Steps on How To Apply Spray Fixative to Artwork

Preserve Your Works in Pastels, Charcoal, and Pencil

Artist's hand and sketch.
Craig Cozart / Getty Images

Artists and conservators debate whether artists should use spray fixatives on their artwork since it can sometimes alter the look of a drawing. A fixative is a liquid, usually aerosolized, that acts like a varnish that you can easily spray on in minutes to prevent smudging or allow you to add additional layers to your charcoal, pencil, or pastel, artwork.

Fixatives, which come in matte or glossy finishes, may alter the look of the work by deepening the tones. As the artist, that may or may not be your desired effect.

Most can agree that framing is perhaps the best protection of your artwork without causing any alteration, that, or hinge a piece of acid-free tissue to the front of the artwork.

Pastels, Pencil, and Charcoal Media

For pastels, workable fixative allows extra layers to be applied and is best applied before the final layer drawing, to minimize the diminishing of ​color intensity.

Fixative reduces wax bloom in colored pencil works and prevents loss of fine charcoal particles.

Select the Fixative

Select a good quality commercial fixative, not hairspray. You get what you pay for. Hairspray may seem like it is a cheaper way to go, however, is not recommended. The chemical makeup of hairspray does not bode well for the longevity of the piece and could cause yellowing of the paper over time. Also, if too much hairspray is used, the paper can become sticky.

Find a Well-Ventilated Location

Select a well-ventilated location away from other people—do not spray indoors, and especially not in a classroom situation. The is toxic, possibly carcinogenic, and flammable. A respirator mask is advisable.

Do a Test

Place a practice drawing on your easel or a propped-up board. Do not use the floor, so that any drips do not land on the drawing. Test the fixative to see how the product affects your particular paper and drawing medium before you apply it to a finished work.

Get Rid of Loose Particles

Tap the easel or with a soft brush, flick away any large loose particles.

Spray the Artwork

Stand about three or four feet away from the artwork. Spray in smooth continuous strokes, going a little past the edge of the drawing, ensuring that the next stroke down meets the previous one. The spray should be like a light mist on the drawing, not a rain shower.

Allow it to Dry

Allow the drawing to dry. This process should not take long unless you have soaked the paper, which is undesirable.

Apply Second Coat

Apply a second coat, working in a vertical motion this time, and allow to dry.


Inspect the test drawing carefully and ensure you are happy with the results. If the particles have sunk heavily into the tooth, you may have applied too much fixative. If happy with the results, spray your finished artwork. If you have any concerns, try practicing again. Make sure you achieve good results before using fixative on a finished work.

Store Properly

Turn the can of fixative upside down and spray briefly to clear the nozzle. Replace cap and store out of reach of children.