Can watercolor be used as a fixative for graphite?

Due to the structure of graphite, graphite drawings often appear shiny. Additionally, it can smear much or lift off the paper accidentally. Is watercolor able to solve these problems?

It is not recommended to use watercolor as a fixative for graphite, as watercolors smudge and fade the graphite. Applying watercolor to graphite has the same effect as water. An alternative would be to use a fixative spray to fixate the graphite onto the paper and reduce its shine.

woman painting with watercolor

What can be used as a fixative for graphite?

One of the easiest ways to protect your graphite painting from smudging or being damaged is to spray it with a fixative.

A good example would be the one from Winsor & Newton. It provides great smudge and dust protection while maintaining normal color intensity.

Furthermore, it can reduce the shine left behind by charcoal and graphite.

It can also be used for pastels, pencils, chalk, etc., so it has a wide range of applications. 

watercolor paint with a brush

Also, I would recommend spraying the painting between certain layers/steps. It sort of creates a new surface to paint on, while still making use of the layer below.

Because the fixative creates a toothy surface, graphite and pencil can be used quite easily.

However, once a layer of graphite has been sprayed, you cannot erase or work with it in any way. You can only add graphite to the top. It’s much like it’s been printed onto the paper.

Keep that in mind while you draw and fixate in between.

If you’re unsure how many layers a watercolor paper can handle, check this article out.

watercolor paintings with sharp white edges

How do you prevent your graphite drawing from smudging?

A lot of artists have trouble with smudging their graphite drawings with their hands when they lay them down.

You can use the fixative I just mentioned as a solution. A layer of graphite that has been fixed will not smudge.

However, it’s not my preferred solution. This kind of limits your artistic freedom in terms of changing aspects of your drawing later. Especially for beginners and intermediate artists, this is extremely tedious and annoying.

Whenever I draw, I always place a fresh sheet of paper between my hand and the drawing. That way, all of the oils and other stuff on your skin won’t affect the graphite. 

Smudges can still occur, but they are far less frequent than if it hadn’t been for the paper.

Also read this article, if you’d like to know how long watercolor paints last.

watercolor painting equipment on a table

Is it possible to protect pencil drawings without fixatives?

A graphite or pencil drawing is rather difficult to protect without some kind of fixative.

As graphite isn’t that good at repelling those outbound factors, graphite drawings are really prone to getting dusty and losing their quality over time.

However, there are some solutions.

watercolor with a watercolor swatch and a flower

1.Storing the drawing securely

You might consider putting your drawing in a water-sealed plastic bag if you just intend to store it. Thus, it is more or less protected from humidity (which can still enter through air, though) and also protected from dust.

I would recommend getting a separate bag for each drawing that you make, so they do not rub against one another.

You can also put all of the plastic bags into a sealed plastic box in order to provide even more protection for your drawings.

Your drawings should now be safe, even without fixatives.

It is still a good idea to store your drawings this way even with a fixative on them. If something happens to them, you would regret not doing so.

watercolor brushes and paints on a table

2. Framing a drawing

This is another common way to protect an artwork.

But it‘s not as simple as just framing it. A few things need to be considered. 

Firstly, you should always space your drawing off the glass or acrylic. If it doesn’t, it might get moldy over time, which would destroy both your drawing and its frame.

Secondly, you need to be careful about where you hang your drawing.

It’s best not to hang it in direct sunlight, since UV rays will turn the paper yellow and damage the graphite over time.

You should always let the sunlight bounce off a wall first.

I would still choose a UV-protected glass, though – even with such a setup.

You can also use museum glass if the drawing is very valuable and important to you.

It blocks out much of the UV light and keeps the drawing completely dust free. This is the type of glass used by museums for million-dollar paintings.

That would be the ideal way to hang a drawing or painting while still maintaining its quality.

Nevertheless, the most economically sound option is just to use a regular frame with UV-protected glass.

To get more into framing and a step by step tutorial on it, check this article out.

watercolor painting

Can watercolor be used as a fixative for something else?

Watercolor generally doesn’t fixate anything. It’s just water mixed with pigments and minerals. There is nothing in it that can be used as a fixative or preserver.

To fixate acrylic and oil paintings, I would recommend applying a varnish. The painting must be completely dry before you apply the varnish. Otherwise, the varnish might crack while the paint dries completely.

If you’d like to know how to protect your watercolor paintings from fading, read this article I’ve put together about it.

watercolour, yellow, orange

Is watercolor compatible with graphite fixatives?

It is possible to apply watercolor over a graphite fixative like the one I mentioned earlier, but the effect will not be as good as on paper.

The paint can’t soak in because the fixative acts as a protective coating on the graphite. It was designed for precisely that purpose. 

You should always apply watercolor before applying the fixative for it to work properly.

However, you could apply graphite to a fixative. Meaning you could first draw and/or paint something on paper, apply the fixative and be able to draw onto it. 

A good fixative, like the Winsor & Newton one, produces a rough surface that can be used to draw onto with graphite.

If you’d like to learn more how to properly clean your watercolor brushes, check out this article.

And if you need a guide on which brushes to buy for watercolor painting, go ahead and check this article out.

watercolor painting teacher and student


Watercolors are not suitable fixatives for graphite. Using them would only smudge and ruin the drawing. You should spray a coat of spray fixative over a graphite drawing. This can also be used between layers of graphite to avoid smudging.

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