Demystifying Different Types of Pastels

They look like chalk, are sometimes soft or hard, used dry or diluted: pastels lend themselves to many variations with dazzling and infinite colors. Here is a brief overview of the different types of pastels and their use.

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Demystifying Different Types of Pastels

Very versatile, pastels can be used in both drawing and painting. They are ideal for adding a touch of colour or texture to your artwork. Widely used at one point in art history for creating portraits, today they can be found in a wide range of works and techniques.


There are three types of dry pastels: soft, hard and pencil.
- Soft pastels are the most fragile, as they have a slightly powdery texture. They are offered in a wide range of shades, thus not limiting the artist's choice of colour.
- Hard pastels are less brittle than soft pastels. They are often square-shaped and look a bit like chalk. They can be handy when you want to get precise lines since you can sharpen their tips. Finally, pastel pencils look like wooden pencils, but with a soft or hard pastel lead. They are ideal for adding fine, elaborate details to your artwork.

With all types of dry pastels, choose a surface with a certain grain to ensure good pigment adhesion.



There are two types of fatty pastels: oil and wax.
- Rumour has it, oil pastels were created at Pablo Picasso’s request. Being oil-based, they feature a greasy and velvety texture. They can be used directly on paper like pencils, or like paint by using a wet brush to obtain the colour.
- Wax pastels are more economical and are rarely used alone. They are wax-based, water repellent and offer saturated, opaque colours. Unlike dry pastels, fatty pastels are ideal for smooth surfaces.



PanPastels are presented in pans. They could almost be confused with make-up, as they also feature a creamy texture (PanPastels are, however, not suitable for cosmetic use).
Fun fact: as they can be used with accessories, PanPastels are not as messy as traditional pastels. They can be mixed, and dry colours spread like liquid paint. A real innovation in the pastel world!


No matter what type of pastel you choose, this medium will certainly allow you to experiment with new techniques. Pastel artwork can be well framed with the right advice.