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How to fix Pastels?

Hey there, fellow creatives! We get asked about this a lot: Should I fix my dry pastels? How to fix pastels the right way? How to fix pastels in between different layers? So I just made myself a big cup of tea, and I'm here to answer them for you! Join me, Kasia, as we explore the pros and cons of fixing dry pastels and discover some key solutions to preserve your artwork or let it transform and change over time.

Dry (soft and hard) pastels are versatile, highly pigmented sticks that can help you create some stunning stunning effects. Here are some of my favourite ways to use them in mixed-media and art journaling.

However, a question arises: should we fix our precious pastel artworks, or should we embrace the impermanence?

To Fix or Not to Fix? That is the Question:

Before we dive into the solutions, let's ponder the dilemma of fixing dry pastels. Fixing your artwork with a protective layer has its advantages, ensuring its longevity and preserving its vibrant colors. On the other hand, leaving your pastels unfixed allows them to evolve, change, and embrace the passage of time, creating a unique charm. Ultimately, the choice is yours, whether you prefer a pristine final product or are open to the transformative nature of your artwork. As a mixed-media art journaling artist I use pastels as my catalyst. They are my reminder that I don't need to be attached to the end result and should embrace the process. For that reason I personally often choose not to fix my pastels in my art journals.

But if you prefer to fix, then spray fixatives help protect your artwork from environmental factors like dust, moisture, and UV rays. They create a barrier that prevents these elements from damaging your artwork over time.

Secondly, spray fixatives can enhance the vibrancy of colors and maintain the integrity of your artwork. By sealing the surface, they prevent the pigment from smudging or blending together, ensuring that your artwork stays true to its original form.

Lastly, spray fixatives allow you to layer different mediums without fear of smudging or bleeding. A good fixative can help preserve the layers and textures you've created, giving your artwork a professional and polished look.

Here are your options:

Aerosol Fixative

If you decide to fix your dry pastels, aerosol fixative can be your loyal ally. This spray-on solution forms a protective barrier over your artwork, guarding it against smudging and preserving its colors for years to come. Hold the can about 12 inches away and at 40 degrees angle from your artwork to maintain an even spray pattern. It's a good idea to test the fixative on a small area or a test piece before applying it to your final artwork, especially if it’s something that you feel precious about or a comission that you’ve put a lot of work into.

Begin spraying in a smooth, sweeping motion, using continuous passes. Remember to apply multiple thin layers rather than one heavy coat. This helps avoid uneven coverage and potential drips. Allow each layer to dry completely before applying the next. Patience is key!


often water resistant (depending on the manufacturer)

widely available



can alter the texture and appearance of the pastel

often adds a glossy sheen

smells strongly, can be irritating (should be used in well ventilated room)

Spectra Fix

This is a specific product which is different from other traditional aerosol fixatives. And so I thought it needs its own introduction. Unlike traditional fixatives, Spectra Fix is water-based and non-toxic.

It won't give you headaches and it's based on the recipe used by Edgar Degas and it’s made of caesin, water and alcohol. There’s no fumes, and it doesn’t alter the sheen your artwork. Try applying in 2-3 thin layers (let it dry between layers) for optimum smudge protection. Also spray from a distance.


less glossy finish



no fumes, very low odour



more expensive

takes longer to dry

very slow drying

Hairspray: A Budget-Friendly Alternative

In a pinch and looking for a budget-friendly fixative option? Look no further than your bathroom shelf! Hairspray can be a surprising savior for fixing dry pastels. While not specifically designed for artwork, it can provide a temporary protective layer and I know many mixed-media artists and our Wanderlust students who use it with much success.

Spray a light mist of unscented hairspray over your finished piece, ensuring you hold the can at a safe distance. However, it's important to note that hairspray may not provide long-term protection or archival quality.


Cost-effective alternative,


offers some degree of protection.

Cons: May cause yellowing or discoloration over time,

limited archival qualities.

Bonus Tip: Fixative Beyond Pastels

Fixatives are not limited to dry pastels alone! They can also be used for pencils, charcoal, and even watercolor artworks. When working in layers, a light spritz of fixative can help set each layer!

What does it mean "workable fixative"?

Workable fixative is a great product, perfect for mixed-media artists. It allows you to continue working on your layers even after application. Fix your layer of pastels or charcoal and once it's dry you can go in with another medium!

In the vibrant world of dry pastels, the decision to fix or not to fix becomes a personal artistic journey.

Embrace the journey, experiment with different methods, and discover the beauty that lies in the preservation or transformation of your beloved dry pastels.

In the end, it's all about finding joy in the process of creation and letting your artistic spirit guide you. So, go forth, fellow adventurers, and let your dry pastels shine with brilliance, whether fixed or left to embrace the winds of change.

Keep creating, keep exploring, and may your artistic endeavors be filled with endless inspiration!

Until next time, happy pastel fixing, my artistic friends!


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