How to Apply Gold Leaf

Gold leaf is gold that's been hammered into a thin foil so it can be used to decorate art work, picture frames, books, and even food and drink. Applying gold leaf is called gilding, and the process requires several specialized tools and supplies, including primer, sizer, brushes, knives, and pads. Gold leaf comes in sheets or rolls and can be cheap many gilders choose to use artificial gold leaf, which is more economical.


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    Prepare the item to be gilded by using painter's tape to cover areas you don't want to gild and sanding the rest until it's smooth. Use a tack cloth to remove the dust you created by sanding.
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    Prime the item with a primer that's formulated especially for gilding. If you don't use a gilding primer, you will have to also apply a base layer of paint, called a bole. You may choose to apply a bole even when it's not needed; some guilders prefer the way this looks.
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    Paint on a gilding sizer. This is an adhesive that will dry to a tacky (fairly dry but sticky to the touch) consistency in a few hours. It will then remain tacky for several more hours, giving you time to apply the gold leaf.
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    Apply the gold leaf. Carefully peel the leaf from the paper backing and apply it to the item. Or, you can lay the leaf and backing on the surface, burnish it with a brush or your fingers, and carefully pull the paper backing away.
    • After laying a sheet of gold leaf on a surface, blow on it to encourage it to lay flat enough to work with.
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    Consider cutting the gold leaf into smaller pieces to make applying it easier.
    • Remove the leaf from the backing with a knife and lay it flat on a gilding pad that you have cleaned with pumice. Cut the leaf into smaller pieces and pick them up with a cotton ball.
    • Apply a thin coat of petroleum jelly to the back of your hand to making lifting from the gilding pad easier. Touch a cotton ball to the petroleum jelly, then touch it to the leaf. It will lift away from the paper and remain on the cotton ball until you place it on the item you're gilding.
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    Brush the leaf with a soft gilder's brush to make it adhere to the item completely and smoothly. It should appear that the item is made of gold rather than covered in gold leaf.
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    Look for holidays, places where the gold leaf didn't adhere and was brushed away, exposing the surface beneath. Apply small bits of leaf to cover them.
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    Seal the gold leaf by applying an acrylic topcoat. The topcoat will protect the leaf from damage due to handling, dust, water and ultraviolet light. You don't need to seal gold leaf that's rated 22 karat or higher.
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    Give the item an antique look, if desired, by applying a glaze.


  • You can also decorate items with other metal leafs, such as silver or copper.

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Categories: Metalwork and Wire Projects