Unison soft pastel are some of the most popular pastels in the world. But is Unison any good? How soft are they? Are they suitable for beginners? In this review I hope to answer some, if not all, of those questions by sharing my own experience with these handmade soft pastels.

Handmade in England

Unison pastels are handmade in Northumberland, England. Handmade does not necessarily mean that they are brilliant of course, but it does add something. At least we know that every single stick was rolled by a real person. Every single stick went through someone's hands, and every single stick is therefore endlessly checked for quality. So far so good.

Softer Than...

Unison pastels are soft pastels. They are made from pigment and a small bit of binder, which is stirred into a paste and then rolled into shape. The more pigment and the less binder, the softer your pastel is (usually) and the better your colour is (also depending on the quality of your pigment of course).  Hard pastels usually have more and different binders, making the pastel stick hard. Soft pastels have less binder, so the pigment particles are not kept together as much as in a hard pastel. This then makes the pastel ’softer’. 

Unison soft pastels are a soft pastel but they are not the softest pastel out there. From my experience I would say they are harder than Schmincke, Sennelier or Terry Ludwig. Yet they are softer than Rembrandt or Art Spectrum.

They are nothing like any other soft pastel. This is one of the great things about soft pastels. Contrary to hard pastels, each soft pastel brand has its own unique formulas and that makes each brand fairly unique in application and feel. 

They Feel Like...

Unison soft pastel, if I may try to describe this unique ‘feel’,  are silky soft and buttery. They glide onto the paper very smoothly. They leave very little dust and do not crumble easily (so no waste!).  Of course it makes a difference which paper you use as different papers will make your application different every time. 

These pastels are soft enough to make soft and expressive marks, yet they are hard enough to layer and create some detail. I would not find them suitable to sharpen (you’ll need hard pastels for that).  This is one of the reasons I like them so much: they are very versatile. 

They are consistent in texture. I have not found any grittiness in any of the colours, and this is not something that can be said about all premium brands

Colour Range

Besides the silky smooth texture, the colours that Unison provides makes these pastels so attractive and unique. Unison has a fantastic range of earth colours, greys and darks. If you know my work, you will understand why this suits me so well. The colours are deeply pigmented and putting them side by side with a cheaper hard pastel, you can really see what a difference pigment can make. Even a dull, muted colour looks deep and interesting with Unison. I suppose it is the muted greys and greens of the Northumberland landscape that inspires them. All that said, Unison of course do some fantastic rich and vibrant colours as well. A good pigment load makes all the difference.  

The same applies to their darks and blacks. I have not found better darks than the ones by Unison. Check out my review of their Midnight Set to see what I mean. Their darks are deep and rich and very varied. You can really create a lively dark with their dark blues, dark browns and blacks. Unbeatable!

A portrait study using just Unison pastels

Suitable For....

So, who is Unison for? Anyone! Well, that’s easy to say, but I suppose they are. Yet, they are not student pastels and so they are not priced like that either. They are not cheap but no more expensive than other premium soft pastel brands.  I would not recommend them for someone who has never worked with pastel before, nor for children. But for anyone who wants to up their pastel game, this is gold dust...... 

Happy Painting!


Best place to buy Unison pastels is Jackson’s Art Supplies. They ship all over the world and are reasonably priced. 

Check out Unison’s own website to learn more about how they are made. 

About the author 

Sophie

Sophie is an art historian, artist, art tutor, and writer. She writes on art history and painting (oils and pastel). The 17th century is probably her favourite era, although the ancient Romans are currently fighting for the lead spot. She is currently researching lace in Tudor portraiture.

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