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A consolidant or varnish that physically binds a powdery material, such as Charcoal or Pastel, to the substrate. A common fixative for charcoal drawings has been a weak alcohol solution of Shellac, mastic, or Sandarac applied with a sprayer or atomizer. However, these resins tend to discolor with age, so current commercially available fixatives contain dilute solutions of synthetic resins such as acrylics, Cellulose nitrate, and Cellulose acetate. Aqueous solutions of Starch, Gum arabic, Funori, and Casein have also been used as fixatives. While fixatives may protect and hold the pigments in place, they can also cause numerous problems over time such as changing the refractive index and gloss, darkening, cracking, and becoming insoluble.

Synonyms and Related Terms

fixatives (pl.); fijativo (Esp.); fixatif (Fr.); fixativo (Port.)

Examples include: Krylon® spray; Duro-Fix; Spray-Fix; Tuffilm; Paper-Cote; Fix-O-Spray; Plasti-Lac; Zapon-lack [Dulux]; Cellit


Potential problems: wax (attracts dirt), natural resins (discolor), casein (insoluble), agar with polyvinyl alcohol (shrinks), Parylene (insoluble), cellulose derivatives (poor adhesion)

Resources and Citations

  • M.Ellis, "The Shifting Function of Artists' Fixatives" JAIC, 35:239-54, 1996. Link
  • R. J. Gettens, G.L. Stout, Painting Materials, A Short Encyclopaedia, Dover Publications, New York, 1966
  • Ralph Mayer, A Dictionary of Art Terms and Techniques, Harper and Row Publishers, New York, 1969 (also 1945 printing)
  • A Glossary of Paper Conservation Terms, Margaret Ellis (ed.), Conservation Center of the Institute of Fine Arts, New York City, 1998
  • The Dictionary of Art, Grove's Dictionaries Inc., New York, 1996 Comment: 'Fixative'
  • Marjorie Shelley, The Care and Handling of Art Objects, The Metropolitan Museum, New York, 1987
  • Hermann Kuhn, Conservation and Restoration of Works of Art and Antiquities, Butterworths, London, 1986
  • C.V.Horie, Materials for Conservation, Butterworth-Heineman, London, 1997
  • Matt Roberts, Don Etherington, Bookbinding and the Conservation of Books: a Dictionary of Descriptive Terminology, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington DC, 1982