Preventing Fading of Drawing Materials

Drawing is a form of art that has been around for centuries. From cave paintings to modern-day masterpieces, drawing has been used as a means of expression, communication, and documentation. However, one of the biggest challenges faced by artists is the fading of their drawing materials over time. This can be a frustrating and disheartening experience, especially for those who have put in hours of hard work and dedication into their artwork. In this article, we will explore the causes of fading in drawing materials and provide practical tips on how to prevent it.

The Science Behind Fading

Before we dive into the prevention methods, it is important to understand the science behind fading. Fading occurs when the pigments in drawing materials break down due to exposure to light, heat, and other environmental factors. This process is known as photodegradation and is caused by the absorption of light energy by the pigments, which leads to their chemical breakdown.

Light is the primary cause of fading in drawing materials. The ultraviolet (UV) rays in sunlight are particularly damaging as they have a shorter wavelength and higher energy compared to visible light. This makes them more capable of breaking down pigments. Heat and humidity can also accelerate the fading process by causing the pigments to expand and contract, leading to cracks and breaks in the material.

Another factor that contributes to fading is the quality of the drawing materials. Cheap or low-quality materials often contain lower concentrations of pigments, making them more susceptible to fading. Additionally, the type of pigment used can also affect the longevity of the artwork. Organic pigments, such as those derived from plants, are more prone to fading compared to inorganic pigments, such as those made from minerals.

Prevention Methods

Now that we understand the causes of fading, let’s explore some practical methods to prevent it.

1. Use High-Quality Materials

Investing in high-quality drawing materials is the first step towards preventing fading. Look for products that are labeled as “lightfast” or “archival quality.” These materials are specifically designed to resist fading and have been tested for their longevity. While they may be more expensive, they will save you the frustration of seeing your artwork fade over time.

When it comes to choosing pigments, opt for inorganic pigments over organic ones. Inorganic pigments are more stable and have a longer lifespan, making them less prone to fading. They are also less affected by environmental factors such as light and heat.

2. Store Your Artwork Properly

Proper storage is crucial in preventing fading. Keep your artwork away from direct sunlight or any other sources of light. If possible, store them in a cool, dry place with controlled humidity levels. Avoid storing them in attics, basements, or other areas that are prone to temperature and humidity fluctuations.

When storing your artwork, make sure to use acid-free and archival quality materials. Acidic materials can cause the pigments to break down faster, leading to fading. Use acid-free paper, mat boards, and storage boxes to protect your artwork from any potential damage.

3. Use Protective Coatings

Applying a protective coating to your artwork can also help prevent fading. There are various types of coatings available, such as varnishes, fixatives, and sprays. These coatings create a barrier between the pigments and the environment, protecting them from light and other external factors.

When choosing a coating, make sure to select one that is specifically designed for the type of drawing material you are using. Some coatings may be suitable for charcoal drawings, while others may be more suitable for colored pencils or pastels. It is also important to follow the instructions carefully when applying the coating to avoid any potential damage to your artwork.

4. Frame Your Artwork Properly

Proper framing can also help prevent fading. Use UV-resistant glass or acrylic to protect your artwork from sunlight. These materials are designed to block out harmful UV rays, reducing the risk of fading. Additionally, make sure to use acid-free mat boards and backing boards when framing your artwork.

It is also important to leave a small gap between the artwork and the glass or acrylic to allow for air circulation. This will prevent any moisture buildup, which can lead to mold and mildew growth, causing damage to your artwork.

5. Avoid Touching Your Artwork

As tempting as it may be, avoid touching your artwork with your bare hands. The oils and dirt from your skin can transfer onto the surface of the artwork, causing damage over time. If you need to handle your artwork, make sure to wear gloves to protect it from any potential damage.

6. Display Your Artwork Properly

When displaying your artwork, make sure to choose a location that is away from direct sunlight or any other sources of light. If possible, use UV-filtering glass or acrylic when framing your artwork. This will help protect it from harmful UV rays and prevent fading.

It is also important to avoid displaying your artwork in areas with high humidity levels, such as bathrooms or kitchens. The moisture in the air can cause the pigments to expand and contract, leading to cracks and breaks in the material.

Real-Life Examples

To further illustrate the importance of preventing fading in drawing materials, let’s look at some real-life examples.

In 2017, a charcoal drawing by Leonardo da Vinci, titled “The Head of a Bear,” was sold at an auction for a record-breaking $12 million. However, just a year later, the drawing started to show signs of fading due to exposure to light. This highlights the importance of proper storage and handling of valuable artworks to prevent fading.

Another example is the famous painting “The Scream” by Edvard Munch. The original version of the painting, created in 1893, has faded significantly over the years due to exposure to light and other environmental factors. This has led to multiple restoration attempts, which have altered the original colors and composition of the painting.


Fading of drawing materials is a common problem faced by artists, but it can be prevented by taking the necessary precautions. By using high-quality materials, storing and framing your artwork properly, and avoiding direct sunlight and other sources of light, you can ensure that your artwork remains vibrant and intact for years to come. Remember, prevention is always better than restoration, so take the necessary steps to protect your artwork from fading.