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How To Seal Charcoal Drawings?


How to seal charcoal drawings? It is a matter of debate whether a charcoal drawing should be sealed with a fixative after its completion. Some agree in hopes of preserving the art piece from smearing. On the contrary, others disagree, asserting that if not done correctly, the loss of charcoal fragments and reduced product value might result.

Using Fixatives

Fixatives or the use of fixative spray is the ultimate option to seal charcoal drawings. But as it comes in a variety of forms, artists must be familiar with its application and be aware of purchasing the right product for the project. Learn applying fixatives through these steps:

  • Prepare a clean surface. Before spraying, ensure that it is free from dust or loose particles. Brush or blow them off firsthand. It is best not to use your hands to avoid smudging or leftover oils on paper.
  • Search and innovate a spray area. Set up your spraying spot outdoors or in rooms with enough ventilation.
  • Safety first. Gear up by wearing a respirator mask to dodge the chances of inhaling fumes. Put on comfortable clothes and gloves for skin protection.
  • Try the basics—practice spraying in a separate sheet first, and then immediately on the artwork. The observations gained might be a great help to hone the process before finally applying it to the charcoal sketch. This will assist you on how to prevent soaking or over-saturating some portions, what amount to use, and what arm movement to execute when spraying.
  • Secure the artwork. Ensure that the drawing is appropriately fastened to a sturdy and leveled surface (could be against the wall or on an easel) with clips placed on the sides before starting to spray. This prevents the artwork from moving and puddling, which may lead to the untidy output.
  • Check the material/spray. Check for any obstructions in the nozzle. In checking the quality, spray the fixative on a different sheet or scratch paper for practice and test. It is also ideal for giving the can a good shake for at least two minutes before starting to spray.
  • The lighter the coats, the better. To keep the drawing free of dust, apply many soft coatings. It is preferable to apply many light layers of fixative rather than one hefty layer.
  • Mind the distance. Provide at least a 2 feet gap between you and the drawing during the period of application.
  • Arm movement. Keep the arms moving while spraying. This prevents uneven saturation, soaking, or oversaturation in any one spot—Mark in mind to cover the piece entirely- from the edge and across.
  • Lead the spray. Begin spraying in a horizontal motion. Start outside margins, then pass edges to ensure that regions are equally covered. After that, flip the drawing, then proceed to spray one more time.
  • Apply and dry. Again, the lighter the sprays, the better. Wait for 30 to 60 seconds for the previous layer to dry if another layer is desired. For completion, give it at least 30 minutes without touching the artwork, even if it appears to be dry.
  • Assess the output’s quality after spraying. With gloves on, check any loose charcoals coming off or portions that have not been coated yet using your finger. When smears or loose charcoal particles are felt, it is required to have another round of spray to seal the drawing without shreds of doubt for the following quality assessment.

In selecting what is suitable for the drawing, ensure to check the package brands and labels and read the handbook and instructions beforehand.


Hairspray can be used as a replacement for a fixative spray if one is not available. On the other hand, experts claim that hairsprays are ineffective and hence are not suggested for a variety of reasons. Hairspray’s chemical nature, according to studies, might lead the paper to yellow over time.

Unlike fixatives that contain both archival properties and chemical characteristics that aid in preserving and stabilizing charcoal, hairsprays do not. This is since it is not acid-free, leading to discoloration and quality degradation of an art piece. If you apply too much hairspray, the paper will get adhesive.


Another commendable option is to use a frame to preserve a charcoal sketch from potentially damaging things. The easiest way to safeguard the artwork is to frame it in a nice double glass or acrylic frame.

Keep the drawing from contacting the glass through which the sketch is being framed using a double or triple mat. Forget not to clean the glass’ surface and remove any dust first before inserting it.

Furthermore, charcoal sketches should not be exposed to the sun, even though charcoal is less susceptible to fading in the light than other mediums. It’s recommended to keep your polished charcoal sketch work out of direct sunlight by hanging it or keeping it away from it. The sunlight immediately harms the color contrast, and the sketch’s vibrancy is lost in the faint tone.

Investing in high-quality and trustworthy fixatives for a well-polished and well-made charcoal drawing is what it deserves if you want to retain it in prime condition for a long time.

Art pieces must be kept safe. Neither playing nor crumbling is recommended. Hence, keep these out of the children’s reach.

Final Thoughts

To sum up, charcoal drawing is the most natural form of art, capturing every detail of a scene in black and white for all eternity. A charcoal sketch will be kept in memory and honored by future generations for millennia. As a result, it’s imperative to choose greater fixatives to provide maximum protection and preservation.

When the measures and guidelines listed above are adequately followed and every detail is utilized, a magnificent, pristine, and smear-free artwork will be retained.

If the use of fixatives is out of budget and not preferable, you may have the charcoal drawing framed or sprayed with hairspray to keep its beauty even when displayed or exhibited. But regardless of the selections, sealing charcoal drawings can be made in whatever desired way.

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