This is a discussion that has been going on forever, it seems. I have been coming across it again lately.
I am sure you’ve heard a few of these. Hell, you may have said a few of these.
“I’ve used hairspray for years and nothing has happened.”
“Hairspray is cheaper.”
“Hairspray is easier to find.”
“My instructor told me to use it.”
“My friend uses it and he’s never complained”
“There’s no difference.”
Yes. Yes, there is a difference.
If you’ve used it for years, then great, now you have years worth of work that will not last as long as it should. You may think it is doing fine, but your view of your work is biased. You don’t see the damage because it is so gradual that you don’t notice. But, it’s there, and it’s continuing.
Hairspray is made for one thing: hair. Fixative is made for one thing: fixing artwork.
Hairspray has acids in it. Not only acids, but oils, perfumes, conditioners, etc. Those should only be used on hair, never paper.
I know you’ve seen paper in the art stores that are labeled as “acid-free.” Most artists will search out that type of paper, specifically. Acids will decay paper faster than they would otherwise. They yellow, turn brittle, and eventually, they will crumble. This takes a long time to process, so you won’t see it until decades later. Do you want your artwork to last past you? I know I do.
Acids attack the natural bonding agents in the paper. Once those bonds are broken, the paper will deteriorate.
Acids can affect your paper without using acidic products: everything from air-pollution to poor storage procedures. Not only acids, but also light will damage paper. So, why would you subject your hard work to any more damage? Art on paper needs even more care than most other artworks. I mean, it is paper, after all.
Fixatives are made specially for paper artworks. Graphite, charcoal, pastels, etc. Even when working with fixatives, you should always do a bit of comparisons with brands and types.
So, to sum it all up, hairspray is not good for the preservation of your hard work. If you want your art to last well past yourself, make sure you take all the steps needed to keep it from decaying before its time. A little extra cost and a little more time will be worth it in the end.
Just remember: don’t cheap out on your art. You hard work deserves the very best treatment. But also be wary: expensive doesn’t always mean good.