FAQ Answer

How do I seal a charcoal drawing?

Artwork by Paul Knight on Strathmore 500 Series Charcoal Paper

How do I seal a charcoal drawing once it’s finished?

There are many opinions as to whether or not a charcoal drawing should be sealed with a fixative upon completion. Some say yes to preserve the drawing and prevent it from smudging. Others say no as it can cause charcoal particle loss or value changes if not applied properly.

There are many different types of fixatives available. Make sure you read all package labels and descriptions to ensure what you select is right for your artwork. If you do choose to use a fixative to seal your charcoal drawing, here are some precautions and recommended steps to take:


  • Make sure loose particles have been softly blown away or gently brushed away with a drafting brush. Do not use your hand as you could smear the piece or leave oil residue on the paper.
  • Set up your spray area outside or in a room that is well-ventilated. Use a respirator mask for safety from fumes.
  • Practice spraying a different sheet of charcoal paper first. Lay down some charcoal in different values and spray the practice sheet to see what happens and make sure you’d feel comfortable spraying your finished piece of artwork. Cover the entire paper with a mist and keep your arm moving while spraying to avoid soaking or over-saturating certain parts of the piece.
  • Make sure your piece is securely adhered to a solid, flat, angled surface so it doesn’t move when you start spraying. You can use clips to hold it down or artists tape. It should not be laid flat on the table as it can cause puddling.  Tape or clip to a rigid surface that is upright or at a slight angle.
  • Always shake the can for at least two minutes before using. This is especially important with matte finish fixatives as there is a matting agent in the spray that requires additional mixing.
  • Clear the nozzle before starting. Spray a few short sprays onto scrap paper.  Then turn the can upside down and spray until nothing is coming out except air.  This prevents clumping of the fixative. 


  • It is always better to apply multiple lighter coats than one heavy coat. Hold the fixative about 2 feet from the paper as you’re spraying. As mentioned above, use continuous arm movement while spraying to avoid over saturation of any one spot. Make sure to cover the entire piece from edge to edge by spraying beyond the borders.
  • Wait a minimum of 30 minutes and do not touch the piece even if it looks dry.
  • Spray the piece a second time from the opposite direction to make sure you’ve achieved full coverage. If clipped to a rigid surface turn paper 180 degrees and apply a second coat.


Fixatives come in gloss and matte finishes, and also options that seal the drawing completely, or are workable so you can spray and still add more after.  Some fixatives are not archival, which is especially true of workable fixatives.

Some artists may suggest using hairspray as a fixative; however this is not recommended for a couple reasons. First, the chemical makeup of hairspray does not ensure archival properties and could cause yellowing of the paper over time. Also, if too much is used, the paper can become sticky.

Click here to see our charcoal papers, which all have a traditional laid finish, providing precise shading control. 

We have a 300 Series wood pulp charcoal paper that is great for students, beginners, experimenting, and practicing. Our 400 Series Charcoal is made with 75% post-consumer fiber and 25% hemp and is a great recycled option. We also carry 500 Series charcoal paper that is 100% cotton and is great for finished pieces of art. It comes in a variety of tints and is available in both pads and sheet stock. 

Artwork by Paul Knight on Strathmore 500 Series Charcoal Paper

Artwork by Paul Knight on Strathmore 500 Series Charcoal Paper

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