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What are pastel colors considered?

What are pastel colors considered?

Pastel colors are defined by their soft, muted tones that have been desaturated with the addition of white or grey. They can range from very light to slightly darker in saturation, but all pastels maintain an overall low-key, subtle appearance.

Pastels as Tints of Color

Pastels are created when pure hues have white or grey added to them to reduce their saturation. Adding white produces a tint, while adding grey produces a tone. For example, a baby blue pastel can be made by mixing a small amount of white with pure blue pigment. The white desaturates the blue to create a much softer, paler blue pastel. Mauve pastel is made by adding grey to reddish-purple pigment. The grey mutes the vividness of the purple to make a more subdued lavender pastel.

Some key characteristics of pastel colors:

  • Low saturation – Pastels have a low intensity of pigment and high ratio of white or grey mixed in.
  • Subtle brightness – They maintain some brightness from the original hue, but are much softer than pure colors.
  • Neutralized intensity – The added white and grey significantly neutralize the vividness of the original pigment.
  • Range of lightness – Pastels can range from very pale to slightly deeper in tone.

In summary, pastels achieve their signature pale, delicate appearance from having colors diluted down with white or grey. This reduces the saturation while maintaining some of the original hue’s tonal character.

Different Types of Pastel Colors

Pastels encompass a broad spectrum of soft, light colors. Some of the most common types of pastels include:

  • Pink pastels – Ranging from barely pink pale blush to soft rose.
  • Blue pastels – Spanning light sky blue to muted blue-grey azure.
  • Green pastels – From mint to sage to pistachio.
  • Yellow pastels – Buttery pale yellow to mellow lemon chiffon.
  • Purple pastels – Lavender, lilac, orchid, thistle.
  • Peach pastels – Subdued coral to barely peach.
  • Grey pastels – Light greys with subtle hints of cool blue or warm brown.

Within each broad pastel family, there is a wide spectrum ranging from faintly tinted to slightly deeper in saturation. Most pastel palettes include at least a couple depth variations of certain hues, such as light pink, medium pink, and rose pink.

Characteristics of Common Pastel Colors

Here is an overview of some of the most popular pastel colors and what makes them unique:

Pastel Color Characteristics
Mint green Cool, pale green with slight blue undertone. Crisp and refreshing.
Lavender Light purple with subtle greyish tone. Soothing, elegant, and feminine.
Peach Pale, soft orange with subtle pink tint. Warm, delicate, and romantic.
Sky blue Barely-blue pale tone. Peaceful, ethereal, and calming.
Blush pink Faint, barely pink tone. Innocent, delicate, and romantic.
Butter yellow Pale, muted yellow. Uplifting, fresh, and playful.
Lilac Light purple with subtle pink undertone. Feminine, gentle, and nostalgic.

Even within the same pastel family, subtle variations in undertones and depth create distinct moods. For example, mint green conveys a crisp, cool feel while sage green expresses an earthier, more natural vibe.

Uses for Pastel Colors

The soft, delicate nature of pastels make them popular for many uses, including:

  • Art – Pastels are an art medium itself, with pastel drawing sticks and pastel painting using powder pigment.
  • Fashion – Used in women’s, children’s, and baby clothing for their feminine, youthful look.
  • Home decor – Ideal for shabby chic, cottagecore, and vintage interior design styles.
  • Events – Weddings, baby/bridal showers, birthdays, Easter, and more.
  • Baking – Cakes, macarons, and desserts use pastel frostings and decorations.
  • Photography – Pastel color schemes create soft, romantic moods.

Pastels allow people to incorporate color in a subtle, nuanced way. Their versatility makes them suitable for anything requiring a delicate, feminine, or vintage look and feel.

Pastel Color Palettes and Schemes

Pastels are commonly combined into various color schemes and palettes:

  • Monochromatic – Multiple depths of shades of the same pastel hue. For example, dark lavender, medium lavender, light lavender.
  • Analogous – Pastels within the same color family. Like peach, yellow, and green pastels.
  • Complementary – Contrasting pastels such as lilac and butter yellow.
  • Triadic – Three pastels equidistant on the color wheel, like peach, mint, and blue.
  • Rainbow – A full spectrum of pastels in gradually shifting hues.

Pastels are often grouped into a gradual ombre spectrum, like in rainbow baby blankets. Combining contrasting hues, like pink and blue, creates more visual interest and dimension. Monochromatic pastel palettes have a very soft, uniform appearance.

How Lighting Affects Pastels

Because pastels have such subtle saturation, the type of lighting can noticeably impact their appearance:

  • Natural daylight – Makes pastels look crisp and bright.
  • Warm incandescent – Warms up pastels, enhances peach/yellow undertones.
  • Cool fluorescent – Enhances blue/green undertones of pastels.
  • Candlelight – Bathes pastels in a warm golden glow.

Morning daylight gives pastels a cool, clean look, while evening light warms them up to look cozier. Photographers need to pay attention to lighting conditions when capturing pastel subjects or colors will not appear as intended.

Pastels vs. Neons and Brights

On the color saturation scale, pastels fall on the complete opposite end from neon and bright colors. While pastels are known for being soft, muted, and subtle, neons and brights are bold, intense, and vivid. Key differences include:

Pastels Neons / Brights
– Desaturated colors with white/grey added – Fully saturated, pure pigment
– Low-intensity, subtle – High-intensity, bright
– Soothing, gentle, relaxing – Energizing, fun, stimulating
– Ethereal, delicate, dreamy – Bold, intense, electric

Pastels and neons evoke completely different moods. Pastels are used when aiming for a calm, delicate aesthetic, while neons intentionally create visual vibrancy and excitement.

History of Pastels

Pastels have been used as an art medium since the Renaissance era. Their history includes:

  • 1500s – Pastels first emerged as an art form during the 16th century in Italy.
  • 1600s – Portrait artists began using pastels to create quick preliminary sketches.
  • 1700s – Pastel techniques were perfected during the Rococo period in 18th century France.
  • 1800s – Impressionist and realist artists used pastels to capture atmospheric effects.
  • Early 1900s – The Art Deco movement embraced pastels in fashion and visual arts.
  • Mid 1900s – Pastels influenced soft color palette of 1950s interiors and clothing.

Pastels have gone in and out of favor throughout major art periods, but continuously circle back due to the alluring, ethereal effects achieved through their muted palettes.

Psychology and Symbolism of Pastels

Pastels take on a variety of psychological and symbolic associations, including:

  • Femininity – Seen as delicate, dainty, and gentle colors.
  • Romance – Considered light, dreamy, and tender colors of love.
  • Youth – Viewed as soft, sweet colors of childhood and new life.
  • Peacefulness – Provide a calming, soothing effect on mood.
  • Elegance – Refined colors associated with grace and beauty.

Their soft femininity makes pastels part of the “kawaii” Japanese aesthetic. Their soothing qualities have been used in color therapy to reduce anxiety. Overall, pastels touch on themes of comfort, nostalgia, innocence, and tranquility.


In summary, pastel colors encompass a spectrum of soft, muted tones created by diluting pure hues with white and grey. Their low saturation provides an ethereal, delicate beauty suitable for art, fashion, decoration, and design. Pastels offer subtle elegance, femininity, and dreamlike romance through their muted palettes. They provide a refreshing change from the boldness of primary colors.