Soft Pastels vs Chalk Pastels: Are They the Same?

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Chalk pastels and soft pastels are not one and the same. In fact, the only thing that they truly have in common is the fact that they are both called pastels.

Both types of pastels are fun mediums to work with, but they have many differences are are used for different purposes. The biggest differences between the two is that the composition is different, as well as the hardness of the crayons.

Pastels have been around for hundreds of years and are used by many of the great artists we study today. In addition to chalk pastels and soft pastels, there are also hard pastels, oil pastels, and pastel pencils.

If you are anything like me, you are probably at least a little bit confused about the various types of pastels used by artists. When I purchased my first set, I had no idea what to get.

I just grabbed the cheapest set I could find at the art supplies store, which turned out to be oil pastels. I enjoyed working with them, so my next set was also oil pastels. But, I do plan to try the other types as my budget allows for it.

Today I am going to try to eliminate some of the confusion you may have regarding soft pastels and chalk pastels. Keep reading to learn more.

Soft Pastels and Chalk Pastels Comparison

FactorsSoft PastelsChalk Pastels
Good for color blendingYesNo
Good for beginnersYesYes
Good for creating lines and detailsSomewhatYes
Easy cleanupYesYes
Easy to transportYesYes
Create interesting effectsYesYes

Are Chalk Pastels The Same as Soft Pastels?

No, chalk pastels and soft pastels are not the same. While both are often referred to colloquially as “pastels,” there are distinct differences. Soft pastels have a higher pigment concentration and less binder, resulting in richer color and a buttery texture. Chalk pastels, on the other hand, contain more filler and binder, giving them a drier and more chalk-like consistency. As a result, soft pastels usually offer more vibrant color and smoother blending than chalk pastels.

What Are Soft Pastels?

Like most other art mediums, soft pastels are a combination of a binder and pigment. The pigments are pure, and they are blended with a gum binder or a non-drying oil.

Soft pastels come in many different varieties, including sticks, crayons, and pencils. They have a nice, creamy texture, and the colors are a lot more vibrant than they are with other types of pastels, including chalk pastels.

There is more binder in soft pastels, which allows them to have that creamy texture. These pastels also have much more pigment, so they are better for filling in large areas and creating details.

The reason why they have so much color is the fact that the concentration of pure pigments is much higher than it is in chalk pastels. This allows the artist to enjoy colors that are rich and vibrant after they are applied to a surface (paper, canvas, etc.).

The binders are generally gum Arabic and wax, whereas chalk pastels use oil-based binders (more on this later). This means that your lines and textures will be softer and easier to manipulate.

Soft pastels are great for beginners, for several reasons. First, they are easy to use. Very little prep work is necessary, and you can apply soft pastels right onto paper, canvas, and other surfaces.

You can achieve artwork that looks like a painting when using soft pastels. It is easy to blend colors, and it is just as easy to create interesting shades and textures.

Because soft pastels are easily blended, you can manipulate the pigment and experiment with color mixing, shading, and more. Some of the techniques used to blend soft pastels include layering, blending with a blending stump, stippling, scumbling, sgraffito, and crosshatching.

Pros and Cons of Soft Pastels


  • Easy to blend colors
  • Fast to work with because you don’t have to wait for layers to dry before adding more layers
  • Easy to use
  • Easy to make corrections
  • Create permanent artwork as long as you properly care for it
  • Many ways to use pastels, including multi-media projects
  • Easy cleanup and storage
  • Easy to transport for plein air art


  • Framing can be difficult if glass glazing or a mat isn’t used
  • Create a lot of dust, which can cause respiratory issues
  • Paintings are heavier due to the need for glass frames with mats

You can check these soft pastel drawing ideas for beginners to get started.

What Are Chalk Pastels?

Chalk pastels are a type of art medium composed of calcium carbonate which is ground into small particles. These particles are then mixed with a binding agent, usually resin, gum Arabic, plaster of Paris, or clay.

The result is a hard crayon, which is ideal for creating sharp lines and detailed strokes on your painting surface. Unfortunately, the colors produced are quite dull when compared to the vivid colors you get from soft pastels.

One advantage to using chalk pastels is that they allow the artist to have more control over details. Since they are firmer than soft pastels, you can get sharper and smaller details, as well as have more time to work because they don’t shrink as quickly.

One thing I don’t like about chalk pastels is that they are quite powdery or chalky. They don’t have as much pigment and binders as soft pastels, so they aren’t great for coloring. However, they are ideal for sketching.

Chalk pastels have a tendency to crumble due to their hard texture. They are not ideal for blending colors whereas soft pastels are, because the colors tend to lift off the paper.

On the other hand, you can come up with some pretty creative effects when working with chalk pastels. For instance, you can use chalk pastels to create bold areas of color and thick lines without having to do any color blending.

You can use mineral oil with chalk pastels, which will allow you to create new shades. These pastels are quite versatile, at least when it comes to the manipulation of pigments.

Pros and Cons of Chalk Pastels


  • Great for creating details and lines
  • Create interesting effects
  • Use mineral oil with chalk pastels to create new shades and hues
  • Less dust than soft pastels makes for easier cleanup
  • Great for sketching


  • Effects can be limited
  • Can’t blend or smudge colors
  • Less pigment, so not great for coloring
  • Crumbly, colors may lift right off the paper


Pastels are a fun medium to work with, no matter what type of pastels you are using. Both soft pastels and chalk pastels have advantages and disadvantages.

I suggest giving both types of pastels a try. You can play around with the various effects that can be created by each, and even use both types together for a mixed media piece.

Use the chalk pastels for sketching your design and creating nice lines, and then go in with the soft pastels to create lots of color in your work. You will only be limited by your imagination when it comes to pastel art!

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