Materials is a popular art supply store that offers their own line of soft pastels. Here’s a review of their pastels:

  • Pigment: The pigment in the Blick soft pastels is average, meaning that some colors are more vibrant than others. However, they are still a great choice for beginner artists who are looking for an affordable option.
  • Texture: The texture of the Blick soft pastels is soft but not too powdery, making them easy to blend and layer.
  • Price: The price of Blick soft pastels is affordable compared to other brands, making them a great option for those on a budget.

Overall, Blick soft pastels are a good option for beginner artists who are looking to try out soft pastels without breaking the bank. However, if you are looking for the highest quality pigment and texture, it may be worth investing in a more expensive brand.

What Should I Use Soft Pastels On?

Soft pastels can be used on a variety of surfaces, including paper, canvas, and board. When choosing a surface, consider the tooth, or texture, of the material. Rougher textures, such as pastel paper or sandpaper, will hold more pastel and create a more textured effect. For smoother results, use a smoother surface, such as Bristol board or illustration board.

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Soft Pastels vs. Dry Pastels: What’s the Difference?

Soft pastels and dry pastels are often used interchangeably, but there is a slight difference between the two. Soft pastels are made of pigment, chalk, and binder, while dry pastels are made of pigment and binder only. This means that soft pastels are softer and more powdery, while dry pastels are harder and create sharper lines. Both types of pastels can be used together to create a range of textures and effects.

Tips for Using Soft Pastels

Here are some tips to keep in mind when using soft pastels:

  • Start with a sketch: Before applying pastel, sketch out your composition using a pencil or charcoal. This will help you create a clear outline and prevent mistakes.
  • Layer colors: To create depth and dimension in your artwork, layer colors on top of each other. Start with lighter colors and build up to darker shades.
  • Blend softly: Use a blending tool, such as a blending stump or your finger, to gently blend pastel colors together. Avoid pressing too hard, or you may smudge the pastels.
  • Work from dark to light: When creating shadows and highlights, work from dark to light. Apply darker shades first and then lighten as you go.
  • Use fixative: To prevent smudging, use a fixative spray to set your pastel artwork. Hold the can about 10 inches away from your artwork and spray in a well-ventilated area.

Examples of Soft Pastel Artwork

Here are some examples of stunning artwork created using soft pastels:

  • Rosalind Wates’ “Poppy Fields”
  • David Padworny’s “Untitled”
  • Kateryna Bortsova’s “Turtle”
  • Karen Margrave’s “Sirena”
  • Jane Milner-Barry’s “Along the Riverbank”
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As you can see, soft pastels offer a unique and beautiful look to any artwork. Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned artist, using soft pastels can help take your artwork to the next level.


Soft pastels are a versatile and fun medium to experiment with that offer a unique look to your artwork. Whether you’re using Schmincke, Rembrandt, Sennelier, or Unison, soft pastels offer a range of colors and textures to experiment with. Remember to use them on the right surface and layer colors for depth and dimension. With these tips and tools in mind, your soft pastel artwork is sure to stand out.