Can You Use Hairspray on Pencil Drawings?

Can You Use Hairspray on Pencil?

Can you use hairspray on pencil drawings? You can, but you have to be aware of the benefits and drawbacks of doing so. Using hairspray on drawings is a trick that many artists have used for years when workable or permanent fixative isn't available. It's also an option if you are trying to preserve pencil sketches and aren't concerned about longevity, or the possibility that your sketch will be discolored. Is hairspray a perfect solution for preserving pencil sketches? No, if it was, then there wouldn't be much of a market for fixative sprays, now would there? Hair spray is more of a cheat that can be used under certain circumstances, it's not a replacement for a professional quality fixative spray. The following transparent workable fixative offers excellent coverage. Winsor & Newton Artists' Aerosols Workable Fixative. Click here to visit Amazon.

Can You Use Hairspray on Pencil Drawings
Can You Use Hairspray on Pencil Drawings

Despite not being archival, and not being as reliable and flexible as true artist's fixative, hair spray remains a popular option. It's a trick often taught to young artists by school teachers since children rarely have access to professional-grade artist materials. Even after many artists grow up, hair spray is something they are familiar with and are comfortable using. 

It's also popular with people who don't often draw, since investing in expensive fixative when you won't have much use for it is wasteful. Whether or not you are going to use hair spray is something you should weigh the pros and cons of before deciding whether or not it's the right choice for you.

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The Advantages of Using Hair Spray on Your Pencil Drawing

  • Hair spray will do a pretty good job of protecting your drawings and preventing smearing, especially considering the fact that it was never designed to do this.
  • Hair spray can be found in any drug store, grocery store, dollar store, or beauty supply store. If you run out of artist fixative, waiting for a new can to arrive in the mail, or driving to an art store wastes valuable time. Instead, you can drive a few blocks to a store and pick up a can of hairspray.
  • Hair spray will work perfectly well for anything you sketch and don't plan to turn into a finished piece of art.
  • Hair spray doesn't have the same strong odor and harmful fumes that the artist's fixatives are known for. That's because artist's fixatives were meant to be used in well-ventilated areas, whereas hair spray was intended to be used on your head in a bathroom.

Cheap Alternative to Expensive Fixative 

Why use hairspray to preserve your drawing when there are so many different workable or permanent fixatives on the market? The main advantage is cost.

You can get a cheap can of hairspray for a few dollars, a can of quality fixative can cost between five and ten times as much. So, if you aren't working on a drawing that you plan on showing, then there's no reason not to use hair spray.

Think of it this way, if you are just planning to keep a sketch from smearing so that you can store it, then hair spray is a great option. Rather than wasting expensive fixative on a sketch, hair spray will do a similar job at a fraction of the cost. Should you use it on finished pieces?

Probably not. But, for sketches? Why not use it?

Will Hair Spray Discolor your Pencil Drawings?

The main reason that hair spray is not archival is that it has a propensity for discoloring artwork. Specifically, it tends to cause the paper to yellow over time.

It won't usually show up right away, but almost inevitably, hair spray will cause the paper to yellow. It's not uncommon at all for an artist to use hair spray to fix their sketch, put it away, then a few weeks later get it out only to see that the paper has yellowed. If you plan to use hair spray on your artwork, keep in mind that it will likely yellow.

This is more of a problem if you plan on spraying finished art with hair spray, which you should avoid unless you have no other options. For sketches, a little yellowing shouldn't matter at all.

How Does Hair Spray Reduce Pencil Smudges

Hair spray has chemicals in it that are formulated to help keep someone's hair from moving. These same chemicals have a similar effect when used on graphite, charcoal, or any other type of dry medium that you are working with.

The chemical seal that hair spray creates over a drawing is similar, if inferior, to that which a professional-caliber spray fixative creates. Much like artist's fixative, if you use hairspray to seal a drawing, make sure it's completely dry before you touch it.

How to Seal a Pencil Drawing with Hair Spray

When you are going to use hair spray to seal a pencil drawing, you should follow steps similar to what you would do if you were using actual artists fixative. These are those steps:

  1. Make sure that you are finished with the drawing before you use any hair spray on it. If you are working on a drawing and plan to continue working on it after sealing it, then you would use a workable fixative on it. If you were planning on sealing your drawing and not working on it any longer, then you would use a permanent fixative on it. Since hairspray was never designed to be used as a fixative for artwork, you never know if it will remain workable or be permanently fixed after it is applied.
  2. Make sure that your drawing is dry, and that any debris or eraser shavings are cleaned off of the paper.
  3. Place the drawing in a well-ventilated area where you have plenty of light.
  4. Spray an even coat of hair spray over your drawing from about 6 inches away.
  5. Once the first coat is dry, you can add more coasts if you feel it's necessary to do so.
  6. One unexpected side effect you may come across is inadvertently giving your artwork a perfumed scent.

Preserving Your Pencil Drawings 

Do all pencil drawings need to be sealed with a fixative of some type to prevent smudging? Not necessarily. Harder pencils are very smear-resistant naturally, so you probably don't need to worry about sealing them with anything. But, if you use a softer graphite lead when you are drawing, then there's a good chance that it will smear and will need sealing to preserve it. Is hair spray the solution you have been looking for? Probably not, since it's an imperfect solution. But, if your goal is to preserve pencil sketches, and you don't care about the archival quality of the spray you are using, then hair spray could be an excellent fit for you.

Many artists find it helpful to keep sketches around that they think could one day be turned into a finished piece of art. For an artist, a sketch is a lot like notes taken by a student in a classroom. It's a visual representation of a thought or idea that you had, and just like a student should never throw out their notes, an artist should never throw out good sketches. Storing sketches made with hard graphite isn't a problem since hard graphite doesn't smear much at all. But most artists don't sketch with hard graphite since it produces such a faint line and is hard to blend.

Most artists use something simple, like a 2B pencil when they sketch. While this type of pencil won't usually smear a lot, if you have them stored in piles, they could smear, and fine details could be lost. This is where hair spray is the perfect solution. It's practical, and it's inexpensive enough that it won't put a big dent in your bank account if you plan on using a lot of it.

Should You Use Hairspray To Fix Your Graphite Drawings?

Should you be using hair spray on your artwork? That's totally up to you. In art, the first rule is that there are no rules. Telling an artist that they can't do something is contradictory to the very nature of the process of creating art. If your preferred method of creating art is to use glitter, glue, and crayons, that's your choice. If you prefer a more traditional approach such as charcoal or oil painting, that's also your choice. You are the artist, so you get to decide what is right and wrong. You get to decide what works for you and what doesn't.

With all of that being said, you should still use good judgment if you are planning to use hair spray to seal your artwork. A big part of that good judgment involves only using hair spray for personal sketches that you don't intend to display or sell. As an artist, you have a responsibility to anyone that buys your work. That responsibility is to provide them with something that is archival. They are spending their hard-earned money on your art, the least you can do is give them something that will last for many years.

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Ian Walsh is the creator and author of and an Art teacher based in Merseyside in the United Kingdom. He holds a BA in Fine Art and a PGCE in teaching Art and Design. He has been teaching Art for over 24 Years in different parts of the UK. When not teaching Ian spending his time developing this website and creating content for the improvedrawing channel.

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