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What are Pastels Made of?

what are pastels made of

There are five basic types of pastels, namely, soft, hard, pencil, pan pastel, and oil pastel. They are made of pigment in stick form, and some are in pans or jars, with different types of binder depending on the type of pastel preparation. Soft pastels, hard pastels, and pastel pencils are pigment bound together using gum or resin as a binder. Having the same type of binder means that these types are compatible with each other.

Oil pastels use a different binder. These are bound with the use of oil and wax. Such binder will yield a texture the same as oil paints. Since oil pastels have these binders, they cannot be mixed with other pastel types using a gum or resin as binders.

Types of Pastels

To be able to know specific components of every pastel type, let us specify and describe each type and its uses.

Soft Pastels

This is the most commonly used pastel. What are soft pastels made of? These are made of higher concentrations of pigment, water, and bound together by smaller amounts of gum. Because of this ratio and composition, soft pastels easily crumble. But such softness and proportion are the key factors by which they give their intense and vivid colors on every surface.

These delicate mixture and texture make them easy to blend. Layering can also be created easily using soft pastels. The soft texture of these pastels can create very smooth and smudgy lines with vivid colors. Because of the similar binder being used, soft pastels are compatible with pan pastels, hard pastels, and pastel pencils.


These are also soft pastels made of pigment, water, and a smaller amount of a binder such as gum. The only difference is that they are set into smaller pans or mini jars instead of being molded into pastel sticks. Such preparation and container allow them to have the highest pigment concentration and least binder mixture.

Artists are starting to appreciate the pan pastels preparation because they can be applied using various applicators like brushes, sponges, and other painting tools. They are easier to blend, easily erased, and very compatible with most art mediums and most surfaces.

what are oil pastels made of

Hard Pastels

These pastels are also made of the same ingredients like pigment, water, and a binder. The main difference is they contain more binder and less pigment. This kind of mixture and ratio prevent these pastels from breaking easily, however, resulting in a less intense color and vibrancy.

Hard pastels are commonly used for initial sketches, drawing smaller lines and details, and are most effective in finishing touches.

Pastel Pencils

These are typical pencils with pastel encased in every wood stick. The pastel mixture is made of consistency in between soft and hard pastel concentration.

Most artists use them in combination with other pastel types except for oil pastels because of the incompatibility of the binders used. These are great for preliminary sketches and precise details due to their compatibility with other pastel types.

Oil Pastels

They have waxy consistency similar to crayons. What are oil pastels made of? Oil pastels are commonly shaped in sticks and made of pigments bound with wax and oil. They contain more pigment, that is why oil pastels have brighter and more vivid colors.

This type of mixture has made oil pastel deliver a special consistency not present in other pastel types. With this mixture and binder, oil pastel will not crumble easily, will not smudge, and there won’t be any powdery residue as in the case of soft and hard pastels.

Pastel Quality and Ingredients

Pastels are available in two (2) basic grades, namely, artist quality pastels, and student quality pastels. Let us differentiate each with respect to their ingredients and uses.

Artist Quality Pastels: These quality types contain the best pigments available with a higher concentration of the pigment to the binder being used. The colors are more vivid, more intense, and last longer. These are more expensive.

Student Quality Pastels: Contains cheaper pigments at lower concentrations with more binder than the pigments. Colors are less intense but these pastels will not crumble easily. These pastels are more practical and very suitable for beginners.


Knowing that there are five (5) types of pastels with different ingredients, different binders being used, and different quality ingredients, we are more guided with their uses and compatibility.

It is very crucial to know about their compatibility most especially when it comes to blending and shading. For example, most graphite pencils are not suitable for sketching if you are going to use soft and hard pastels. But pastel pencils will definitely work best.

Soft pastels have become more popular and useful because of the kind of mixture they have. Moreover, their versatility has become wider because of the pan pastels preparation in a small jar or mini pan. It is therefore important to be familiar with the ingredients and preparation of every pastel type to master their uses and compatibility.

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