Oil pastels are sophisticated and high quality artist pastels that we can use to make really stunning paintings, from photo-realistic images to impressionistic scenes or fully abstract studies. So let’s have a look at which pastels you should get on the market today!
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If you are in a hurry, here is my pick for the best oil pastels on the market today. If you have more time, then scroll down to explore!
Table of Contents
- Overview: Best Oil Pastels for Artists in 2022
- My Favorite Oil Pastels
- Best Professional Grade Oil Pastels Sets
- Best Value Professional Grade Oil Pastels Sets
- Best Professional Grade Oil Pastels Individual Sticks
- Best Student Grade Oil Pastels
- Best Value Student Grade Oil Pastels Overall Sets
- Best Oil Pastels for Kids
- Best Paper for Oil Pastels
- Best Premium Paper for Oil Pastels
- Best Budget Paper for Oil Pastels
- Bonus: Do Oil Pastels Ever Dry?
It’s easy to understand why oil pastels are so popular – they have rich, vivid color and can be so easy to use, and since they are essentially crayons, applying them to paper, canvas or other surfaces is really fun, and kind of brings us back to childhood.
And while they can be a mite more expensive (though not necessarily, and not always), the favorite of all pastel paints among so many artists is the oil pastel, with its rich, smooth and buttery consistency and amazingly rich and deep colors.
In fact, the enormous popularity of pastels in general, and oil pastels in particular, means there’s an overwhelming number of oil pastel brands and types, and making a choice can be so difficult.
So I thought it would be helpful to put together a comprehensive buyer’s guide to the best oil pastels on the market today, from the most fabulous and expensive pure professional products to those amazing finds that are cheaper than cheap but still, well, fabulous.
So let’s explore this rich and rewarding world in my buyer’s guide to the best oil pastels you can buy!
I will try to answer these questions:
What are oil pastels?
Which are the best oil pastels for beginners?
Which oil pastels are the best overall?
Which oil pastels do fine artists use?
What is the difference between professional and student level oil pastels?
What is the best medium for oil pastels?
What are the different kinds of pastels?
Are oil or soft pastels better?
What is the best oil pastel set?
What are the best individual oil pastels?
Which oil pastels are best for kids?
What is an Oil Pastel?
A pastel is a kind of paint that is in the shape of a crayon, or stick, and held together with some kind of binders so that you can easily apply their pigment to paper, canvas or other media.
And with an oil pastel specifically, the binders used are oil and wax binder, giving them a wonderfully smooth and flowing paint-like consistency.
I should point out that in art the word pastel can have two distinct meanings, because we also use pastel to indicate a quality of color that is soft, pale and quite lovely.
Nice as these colors are, they are not necessarily associated with pastel paints, which have a wide and complete variety of colors available, and can range from soft and pale to deep and dark.
Pastels come in various types, and are commonly thought of in two basic categories:
Soft and Hard Pastels
With paint pigment content held together with a gum or resin binder, these pastels mix well, apply easily, have soft and creamy texture, and come in a really wide range of colors.
Soft pastels are more for oil pastel painting, while hard pastels are great for drawing techniques. With both, however, there can be a lot of dust that releases, which raises some health and safety issues, and neither has quite the flow and nice workability of the best oil pastels
The subject of this article, oil pastels have paint pigment bound with oil and wax, and have a very different – and very nice – consistency, soft, smooth and buttery, very painterly and similar to normal wet paints.
They don’t usually have as wide a range of colors available, but the colors do tend to be really rich and beautiful. Oil pastels also don’t release dust, and they don’t crumble or smudge during use, like other pastel sticks.
Why Do Artists Love Oil Pastels?
To be fair, artists really love all pastels, and some of the most beautiful (and valuable) fine art masterpieces have been created using all kinds of pastel paints.
In fact, artists probably use soft pastels more than oil pastels, and yet when they try oil pastels they tend to never go back.
While soft pastels may indeed be more popular than oil pastels, the consistency and coverage you get with the best oil pastels, the rich and deeply saturated colors and the lack of dust – and thus the elimination of that health concern – makes them really nice to work with, and again artists who have tried and used them tend to be fiercely loyal, and recommend them with an intensity similar to the colors of the pastels themselves.
Oil pastels are very much like oil paint in many ways, and can be just as beautiful, and so they are often really appealing to both artists who have used oil paints and to artists who just love the look of oil painting but might be a little intimidated by painting with normal wet oils.
Oil pastels eliminate all of the often quite involved setup, tools and accessories, stinky solvents and thinning oils, and, of course, the big cleanup after. Less muss, less fuss and much less expense!
Oil pastels do have one basic “problem,” however, and that is that the oil binder never dries.
This means that if you want the intensely rich and spreadable consistency of the best oil pastels, the incredible colors and the ease of use, and you want to create finished artworks that you can display and sell, and that will really last, you have to have some tricks up your sleeve – and we will talk more about this in the Bonus section at the end of this article.
What Should You Look for in the Best Oil Pastels?
When you read manufacturer descriptions and buyer’s guides for the best oil pastels, one of the main things they talk about is the two grades of oil pastels:
Professional or Artist Grade Oil Pastels
Containing a higher level of pigment, and even a better quality of pigment, artist grade pastels have more strong and saturated colors, and can help you create paintings of almost overwhelming beauty, light and life. But they are also more expensive (sometimes a lot more). Artist quality oil pastels will also have greater color permanence, and because there is less non-drying oil binder your artworks may be most stable and last longer in general. Trully favorites among the professional oil pastel artists!
Student Grade Oil Pastels
These pastels have less pigment and more binder, with less richness and intensity to the colors and a slightly higher chance of color shifts and smudging. They are less expensive, though, and the best student grade oil pastels can still create beautiful and long lasting artworks, and are a joy to use.
In fact, in this buyer’s guide to oil pastels I want to be less concerned with student and professional grades, and more concerned with the paints themselves.
You will find that some quite expensive oil pastels that claim to be professional or fine art level have fairly lackluster colors, and/or are not so nice to work with, while some inexpensive oil pastels have a colors, consistency and permanence rivaling the very best, and lead to stunningly beautiful and powerful finished paintings.
Indeed, the best oil pastels on any level create art that is so gorgeous, and so distinctive looking, capturing light and energy like the best wet oils, and with colors you have to see to believe, and they are absolutely wonderful to work with.
Once you get into them, it is so easy to understand why artists love them so much.
How Can You Find the Best Oil Pastels?
Don’t worry – I’ve done the work for you!
Well, I’m not sure I should try to sound too heroic here – when I say “work,” I really mean that I have had wonderful fun trying lots and lots of different oil pastels, from all the manufacturers and at all price levels.
Of course some of the experiences weren’t that much fun, and good quality oil pastels really transform the whole painting process in so many positive ways, as well as producing art that is so much more vivid, alive and beautiful.
And again, it’s important to realize that cost, or the designation of professional or student grade, aren’t necessarily reliable indicators of quality, and some of the best oil pastels I’ve used are remarkably affordable.
But for convenience we’ll still break up our oil pastels buyer’s guide into those two basic grades, professional and student, and below you will find the following specific recommendations.
At the end of the article, in the Bonus section, we will talk briefly about making your beautiful finished oil pastel masterpieces more durable and permanent.
But first let’s get into specific recommendations for the best oil pastels you can buy.
Regardless of professional or student grade, and irrespective of the cost, what we’re really looking for are oil pastels that have smooth, creamy consistency and are great to work with, lay down deep, rich and highly saturated colors, and offer the highest quality overall and real value.
And that’s exactly what you will find in each and every recommendation in this buyer’s guide for the best oil pastels!
Overview: Best Oil Pastels for Artists in 2022
- Sennelier Grand Oil Pastel Wooden Box Set
- Sennelier Picasso Oil Pastel Set
- Mungyo Gallery Soft Oil Pastels Wood Box
- Sakura Cray-Pas Expressionist Oil Pastels
- Paul Rubens Oil Pastels
Best Professional Grade Oil Pastels Sets
Set of 36, Multicolor
Best Value Professional Grade Oil Pastels Sets
120 or 50 Count, Multicolor
Best Student Grade Oil Pastels
Set of 72 - Assorted Colors
Best Value Student Grade Oil Pastels Sets
Set of 50, Assorted Colors
Best Value Student Grade Oil Pastels Sets
50 Colors Artist Soft Oil Pastels Vibrant and Creamy, Suitable for Artists, Beginners, Students, Kids
My Favorite Oil Pastels
I know that oil pastels like the Sennelier Grand are beloved by the highest level of fine artists all around the world, who swear up and down that no other oil pastels come close, and indeed the Sennelier Grand are absolutely exquisite in every regard.
That said, I actually like these Caran D’ache Neopastel oil pastels better. They have absolutely intense, vivid, saturated colors I’ve ever seen, which just glow with light and beauty.
The consistency is so good that not only are all kinds of techniques possible, it makes them so easy, so rewarding and so much fun – almost deliriously so – to work with.
And they are about half the price of Sennelier Grand. Are they better than the Grand?
Depends on who you ask. For me, they are at least the equal in most regards (even if the Grand pastels do have better (indeed, the very best) colors) and I do prefer working with the Caran D’ache Neopastel better, and have more fun with them.
And I should also add that, though they aren’t exactly cheap, the lower price makes me feel a little more free to create and experiment – and the more I do, the more I love oil pastels as a medium and these Neopastels as a paint.
The Caran D’ache Neopastel oil pastels are easily my favorite oil pastels, and I can’t recommend them strongly enough!
- Caran D’ache Neopastel Oil Pastels – Set of 96
- Caran D’ache Neopastel Oil Pastels – Set Of 24
- Caran D’ache Neopastel Oil Pastels – Set of 12
Best Professional Grade Oil Pastels Sets
As much as I love the Caran D’ache Neopastels above, I have to admit that these Sennelier oil pastels are better.
They are definitely the first and only choice of countless top fine artists everywhere, who praise their perfectly smooth, mixable and workable consistency, their coverage and their finish, and who claim that few or no paints – of any type, not just among oil pastels – have such superb colors.
And yeah, I like working with the Neopastels, but if I was completely honest I would have to say that even they don’t have quite the stunningly deep, rich and exciting colors that these Grand oil pastels have, every single time, every single color, every single batch.
With such high quality pigment, and so much of it, the colors are intense on a whole new level, while still allowing for incredible subtlety.
There is such light in these colors, and a good artist can achieve levels of energy, emotion and realism that is simply not possible with any other oil pastel paints.
So yes, I am sticking to my guns and maintaining that the much less expensive Caranc D’ache Neopastel paints are my own personal favorite oil pastels, but even I am forced to admit that these Sennelier Grand oil pastels are better, and are certainly the very best oil pastels available today.
Best Value Professional Grade Oil Pastels Sets
Based on everything I’ve said about the Sennelier Grand versus the Caran D’ache Neopastel oil pastels, it would be easy to choose the Neopastel as the best value professional level oil pastels.
But here too I have to give it over to popular opinion, and acknowledge that fine and professional artists everywhere absolutely love these Sennelier Picasso oil pastels.
And I also have to admit that they really do have a point!
These Sennelier oil pastels are much, much cheaper than the Sennelier Grand, and are so close in quality that even some of the very top tier fine professional artists choose these over the best-of-the-best Grand line.
The Pablo Picasso pastels have the same (or nearly the same) lovely consistency, workability, coverage and perfect finish.
And, perhaps even more importantly, they come very close to the fabulously expensive Sennelier Grand in their colors, which are almost unbelievably vivid and energetic, and yet, when needed, soft and subtle, and have an inner glow and life that no other oil pastels brand can match.
So yeah, if you really want the best possible oil pastels, and the Louvre is impatiently awaiting your next masterpiece, by all means choose the Sennelier Grand – there are no finer oil pastels made.
But if budget is even a small concern, you can get oil pastels that are still absolutely superb in every single way, that have a beauty that maybe no other company’s paints can match, and that are an absolute joy to use, in these hyper-premium yet relatively affordable Sennelier Picasso oil pastels – my choice for best value professional grand oil pastels.
Best Professional Grade Oil Pastels Individual Sticks
Sennelier Oil Pastels Store
This one’s easy. Everything artists love about the superb Sennelier Grand and Picasso oil pastels is here too, just in individual sticks.
The exact same oil pastel paints – same intense, rich and saturated colors, same perfect consistency, same inner light and ultimate beauty – as you get in the admittedly quite pricey sets, but this way you can start with just a few and save a little money, or just replace colors from your set of oil pastels as needed.
Of course, with the Sennelier Grand, which are again probably the finest pastel oils in the world today, the “save a little money” idea is kind of out the window, as a single stick can cost more than some of the complete sets a little further down on this page.
But remember that the Picasso – which are a huge favorite of fine artists around the world – are very close in quality and a tiny fraction of the price. Still not cheap, but a genuinely great bargain.
The above link leads you to the oil pastel page at the Sennelier Store, which also displays all of the sets, but just scroll down and you will see all of the individual pastel sticks in all of their glorious colors.
The two best oil pastel paints available – the premium Sennelier Picasso oil pastels and the super-duper-premium, best-ever Sennelier Grand oil pastels – are my choice for best individual oil pastels you can buy, and are both superlative products!
Best Student Grade Oil Pastels
Remember how I said, in the introduction to this oil pastel buyer’s guide, that some student grade pastels can be even better than so-called professional quality paints?
Well, these fantastic Mungyo Gallery soft oil pastel paints are the supreme example.
Ok, to be fair these are not actually referred to as “student” or “academic” oil pastels, and in fact the word “gallery” in their name may make us think they are meant to compete with much more expensive professional and fine art oil pastels.
And they do! Really, compared to so many even well known and beloved “artist level” oil pastels, these Mungyo Gallery soft oil pastels have superior consistency – rich, smooth and creamy and very mixable and workable – and stunning colors – deeply saturated, consistently vivid and full of light.
In fact, the only thing that makes me think of these as student level oil pastels is the price, which is almost ridiculously low, and makes the Mungyo oil pastels an ideal choice for any art student or beginner, not to mention any more advanced fine artists on a budget.
My choice for the best student grade oil pastels, the Mungyo Gallery set features beautiful paints that are wonderful to work with, and is very highly recommended!
Best Value Student Grade Oil Pastels Overall Sets
Just like the Mungyo oil pastels above, I have just realized that neither of these two sets actually have the word “student” in their titles!
But really both of these sets, from Sakura and Paul Rubens, are ideal academic grade oil pastels in terms of price, and are far better quality than most nominally student grade pastels I’ve tried.
But it’s not just the price that makes either of these sets such great bargain choices for students.
The consistency, which is so smooth and soft and yet firm enough for control and detail, really allows a student or beginner to learn lots of different oil pastel techniques and drawing/painting styles and methods, and both of these sets have paints that respond beautifully to mixing and to thinning, which allows a student to learn, and to experiment, even more.
If I had to choose between the two, well I would say that the Paul Rubens have slightly nicer consistency, and lay down, blend and present incredibly well – especially for their price – and the Sakura oil pastels might have slightly more vivid colors, with a tad bit more inner light.
That said, the Paul Rubens are kind of known for their color too, and offer a fantastic and smartly chosen range, and the Sakura are amazingly workable, and definitely rival even very expensive sets in this regard.
Doesn’t really help, does it? Let’s just say that you can’t go wrong with either one, and they are both fantastic choices for any student or beginner on a budget (and, in fact, a great choice for more advanced artists as well – they are both that good).
Both of these sets offer real quality and really beautiful oil pastels and an amazing value, and either one is an easy choice for the best value oil pastels for students or beginners.
Best Oil Pastels for Kids
With big, thick bodies that are easy for even younger kids to hold (and surprisingly comfortable even for adults) and a nice selection of super-bright colors – not an overwhelmingly large range, which can just confuse and frustrate kids, but 12 just brilliant opaque colors – the Crayola oil pastels set is the perfect choice for kids of all ages.
Handmade from pure wax and containing absolutely nothing but non-toxic and acid free materials, the Crayola non toxic oil pastels are very washable and totally safe for even younger kids to use.
But while parents might love all the thought Crayola has put into safety, it’s the bright and beautiful colors and the smooth, easy usability that kids love, and these oil pastels keep children interested and encouraged, developng their artistic eye and creative talents as well as their self-confidence.
There are a lot of good choices for kids out there, but the Crayola big soft oil pastels are the best I’ve tried – high quality, safe, fun and engaging, easy for kids to hold and to use, and even easier for them to fall in love with. They are my choice for best oil pastels for kids on the market today.
Best Paper for Oil Pastels
Best Premium Paper for Oil Pastels
Nearly as expensive as their paints, this superb pad of extra-heavy pastel cards comes in six neutral colors from light to dark, with two sheets each.
The perfect tooth for that ideal balance of really pulling the pigment from oil pastel sticks and still allowing precision and fine detail work, and the very best material you can possibly get. The perfect oil pastel pad!
Best Budget Paper for Oil Pastels
Like the Sennelier pad above, this fantastic value Canson Mi-Tienes pad comes in six neutral colors, from light to darker, but four sheets of each.
The Canson Mi-Tienes paper is also really wonderful quality, if quite a bit lighter weight, and has an ideal tooth for oil pastels. A great choice for the art student or any serious fine artist on a budget.
Bonus: Do Oil Pastels Ever Dry?
Short answer: no…
Yeah, as much as I, and so many other artists, absolutely love oil pastels, this is a bit of a downside. They are bound into sticks with wax and oil, and the oil binder in particular never fully dries.
So even long after you’ve completed your painting it will still be at least a little wet, and always will be.
This means that if you touch it, even lightly, you will almost definitely smear the paint and damage the image (unless you’re one of those abstract expressionists – then maybe nobody (including you) will even notice!).
It also means that the paint can, and will, attract dust, which can dull the colors, and even be visible and spoil the appearance and niceness of the art.
So what’s an oil pastellist to do? And, more importantly, is “pastellist” even a word?
Luckily there are a few tricks you can turn to, to properly cure and set your painting.
None of them will actually dry the oil, but they can protect it from smearing, dust, and other damage.
Don’t mix oil pastels with other paints
First, if you are mixing media, well, maybe, uhm, don’t… At least don’t mix oil pastels with other kinds of paint – except maybe wet (normal) oil paints. Oil pastels will smear other pastels and other kinds of paints, don’t mix well and may even keep the rest of the painting from drying as well.
You can spray your finished painting with varnish, like the excellent Krylon Kamar Varnish, but keep in mind that many varnishes can yellow over time. Also, some artists find that varnish by itself doesn’t necessarily work so well over even semi-wet oil pastels, and so it’s a great idea to first use a fixative (see next tip).
Use oil pastel fixative
You can use a high quality oil pastel fixative, especially Sennelier D’Artigny Oil Pastel Fixative, which is the best one made. The right fixative will behave perfectly with oil pastels, without affecting color or detail, but they do provide a bit of a glossy sheen, so many artists will first use a fixative and then, after letting it completely set and dry, add one or several layers of varnish, like the Krylon mentioned above, which allows for the best coverage and protection and a nice non-glossy finish.
Cover with glass or plexiglass
But what most serious artists do with their best finished works is cover them in glass or super high quality plexiglass. If you are using glass, get protective, UV filtering glass that is non-reflective and fully neutral, and if you are using plexiglass, well, use glass instead – ok, plexiglass will work, but it scratches, isn’t always the best for UV filtering, can discolor over time, and just doesn’t look as nice.
Either way, make sure that you use a framing mat that is nice and thick – even double-layered – so that the glass or plexiglass doesn’t come into contact with the pastels and do its own damage!
Thanks so much for reading my latest article – The Best Oil Pastels for Artists: A Complete Buyer’s Guide – and please visit my blog – Art Side of Life – for tons of other inspiring ideas, resources, articles, buyer’s guides and a lot more!
Other articles in the Artists Kits & Sets series:
- Artist’s Guide to Oil Painting for Beginners
- Essential Oil Painting Supplies for Artists
- Best Oil Paint Sets for Artists
- Choosing the Best Oil Paint Brushes
- Choosing the Best Oil Paint Palette
- Choosing the Best Canvas for Oil Painting
- Best Palette Knives and Pallete Knife Set
- Choosing the Best Painting Easel
- Best Professional Artist Kits
- Best Art Supplies for Travel Art Kit
- Best Gouache Paint Sets
- Best Artist Inks
Other articles in the Watercolor, Acrylic, Gouache, and Oils series:
- Best Watercolor Sketchbook
- Best Watercolor Pencils
- Best Watercolor Paints
- Best Watercolor Paper
- Best Watercolor Brushes
- Best Acrylic Paint Brushes for Artists
- Best Acrylic Paint for Artists
- Best Acrylic Paper and Canvas for Artists
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