How to Seal Charcoal Drawings Without Fixative

Charcoal drawings are not so easy to create, and a struggle of many hours is required to create art on a piece of paper. Along with enjoying the exceptional merits of using this dry medium, the maintenance of charcoal drawings is very crucial because the charcoal smudges off very easily.

A fixative spray is the ultimate option for preserving charcoal drawings. However, other methods do not involve any spray and can protect your charcoal painting. These alternatives are not only cheaper but also workable for beginners and professionals.

On the other hand, some artists do not favor using any fixer spray. If not applied correctly, it can affect the charcoal granules and particles, disturbing the archival properties.

That is why it is essential to use some methods for fixing this issue. Many artists use cheap, old-fashioned hair spray to fix their charcoal art. Coat of fixative, either light coats or heavy coats, depends on certain factors.

How to Seal Charcoal Drawings

Why Should You Protect Charcoal Drawing?

Charcoal is an effective material to showcase your unique artwork and stunning capabilities. After completing the charcoal drawings, the next important step is to preserve the finished artwork.

One of the main reasons is that the dry art medium, including chalk, compressed charcoal, and vine charcoal tends to fade and is more prone to smudge. Even the smearing of the charcoal happens with the touch of palms or fingers, so proper smudge protection is needed.

Moreover, dust particles are the enemy of charcoal and can also lower the value of charcoal art. Furthermore, the bits of dust can stick to the art and create dullness. Thus your paintings must have dust protection as well.

Another reason to protect it is that charcoal cannot permanently adhere or remain intact to its drawing material. A slight movement of your drawing surface or sketch pads can cause the charcoal particle loss and charcoal residual and loose particles to fall off.

The best way to avoid this is to seal the charcoal drawings, and sealing them will help keep them in their best condition.

Ways to Protect Charcoal Drawings Without Fixative

Suppose you are a beginner and can not afford fixatives or try other methods as an experiment. In that case, you should try the below-mentioned ways.

Ways to Protect Charcoal Drawings

Method 1: Try Using Glassine

Glassine is a glossy and smooth paper that is air, grease, and water-resistant. Artists use this to wrap the finished pieces. The non-abrasive and smooth Glassine does not harm the delicate surface of charcoal drawings and charcoal sketches.

Moreover, Glassine is sustainable and environmentally friendly. It is considered a cheaper option and a good alternative to fixative.

Glassine is a medium-weight and smart buy for the protection of charcoal material. A variety of glassine sheets are available in the market. One can choose the material of its own choice according to needs and demands. Cover the drawings with the Glassine instead of placing it in the glassine sleeves to keep the charcoal intact.

In the case of charcoal on canvas, there is not much need to worry about preservation because canvas provides an excellent medium for charcoal particles and prevents dislodging.

However, covering it would save the artists from further harm while maintaining the quality of drawing on paper.

Method 2: Get the Drawing Framed

One of the most effective methods to protect the drawings from dust and other factors is to get them framed. A double or triple mat is suggested when framing the charcoal papers and drawings. It protects the drawing surfaces from touching the surface of the glass.

Moreover, it will ease the spraying process, and the cleaning of the glass will not affect the drawing. Moreover, the friction between the glass and finished charcoal sketch work can lower the quality of the artwork; thus, protection is necessary.

The entire piece of charcoal is quite sensitive to even a slight touch of palms. And wet fingers and finger marks can ruin the quality because of the loose charcoal particles, which can be spread easily. The frame provides safety from the dust as well.

Furthermore, it provides water resistance and gives charcoal drawings a beautiful appearance and a clear look to the artwork behind glass.

Method 3: Build a Carrying Case

Even if using the fixative spray or glassine paper, there is still a chance of damage to the artwork. Building a carrying case for archival quality pieces is another recommended way to protect the artwork.

The carrying case is constructed to create a space between the cardboard box and the drawings, making it friction-free and non-abrasive. Making a carrying box is easy and customized according to the charcoal drawing size.

Method 4: Laminating can Help

Laminating the art pieces protects against dust, smudges, UV rays, and smoke. It will ensure that the charcoal drawings look great even for several years. Thus, lamination is among the many valuable ways to seal the charcoal drawing. Another excellent reason for using a laminating method it is inexpensive and much cheaper than that of the frame.

However, despite cheapness, the artwork’s protection is not compromised. In addition to this, you do not need any professionals for this work. You can also get it done by yourself at your home. Thus, laminate your work before it gets devastated.

However, these are the certain things that must be kept in mind if you choose lamination as a fixating process. You should avoid heat lamination and remember that damage can be done by using this method. Cold laminators are advisable to use for delicate drawings.

Method 5: Avoid Direct Sunlight

There is a misconception that as charcoal is a natural material, it is not vulnerable to being harmed by direct sunlight.

However, the newness of the charcoal drawings can be affected by direct exposure to sunlight. The colors and the contrast of the paintings can be disturbed by the direct exposure.

Moreover, fading of dark or light strokes can occur faster in direct sunlight. Therefore, it is better to keep it safe from direct sunlight and harmful ultraviolet rays to avoid turning the paintings into a pale tone.


Before adopting the mentioned ways of fixing charcoal drawing, you should do the following things:

  • Ensure that the actual drawing piece is strictly secured on the board before framing or laminating it.
  • Use a drafting brush to remove all of the loosely attached charcoal residues from the drawing.
  • Perform a smudge test with the help of a cotton swab or paper towel to see if any charcoal residues are remaining or not. Do not use your fingers as they have oil residues that can be damaging.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)


Following are some common questions related to the sealing of charcoal drawings.

Q: How do you preserve charcoal drawings?

Charcoal drawings can be preserved in many ways. A regular fixative method can be used for preservation. Moreover, you can also use a variety of charcoal fixative sprays available in the market.

Not only this but there is also an alternative for these fixative sprays, which is your typical hair spray.

Other ways of preserving the charcoal drawing without fixative are by using a carrying case, laminating the artwork, getting the drawings framed, and protecting them from the direct sunlight.

Q: How do you keep charcoal drawings from smudging?

Charcoal tends to smudge off very easily. Avoid touching the charcoal papers while working on them to protect them from smudging. It is better to blow off the loose charcoal particles instead of using any brush to clean the charcoal residual.

Another way of saving it from smudging is to use the workable fixative spray, which allows the artist to still work on the drawings.

Q: Do you need to fix charcoal drawings?

Yes, fixing a charcoal drawing is necessary to keep it safe from smudges and dust.

Moreover, fixing the drawings by sealing them helps them retain the newness and keep them in the best condition for a long time. Thus to keep them secure and avoid the fading of the color, it is necessary to fix them.

However, some artists think that using fixative sprays for charcoal drawings can lower their quality and makes them look dull. So, they use other methods to preserve the drawings, including lamination, carrying boxes, or customized frames.

Q: Does hairspray help charcoal drawings?

Yes, hair spray is considered one of the cheaper alternatives fixatives for charcoal drawings. It is a cheap substitute and does not alter the combination of charcoal and drawing paper. Fixing the charcoal drawings with hairspray has been in use for many years.

However, the hairspray’s proper distance and coat must be kept in check for better results. To avoid damage, it is advised to have at least one and a half foot distance between your drawing and the hair spray. Moreover, give the drawings an appropriate drying time for better results.

Final Words

Creating art demands diligent work and many hours to bring out the best possible and stunning artwork. No one wants to destroy art by environmental factors, including dust and sunlight. Fixative sprays are available in markets and used to preserve the art.

Other alternative methods of protecting the charcoal drawings are also effective. These include framing the artwork, building a case, laminating it, and avoiding exposure to direct sunlight. All these methods have been in use for fixing the charcoal drawings. However, proper practice is required for better results

Maria Tanish

Hello World! Tanish here, a student of Fine Arts. Drawing was my passion from an early age but I also love to do some DIY projects to spend my leisure. Even I work as a writer, to share my knowledge about the ins and outs of drawing and the art industry itself. As an artist, I always wanna share my experiences with you all.

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