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After another lovely day of teaching students the dusty joys of pastel I thought it might be useful to write a blog post about all the different pastel brands available. Well,  I have not tried them all. But I can share my experiences with the pastel brands that I know and love and can recommend.

I have also included brands I have not tried but know are insanely popular amongst pastel artists. For example, those Terry Ludwigs look pretty attractive! Those are on my want-to-try list, for sure!  Whenever I try a brand I have not reviewed before I will add my findings to this post. Do let me know your experiences and your favourite brands so we can come to a comprehensive list together?

  • Prices are taken from Jacksons Art Materials to help compare. Pastels will probably have different prices in different countries as local brands will no doubt be cheaper than imported ones. Popularity often depends on country as availability and price will be better for homegrown brands.
  • Star rating is my personal opinion and preference, or if I have never tried the brand, based on what I heard from colleages and friends. The star rating is by no means intended as objective but just as informative.
  • All of the brands listed here I would happily recommend. Brands that I find no good are not listed. 
  • Click the brand headings for more info and purchasing at Jacksons Art Supplies.
  • Disclaimer: The links in this article are affiliate links. This means that I earn a small commission if you click through and make a purchase through these carefully chosen links. It will cost you nothing  extra and you would support this blog for which I would be most grateful. 

Great Pastel Brands

In order of what comes to mind first:

Rembrandt 

Professional pastels by Dutch manufacturer Talens. My favourite pastel since I was a teenager. Rembrandt pastels are a soft pastel but they are on the hard side of the spectrum. That means they are very suitable for fine detail and neat lines. A large range of colours and a good price makes these pastels a great choice for all levels of artists. 218 colours. £2.20

Professional

Buy

Sophie Ploeg Rembrandt Pastels

Sophie's
Favourite


Unison 

British brand of hand made pastels. These pastels are much softer than Rembrandts and come in a gorgeous range of colours. They are particularly good at yummy earth colours. The stroke of a Unison is much thicker than a hard pastel so although you can get small detail, these pastels are great for more painterly work. Nearly 400 colours. £2.90 each.

Professional

Buy

Sophie Ploeg Unison pastels

Sophie's
Favourite


Schmincke 

German brand of excellent pastels. These pastel are really soft and buttery, softer even than Sennelier. They break or crumble much easier than hard pastels, naturally, but they are very beautiful to work with. Wonderful rich colours and great quality. Good for painterly painters. 400 colours. £3.20 each.

Professional

Buy

Schmincke pastel

Sennelier 

Very soft pastels of high quality from a long established and famous company. Great rich colours. Sometimes a little inconsistent in texture (grit). See also my review here. 522 colours. £2.40 each.

Professional

Buy

sennelier pastel

Terry Ludwig

Square, hand made, soft pastel. Highly rated amongst pastelists. Can be a little dusty. Harder than Sennelier or Schmincke, softer than Unison. Beautiful colours. See also my review here. 640 colours. Only available in sets at Jacksons. Singles available elsewhere. approx. £3.60 each (depending on set size).

Professional

Buy

Terry ludwig pasetl

Art Spectrum

Art Spectrum Soft pastel. Jacksons: "Comparable with Rembrandt for its medium – softness consistency, but slightly more gritty in their feel.154 shades of pure, brilliant and intense colour, many of which are unique to Art Spectrum and inspired by the colours found in their native Australia.”  154 colours. £2.30 each.

Professional

Buy

art spectrum pastel

Not tried


Faber Castell

Square Soft Pastel. Affordable and decent quality pastels. Quite a hard pastel, harder than Rembrandt. Good range of colours. Affordable price. Student/professional. Around £0.40 each. Only available in sets.

Student

Buy

Faber Castell pastel

Faber Castell Polychromos

Square hard pastel of excellent quality. Beautiful rich colours. Hard pastel so great for sketching, fine detail and layering. Prices varies around £1.80 each. Only available in sets, which for this quality is a real shame as you cannot top up.

Professional

Buy

Sophie's
Favourite


Inscribe

Square soft pastels. Affordable and very popular student range of pastels. Decent quality and colours. Around £0.40 each (half stick). Only available in half stick sets. 

Student

Buy

inscribe pastel

Cretacolor Carre Pastels

Hard pastel. Great range of colours, easy to use and hard enough for travel. Nice variety of colours. No real depth of colour, but decent quality for the price. Price around £1.15 each. Only available in sets. 

>> Read my Review!

Student

Buy

Cretacolor Carre pastels

Jackson's

Hand made soft pastels. 200 colours. £2 each. 

Professional/Student

Buy

Jacksons pastel

Not tried


Panpastel

Soft pastel in a pan (like watercolour or make up) and applied with a sponge or applicator.

Professional/Student

Buy

pan pastel

Not tried

Also popular: Girault, Henry Roche, Mount Vision, Richeson, Townsend.

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About the author

Sophie is an artist, art historian, tutor, author and blogger. She writes on oil and pastel painting, art history and the life of an artist. She paints portraits and still life and specialises in painting drapery and lace.

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  1. Hi Sophie! Thank you for the lovely review of pastels . . . I am about to embark – – and your article was helpful.

    My question is about health and safety stuff. We artists tend to dive right in and often don’t consider the health portion of the art world equation. I have a set of the Faber Castell’s – and while they carry the ASTM- D-4236 label, it also has the Prop 65 warning on the side, which I am assuming has a tie to the titanium stick in the box.

    So – Do you know of any professional grade pastels that don’t use cadmiums, chromates, titaniums? Does that concern you all? Maybe I’m kvetching too much – but I don’t want to be sorry in the rear view mirror! I used cadmium pigments about 15 years ago (and had no idea they were dangerous), and don’t want to find myself in the toxic soup again.

    Many thanks! I’d welcome your take, and I would also like to try your personal favorite, Rembrandts!

    Take care, peace,
    Roxanne

    Reply

    1. Hi Roxanne, thanks for your comment. Toxicity in pastels is a tricky subject. You might also want to check out this post on my blog about safety and pastels. I don’t know the Prop 65 warnign, I imagine different regulations apply to different countries. Most pastel brands do not list the exact pigments or ingredients used on their websites. Schmincke does however, so you can choose the pigments you want. Unison does not. Rembrandt says they do not use any toxic pigments at all (so no cadmiums there). Do note, however, that no pastel brand will break the law and any toxic pigments used will be used only if that is considered safe. Some pigments are only very lightly toxic (you’d have to eat a lot of it to cause any harm), and some pigments are only used in very low doses. Cadmiums are still allowed in most art materials are not considered very toxic. So it’s very much a matter of using your own common sense. You can try and write to the brands and simply ask. They will probably be able to tell you which colours contain cadmiums. I think your best bet when you want to stay away from all is Talens Rembrandt. Good luck and have fun painting!

      Reply

  2. I also like the Rembrandt brand but my friend tells me the soft pastel of Rembrandt is easy to break, right? I just bought one but none of them were broken

    Reply

  3. I have just found your website and found your information about soft pastels very helpful. I have just bought oil pastels. Have I made a mistake or can I use oil pastels in the same way. I am total novice and have taken up art as hobby now I am retired.

    Reply

    1. Hi Ellie, thanks for your comment! Oil pastels are quite a different animal altogether. They are closer to wax crayons while soft pastels are closer to chalks in the way they handle. That said, mark making should be pretty similar. So no you haven’t made a mistake, it’s just a different thing (and just as much fun)!

      Reply

  4. Hi Sophi,
    Great information, thank you.

    One question. You mention the Faber-Castell square soft pastels but not the Faber-Castell ARTIST PASTELS which I understand are better quality.

    I assume you have discounted them for a reason. Could you explain why or Is there something I have missed.

    Pamela

    Reply

    1. Hi Pamela, oh there are so many pastel brands and types, it is just incredible. Faber-Castell is an excellent brand, no matter what you buy from them. I mentioned the square pastels because they are affordable, easy to find and decent quality for beginners. I am not sure which pastels you are referring to, as these are sometimes called ‘artists’ pastels’ as well. They also have Polychromos, a line of square hard pastels, and they have a more hobby-type pastel as well.

      Reply

  5. Thanks for the info. Just stumbled across your blog and love. I just wanted you to know the prices for three pastel are a starting price and usually only 1 or 2 sticks are this price for an entire range. So it can be a pain. Also, they have a great sanded paper sampler available. Say only offers samples of a particular brand so I love this as a beginner. Thanks

    Reply

  6. Hi
    Can u tell me about Kor-I-Noor pastels?

    Can you tell me the differences between USING chalk and soft pastels?. (I know about what they are made of, it’s the using of these I need).

    Can you tell me how to reduce the amt of soft pastel dust when you are applying pastel to surface…even with light pressure and blending? I use cheap pastels plus AS pastels, on small – tooth paper?

    Is there a book out about how to pastel paint “space, nebulas, starry skies, planets etc” as a step x step instructions?

    Many thanks.
    Annette

    Reply

    1. Hi Annette, I could have sworn I wrote a reply to this but where is it gone? So sorry! I’ll try again!!
      I am afraid I never tried Kor-I-Noor pastels but they are a good brand so worth a try for sure!
      The difference between chalk and soft pastels…well, gosh that is hard to describe but I promise you will noticed the difference as soon as you try! Chalk pastels are more like the school crayons used on black boards. They are dusty and very light and weak in colour (due to the large amounts of chalk). Soft pastels come in varying qualities of course but a good soft pastel is more pigment than anything else, so it is much more colourful, less dusty and more firm. They will layer better and you can mix colours better. Basically they are very different but really you can only try to find out.
      For pastel dust you must work vertical: use an easel with a ledge and any pastel dust will fall onto the ledge. This way it won’t ruin or hamper your painting. Most good pastel brands are not that dusty (have you seen my latest youtube video?) and a light touch will certainly help. there is no point in putting much pressure on your pastel stick as you will only go through a lot of pastel sticks quite quickly. A light touch is all you need to make a mark and you can layer lots of marks over each other. Do not blow at any dust as you will end up breathing it and although it is not toxic, nobody wants to breathe in dust.
      I do not know any painting book on how to paint space – that is quite a niche subject matter – but a wonderful subject matter for sure! Any and all advice on how to paint with pastels you can apply to any and all subjects. So even if you look at a tutorial on how to paint teddybears it will help you with painting space subjects. The same principles are at work!
      I hope this helps, and I hope this reply will not get lost in space like the last one! Happy painting!!

      Reply

    2. Annette-
      I have used Koh-i-Noor extra soft pastels and i think they are great! Vibrant colors and they go on smoothly and their price is right. They are almost as soft as Sennliers’s but the don’t crumble nearly as much. They don’t have enough darks for me so I am currently shopping for a quality set of “darks”.
      Hope this helps!

      Reply

      1. Thanks so much Shelli – this is such great info! I must put them on my ‘to try’ list!
        Re the darks: did you spot my Unison midnight set review? Unison does amazing darks. Heard good things about the darks of Terry Ludwig too.

        Reply

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