Soft Pastels vs Oil Pastels: What Is The Difference?

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Pastels are a fun and interesting medium to work with. But, not all pastels are the same. There are five main types of pastels for artists to use: hard pastels, soft pastels, oil pastels, pan pastels, and pastel pencils.

Each of these types of pastels has its own characteristics, and they are used for different purposes. To learn more about the various types of oil pencils, check out my post, “What are Pastels”.

In this post, we will be looking at soft pastels vs oil pastels. I will tell you about the differences between both types of pastels, what each is best for, and which is the best for beginner artists.

So, if you are ready to learn more about the differences between soft pastels and oil pastels, let’s dive right in.

Oil Pastels vs Soft Pastels Comparison

FactorsSoft PastelsOil Pastels
IngredientsPigments are mixed with an adhesive binderMade with pigment, oil, and wax
OpacityLess opaqueVery opaque
PriceCost up to $15Cost up to $300
Skill LevelBetter for beginnersBetter for experienced artists
Coverage/DetailsBetter for small detailsBetter for large coverage areas
Color QualitySoft colorsBright, vivid colors

Let’s dive deeper into the world of soft pastels and oil pastels.

What Are Soft Pastels?

The most common pastels you can buy are soft pastels. Also referred to as chalk pastels, these are the first type of pastels that were ever made, and they have the highest concentration of pigment of all the pastels.

Soft pastels are made with gum arabic, pigment, and white chalk. There is less gum binder in soft pastels, so they have vivid colors but also crumble easily.

Because soft pastels are made with chalk, you need to use “toothy” paper. This will give the chalk something to adhere to. Otherwise, they can be brushed away and you are left with nothing on your paper.

Soft pastels are powdery in texture, and they can tend to be rather fragile. These characteristics are unique to this type of pastels.

It is easy to blend colors with soft pastels, and they are perfect for other painting effects, including layering. Even though they are soft, they can also be used to create fine lines and details.

You can check my guide to learn more about soft pastel drawing techniques.

If you are looking for a wide variety of colors, soft pastels are the way to go. These pastels have the largest range of colors compared to other types of pastels.

You will find chalk pastels available in cylindrical sticks that come in many different sizes. These are usually the best choice for beginners.

What Are Oil Pastels?

Oil pastels, which are also made in the form of sticks, are also quite popular. Rather than using binder gum, they are made with pigment, oil, and wax.

It is this makeup that gives oil pastels their interesting consistency. These pastels are ideal for anyone who would love to try oil painting but can’t handle the odors that come from the paints, thinners, etc.

Oil pastels can be used much like oil paints, and finished art pieces tend to have similar characteristics. These crayons have a creamy consistency that is quite waxy, and the intense colors are going to give you some pretty awesome paintings.

One of the biggest drawbacks to using oil pastels is that because they are so much like oil paints, it is a good idea to prime the paper before beginning the actual artwork. This will keep the paper from absorbing the wax and oils, but it adds an extra step that some may not want to waste time on.

What Is The Difference Between Oil Pastels and Soft Pastels?

The biggest difference between oil pastel and soft pastel is the binder that is used. Soft pastels contain chalk, while oil pastels contain wax.

Both oil pastels and soft pastels can be used on any surface. But, when using soft type, it is better to use textured paper so the chalk binder will adhere better. You won’t get that same level of adherence on smooth paper.

Both types of pastels come in a wide range of colors, and they can both be used for blending and layering. Oil pastels can be used to create paintings that are much like oil paintings, while soft pastels have more of a watercolor appearance.

There are also water-soluble oil pastels and soft pastels. These can be blended or thinned with water, so you can have fun playing around with more techniques.

Oil pastels and soft pastels are both easy to use, as well as being fun to use. I suggest giving both a try to see which you like the best.

Should You Try Using Oil Pastel or Soft Pastel?

Many artists will argue about which type of pastels are best, oil pastels or chalk pastels. While there are many differences, I say that each has its use, and there is no reason to discount either.

When it comes to oil pastels vs chalk pastels, I have often used both soft and oil pastels in the same painting. This gives a painting an interesting appearance and different types of textures.

It is quite difficult for me to recommend one of these pastels over the other because I enjoy working with both varieties. Since I rarely use oil paints due to allergies, I like the fact that oil pastels can be used to create art that looks like oil paintings.

On the other hand, I like soft pastels because they are better for blending. They also play well with other types of pastels.

Soft pastels come in a wide variety of colors, and there are more colors than you will find with oil pastels. Some manufacturers offer 500 colors of soft pastels!

While oil pastels do not come in as many colors, there are various qualities ranging from student to artist quality.

When it comes to the best pastels for beginners, I suggest trying a set of soft pastels first. This will get you used to working with pastels without having to spend a lot of money.

Oil pastels are more expensive than soft pastels. That being said, if you are interested in trying oil pastels, I recommend buying an inexpensive set that has a decent color palette.


As you can see, oil pastels and soft pastels are both great to work with, and they both have their own special characteristics. Oil pastels may be easier to use, but they are more expensive. Soft pastels are more versatile and more budget-friendly.

The only way you will know which type of pastels are best for you is to try both oil pastels and soft pastels. You may also want to try the other types of pastels once you are used to using oil and soft pastels.

After you have been using pastels for a while you will have a pretty good idea of which type you prefer. In the end, personal preference is what it is all about.

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*image by YAY_Images&NewAfrica/depositphotos