is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more

How to Seal Charcoal Drawings

how to seal charcoal drawings

Working on a charcoal drawing is no joke. It would probably take hours and diligent efforts to finish a creative art piece. And with all the hard work to produce artistic ideas for exceptional commissions and sketches, you wouldn’t want them to go to waste because of messy smears, dust, and particles, would you?

Whether you’re putting them up for display or constantly taking them out of a sketchbook, you‘ll need to protect and seal your charcoal drawings. As you read on, you’ll learn easy techniques on how to seal charcoal on canvas or paper with or without using a fixative spray.

Why You Should Seal and Protect Charcoal Drawings

Charcoal is an intuitive art medium that renders a vast spectrum of dark shades, especially when working on a white background. Truly, charcoal brushes up your creativity and sketching experience, allowing you to showcase stunning artwork.

While using this type of dry medium delivers wonderful merits, maintaining a charcoal drawing clean and smudge-free is quite crucial since charcoal tends to smear or dust off. This happens when you drag your fingers or palm on it while drawing or even when you blow loose particles to tidy it up.

Furthermore, charcoal won’t stay intact or adhere to the drawing surface permanently. If you move your sketch pad or drawing surface, some charcoal residues and loose particles would fall off. Therefore, sealing it off will keep your charcoal drawing in its best condition.

How Should You Seal a Charcoal Drawing?

how to seal charcoal on canvas

The ultimate option to seal your charcoal drawing is to use a fixative spray. But once you decide to apply this to your art, make sure you’re familiar with the type you’re going to use.

Fixatives come into two types: workable and final. You can use a workable fixative if you want to add a protective barrier and continue drawing and modify the details. A final fixative does otherwise. It is a permanent coating that you should use only when you’re finished.

To learn how to apply fixatives, take note of the following steps:

Clean the surface: Before applying a fixative, you have to clear out the surface first from any dust or residues. Remove them gently with a drafting brush or blow any loose particles carefully. Don’t use your hands or fingers to prevent any messy smudges.

Set up a spraying spot: Find a spot outdoors or a well-ventilated area where you could spray.

Gear up: Wear a respirator mask to prevent inhalation of fumes. You should also consider using gloves to protect your skin from fixatives.

Practice first: Never spray on your charcoal drawing right away, especially if it’s your first time using a fixative. Try it on a different paper or another charcoal drawing to see any changes or how it affects the quality of your artwork. This will also let you practice how much you should use before applying it to your finished charcoal drawing.

Correct positioning: Place your art at a vertical angle or upright position. It can be against the wall or up on an easel. Do not lay it down on a table or floor to avoid soaking, uneven applications, and oversaturation.

Test the spray: Check the nozzle for any blockage. Spray it first on paper or cardboard to test it. When you’re ready to spray, you should shake the can vigorously first for at least two minutes.

Proper distance: Make sure to hold the fixative spray for at least 6 to 8 inches or 2 feet away from the drawing.

Spray direction: Start spraying horizontally. Don’t start directly on the drawing but outside the edges and wrap up past the edges to make sure you cover all areas evenly. Afterward, flip your drawing vertically and start spraying again. This levels out applications for maximum coverage.

Proper application and drying: Do not spray heavily at the first try. Go for light sprays. If you need to apply another layer, make sure to let the surface dry first for about 30 to 60 seconds.

Evaluate your artwork after spraying: With gloves on, use your finger to check if any charcoal comes off or if you haven’t covered some areas yet. If there aren’t any smudges or loose particles, you’re all good; otherwise, you need another round of spray to secure your drawing and keep the charcoal intact.

Before spraying, It is also a prerequisite to check the manufacturer’s manual or instructions for the correct procedure and application.

Seal You Charcoal Drawing Without Fixative

If you’re not sure about using a fixative spray to seal and protect your charcoal drawing, you can choose to frame it. But since charcoal is vulnerable to smudges when it touches any object, choose a sturdy double or triple mat photo frame or to keep the charcoal off the glass.

Before you place your charcoal drawing inside the glass, you should tidy the surface to get rid of any loose particles and dust. Use a damp cloth to clean the glass and remove any dust and dirt. I don’t recommend using a dry cloth as it can cause friction or static.

Should You Use Hairspray as a Substitute for Fixative?

When fixatives are not available, some artists use hairspray as a substitute. This may seem a practical option since hairspray also has a binding compound that can set charcoal particles. However, this is not advisable to use since hairspray is not designed for preserving drawings.

Hairspray doesn’t contain chemicals and archival properties that fixatives do to preserve and stabilize charcoal. Since it is not acid-free, it can cause discoloration and quality deterioration over time.

If you’ve invested a lot of time and effort in your charcoal drawing, might as well invest in high-quality and reliable fixatives to seal your artwork and retain its pristine condition for a long time.


To wrap up, using premium quality fixatives can ensure protection and optimum preservation to your creative art pieces. Thus, keeping them beautiful, smudge-free, and immaculate for a long time. Just make sure to use them properly according to guidelines such as the ones mentioned above.

If you don’t prefer using fixatives or they aren’t available, you can get your charcoal drawings framed, so you can preserve their beauty even when you put them on display. But no matter what your options are, you can always seal charcoal drawings with or without fixatives.

Leave a Comment