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Best Oil Pastels

Updated October 2022
Bottom line
Pros
Cons
Best of the Best
Sennelier 24-Color Oil Pastels Set
Sennelier
24-Color Oil Pastels Set
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Best for Experts
Bottom Line

Lauded by professional artists for smooth and opaque application, an unmatched lightfast rating, and oil paint-like finish without the mess.

Pros

A leading brand for oil pastel work, and for good reason. Smaller set than many bargain brands, but mixes and adapts to nearly limitless possibilities. Buyers appreciate the performance, citing the "creamy" and "opaque" finish that lives up to the lofty expectations.

Cons

Expensive. Start with a bargain brand if you're new to the pastel medium.

Best Bang for the Buck
Pentel Arts 50-Color Oil Pastels Set
Pentel Arts
50-Color Oil Pastels Set
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Customer Favorite
Bottom Line

A brand-name oil pastel loved by parents with artistic children and professional pastel artists alike.

Pros

50 colors for under $10 for a pastel used by working professionals. Smaller build means better detail work for those working on small projects. Wide range of colors with no duplicates, with millions of possibilities for blending new ones, too.

Cons

Smaller tips may be too little for large projects and filling bigger areas.

Crayola 28-Color Oil Pastels
Crayola
28-Color Oil Pastels
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Trusted Brand
Bottom Line

Crayola-quality bargain pastels that pack more punch than their standard set of crayons.

Pros

Not to be confused with the brand's iconic crayons, Crayola oil pastels are a step up from the average childhood crayon. Smooth application helps children learn the basics of color-blending without messy paints and cleanup. Adult artists appreciate them for sketches, studies, and general practice.

Cons

Pigmentation is enough for children, but many buyers lament it for permanent applications.

Sakura 12-Piece Cray-Pas Multicultural Oil Pastel Set
Sakura
12-Piece Cray-Pas Multicultural Oil Pastel Set
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Great for Portrait Artists
Bottom Line

12-pastel set for portrait artists who want to take their pastel paintings to another level.

Pros

Aims to embrace portrait artists around the world with a unique set of skin tones. Works well in conjunction with other Sakura pastels, as well as other brands. Constructed to mix with other colors to create nearly any skin tone. Solid middle ground between bargain brands and Sennelier.

Cons

Limited to skin tones, which might not suit every artist's preferences.

Mungyo Gallery 72-Color Extra Soft Oil Pastels
Mungyo
Gallery 72-Color Extra Soft Oil Pastels
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Luxury and Performance
Bottom Line

Gallery-quality oil pastels that come in an attractive, portable, and sturdy wooden box.

Pros

Soft oil pastels feel like lipstick when applied to sturdy surfaces. 72 colors covering nearly every corner of the color wheel, with added blendability for limitless color-mixing, too. Great alongside linseed oil for use as makeshift oil paint. Buyers praise the opacity.

Cons

Some buyers report no black, which could be a hindrance for many artists.

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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and all opinions about the products are our own. About BestReviews  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.About BestReviews 
HOW WE TESTED

We recommend these products based on an intensive research process that's designed to cut through the noise and find the top products in this space. Guided by experts, we spend hours looking into the factors that matter, to bring you these selections.

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Buying guide for Best oil pastels

Oil pastels, known for their bright colors and ease of use, have been a popular medium among artists for decades. Because no additional tools like brushes are needed to use them, they’re well-suited for sketching on the go.

Artists of all experience levels can enjoy success with oil pastels. Their texture is soft and blendable, and it’s simple to correct mistakes by scraping the pastel from the paper. The small, crayon-like size makes them easy for both children and adults to hold.

Oil pastels are one of the more affordable art media available, but sets and individual sticks can vary in price depending on quality and quantity. A good shopping guide and recommendations can help you choose the best oil pastels for your experience level and painting style.

a hand coloring a picture in a notebook with oil pastel
Oil pastels are typically nontoxic, making them a good option for children who want to draw with something more versatile than crayons.

How to buy the best oil pastels

Buying art supplies, including oil pastels, can be a somewhat intimidating and confusing process. Understanding your skill level and knowing your budget will help you to find the best set for you.

Oil pastels vs. sticks vs. crayons

Before you start comparing sets, decide whether oil pastels are the right medium for the type of art you want to create.

Oil pastels are oil-based and have a soft texture. They’re known for their bold and bright colors, as well as their ability to blend easily. They make heavy, opaque marks and don’t require many passes to cover the surface. Additionally, oil pastels work on a wide variety of surfaces from paper to canvas to glass. (Oil pastels are often called “crayons,” referring to the form of the medium.)

Pastel sticks are like pencils with a slightly powdery texture and a finer tip than oil pastels. They can be easily sharpened to make precise marks. The resulting finish isn’t as glossy as that of oil pastels.

Crayons are wax-based, making them much drier than oil pastels. They have a harder consistency and require a bit more pressure and more passes to leave solid marks. Crayons can’t be blended easily, and they don’t work on as wide a variety of surfaces. However, they are the most affordable of the three and come in a wider range of colors.

Student vs. artist grade

If you’re just starting out, student-grade oil pastels might seem like the obvious choice due to their lower cost. However, these sticks are almost always of lower quality and won’t match the softness or vibrancy of artist-grade options. As a result, you might be underwhelmed or frustrated with how your first few pieces turn out.

There’s nothing about artist-grade, or professional-grade, pastels that make them more difficult to use. In fact, the opposite is true. When possible, always opt for the highest-quality oil pastels you can afford.

Consistency

Most oil pastel makers indicate the consistency of the crayons, ranging from soft to hard. Soft pastels are easier to blend and may make heavier marks, while harder pastels offer more control and are suitable for fine details.

different colors of oil pastel
DID YOU KNOW?
You can draw or paint with oil pastels. You might associate paintings with more familiar media like watercolors, oils, and acrylics, but a surface covered in oil pastel is considered a painting. When you leave most of the surface uncovered, it’s considered a drawing.
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Features to look for in oil pastels

Once you know the quality and consistency you want in your oil pastels, consider additional features like quantity and colors.

Individual oil pastels

One reason to buy individual oil pastels is to combine them with other media like watercolors and oil paints.

If you already have a set of oil pastels, purchasing individual crayons is a good way to fill gaps in your collection of colors or replace crayons that have been used up. However, individual pastels are almost always more expensive per crayon than pastels in a set. Try to buy the same brand you’re already using, if possible, to ensure similar consistency and colors.

Oil pastel sets

If you’re just getting started or looking to replace used-up sticks, you might want to consider a set. These sets contain anywhere from 10 to 50 crayons, typically in a range of colors. In many cases, large sets are cheaper when you consider the cost per crayon. While larger sets include a bigger range of colors, remember that you can blend colors to get more options out of a smaller set.

Oil pastel colors

If you opt for a set, note the colors included and consider what you plan to draw. Plein air artworks, for example, require a range of greens, yellows, and blues, so a basic set could be quite limiting. In general, the larger the set, the wider the range of colors included.

Oil pastels mix well with many other media, and they can be used to add highlights or pops of color. It’s usually best to add touches of pastel last after the other media have dried.

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How much do oil pastels cost?

Though oil pastels are an affordable medium, they still range greatly in price depending on the quantity and quality of the crayons.

Inexpensive

You can find individual crayons and small sets for $3 to $10. While it isn’t terribly expensive to buy individual crayons, creating a whole set this way would get very pricey very quickly. Sets in this range are intended for beginners and children and include as many as 50 crayons, making them a great bang for your buck and a good choice for anyone just getting started with oil pastels. These sets are almost always student grade.

Mid-range

You can find student- and artist-grade sets with a wide range of colors for $10 to $50. The quality can vary significantly in this price range, but purchasing a well-known brand is usually a safe choice.

Expensive

Artist-grade sets that include as many as 120 crayons cost $50 to $300. In many cases, these sets come in a wooden carrying case, but this means that the case adds significantly to the cost of the set.

a hand about to color using oil pastel
DID YOU KNOW?
Some oil pastels promote their lightfastness. This means the colors won’t fade, ensuring that your artwork will survive for years.
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Tips

  • Experiment with blending colors. To prevent colors from mixing on the crayons, use cotton swabs, paper towels, or tortillon to smoothly blend colors together in your composition. Also, keep a rag handy for wiping your hands to avoid transferring colors between crayons.
  • Use different amounts of pressure for different effects. Pressing hard gives you a heavy, opaque mark while pressing lightly lets the surface show through and can make blending easy even without a tool.
  • Try sgraffito. Create a base layer of one or more colors, then cover it with a layer of one color (usually black). Use a fine-tipped tool to carefully scrape away the top layer, creating an image by revealing the colorful lower layer.
  • Experiment with stroke length and direction. Because oil pastels are heavy and thick, they add a lot of texture to an artwork, and individual marks are often visible. Play with different stroke styles to create the effect of different textures in your work.
  • Wear a smock, apron, or old shirt when using oil pastels. It’s easy for stray marks to end up on your clothing. If that happens, scrape away as much pastel as you can with a knife, then dab at the stain with rubbing alcohol.
paper and oil pastel
Though it goes on heavily, oil pastel can be removed from the surface using a kneaded eraser or by scraping it away with a sharp knife.

FAQ

Q. How long do oil pastels last in storage?

A. There is no expiration date on oil pastels because they’re oil-based, with no water to evaporate. With a high-quality set, you should find them just as pliable and vibrant in several years as they were on the day you opened them.

Q. Can you sharpen oil pastels?

A. Yes, and you’ll need to if you want to make precise marks. You can sharpen oil pastels with a clean knife, but you should make sure the pastel is relatively cool. Always remove as little material as possible to avoid using up your crayons quickly.

Q. What surfaces can you use oil pastels on?

A. Oil pastels work well on paper of various weights and textures, canvas, glass, wood, and many other materials. However, they behave differently on each surface, and the colors vary in vibrancy, so you might need to experiment to get the effect you want.

Q. Can I use oil pastels on printer paper?

A. You can, but you might find that the pastels don’t stick to the paper as easily and might be difficult to blend. Additionally, it’s difficult to erase marks on printer paper because it absorbs the oil. For best results, use heavy drawing or painting paper or a nonporous surface like glass.

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