How to Seal Charcoal Drawings

August 17, 2023 by

Charcoal is a great tool to make beautiful artwork, but preserving them can be a hassle.

You may have left your charcoal drawing as is only to find out that it started dusting off or smudging later on.

All your hard work got wasted. It’s important to seal charcoal drawings to preserve them. 

You need to understand the different ways to seal charcoal drawings and what works best for you.

Moreover, you should follow some donned and practical tips for using fixative sprays – the best sealing method. 

This is a guide covering how to seal charcoal drawings.

We’ll be covering the following topics (click on a bullet point to jump to that section):

Table of Contents

What Does it Mean to Seal a Charcoal Drawing?

To seal charcoal drawings means to fix the charcoal on the surface and prevent it from dusting off.

Through preservation with fixatives, you can keep your charcoal drawings beautiful, clear, safe, and immaculate.

seal charcoal drawing example

When you seal charcoal drawings, you need to use chemicals such as fixatives or layered frames to preserve your drawing.

How to Seal and Preserve Charcoal Drawings?

Sealing charcoal drawings isn’t as simple as just spraying a coat of the fixative spray in it.

To correctly spray and permanently store your charcoal drawing, you must follow a few steps and tips. 

1. Clean the Paper or Surface

Before you can get down to spraying, you need to make sure that there are no dust particles or loose charcoal particles scattered around the paper where they shouldn’t be.

You can use a drafting brush to brush them off or lightly blow on them. Please don’t use your fingers because they can lead to smudging. 

drafting brush example

2. Find a Suitable Place for Spraying & Suit Up

You can’t just spray anywhere. It would help if you found a ventilated area in your home or art studio for spraying.

The fumes can be hazardous to your health. Hence, you need to wear a respirator mask to ensure you don’t breathe in any fumes.

Moreover, it’s best to wear gloves to keep your hands safe from the chemicals. 

3. Place the Artwork in the Right Position

For an even coat, it’s best to place your drawing vertically against a hard surface. You can use an easel for this.

art board

4. Spray Distance and Direction

You should keep the drawing at least 2 feet away from the spray. Spray at this distance for optimum effect. Moreover, the spraying direction should be horizontal. 

Start spraying from the corners of the drawing and make your way into the middle. Make sure to coat evenly. 

Then, turn your drawing and spray again. Instead of one heavy spray, go for a few light ones. Let the spray dry for 30 to 60 seconds before you apply another coating.

5. Apply All Tips to a Practice Test 

If you’ve never used spray to seal charcoal drawings, you should do a practice run on another charcoal drawing or another piece of paper.

You use all these tips to spray on a spare drawing so that you don’t end up ruining the actual piece.

Practice and find the right angle, direction, and distance that works best for you.

6. Final Checking

After the drawing has dried for around 30 minutes, wear gloves and use your fingers to see if the charcoal is coming off or smudging. 

charcoal smudge example

Be careful not to cause too much smudging. If the charcoal comes off, spray once more and check again.

To further explore how to seal charcoal drawings, we recommend checking out this in-depth video by Joel Pilcher:

Do You Have to Seal Charcoal Drawings?

Even though charcoal is a dry art medium, it’s prone to smudging or dusting off.

If you touch the drawing with your fingers or drag them through the drawing, the charcoal is likely to smudge.

Moreover, loose charcoal particles may cause smudging when you try to blow on the drawing to tidy it up. 

Charcoal won’t stay on the paper you’ve made the drawing on forever. When you move the paper, a bit of the residue of charcoal may fall off or dust off.

Your drawing may end up having white patches in it over time. Hence, you have to seal charcoal drawings.

What Can You Use to Seal Charcoal Drawings?

To seal charcoal drawings, you can use charcoal fixative spray or frame the drawing.

Using a fixative for charcoal drawings is the best method to preserve them for the long term.

There are two types of charcoal fixative spray, workable and non-workable or final. It’s not recommended to use hairspray since it can yellow the paper, among other reasons. 

You can use the workable fixative for charcoal drawings when you still have to add details to them. It will prevent them from smudging while you complete your charcoal drawing.

On the other hand, use the non-workable or final fixative spray when you’re completely done with your charcoal drawing.

After spraying it over the charcoal drawing, you won’t be able to make any changes.

Why It’s Important to Seal Charcoal Drawings?

It will help if you seal charcoal drawings so that you can secure and save your drawings. 

If you don’t use a final fixative with charcoal drawings, the charcoal may disappear from the surface over time or smudge. 

You have to seal charcoal drawings to keep them secure and preserve them for the long term.

Final Remarks

You can use a final fixative or frame the drawing on double or triple layers to seal charcoal drawings.

Frames still won’t be as effective as fixative sprays. You should follow the right method for spraying to seal charcoal drawings correctly.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best way to protect a charcoal drawing?

The best way to protect a charcoal drawing is to use a fixative spray, which is a type of clear, protective coating that helps prevent smudging and fading. It’s important to use a fixative specifically designed for use with charcoal, and to apply it in thin, even layers, allowing each layer to dry completely before applying the next.

Can you use hairspray to seal charcoal drawings?

While hairspray can be used as a substitute for a fixative spray in a pinch, it is not the best option for protecting charcoal drawings in the long term. Hairspray can yellow over time and may not provide sufficient protection against smudging and fading, so it’s recommended to use a fixative spray specifically designed for charcoal instead.