A common question I get asked a lot about is what brand of oil pastels is the best? For most oil pastelists, the answer to that comes down to two brands: Sennelier and Holbein. These are more expensive brands, and there are others available but these are the most common of the top-quality brands. So that answers the question, what is the best. (for me personally, I like Sennelier oil pastels – just for the record!)
When we move on into the brands that are lesser quality than these top 2 brands, it can be a challenge to sort out all the rest. There are a few mid grade brands available, and for the lower grade, the market is unfortunately flooded with very cheap, very low quality oil pastels.
For middle-grade oil pastels, there are a few you should consider: 1) Cray-Pas Specialist, 2) Erengi Art Aspirer, and 3) Caran d’Ache Neopastels. Some may argue that the NeoPastels should be considered top-quality along with Sennelier and Holbein, but I tend to disagree. Sennelier and Holbein are in a class of their own, and where Caran d”Ache Neopastels may be a bit better in quality over Cray-Pas Specialist and Erengi Art-Aspirer, for me personally the neopastels fall in the middle grade. Just my opinion, but I want to acknowledge that others may disagree.
These middle-grade oil pastels are good for the artist that wants to learn to take oil pastels more seriously than others, but might not feel ready to spend the extra money on Sennelier or Holbein. Probably the best “first set” of oil pastels for any artist would be from these three. The reason I say that is because the low-quality too often disappoints artists and leaves them with a bad impression of oil pastels in general. Not that you can’t start out with low/student-quality, it’s just important to keep in mind that you’re going to really get what you pay for with cheap oil pastels, and might end up never knowing what you are really missing out on!
Alright so let’s talk a little bit about these low-quality oil pastels, shall we? I might hazard a guess that about 80-90% of artists start out using oil pastels with one of the low-quality sets. Who can resist a full 36 or 48-color set of oil pastels for ten or fifteen dollars? The problem is that this set is likely to be used once or twice, then it will sit on your art-supply shelf, or in a bag somewhere until you decide to throw it out or give it away. Consider yourself to have been warned! :)
If you absolutely must get a set of student quality oil pastels, here are my recommendations. Either Mungyo Gallery, Cray-Pas Expressionist, and Van Gogh. Please note that my calling these “recommendations” is really a stretch, but these are the only brands I suggest for those that have to get the lowest quality. Probably Mungyo Gallery is the best of the three, although some might say the Expressionist.
Finally, I have a couple I do not recommend at all: Reeves and Artist’s Loft (the Michael’s brand). These oil pastels will do nothing but frustrate you and possibly turn you away from ever wanting to use oil pastels again!
So there you have it, my oil pastels brands comparison, from high quality to low. Following is a chart of my brand recommendations, from top quality to low quality:
Brands to Avoid
Please note this article may be revised as I try more brands myself. If you have any recommendations or questions please leave a comment below! – Eric
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