If you find the dust and residue of pastel sticks unappealing, consider picking up a set of pastel pencils. Basically a thin pastel lead encased in a pencil body, these tools are low in mess but vibrant in color—much more so than colored pencils. Because the core is made of pure pigment with a binder, it is blendable, smudgeable, and compatible with other pastel forms. Artists who do love soft pastel sticks might still choose pastel pencils to render details and smaller drawings that are more difficult to attain with the broader rods. No matter how you intend to use your pastel pencils, our picks will help make your buying decision easier.
1. KOH-I-NOOR Pastel Pencils
When considering color range, overall performance, ease of use, and price, this product from the Czech art supplies company comes out on top. Soft, buttery smooth, and easy to blend, these pastels are sold in an excellent assortment of two dozen colors and shades, from flesh tones to bright hues. Each is quite slim, with a 7.5-millimeter barrel and a small core of just 4.2 millimeters, but despite their size, these pencils pack a lot of pigment. In addition to being easy to control, they are easy to sharpen to a fine point to produce crisp lines. The quality of individual cores can be inconsistent, but these pastels are otherwise difficult to fault.
2. Stabilo Carbothello Pastel Pencils
Slightly harder and more durable than Koh-i-Noor’s product, these pastel pencils are a joy to use. They have an almost charcoal feel and leave vibrant, nearly luminous colors with every stroke. They are easy to layer, blend with a finger, and erase, and they respond very well to water. While this is a lot to spend on pastel pencils, the price per pencil is lower than that of the Koh-i-Noor set. Besides, if you’re a professional, we recommend that you purchase the priciest set you are reasonably able to afford. Here you’ll get 60 colors in a satisfying selection of shades; artists might find smaller sets limiting (Stabilo’s 24-color set, for example, does not feature any skin-tone options).
3. General Pencil Pastel Chalk Pencils
A solid set of pastel pencils from a trusted pencil maker, this option is ideal for those who are venturing into the medium for the first time and don’t want to invest in a costlier product. Each box includes a dozen pencils in basic colors, and General’s even includes individual erasers for convenient editing. Because these pencils are on the harder side, you can apply heavy pressure without worrying about tips crumbling; they are also easy to sharpen with the included sharpener. These are not as strongly pigmented as high-end pastels, nor do they blend as beautifully, but they are undeniably well made and very nice to use as an introduction to this medium.
4. Conté à Paris Pastel Pencils
With an 8-millimeter barrel and a 5-millimeter core, these pastel pencils from the reliable, centuries-old French brand are the largest of our picks, and they lay down some of the most blendable and most saturated colors. Their size gives them a nice weight, although some artists might need some practice to get used to them. And awkward as they might be at first, they can create impressive, nuanced effects. The thicker pastel has quite a soft tip that glides smoothly, and the pigments are very smearable while retaining adhesion to the surface of your work. Because of their size, these pastel pencils are more challenging to sharpen and are best kept pointy with a knife.
5. Faber Castell Pastel Pencils
In addition to producing excellent art supplies, Faber-Castell has for many years pledged to remain a climate-neutral company—in other words, it strives to achieve net zero carbon emissions throughout its production processes. These pastel pencils are encased in sustainable California red cedar (which smells good). As for their performance, they are harder than most of our other picks, so their 4.3-millimeter leads retain their sharpness very well even under great pressure. This makes them particularly well suited for line drawing and detail work, though you can also blend them with little effort. We also like the protective metal tin these pencils come in.