Pastel pencil brands

How do the pastel pencil brands available in the UK and Europe compare to each other? Let's look at them in turn to give you an idea of what is the most suitable for your needs.

Derwent (The Cumberland Pencil Company)

Derwent, the largest manufacturer of pencils in the UK, are based in Workington, Cumberland. The company is part of the worldwide ACCO stationery group. 

The range is constantly being improved and during 2010 a new formula version of their pastel pencil was launched, replacing the previous one. The most recent design of pencil is shown here, If you find a Derwent pastel pencil without the silver band it is probably the old formula. 

In the new range there were some new colours along with some renumbering and renaming of old colours. The newer pencil are softer and certainly much smoother.

They are capable of a good point with a sharp craft blade. Although the finer points are just as liable to break as before when working fine detail, this is a common problem with all pastel pencils, no matter what the brand, You could say it is the nature of the beast, 

There are 72 colours in the full set - a wide choice. The 36 set is very usable and has a good cross section of colours with the name shown on each pencil. 

One advantage of the Derwent range (along with the Faber Castell, Cretacolor and Caran d'Ache ranges) has been the availability of the selection of pastel sticks which appear to have the identical formula to the pencils.

These types of stick pastel are harder than the traditional soft pastels and are therefore less messy when handling the bare material in the stick. They do enable larger pictures to be worked, with the sticks being used to lay down the foundation and the pencils then used to establish the detail.

Derwent also used to supply a colourless blender pastel stick in the box of 36 sticks, which I had not seen retailed before. In addition they sold a holder to make the use of the sticks much cleaner.

The Derwent pastel pencils blend well on the working surface and the relative hardness of the medium ensures that there is less dust than with soft pastels. The pencils accept most pastel techniques that I have tried, and the new formula pencils earn a high mark in the comparison stakes. A great improvement on the old design. 

Prices are around the £1.20 a pencil mark depending on where you get them from. 

Stockists will be easy to find in the UK - from any Derwent Supplier - such as the SAA, Great Art and many others on the Internet. 

The Faber Castell Pastel Pencil

Faber Castell offer a full range of 60 colours in the Pitt Pastel pencils and 60 colours in the Polychromos stick pastels (which are matched to some of the 120 colours in the Polychromos and Albrecht Durer pencil ranges). 

The pastel pencil and stick has the same formula (medium/hard) and the pencils are best sharpened with a hand held sharpener or knife. 

The performance is reliable and the pastel medium smooth to apply and blend,

As you would expect with products from a worldwide supplier, the quality is excellent and the individual colours are available open stock from several Internet suppliers as well as mail order companies. 

The full colour set of pencils is more than adequate for most subjects and anyone who finds the range constricting can use the sticks first and then develop the detail later with the pencils. The pencils in my stock carry a reference number and lightfastness ratings but not a name. 

The lightfastness values use the Faber Castell 3 star system which is based on the blue wool scale. This gives an indication of the most and least stable colours. Most are graded 3 stars - excellent LF rating - but a few 1 star (merely good) come in surprising colours and don't all lay in the pinks and mauves that you might normally expect. 

Both the pencils and the sticks are water soluble and good opaque colour can be lifted off the sticks and used with a brush. Solvents like Tim Fisher's Soft Pastel Liquifier also work well with the stick medium. 

The cost is around £1.25 per pastel pencil.

Stockists range from the SAA and Great Art to many Internet sites. 

The Cretacolor pastel pencil

Made in Austria, this double range of pencils and 'Pastel Carre' sticks offers a selection of 72 matching colours. This made them one of the largest colour ranges of pastel pencils available in the UK prior to the arrival of the Caran d'Ache brand.

Each Cretacolor pencil clearly carries the colour name and a reference number. 

The medium is firm like the other brands and the pencils will take sharpening with a sharpener well although any machine that applies too much vibration may well damage the pastel structure.

The manufacturer says the 'Cretacolor Pastel Pencils are best sharpened using sandpaper. The pencils are made with a soft wood outer casing cutting out the need for machine sharpeners or craft knifes.'

The cost of each pastel pencil is around £1.25. 

A reliable brand, they handle well and are a good option. I would expect the pigments - in common with those used in other Cretacolor lines - to be generally lightfast. 

Sets and individual pencils are also available from Truro Arts.  Carre Pastels, individually and in sets, are available form Great Art and Jacksons Art Supplies. 


The Caran d'Ache pastel pencil

In the early part of 2011, I was approached to test a new pastel pencil line being developed by Caran d’Ache in Geneva, which would include a matching hard pastel stick made with the same material as the pencil core.  These pastel pencils and sticks are now established on the market.

The new pencils are very good. They are smooth as well as being firm enough to take sharpening without a lot of breakages.  Caran d’Ache recommend a knife or special pastel sharpener, but I sharpened 400 plus pastel pencils on test, in a manual spiral bladed Jakar desktop sharpener (the model 5160) and had under 20 breakages.  Pastels are a naturally fragile medium, and there will always be a few pencils that fracture in sharpening, but these are the best I have seen to date.

They are expensive - and you would expect a new product from a company like Caran d’Ache to be at the top end of the price league. However, they are not excessively expensive for the quality.

A number of on line retailers list them around the £3 mark for each pastel pencil. Boxed sets of the pencils from retailers such as Jacksons, Pullingers and Ken Bromley are priced around £250 for a wooden boxed set of 84, £200 for a tin box of 76, and £100 for a set of 40.

There are 84 matching pastel sticks (they call them ‘cubes’) which are available in 14 colour matched sets of 6 colours each( non duplicated ). These are sometimes available in the UK. Keep an eye on Ken Bromley, Jacksons and Granthams Art Discount.

The Smaller sets, which are more generally available, contain 20 each of pencils and cubes - a Landscape set & a Portrait set. These sell for around £76.

There is also a starter set of 12 basic bright colours which sells for £50 I don’t have a price for the ‘Retouch’ set of 6 Earth colours but this could be around £30.

I think it could be worth looking out for a sample few colours and having a try to see how you find the feel of them.They are expensive, but seem to be acknowledged to be the leader brand.

NOTE: All prices may well be out of date when you read the article posted here They are quote only as an indication. Check the Internet for the main retailers prices before buying anything.

The Carbothello pastel pencil

With a slightly thicker colour strip than some other brands, these pencils have a dry crunchy charcoal feel which is unique among the pastel pencil brands.

They sharpen and respond well to the usual techniques.

There is a colour range of 60 colours and the lightfastness rating is given on each pencil according to a star system which allocates 1 star to the lowest rated colours and three stars to the best level of lightfastness.

No colour name is given, but pencils carry a reference number.

Like most brands they are watersoluble.

The price is around £1 to £1.20 a pencil in sets and they are widely available on the Internet from the likes of Great Art and ArtDiscount.co.uk.

The Carbothello sharpen to a fine reliable point and I have found them good for fine finishing detail.


The Bruynzeel pastel pencil

This Netherlands firm is part of the Japanese Sakura Group  (as is the Royal Dutch Talens art materials business).   

Bruynzeel were taken over by Sakura in 1997 and I understand the manufacture of Bruynzeel products is now sourced outside Holland. However the quality is fully up to modern artist’s requirements, and the Pastel Pencils are of high quality though reasonable cost.

The range extends to 48 colours which are marketed in very attractive foam lined drawer boxes (as shown).

The full set of 48 offers a very useful choice of colours. The pencils are best sharpened with a knife, though can be sharpened with a power sharpener with care.

Each pencil is numbered on the coloured end.  No colour name is given and this can be a problem when looking at a choice between two or three dark brown /grey pencils

Suppliers in the UK are (2010 ) not widely found, but a search on the Internet under ‘Bruynzeel Pastel Pencils’ should bring up suppliers at about £50 for the 48 drawer set.

Sakura were the inventors of Oil pastel crayons in 1924, developing the CrayPas brand to take advantage of the best points of the two media.  CrayPas is an interesting product which is also still available, sold as an Oil Pastel for children’s use, it is priced around £15 for a set of 36 colours.


The Talens Van Gogh pastel pencil

From another part of the Sakura Group and also based in Holland is the Royal Talens company. They manufacture Van Gogh soft pastels which have a long history and the company still produce pastels and also pastel pencils.

I have used the soft pastels  but the ones I have are a very old formula and are slightly harder than many manufacturers.

I have not yet tried the pastel pencils which are available from the Royal Talens sources in the UK including iartsupplies.co.uk  in Scotland.

There are 45 colours listed in the full range.

I see quoted prices are higher than other brands at around £1.75 to £2 each pencil.

Van Gogh always prided themselves on the use of lightfast pigments but I have no information on the pastel pencil lightfastness.  I would expect them to be very good, though without trying them I cannot say whether they are worth the premium price.


The Conte pastel pencil

Pastels go back to the 14th Century as a manufactured artists material and Conté a Paris refined pastels to the type we know today around the late 1700s.

As a very old manufacturer in this field, the pastel pencils that are offered by Conté are unique in the hardness and thickness of the colour strip.  The company offer a range of 48 pencils in the full set and suppliers include  http://www.pencils4artists.co.uk/

I find the pencils a little too hard compared with other brands, but that is a personal feeling. This is probably influenced by the fact that a large number of the other brands featured above are softer, similar in feel to each other and therefore are capable of being used with each other.

 I don’t find that the Conté pastel pencils are so easily inter-mixed with other brands.The tins of pencils are usually marketed at around £1 each per pencil So a set of 48 would retail around £50.


The Koh-I-Noor pastel pencil

A Brand now more readily found in the UK, but easily found throughout mainland Europe, is included here.

Pencils have been manufactured by the Hardtmuth firm in the Czech Republic since the late 1800s and their ‘Gioconda’ pastel pencils  are high quality at a reasonable price.

Martina, my correspondent from Germany tells me:

I find them wonderful to work with. They are very soft and smooth to apply on nearly every surface. They only have a small colour chart of 48 but these colours are good and you can mix and blend them easily.

The lightfastness ranges between very good and excellent and the colours are bright and clear.They are very easy to sharpen, even with battery operated sharpeners (Panasonic and Maped) and break very seldom. You can buy them in sets of 12, 24, and 48 pencils in a tin and also in open stock and they are very cheap. I pay for 48 pencils about 36 Euros (for Germany www.adelja.de with very fair prices).

Since including this item, I have bought Koh-i-noor pastel pencils myself and find them excellent.

Koh-I-noor stock is available from Jacksons Art Supplies in the UK , Amazon, and other internet retailers. In 2017 UK stock at Jacksons was £68 for a 48 sized box but I have seen them on offer at much less.

Comparisons - which brand will suit you the best

The first thing that many folk ask is ‘Which is the best pastel pencil brand?’

Really, the question cannot be easily answered as everyone has different needs.

If you ask around you will get conflicting replies, but the majority of answers will centre on the main brands and Faber Castell Pitt Pastel and Caran d’Ache Pastel pencils will feature on most lists.

Derwent used to have a name for breakages, but recent formulations have been much better.

Carbothello stand out as ‘different’ with a crunchy feel rather than a chalky one.

You really need to try several brands out, side by side. There are two approaches ( three if you can borrow some from an artist friend ).

First suggestion - if you are in the UK and depend on the internet for supplies…….. Check out the web site for www.pencils4artists.com . They are a family business based in Dartmouth in the South West of the UK, and for the last year they have also offered a unique service selling comparison sets of pencils.

They specialise in coloured pencils and sell sets and single pencils of most of the brands generally available in Europe. From their stocks of single pencils they will make up a set of mixed brands of wax, watercolour or pastel pencils, and these can be themed to a colour ( all greens etc ) or they can come as a mixed colour set. Selecting the single colour option you can do your comparison test at home and when you buy the pastel pencil set of choice, you still have a useful selection of extra colours to support your artwork. I think it is an excellent service. It has a cost, obviously. but I think it will come out marginally cheaper than taking option 2 for your comparison.

For the second suggestion, you will have realised that you can do the comparison set yourself by going through the catalogue of a supplier nearer to you who sells single pencils.

These suppliers are harder to find and may not stock a wide range of brands as singles, but they may be your best option if you are outside the UK. Pencils4artists ship abroad, but the cost is added.

If you are in the UK, and lucky enough to live near one of the few remaining major outlets like Pullingers, Cass Arts, Great Art (in London), have a look and see what they offer in single pencils. You will probably find Faber Castell are easy to find, Caran d’Ache may be about, but I haven’t seen Derwent as singles recently other than online.

You will find many online suppliers hold stocks of single pastel pencils from one or two brands at the most. Many will ask you to buy a minimum of 5 pencils, but they may not need to be the same colour.

To get a range of brands, you may need to go to several on line companies and meet the P & P costs for each. If you are in luck, you may be able to assemble a mixed box …but frankly the www.pencils4artists.com option is much the easiest. They have the stocks as a specialised retailer and …..no ! I don’t get commission.

Happy hunting!

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