Oil Pastels VS Soft Pastels | Everything You Need to Know

When I was young, my imagination was too colorful. It still is, but then I had the thirst to illustrate my imagination with the touch of different color mediums.

I remember the first time I bought a complete set of pastels. The vivid colors attracted me so much. But I was too innocent to realize their uses and differences.

Since then, I have kept using different types of pastel pencils. I wanted to understand how I could bring out the best of pastel colors and portray my thoughts.

Now, I’ll be sharing the characteristics and differences between oil and soft pastels that I have come across by using in the article Oil pastels vs. soft pastels.

Whether you’re a professional or a complete beginner, it’s essential to differentiate their characteristics. Also, I’ll be answering a few critical questions with brief details to clear things out.

Main Differences between Oil Pastel and Soft Pastels

Oil pastels and soft pastels are two different types of art mediums. Both pastels have some unique characteristics and applications, along with some differences.

Now, let me show you how they can be differentiated –

According to their composition: Oil pastels’ main ingredients are pigments, a binder of oil, and wax. On the other hand, soft pastels are made from pigments, distilled water, chalk, and gum Arabic (it works as a binder).

According to their properties: Oil pastels are water-resistant and permanent. Whereas soft pastels have minor binders and more pigments, they are dry and not permanent.

According to user experiences: Oil pastel paintings are wet, greasy, waxy, have a creamy  textured appearance, and can be applied on various surfaces. On the contrary, soft pastels can be readily smudged and blended.

DifferencesOil PastelSoft Pastel
CompositionPigments, Binder of Oil, and WaxPigments, Distilled Water, Chalk and Gum Arabic
PropertiesWater-resistant and PermanentDry and Not-Permanent
User ExperienceWet, Greasy, Waxy and CreamyReadily Smudged and Blended

Composition of Oil Pastels

Oil pastels are generally made of three main ingredients. These are pigments, a binder of a non-drying oil, and wax or white beeswax.

Here, the most crucial element is the pure pigment which is mainly responsible for the color of the oil pastels. Linseed oil or a mixture of raw linseed oil with mineral oil in a 1:3 ratio is used here.

What is Oil Pastels Best for?

Oil pastels produce a cleaner medium than chalk pastels. They are softer than other colored pencils like crayons, wax pastels, etc.

Besides, oil pastels are also more affordable than many other mediums. They are an excellent option for both sketching and painting.

You can blend it with tissue or even your finger too. Trust me, the blending process of oil pastels is too easy. You can also heat oil pastel to produce more subtle marks.

For these various reasons, artists usually prefer using it. So, we can say that oil pastels have some versatile uses in the art sector, such as landscapes, portraits, and still life.

Landscape painting, portrait, and still life have almost similar usage of oil pastels.

Surfaces Oil Pastels Work Best On

You need to be careful about the surface you’ll be working on. Oil pastel is a versatile medium to work on a variety of surfaces. Let’s discuss some surfaces for painting and drawing with oil pastels.

  • Paper
  • Cardboard
  • Canvas
  • Wood Panels
  • Stone
  • Glass Mirror
  • Plastic

Paper is the transparent first surface to try. The paper must be smooth and should have enough teeth that can hold the multiple layers of the oil pastels.

Cardboard is an excellent surface for oil pastels. It has some categories. For example, a Scrap matboard is a fantastic surface. But it will degrade within five years. But if you use museum-grade, then your art will last longer.

Canvas is a beautiful but tricky surface for oil pastels. It has high textures that can hold multiple layers of your color.

Wood Panels are doing well as a surface for oil pastels though they soak in and stain. But coloring on wood surfaces with oil pastels can give a dramatic finish.

You can paint on stone with oil pastels. It is also a good surface for the oil pastel to cling on. But with its fewer teeth, it can hold a small number of coloring layers.

Coloring on glass or mirrors with oil pastels is more effective. But it is easy to remove the color on the glass. 

Plastic is a unique surface. As we all know, plastics can last hundred years without degrading. So, indeed paintings on plastics can last long, maybe forever!

Again, oil pastel painting won’t expire. The textured surfaces are the best for oil pastels like stone, wood, paper canvas, cardboard, etc. But it also can work on smooth surfaces like glass and plastics.

What is the Best Paper for Oil Pastels?

There are various types of papers that are available in the market. But what type of paper should you buy? Let’s look at the factors you need to consider before buying your art drawing paper.

  • Compatibility of the paper
  • The texture of the paper
  • Thickness and Quality of the paper
  • Color and Size of the paper
  • Budget

Okay, now you are a bit clearer. But what if I provide you with a complete and easy solution about what type of paper you should be buying and what type of paper should you ignore instantly?

First, you can directly ignore regular A4 paper, sketch paper, and stretched canvas because it is unsuitable for oil pastels.

These papers don’t match the factors that we have to consider. But you can easily consider watercolor paper, sanded or grit paper, texturized paper and board and primed canvas because these papers are the best for oil pastels.

Composition of Soft Pastels

The most popular and widely used pastels are soft pastels. I like using soft pastels for detailed works as they are compatible with other pastel types and can give a wide range of vibrant colors.

The main ingredients of soft pastels are:

  • Chalk
  • Gum Arabic/ Binder
  • Pigment

Soft pastels contain a very high concentration of pigments, and the least quantity of resin or gum binders are used to hold them together. Sometimes, clay might also be used in soft pastels.

Either way, they are easily crumbled, but some super intense color can be gained.

They are also perfect for blending as they have a fragile consistency with a powdery texture.

What are Soft Pastels Best for?

I must tell you that it’s enjoyable to use soft pastels. You can use them for both drawing and painting. As they contain an insufficient quantity of binders, you can easily blend colors with them with minimal compression.

The rectangular sticks of pastels allow you to draw lines and color in areas. You can use the edges to draw more delicate details. Coloring with soft pastels is a spontaneous process. You can’t create such flowy and smooth color gradients with any other drawing medium but soft pastels.

Moreover, soft pastel drawings can be easily corrected.

Surfaces Soft Pastels Work Best On

There are a variety of surfaces where you can use soft pastels. They are a flexible medium to work with and can easily blend. Let’s briefly look at some of the surfaces for painting and drawing with soft pastels.

  • Textured
  • Canvas
  • Watercolor Paper
  • Wood panels
  • Pasteboard

Textured papers can hold a few extra layers of colors. They also allow you to blend colors easily, and you can get a soft, smeared effect in your beautiful artwork.

Canvas or canvas board is a slick surface with many advantages for the artists. It can hold multiple layers of color.

Watercolor paper, also called mixed media paper, can help you bring a soft and well-blended finish to your pastel painting. A high-quality watercolor paper will grip the pastels properly, whether you have dry pastel or brushed with water.

Don’t use the regular sandpaper of the carpenters. Try to work with coarser paper as they offer you a good grip on your colors. Sanded pastel paper can also be a good option.

If you need exact dimensions, wood panels are the right option.

Pasteboard can also be a good option.

Keep experimenting with different surfaces to choose the best option of your preference.

What Paper is Best for Soft Pastels?

When working with soft pastels, I’m pretty vigilant about the paper I’m working on. It helps to define the surface and appearance of my drawing.

There are some key factors you need to consider:

Paper Roughness

Firstly, you have to choose paper with the tooth. Tooth means the roughness of the paper. It helps the tiny particles of the pastel stick to hold on to the paper.

In a paper with a rougher surface, you can apply more layers of color. Besides, such papers also reduce the amount of pastel fixative you’ll have to use. So, choose a paper with a rougher surface. Both oil and soft pastels work well on such paper.

A smoother paper will be better for drawing precise and more minor details.

Paper Color

Secondly, the color of the paper. As you know, pastels don’t cover the painting surface entirely like liquid colors. So, the paper will be seen through the covered area.

From my experience, I like to choose light-colored paper to emphasize dark colors and vice versa.

The most “neutral” option is a mid-toned paper to keep a balance and harmony with every color. Besides, contrasting bright color paper is the best option for developed and detailed paintings.

But what if you want to experiment with more different combinations? Mix and match to find the best one according to your preference. Keep going.

Paper Weight

Finally, the weight and thickness of the paper. Choose paper of thickness 175 GSM and above. That way, you’ll be able to draw more layers on your paper as it is thick enough.

Comparison Between the Two in Terms of Application

Here we will be comparing oil and soft pastels by rating them– Excellent, Very Good, Good, Fair, Poor; according to their application. I will also share some popular oil pastel and soft pastel techniques below. 

Smudging Issue

Drawing with soft pastels is like drawing with chalk. They smudge more often. So it’s easy to blend soft pastels. On the other hand, oil pastels stick to the paper as they consist of non-drying oil with a binder in a waxy form.

So they do not rub off or smudge easily. Oil pastel is a good choice for artists who are usually less forgiving.

Layering Technique

If you want to bring more color and intensity to your drawing, then layering with soft pastels can be helpful. You can try layering various colors on top of each other and bring the desired intensity and hue to your artwork.

However, you can put more color and depth into your artwork using oil pastels. You can easily layer multiple colors over the other and overlap colors.

Stippling Tricks

Creating small dots to bring out different color effects is one of my favorite tasks while drawing, and I can rely on soft pastels for this job. They can also help add texture to drawings.

And you can use this technique with both pastel mediums. 

But to achieve a shading appearance and stippling through tiny dots. They are rich in color quality and quickly bring vivid hues into drawings.

Blending Colors

Soft pastels have a chalky nature, making the colors easy to rub together. So, it’s a vast field for artists to blend colors and bring life to their artworks.

On the contrary, you need to work more on blending oil pastels properly. If you want to create layers and a blended appearance, you must learn it with extra effort and practice.

Fade Resistance

Soft pastels are one of the permanent mediums of pastels because they are made using a minor binder, so they don’t darken, fade, blister, or crack over time.

Oil pastels are waxy, and they never dry thoroughly. So, they can last for a long-time if preserved correctly.

Whether oil or soft pastels, both of them can get smudged, causing artwork fading problems. So, you need to preserve them accordingly to make them last longer.

ComparisonSoft PastelsOil Pastels
Fade ResistanceExcellentGood

So, What Should You Go With?

It’s critical to answer this question, as they have their specialties.

If you want something more precise and detailed and use it with other drawing mediums, you can go with soft pastels.

On the other hand, if your preference is more of a smooth surface finish with a combined effect, go for oil pastels because they can give a creamy consistency to your artwork. The choice is totally up to you on how you want your imagination to come out on your canvas.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Do professional artists use oil pastels?

Yes, they do because it is more affordable than many other art mediums.

Oil pastels have different grades. One is student-grade pastels, and the other is artist-grade pastels. The artists quality pastels have more pigments than the student’s one. That produces more vibrant colors.

Oil pastels can be blended, scratched off, and produce deep, intensive, and rich color stroke quality. For all these reasons, professional artists usually prefer oil pastels.

Q: Can you use soft pastels and oil pastels together?

You should not be used oil pastels and soft pastels together because oil pastels and soft pastels are two different types of drawing mediums. When layers of oil pastel are applied over the soft pastel, it will stick to the pastel and remove it from the drawing surface.

On the other hand, when the soft pastel is applied over the oil pastel, it will not cling to the drawing surface properly, and you will not get the proper result.

Q: Can you mix soft pastels with water?

It is an excellent idea to use pastels mixed with water. You can create depth and shading of delicate colors by using them like watercolor paint. Depending on how much pastel and water you’re mixing, you can also control how dynamic the tints and shades will be in your painting.

Q: Do oil pastels dry out easily?

Oil pastels will never dry, and they will last forever. Even the paintings won’t be expired. But these drawing attracts soil and dust to the surface.

That’s why such drawings are protected by glass over the surfaces. Though the oil pastel paintings never dry. But they can be dried by mixing drying oil with the oil pastels.

Wrap Up

Be it soft or oil pastels, they are entertaining to use. You need to know their applications and characteristics to bring the best out of them.

So, now it’s your time to work with the pastel sticks. Keep combining different surfaces, papers, and color mediums by understanding our discussions on soft pastels vs oil pastels. What are you waiting for? Go out there and start illustrating your imaginations!

Loard Eva

Hi there! I’m Eva, artist, designer, photographer and mom of three little gentlemen altogether. When I’m not playing with my kids, you’ll find me researching and writing for ChooseMarker.

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