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The Why and How of Spray Fixative

January 13, 2010

using spray fixativeOne of the drawbacks of drawing in dry media (pencils, charcoal, pastels) is that it can smudge very easily, leaving your artwork vulnerable to damage from fingers and and other papers. Fortunately, you can use a spray fixative to protect your drawings. A spray fixative comes in an aerosol can and will ‘fix’ your drawings so that they won’t smudge. I use Krylon, but there are many different brands. There are also several different types of fixatives, and it’s important to know which is best for you.


A matte fixative is what I use for the majority of my drawings. This will fix your drawings and give a nice matte finish. Sometimes you can get areas of your drawing that are shiny from too much graphite. Using a matte fixative can help disguise these areas.


I use this fixative more for my paintings than I do my drawings, but I have tried it on some of my mixed media work involving charcoal with great results. Gloss fixative gives your work a glossy, shiny finish.


A workable fixative is very useful during the drawing process. It allows you to fix the parts that you’ve already drawn, then continue to draw on top without worrying about smudging what is underneath. It’s also useful in providing some additional texture. Sometimes you shade and blend so much that the paper can’t take any more graphite. This will give the paper more tooth and let you shade even more.

If you’re selling or giving away your drawings, I highly recommend that you fix them. If your drawings are just for yourself, it’s up to you, but even when papers are carefully stored away, the graphite or charcoal can rub and transfer onto the next paper. If you’re worried about the images in your sketchbook transfering to adjacent pages, only draw on every other page, or slip a blank sheet of paper in to protect your work. It’s not necessary to fix every page of your sketchbook, but you might want to consider it for drawings with very heavy shading.


Fixing Your Drawings

  1. Whichever fixative you decide to use, carefully follow the rules on the back of the can. Here are some general guidelines for using a spray fixative.
  2. Shake the can. I know it’s time consuming and boring and you want to skimp on this part, but shaking the can will help the fixative flow smoothly through the nozzle without drips and blobs.
  3. Make sure your drawing is free from dust. I once fixed a drawing that had been sitting on my table for a week or so, and when I looked closely I realized I had fixed all kinds of little dust particles to the surface. Gently blow on the piece, or better yet, use a soft brush to get rid of any loose bits.
  4. Hold the can about a foot away from your drawing.
  5. Spray steadily back and forth across the drawing, overlapping your strokes and going off the edges to make sure you don’t miss anything.
  6. Use two or three coats, letting it dry in between.


More Tips

  • Hold the can upright to ensure it sprays smoothly.
  • Hold your drawing upright if possible. Spraying on the ground can cause dirt and dust to blow onto your work.
  • Between coats, rotate your page so that the fixative can settle into the miniscule nooks and crannies of the paper.
  • Use several thin coats rather than one thick coat.
  • Make sure the fixative is able to dry for an appropriate amount of time before adding more coats.
  • Check before every spray that the nozzle is clean and free from either wet or dry fixative. You may need to pick the dry fixative away from the hole to prevent drips.
  • If you notice drips on your drawing, don’t panic. While it’s still set, dab very gently with a tissue, then spray another coat of fixative.
  • Use outside or in a well ventillated room. Most of these products are very fumey.
  • You may need to use even more coats for a heavy charcoal drawing.

From → Drawing

  1. Freda permalink

    Question: I’ve tried the Kryon fixative for the first time on a pencil drawing (mostly graphite). I sprayed about two-1/2 coats (three on the left side, two on the right). One hour between coats (per instructions) — and it’s now about 12 hours since the last spray. But the pencil still rubs off on my fingers when I run them lightly across the page. Is that “right”? Thanks for your help. Beginner artist, Freda

    • Hi Freda, thanks for your question. Are your drawings very heavy? If you using lots of heavy layers and dark graphite, you may need extra coats. The only other thing I can think of is that maybe you’re holding the spray can too far away from your drawing, or that the nozzle is partially clogged. Is your fixative new?

  2. Hi — I hate fixatives (I’ve tried all various kinds)—

    so I try not to use charcoal/pencil/pastel/etc

    … could you please recommend other mediums I might employ in their stead? mediums that would not have to be fixatived? forgive me if this is a stupid question—

    (I usually work with gouache/mixed media on paper or canvas sheet)

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