There’s nothing worse than working hard on a pencil drawing, only to find it smudged in your sketchbook or hanging on the wall. Luckily, there are some easy ways to protect your pencil drawings from smudging.
To protect your pencil drawings from smudging, spray them with a fixative. This will create a barrier between the graphite and anything that might come in contact with it. If your drawings are in a sketchbook, you can also put wax paper, frames, or page protectors between the pages.
All artists shake their fists at the sky because of smudging at some point.
It’s just a part of the game.
Thankfully, there are some easy ways to protect your pencil drawings from smudging, all of which are dirt cheap and easy to implement. Yes, these techniques fall in the category of “small hacks that will change your life.” Well, your art life anyways.
Let’s get started and stop that smudging.
1. Use a Fixative to Protect Your Drawings
Fixatives do exactly that — they help “fix” your graphite to your paper. Fixatives are used with many types of art to help preserve it and protect it from UV rays, yellowing, fading, and yes…smudging.
When you’re done with a pencil drawing, whether it’s a simple doodle in your sketchbook or grand masterpiece, a fixative is an important spray to keep your pencil from smearing.
Important note: DO NOT use hairspray as a fixative for your art.
Hairspray IS a fixative, but it’s called HAIRspray for a reason. It’s meant to fix your hair, not your art. Some hairsprays share ingredients with art fixatives, but they aren’t the same thing. To make sure that your drawings last as long as possible, get an art-specific fixative. If you’re in a pinch, I would say that it’s better to not use a fixative at all than to use hairspray.
As you choose a fixative, focus on quality. You’ll be more upset with a low grade fixative that ruins your art than spending a few extra dollars for a high quality product. Krylon is a great brand that specifically makes fixatives for pencil drawings. It’s actually pretty cheap, too. Read reviews, talk to the staff at your local art store, ask your artistic friends what they use.
Do your research and then experiment with the one you choose (source). Start off with a tester page so that you can work out all of the kinks of applying it. You don’t want the first thing you’ve ever sprayed with fixative to be a grand masterpiece.
As you’re spraying, make sure that you have a light touch. Keep moving and don’t linger on any one part of the piece. You’ll want to do a few light coats of spray so that you aren’t tempted to lay on a thick layer of spray on the first pass.
It might be obvious, but don’t use your fixative indoors. If you do, you will have a fun-smelling afternoon. You’ll also want your drawings to air out a little bit and dry after you spray them, so go outside and enjoy the sunshine as you spray.
This video has some great tips and techniques for applying your fixative.
2. Put Wax Paper Between Your Pages
Wax paper is useful outside of cooking and baking! This slippery paper can go a long way in helping you protect your pencil drawings. Grab a roll of wax paper or a pack of pre-cut wax paper sheets.
Trim them to the right size and slip them in between the pages of your sketchbook. If you have standalone drawings, lay a piece of wax paper on top to protect it from the outside world.
To secure your wax paper, use a thin strip of masking tape or painters tape along the top. ONLY use masking tape or painters tape. Any other type of tape can rip your drawing when you try to take it off. A rip is obviously much worse than a smudge, so make sure you don’t sabotage yourself with your tape choice.
Pro tip: cut your piece of wax paper ahead of time before you even start your pencil drawing. Lay it underneath your hand and keep it there as you work. This will help you keep a smudge-free workspace and prevent you from getting graphite on your drawing hand.
If you don’t have wax paper, you can use parchment paper or cling wrap as well. We’re basically looking for a slippery material that’s designed to be non-stick. These magical baking tools can work wonders in our art tool boxes as well. Just be sure to hide them from any bakers in the house!
3. Frame Your Pencil Drawings
If we’re looking for a barrier, this is a top notch barrier. You can’t get more extreme than putting glass between your pencil drawing and the rest of the world. While this won’t work for sketchbooks, this is a great choice for any of your special pencil drawings.
Don’t be shy about framing your art. You worked hard on it and it’s beautiful. Show if off already!
All of us go to Ross and buy discount art that was mass produced in a warehouse when we have original pieces of work right in our own shelves.
Or, if you’re like me, you give all of your art to your parents and their house turns into some strange shrine. Seriously, people could walk through my parents’ house and see how my art has progressed (or not) over the years.
When looking for a frame, make sure to get a high quality one with proper UV blocking glass. This will not only protect your drawing from smudging, but also from fading in the sunlight as well. Win-win!
Just like fixatives, you get what you pay for. If you’ve worked hard on a piece of art, you might as well spend a few extra bucks to make sure it lasts a long time.
4. Use Page Protectors
We’re talking about those page protectors you used in school to organize assignments in your binder. What I love about this method is that it not only protects your pencil drawings, but also gives you a great way to organize your work. Put each piece of art into its own page protector and then file it any way you’d like — chronologically, thematically, stylistically, whatever suits your fancy.
I’m one of those people who loves having binders full of neatly organized documents. There’s something about page protectors that makes everything seem so neat, clean, and more organized than it would be otherwise. Looking at your own beautiful art in this way is a dream for someone who loves organization and crispy clean stuff. More practically, it’s also a great way to maintain a portfolio, but who cares about practicality.
If you’re not interested in organizing everything in a binder, there are some SUPER neat page protectors that are rigid. This means that they can’t be bent which, along with smudging, is another enemy of art. These sleeves are made out of rigid PVC and will keep your art straight and smudge-free. Grab a few packs of them and start stacking your pencil drawings without worrying that they’ll smear with each other.
The obvious problem with this method is that you’re limited to art work that’s 8.5×11 or smaller. This is definitely one of my favorite techniques for smaller pencil drawings though.
Don’t Pick Just One Method to Protect Your Art
Some of these strategies will be better than others depending on what you’re working on. If you have a grand slam masterpiece, fix it and frame it. If you have a sketchbook, use wax paper. If you have stand alone pieces that are the size of printer paper, use the page protectors. Having a number of different protective techniques at your disposal means that, no matter what type of pencil art you create, you know you’ll have a strategy in your back pocket for extending its lifespan.
Diana has been an artist for over 25 years and has training in drawing, painting, digital drawing and graphic design. Diana’s latest obsession is digitally drawing with Procreate and creating t-shirt designs with Canva. Diana has experience selling her art across a number of platforms and loves helping other artists learn how to make money from their art as well.