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What are the different types of pastel colors called?

What are the different types of pastel colors called?

Pastels are a beautiful family of colors known for their soft, muted hues. Unlike bright, saturated colors, pastels have a gentle, delicate appearance that is often described as ethereal or dreamy. The name “pastel” originates from an art medium made from pure powdered pigment and a binder which produces a chalky texture when dried. While the pastel art medium dates back centuries, the name has come to encompass any pale, light-colored shade. From barely-there neutrals to rosy pinks and sunny yellows, pastel colors add a sense of tranquility and elegance wherever they are used.

The Main Types of Pastel Colors

There are several major categories of pastel colors based on their hue family:

  • Pastel pinks: Ranging from a barely-pink whisper to a peachy rose.
  • Pastel purples: From pale lilac to a lightly saturated lavender.
  • Pastel blues: Spanning icy blue, sky blue, and faded denim hues.
  • Pastel greens: From minty greens to sage greens.
  • Pastel yellows: Varying from pale lemon to sunshine yellow.
  • Pastel oranges: From melon orange to washed-out peach.

Within each of these hue families you will find dozens of individual pastel shades. For example, in the pastel blue family there is periwinkle, baby blue, powder blue, and more. Pastels can also be created by mixing a bright color with white to reduce the saturation. This results in tints of the original color, like pastel pink which is a tint of pink.

Characteristics of Pastel Colors

What exactly makes a pastel shade? Pastels have these defining characteristics:

  • High value – Pastels have a lightness, meaning they reflect more light rather than absorbing it. They are not dark or muted.
  • Low saturation – Pastels have less color intensity and vibrancy. The hue is softened rather than being fully saturated.
  • Subtle brightness – While low in saturation, pastels still retain some brightness in their hue. They are not neutral tones.

Essentially, pastel colors take a vibrant shade and turn down the volume. The color is still visible but in a gentle, subtle way. This creates an elegant, soothing effect.

The Origins of Pastel Pigment

Pastels first emerged as an art medium during the Renaissance era. Artists would grind pure pigment into a powder and blend it with a neutral binder, then shape the mixture into sticks for drawing. The dry sticks would leave behind a velvety texture and muted color on the painting surface. Pastel art was popularized by notable artists like Degas, Renoir, and Manet during the 18th and 19th centuries.

While pastel artwork dates back hundreds of years, the pigments used to produce the dreamy colors have an even longer history. Here are some of the earliest pastel pigments used by artists:

  • Chalk – White chalk has been used since prehistoric times, while colored chalk emerged during the Renaissance.
  • Clay earth pigments like ochre and sienna – Dating back to ancient history, ochre provides yellows and sienna provides earthy reds.
  • Ash – Ash from burned wood or other organic material creates muted grays and blacks.
  • Limewhite – Made from limestone and chalk, this creates a matte white.
  • Malachite – This green copper mineral has been used since 3000 BCE.

Later on, other mineral and synthetic pigments were produced to expand the range of pastel shades for artists. But the soft, delicate nature of pastels has remained unchanged over the centuries.

Modern Uses of Pastel Colors

Beyond art mediums, pastels have become a popular color choice in fashion, interior design, and consumer products. Their soft, welcoming nature has wide appeal for many applications.

Industry Examples
Fashion Pastel green dresses, light pink blouses, lavender trousers
Interior design Baby blue walls, peach curtains, mint green tiles
Consumer goods Rose gold electronics, lemon yellow appliances, sky blue automobiles

Both men’s and women’s fashion makes use of pastel hues to create a relaxed, approachable aesthetic. Pastels are a popular choice for spring and summer collections when clothing trends tend to be more light and breezy. In interior design, pastels lend a airy, carefree feeling to home décor and can brighten up any room. And brands leverage pastel colors to convey softness, elegance, and femininity in products marketed toward women. Overall, pastels represent a happy medium between neutrals and bright colors in our everyday lives.

Psychology of Pastel Colors

Color psychology suggests that the pale, delicate nature of pastels elicits a gentle, soothing reaction in viewers. Here is a look at the meanings associated with popular pastels:

  • Pastel pink – romance, femininity, innocence
  • Pastel purple – spirituality, nostalgia, tranquility
  • Pastel blue – serenity, ethereal, cloudlike
  • Pastel green – renewal, harmony with nature
  • Pastel yellow – optimism, cheerfulness, clarity
  • Pastel orange – creativity, approachability

While reactions vary by individual, most people perceive pastels as charming, delicate, and dreamlike. Their muted quality is unintimidating and inviting compared to bold, dramatic colors. This may explain pastels’ enduring popularity across artistic mediums and design applications.

Creating Custom Pastel Tints

You’re not limited to the standard pastel hues in the color spectrum. Any bright color can become a pastel by adding white to dilute the saturation. This creates a custom tint of the original shade. Interior designers may add white to existing paint colors when painting a nursery or creating a tranquil retreat. Fashion designers also produce custom pastel colors by dying fabric with a saturated dye, then rinsing repeatedly to remove some of the color intensity. Even hair colorists will create personalized pastel hair colors by bleaching then toning down vivid dyes. The possibilities are endless for turning bold colors pastel!

Choosing Complimentary Pastels

Matching different pastel shades in a cohesive way requires an eye for color. However, a few basic guidelines can help in combining pastels:

  • Select pastels within the same hue family for a monochromatic look. Ex: soft peach paired with melon orange.
  • Choose analogous colors adjacent on the color wheel. Ex: peach and mint green.
  • Mix colors equally dark/light for visual harmony. Avoid drastic value contrasts.
  • Anchor with neutrals like white, gray, and tan to prevent colors from clashing.

It also helps to pick a base pastel as your dominant color, then choose accent pastels to support it. For example, in a baby blue room add pastel yellow pillows and light gray furniture to create a coordinated look.


With their dreamy, delicate aesthetics, it’s no wonder pastel colors have remained popular across centuries of art and design movements. Their softness represents a retreat from the loud saturation of primary colors. Pastels manage to be soothing and elegant while still retaining enough brightness to not be dull or lifeless. Whether in a painting, an outfit, or a decor scheme, these charming hues consistently bring a sense of comfort and optimism. Exploring the many shades of pastel is an opportunity to add subtle beauty to any creative endeavor.