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What are the differences between hard pastels and soft pastels? Which is better?
The hardness or softness of a pastel depends on the amount of binder or filler in its makeup. There are advantages to each style of pastel.
What are the advantages of soft pastels?
Soft pastels contain less binder, which gives them their velvety texture or “bloom.” They contain more pigment, so the color is rich and can easily be blended or smudged with a finger or soft tool. The down side is that they are more delicate and can break easily. The same softness that makes them easy to blend also allows them to be accidentally smudged, so it's a good idea to use a spray fixative once you complete your work. Their soft texture creates more dust, which can be a problem for some people.
What is the difference between hard/soft pastels and oil pastels?
The main difference is in the texture. Hard and soft pastels could be described as "chalky." Oil pastels might be described as having a "waxy" or crayon like consistency. They are cleaner, and do not rub off as much. They resist crumbling and do not pose any health risk in terms of breathing dust. Oil pastels are also more permanent and offer intense pigments. However, they are more difficult to blend and never fully harden. Therefore, oil pastels can be smudged in storage.