PanPastel Review: In-Depth

Are you a fan of pan pastels?’s correspondent, Rice Freeman-Zachary absolutely adores the product and especially the pan pastels sets available from Colorfin, Inc. To satisfy her obsession, she interviews the creator and provides a bit of a pan pastels review of what some would argue are simply the best pastels to use in all your mixed media projects. Of course, that’s largely up for debate and if you’re a fan of dry pastels, in fact, you might disagree. Read on!

When I tried out Pan Pastels, I became enamored with them! And when I love a product, I want to know all about it (goes with my inquisitive nature). So I went right to the top and asked Bernadette Ward, co-founder of Colorfin, Inc., all sorts of questions about these amazing pastels! (I used some of the pics from my review as visual aides. Go here to read the review.)

Colorfin co-founders Ladd Forsline and Bernadette Ward

What exactly are PanPastel Colors?

PanPastel® Colors are artist’s pastel colors manufactured in a pan instead of a stick format. The pan format is unique and holds the color like paint; making PanPastel the world’s first dry color medium that functions like a paint.

The colors are applied with the Sofft® range of tools and applicators.

What led you to create them?

All our product ideas begin life in our art studio. We were looking at areas of the market that had been neglected in terms of product development by existing color manufacturers….

We saw that the pastel medium hadn’t changed from the stick format for hundreds of years; and before that, going back thousands of years, humans had used raw pigments to draw and paint.

So we decided to develop a material that retained the characteristics of the pastel medium that make it so special—it’s directness/immediacy and color purity—but to make it function like a paint. After much experimentation in our art studio and laboratory, we developed the pan format.

How did you envision them being used? And by whom?

We knew that pastel artists would immediately be attracted to them as they offer several advantages when used for pastel painting. But as were developing the range we really kept painters that use wet media, such as oils or acrylics, in mind.

We knew our job was to develop the material and make it available to artists, and then they would instinctively know how to use it and incorporate it in their work.

We were right! Artists are taking PanPastel in so many different creative directions.

While the colors are used for traditional painting and drawing techniques, they are also being used for many different mixed media techniques. A few examples are: journaling, collage, altered art, and hand-coloring digital prints.

They are perfect for mixed media as they are compatible with such a wide variety of materials: acrylics, markers, encaustics, inks, pencils, watercolors, pastel sticks, charcoal and so many more.


What’s your background? Is it in art? Chemistry?! Manufacturing? Marketing? All of the above?

My business partner (and husband), Ladd Forsline & I developed the range together. We have both worked in the art materials industry since the late 80’s.

Ladd is a trained artist (MFA Yale), and he is also the inventor of two other great artists’ products OilBar® and ColourShaper®. I have spent my career in product management and as a marketing executive, mostly in the art supplies industry internationally.

So, it was a true collaboration combining both our skill sets to develop the concept, formulations, packaging and manufacturing processes. It took over 5 years to develop PanPastel & Sofft. A true labor of love!





What makes PanPastel different from other artists’ pastels?

The pan format changes everything! Making the colors function like a dry velvety paint. This brings many advantages, for example the artist can now mix and blend pastel colors together.

A major difference is also the ability to apply semi-transparent layers of color; whereas by nature pastel sticks are opaque.

Using the Sofft Tools enables the artist to control and apply the color in a painterly way and also means that a lot less dust is generated.

It should be noted that from the beginning our objective was never to replace pastel sticks, we simply wanted to stretch the pastel medium’s creative possibilities and to give artists new ways to express themselves.


Why do artists love them so much?


They love the mixability, the transparent layers that can be built up, and the way the colors “flow”. They also love the fact that the colors are very forgiving, as they can be easily erased.

Artists love the cleaner low dust aspect of the colors and how easy they are to organize and store, reducing breakage and cross-contamination between colors.

They also like the fact that the colors are ready for use straight from the pan, no solvents, no mediums, no liquids or anything else needed to start painting, which also means there is no drying time.

Many non-pastel painters are telling us that they are enjoying the pastel medium for the first time, and that they are experiencing a new creative freedom with them.

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What’s the coolest thing about PanPastel?


PanPastel is the first dry color medium that functions like a fluid paint.



How many colors are available?


There are 80 professional artist’s quality colors in the range. They are all mixable so an infinite number of colors can be achieved. The range is comprised as follows:

20 pure colors (mass tones)

20 tints (pure color + white)

20 shades (pure colors + black)

20 extra darks (pure colors + more black)

Because the color doesn’t need to be held in a stick shape – which requires a level of hardness – our color formulations are rich and ultra soft, with minimal binder and fillers and a very high pigment load.

Each pan contains 9ml of color, which is approx. 40% more color than the average pastel stick (there’s a comparison chart at We also estimate pans yield approx. 4-5 times more color coverage compared to sticks.


How do you apply PanPastel?


Sofft Tools were developed to work with PanPastel Colors.

They are made from a dense micropore sponge that’s durable enough to stand up to rigorous studio use and also handle artist’s pigments; yet they can be washed and re-used. We tested many different materials; using them over and over until we were satisfied we had finally created the sponge material that offered optimum results.

Sofft Tools are available in different sizes, and the shapes we designed are based on brush shapes, for the marks artists need to make, from small painterly marks to large washes of color

Sofft Tools also work really well with lots of other water-based media – acrylics, watercolors, inks etc – they create different effects to brushes as they “push” the color into the substrate, are non-abrasive, and don’t leave a brush stroke.


What surfaces are good for PanPastel?


Another really cool thing about PanPastel Colors is that they work on SO many different surfaces from very low tooth to high tooth.

For example from delicate surfaces like Japanese handmade papers through to toothy pastel (sand-paper) surfaces and everything in between…drawing papers, canvas, vellum, watercolor papers, print-making papers, cardstock, ink-jet photo papers (matt) etc

Also, because they are not wet or liquid, they don’t cause lightweight or delicate papers to “crinkle”.



Do you have to seal them after application?

They can be sealed and they are compatible with all conventional pastel spray fixatives.

Many artists don’t use fixative, as the Sofft Tools push the color well into the tooth of the paper/surface, however it is still pastel color and can be deliberately rubbed off, so if that is a concern then the artist should fix the color. Fixative can also be used to isolate layers of color when working with multiple layers.

Is there a lot of dust?


One of the characteristics that artists REALLY love about PanPastel Colors is that they generate significantly less dust than pastel sticks, for a much cleaner working environment.


Are they non-toxic? Safe around kids and animals?


All the colors have been independently tested to ASTM D-4236 standards, and are certified with the ACMI AP Non-Toxic seal. They have also been tested and certified as lead-free.

As this is such a new material I would urge everyone to check out our websites: and where we provide lots of information along with videos and a gallery.


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