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What are the variations of pastel colors?

What are the variations of pastel colors?

Pastels are known for their soft, delicate, and muted tones that provide a sense of calmness and tranquility. While the most common pastel colors are shades of pink, blue, green, yellow, and purple, there are many possible variations within the pastel color family. In this article, we will explore the different types of pastel colors and what makes them unique.

Definition of Pastels

Pastels are defined as colors that have a high tint or lightness with low saturation. They are created by adding a large amount of white pigment to pure hues. This dilutes the vibrancy of the original color, making it appear much softer and more subtle.

While there is no definitive line between what can be considered pastel versus non-pastel, generally pastel shades will have a tint level of at least 30% to be classified in this color family. The more white pigment added, the lighter and more muted the pastel tone will become.

Characteristics of Pastel Colors

Some key characteristics of pastel colors include:

  • Soft, muted shades that are less intense than pure hues
  • Often have a chalky, powdery finish
  • Provide a sense of calmness and serenity
  • Have a lightness, delicacy, and ethereal quality
  • Used often in spring and summer fashion and design palettes

While vibrant, saturated colors command attention, pastels do the opposite. Their pale, understated nature gives them a gentle, soothing effect. Pastels are rarely jarring or overwhelming due to their intrinsically soft appearance.

Types of Pastel Colors

While pastel shades can be created by adding white to any pure hue, some of the most common pastel colors include:

Pink Pastels

Pink pastels retain femininity and warmth while being much more subtle than bright pinks. Some examples include:

  • Baby pink – Very soft, pale tone of pink.
  • Ballet slipper pink – Light, delicate pink named after ballet shoes.
  • Blush pink – Has subtle peach undertones.
  • Cotton candy pink – Resembles spun sugar.
  • Dusty rose – Muted pink-grey tone.

Blue Pastels

Blue pastels take on an ethereal, peaceful quality. Some blue pastel shades include:

  • Baby blue – Very light, almost white version of blue.
  • Cloud blue – Pale blue resembling a hazy sky.
  • Cornflower blue – Named after the flower, has purple undertones.
  • French blue – Muted blue-grey tone.
  • Periwinkle – Light purple-blue.

Green Pastels

Green pastels provide a sense of renewal and harmony. Some examples are:

  • Celadon – Pale green with grey undertones.
  • Eucalyptus – Blue-tinged muted green.
  • Honeydew – Very pale green named after the melon.
  • Mint green – Pale green with white added.
  • Seafoam green – Bluish-green resembling ocean foam.

Yellow Pastels

Yellow pastels retain brightness while being much softer than primary yellow. Some shades include:

  • Buttercream – Warm pale yellow.
  • Canary yellow – Very light, delicate yellow.
  • Champagne – Golden pale yellow, named after the drink.
  • Lemon chiffon – Light yellow-green tone.
  • Parchment – Warm off-white yellow.

Purple Pastels

Purple pastels are romantic and elegant. Common shades include:

  • Lavender – Light purple with soft grey undertone.
  • Lilac – Soft purple named after the flower.
  • Orchid – Light purple-pink tone.
  • Thistle – Subtle purple-grey color.
  • Wisteria – Named after the vine’s flowers.

Neutral Pastels

In addition to colored pastels, neutral pastel shades are also very popular. These include:

  • Beige – Warm pale brown.
  • Ecru – Off-white with warm undertone.
  • Grey – Softened black shade.
  • Ivory – Very light tan.
  • Tan – Light brown.

Pastel Color Palettes

While pastels on their own are beautiful, combining shades creates stunning palettes. Some examples of pastel color schemes include:


Using different tones, tints, and shades of one pastel color provides cohesion. For example, pair light pink with dusky rose.


Analogous palettes use adjacent colors on the color wheel, like blue, blue-green, and green pastels.


Triadic palettes use three colors equally spaced on the color wheel. An example is soft yellow, lavender, and mint green.


This pairs opposing colors like yellow and violet. However, pastel complements are less contrasting than pure color complements.

Neutral and Pastel

Adding neutrals like grey, ivory, or tan allows the pastels to take center stage while providing subtle contrast in a palette.

How Pastels Are Made

There are a few main ways that pastels colors are created:

Mixing with White Pigment

By far the most common way to make pastel shades is by adding white pigment to pure hues. More white equals a lighter, softer pastel. Opaque pigments like titanium white work best.

Tinting with White Paint

On the artistic side, pastels can be formulated by tinting paint colors with white gouache or acrylic to dilute the shades.

Layering and Blending

With drawing media like pastel pencils or oil pastels, artists can layer and blend to create new pastel secondary shades.

Computer Mixing

In digital design, pastel colors can be mixed using RGB values. The higher the RGB values, the lighter the tone.

History of Pastels

While pastels have been around for centuries, they experienced a major revival during the Art Deco movements of the 1920s. The development of pastel shades is linked to the following eras and mediums:

Renaissance Portrait Paintings

Soft pastel portrait paintings became popular in 16th century Italy. Layering pastel pigments created skin tones and delicate shading.

18th Century Pastel Paintings

Pastels flourished in Rococo portraiture in 18th century France. Notable pastel artists like Jean-Étienne Liotard perfected the medium.

Impressionist Pastel Uses

Impressionist painters like Mary Cassatt and Edgar Degas used pastels to capture the ethereal effects of light in their works.

Art Nouveau Pastels

The Art Nouveau movement utilized pastel colors for flat graphic designs, posters, and illustrations.

Art Deco Pastels

Striking pastel color palettes came to the forefront in Art Deco style and remain linked today with 1920s design.

Psychology of Pastels

Beyond being visually appealing, pastel colors also have psychological connotations. The inherent qualities of pastels elicit certain responses and associations in people.

Sense of Calmness

The muted, understated shades of pastels are inherently relaxing and soothing to the eyes. They lower stress levels and evoke feelings of tranquility.


Certain pastels like orchid, lilac, and pink have traditionally feminine connotations. They are used for “pretty” or delicate designs.


Very light pastels also evoke a sense of innocence and purity. This is evident in the use of baby pinks and blues.


Vintage design favored pastels like mint green, lemon yellow, and sky blue. Pastels can elicit nostalgic feelings for bygone eras.


Muted reds and pinks have amorous associations. Lavender and thistle connote old-world romance.

Spring and Summer

Pastels are inherently brighter and lighter. They remind us of the seasons of rebirth and warmth after winter passes.

Uses of Pastel Colors

Due to their versatile nature, pastel colors are used across many industries and design fields. Some typical applications include:

Interior Design

Pastel paint colors and furnishing textiles create relaxing living spaces. Blush pinks, mint greens, and sky blues are popular.

Fashion and Textiles

Many clothing and accessories utilize pastels. They convey femininity in women’s fashion. Light blues and greens are refreshed for spring.

Art and Design

Artists continue to use pastels in paintings, blending to create secondary tints. Pastel palettes lend to flat graphic design.


Light, ethereal pastel tones, especially at sunrise or sunset, make beautiful landscape photography.

Food Photography

Cakes, candies, ice cream, and other foods are shot with pastel backdrops and props.


Pastel flowers, decor, and pageantry are used to create a romantic, feminine wedding aesthetic.

Children’s Designs

Baby care, toys, clothes, and furniture utilize soft, innocent pastels like lemon, pink, and sky blue.


Many beauty products come in pastel-colored packaging and components, which are perceived as more feminine and delicate.

Easter Celebrations

Pastel pinks, purples, greens, and yellows symbolize spring and new life and are closely associated with Easter.

Combining Pastels with Other Colors

While pastels work well together in palettes, they can also be mixed with other colors. Some effective combinations include:

Pastels with Neutrals

Shades of white, grey, black, tan, and brown provide subtle contrast and allow pastels to stand out when paired.

Pastels with Dark Colors

Deep hues like emerald, plum, navy and charcoal make pastels pop. This is bold but can work with the right balances.

Pastels with Jewel Tones

Combining soft pastels with intense jewel tones like ruby, sapphire, and citrine creates visual interest through contrast.

Pastels with Metallics

The sheen of metallics plays nicely against flat, matte pastels. Pair silver with lilac and gold with peach.

Pastels with Neons

For an electrifying, 80s-inspired palette, blend intense neons with light pastel counterparts.


In summary, pastel colors offer a versatile range of soft, delicate shades spanning the entire color wheel. By adjusting the ratio of pure pigment to white, infinite pastel variations can be created. Their inherently muted and understated nature lends well to palettes and color combinations that convey springtime, femininity, romance, and tranquility.