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What is a Fixative?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 12 September 2016
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A fixative is a product used in arts and crafts to keep a finished product in a stable state. Fixatives can be used on a number of different types of projects, and work in various ways. This term is also used in the sciences to refer to a chemical used to preserve specimens so that they can be stored.

One common form of fixative is a spray which can be applied to charcoals, pencil drawings, and other works of art for the purpose of creating a thin protective layer on the surface. This prevents smudges, smears, and other forms of damage. It can also make the artwork more colorfast, which can be important. Not all fixatives provide UV protection, so if colorfastness is desirable, it's important to read the label carefully.

Another type of fixative is used in dying processes with textiles, yarns, and so forth. This type of fixative literally fixes the dye in the cloth, so that it will not wash out, and it also provides some colorfast protections. Applying fixative is typically one of the steps in the dying process. A similar type of fixative is used in photography, with the fixative being applied after the stop bath to preserve the photograph in its finished state.

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Fixatives are also used on things like dried fruits and flowers. People can apply fixative to prevent decay, provide protection, and strengthen the flowers and fruits to make them less brittle. Once fixed, they can be used in wreaths and other projects. These types of fixatives need to be applied with care, because if the object being fixed is still damp, it may rot underneath the fixative.

Puzzle fixatives are another form of this product, often sold in craft stores. Puzzle fixatives are used by people who like to preserve puzzles once they have finished putting them together. The product may be sprayed or painted on, and it acts to glue the puzzle pieces in place and to create a protective layer which reduces the risk of damage to the puzzle.

The finished texture of fixatives varies. Some are matte, while others are glossy, creating a more varnished appearance. The fixative is usually colorless, although some can be tinted or mixed with sparkles and other decorative elements. When selecting fixatives for a project, it's important to make sure that they are recommended for use with projects of that type, because these products are so variable.

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Perdido
Post 4

My husband made a couple of wooden sculptures for me to paint and hang in our bathroom. I had seen a sparkly seahorse and a palm tree at a shop on our vacation, and I loved them, so he said he could make them at home.

I painted them with acrylic craft paint. I wanted to make sure that it didn’t chip or succumb to the moisture in the room, so I knew I would need a fixative.

I decided to give them a sandy appearance by getting a glitter-infused fixative. This was an easy way to apply sparkle, and in spray form, it could be spread out easily.

kylee07drg
Post 3

I do a lot of charcoal pet portraits, so I rely on fixative spray to protect my work. I know that customers would be very upset if they touched their portraits and the charcoal came off on their fingers, so I make sure that cannot happen with two layers of fixative.

I usually blacken the background behind the pet. This means that there is a lot of charcoal in that area, so I have to be sure it cannot be smudged.

The eyes have an intense ring of black in the pupil, but there is also a white spot nearby that shows light reflecting in the eye. I have to protect this white area from turning gray from smearing of the nearby black, which is another reason for the fixative.

OeKc05
Post 2

I love putting together puzzles with over a thousand pieces. After I put that much time and effort into something, I want to keep it. I can’t bear the thought of tearing it all up and doing it all again.

I got some fixative spray for puzzles after I completed a 1500 piece one of a dolphin jumping out of the ocean in the moonlight. The puzzle was based on a work of art, so I thought it appropriate to preserve it and frame it.

The fixative held it together very well. I was able to get it into a frame and slip the backing on without any of the pieces coming loose.

orangey03
Post 1

I learned about fixative spray in my college art classes. When I first started drawing with chalk pastels, my art teacher told me to use the spray to lock my art in place. By this, she meant that it could easily be smeared by anyone who touched it, and it needed protection in order to remain in its current state.

Since we art students were among the poorest ones at college, our teacher let us in on a little secret. She told us that cheap hair spray is just as good at protecting art as expensive fixatives are.

I couldn’t believe it when I heard it. I had to try it for myself. I sprayed one of my finished drawings with hair spray, let it dry, and then attempted to smudge it. The color didn’t budge!

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