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What Are the Different Types of Spray Fixative?

Eugene P.
Eugene P.

There are a number of types of spray fixatives, each with different attributes and sometimes designed for a specific purpose. One commonly used spray fixative in art and design is a workable fixative that allows an artist to secure part of a painting or sketch and then continue working on it without affecting the area that has been treated. Other types include matte and gloss finished fixatives that are intended to protect a painting from damage. A specially formulated spray fixative can be used to seal inkjet computer prints to paper to increase their longevity and sometimes make them waterproof. Certain sprays are intended to be used in conjunction with other fixatives to provide properties such as ultraviolet protection or iridescence.

A workable spray fixative is frequently used in art mediums that are granular, fragile or create dust. This type of fixative is designed to seal the work underneath it while creating a toothed grain that can catch more of the medium, allowing an artist to continue adding to a painting without interacting with what has been fixed. Another use for workable fixative is to add grain back to an area of a painting where the medium has filled the tooth of the paper, making it impossible to work over top of that section, as can be the case with soft pencils.

A can of aerosol spray fixative.
A can of aerosol spray fixative.

Matte spray fixative is used when a painting has been completed and needs to be protected. It seals the painting and forms a layer over top that does not shine but instead gives a gentle sheen in raking light. In addition to being a protective final coat, it also can help to create a consistent texture across the surface of a painting in which the buildup of a medium has created highly glossy patches.

A respirator mask should be worn when working with spray fixative.
A respirator mask should be worn when working with spray fixative.

Gloss spray fixative functions in much the same way as a matte fixative, except the final finish on the surface is very shiny. This can be advantageous to paintings that have bright colors or for collages and decoupage in which the composite elements have a variety of finishes. The chemical composition of a gloss fixative means it also tends to provide a stronger protective finish.

There also are types of spray fixative that can be used to provide special attributes to enhance a painting or protect it further. One fixative that can be used covers the piece in a layer that scatters ultraviolet rays so the colors of the painting will be more resistant to light, preventing color fading over time. Other types of specialty fixatives can add water resistance, an iridescent sheen or even a grainy texture.

Discussion Comments


If you're really keen to make waterproof paintings, for kitchens or bathrooms, perhaps, you might need to take it a step further than just using a spray fixative and try to get your paintings sealed in resin. I think you might need to create them using special materials, but I've seen works of art sealed this way and it can be quite striking and 100% waterproof.


@MrsPramm - Hairspray can work as a low-grade fixative for things like pastels but I wouldn't use it if I wanted to do professional work. There's always the chance that there are ingredients that might damage the paper or the colors and usually I want a specific effect with a particular fixative.

Compared to some of the other things an artist might need to buy, fixative spray is really not that expensive and I think it's worth getting the real thing so that all my work (and money!) doesn't go to waste.

Plus, I'm not sure if you can use hairspray on anything except pastels and maybe charcoal. I wouldn't want to use it on paint, at any rate.


If you don't have the funds to buy a special fixative or you just want to preserve something that doesn't have more than sentimental value, you can just use standard, cheap hair spray and it will work almost as well as an expensive can of fixative.

I often used it when I was doing pastel sketches as a student and most of them are still fairly smudge-free so it lasts for a good, long time.

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    • A can of aerosol spray fixative.
      By: difught
      A can of aerosol spray fixative.
    • A respirator mask should be worn when working with spray fixative.
      By: kostrez
      A respirator mask should be worn when working with spray fixative.