SpectraFix Casein Pastel Fixative

Frequently Asked Questions:

Help, my SpectraFix spray nozzle is clogged!

In the event that your spray head becomes clogged and will not spray, worry not! There are a few things you can do to get it flowing again, and if all else should fail, we will happily send you a replacement by mail. But try this first, as it works pretty much every time... and, you can also take steps to ensure that it doesn't happen in the future. This is a common occurence for spray nozzles that spray sticky substances through tiny aperatures, and with SpectraFix you have the added advantage that it will soften and dissolve in water, so you can be up and spraying again within minutes.

Try unscrewing the spray head ( plus tube) and turning it on its head in a cup of hot water (not scalding.. don't want to melt the plastic)... let it sit for a few minutes and then try scraping at the hole with your fingernail or some other 'soft' scraper. You could try something harder, like a needle, but you might damage the hole. Better to just let it soak and then (after picking at it w/ your nail), try inverting it so the tube is down in the warm water and then pump on the spray head so it pulls warm water up through itself and sprays out the clog. Holding it between your index and middle finger with the tube dangling into the water between them, and pumping down with your thumb seems to be a good position.

A few times of soaking and then spraying hot water ought to do it. If it absolutely won't clear, let me know and I'll mail you a new spray head. No problem! I'm sorry that this does happen, it's the state of spray technology ... even in the 21st century.

To prevent this happening in the future, just perform the same stunt that you do with aerosol: When you plan on not using the spray for a while, turn the bottle upside down and spray until no more comes out. This will place the end of the dip tube in the air inside the bottle, pulling air into the tube and thus clearing the tube and head of fixative, and if you want... as a final perfectionistic flourish... run the nozzle under water or wipe it with a damp towel to get any residual fixative off. (I think that's unecessary, but what the heck...)

Will SpectraFix change the color of my pastels?

The truth is that the very Physics of applying any fixative are such that the light will no longer refract the same as it did when the pastel granules had only air between them. While casein has a refractive index like window glass, light can pass through air even better. No surprises there.

That being said, and acknowledging that the laws of Physics deny us the ability to have our cake and eat it too, it appears that SpectraFix does not cause the same value or hue shift as other fixatives.

Let me just be clear about what I mean by the two vectors of Hue and Value, just for the record. When the color shifts in hue, we are talking about a shift towards either the warm or cool. Blues become redder, greens more yellow, etc. With Value, it is a shift towards the light or the dark. Pale pink becomes a deeper pink, tho it does not become hotter or cooler, ie: more yellowish or more blue. It stays the same in character, but it is lighter or darker.

In my personal comparisons with LaTour, I noticed no hue shift with the casein, but a slight shift towards the cooler hues with the resin. I thought about it a moment and then it occurred to me that the resin was acting as a filter, and its resin components might be filtering out the warm tones as the light bounced back to the viewer's eye. I'm really not sure about this, it is just conjecture, but nonetheless interesting. Someone else might want to check this out too.. maybe it's just my eyes!

While there is a slight value shift with all types of fixative, due to the physical presence of the fixative substance now holding the pastel granules, the casein seemed to fare better here as well, although the LaTour was not too far behind. (It must be mentioned that I really have not used LaTour much at all, certainly not in successive layers, so I do not know what happens. It was the smell that stopped me. I'm far too sensitive.)

All that being said, many artists have told me that they see no color shift at all with SpectraFix. To which I respond "Really??", and they insist Yes! Well that's Fantastic! Because there are so many different ways of working, so many kinds of pastels and so many types of substrates, I simply have not tried them all, so I am delighted to hear that so many of you are finding that this product is as good as I think it is.

One nationally-known artist and personality in the Pastel world, whose name I will not mention without his permission to quote, told me that he was very delighted with SpectraFix's non-effect on color. He said that Whites and Reds are particularly vulnerable with resin-based fixatives, often disappearing entirely after successive sprayings, but with SpectraFix they were not lost at all. Not a bit of it. The colors remained true and bright. It must be kept in mind that he uses fixative regularly in his work, and so is familiar with their action.

Another pastel artist and professor of Materials and Techniques at a national art school, also stated that he felt there was no color shift at all with SpectraFix. He loves it. And so I have heard from many other artists who have tried it.

Now for those artists who never fix their work, I will not say that there is Absolutely No Difference between a fixed and an unfixed work. We know this to be true, according to the laws of Physics. We can avoid the use of fixatives by using sanded or sueded paper and framing. But there are still reasons why we might want to take the step in the direction of fixing, as we all know. Thus, there are ways of working that we may want to employ so that once we decide to fix our work, we can still revel in the luscious and immediate color that we so adore with soft pastels.

The secret to working with fixatives, I believe, is to retrain our eyes and expectations. This is not to say that we must downgrade our aspirations as artists, we can have our cake and eat it too, if we decide to fix, but we must be mature as artists and learn to control our media. Just as in watercolor or oil painting, the color goes on brilliantly, but once dry, it settles into its real relationship with its neighbors, so when we paint, we must always adjust our values as we work to achieve our desired effect. Again, it is Physics. The ground absorbs, the liquids evaporate, the pigments settle, oxidation occurs, etc. etc. Knowing this, we adjust from the very beginning of our work and aim in a trajectory that will land us exactly where we need to be for the final effect. It is all about relationships of color, black, white and grey, and their orchestrated combinations that act upon the viewer's eyes. We stare at that canvas and keep adjusting until it is all working just as we intend.

So it is with fixatives and pastels. To me this is not a show-stopper, but an invitation to understanding. The good news is that this casein fixative does not change the colors or render them invisible. The colors stay faithful, albeit with a very slight diminishing of their soft brilliance. So if we can learn to adjust our own expectations, knowing that in the end we will have a 100% archival, fully durable, non-powdery work of art, we can build it from the bottom up, spraying between layers to construct a strong foundation. The upper layers might even be unfixed to assure hitting those difficult high notes, or laid on with colors that - once fixed - will be exactly the right value. So you see, it is a question of retraining our eyes and our attitudes.

I developed SpectraFix because I am a craftsperson. I felt responsible to my customers to provide them with a piece of art that would not be easily damaged and yet would be fully archival and not deteriorate as time took its toll. I have seen for myself the damage that is wreaked on artworks over the decades and centuries through negligence, ignorance or accident and hoped to give my work a fighting chance to survive. I try to prepare my panels and use materials that will stand the test of time and be the investment that it is assumed to be at purchase.

I hope this has been informative, and now that we have this new / old casein-based fixative perhaps we can move on from the "To Fix or Not To Fix" question, and make that decision with eyes wide open, expanding our understanding of our medium and how to work with it. And breathe easy at the same time!

Which papers can work best with SpectraFix?

SpectraFix works well on almost all papers, but there are differences. LaCarte sanded paper does not react well to liquids, although if it is sprayed and left to dry thoroughly before re-working, the pastel will adhere very strongly to the paper and easily accept more layers. However, if you disturb the surface while it is wet, the sand lifts off! So do let it dry completely, and you will have a beautiful piece of work.

Heavy, uncoated absorbent papers work very well, especially those which are mounted on panels. Gelatin-sized papers work beautifully too, as do all watercolor and print making papers. Very thin papers, such as rice, mulberry or laid may exhibit some curling if sprayed heavily, because SpectraFix does contain water, but this can be corrected with a shot from hairdryer. Most sanded papers work well too, but they are generally coated with an acrylic to hold the sand, and so SpectraFix may sit up on the surface somewhat while it is evaporating, instead of being absorbed. While this may at first seem strange, if it is allowed to dry undisturbed it will cause the pastel to adhere even more strongly to the surface. All artists have differing methods of working and their own favorite materials. Some artists prefer to use the Concentrate and add extra alcohol to facilitate evaporation and lessen the water content, and some prefer to use the Original Formula. It is a matter of personal exploration and choice.

As I have not tried all possible combinations of papers, I will add more information as I discover or am informed by my customers.

Can I use Rubbing Alcohol to mix with SpectraFix Concentrate?

Yes, you certainly can. However, be sure to mix it with at least 30% water, especially the stronger 91% rubbing alcohol, as it will cause the casein to curdle and precipitate out of solution. You don't want that.

That being said, it will work quite well, however it is not as 'clean' an alcohol as pure grain alcohol and it smells much more strongly. It is usually made by what is called a "strong acid" method in which it is passed through strong Sulfuric Acid. This results in an alcohol which has possible toxicity issues, although some would argue this. There is another method for making Rubbing Alcohol (also known as Isopropyl Alcohol or IPA) which is know as the 'Direct Hydration' method, and which is less toxic, however most of the IPA in the US is made using the Sulfuric Acid method. Please bear this in mind when you spray, and avoid inhaling the mist. To protect your health, I do not recommend using Rubbing Alcohol in a classroom situation or in poorly ventilated rooms.

What shall I do with the leftover vodka I used to mix into my SpectraFix Concentrate?

Umm...lessee. With a nod to the Dude, you could make a White Russian, or you could don some cool plaid polyester pants and a machine-woven vest, and treat yourself to a Harvey Wallbanger. If it's just you and your art friends, out in the wilds of nature with your easels and pastels and miles from a convenience store, I suggest you just drink it straight.

Where can I purchase Everclear grain alcohol?

As far as I have been able to ascertain, states colored RED in the list below DO NOT allow the sale of Everclear in any proof. The rest of the states DO allow the sale of Everclear, sometimes only in 151 proof (75% alcohol) instead of 190 proof (95% alcohol), but either one is fine for mixing with SpectraFix Concentrate.

It should be available in Supermarkets that carry alcohol or in Alcoholic Beverage stores (BevMo in CA, for instance), and runs between $11 and $16 per liter bottle.

It is often used to make herbal tinctures, so a call to a local herbalist or natural foods store might yield clues if you can't find it otherwise.

  • AK
  • AL
  • AR
  • AZ
  • CA
  • CO
  • CT
  • DE
  • FL
  • GA
  • HI
  • ID
  • IL
  • IN
  • KS
  • KY
  • LA
  • MA
  • MD
  • ME
  • MI
  • MN
  • MO
  • MS
  • MT
  • NC
  • ND
  • NE
  • NH
  • NJ
  • NM
  • NV
  • NY
  • OH
  • OK
  • OR
  • PA
  • RI
  • SD
  • SC
  • TN
  • TX
  • UT
  • VA
  • VT
  • WA
  • WI
  • WV
  • WY

Can I buy SpectraFix in my local store?

SpectraFix is available in a growing number of stores across the USA and Canada. It is also available through several online stores. If you would like to purchase SpectraFix locally from your favorite brick and mortar store and not pay shipping, please tell you local shopkeeper that they may order this product through MacPherson's, which is a large distributor of art supplies to the US and Canada. They will likely already do business with MacPherson's, and may not be aware that they can order from them. If they wish, have them contact us for further information.

We are still looking for a distributor for Europe and Australia, and hope to make this product available in those areas soon! In the meantime, you may purchase the Concentrate and we can mail it inexpensively by post.

What are FedEx's brokerage fees into Canada?

While we wait to have our product accepted into stores in Canada, (soon!..as of 08/09) we are doing what we can to make SpectraFix available to Canadians at the least expensive shipping cost. We are very sorry it is so high, but after repeated inquiries to the various agencies we find we cannot do anything to improve the pricing, except try to be clear about the charges. The trick is to order in small enough quantities that your order either generates NO brokerage fees, or is large enough to make it worthwhile for you.

Ordering 1 or 2 bottles at a time seems to be the least expensive way for an individual to order Spectrafix, as it only incurs a maximum of $6.95 in brokerage fees. Please see also our Mailable Concentrate as another inexpensive alternative.
I post this here in the FAQ so you can see the actual FedEx brokerage rate sheet for yourselves. (Note: UPS is more expensive than FedEx)
All prices are in CAD

  • Under $20 purchase (1 bottle) = $00.00 Brokerage fee
  • $20 – $40 purchase (2 bottles) = $6.95 Brokerage fee
  • $40.01 – $75.00 = $19.00
  • $75.01 – $100.00 = $19.50
  • $100.01 - $200 = $28.50
  • $200.01 – $350 = $38.75
  • $350.01 – $500 = $43.75
  • $500.01 – $750 = $49.75
  • $750.01 – $1000 = $55.95
  • $1000.01 – $1250 = $61.25
  • $1250 – $1600 = $65.85
  • $1600 – $5000 = $68.75
  • For each additional $1000, add $5.85.

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