How to Gold Leaf Effectively

Gold Leaf gilding

Is an ancient art that has remained popular through modern times.Covering a surface to give the appearance of metal goes back to antiquity and continues as a desired decorative method. Gilding with gold leaf is a process in which tissue-thin sheets of real or imitation gold are applied to a surface. This may be as a complete covering, a strip or an ornamental design. Gliding is easy to do if it's done the right way. but if the gilder is careless, or forgets to follow the basic rules, it can cause headaches for him and his customers, too.


Surface gilding is the name applied when gold leaf is laid on the outside or "reading" surface instead of on the back, as in glass gilding. It applies to all such jobs, whether exposed to the weather or not, except truck or wagon lettering. On all surface gilding jobs, the feasibility of gold leaf in rolls should be considered, since the speed and ease of roll application can result in great time savings. (Surface preparation is the same for roll and book.)

Surface Prep

Preparing the surface properly, as suggested elsewhere, is particularly important with surface gilding that is to be exposed to weather. As a final preparation just before sizing, smooth the sign surface down with sandpaper. The chief difference between surface gilding and glass gilding is in the size used. For surface gilding "slow" size should be used whenever practicable. Depending on atmospheric and surface conditions, Slow Drying Oil Size, excellent for this type of gilding, is usually ready for gilding in 10 to 12 hours. It holds its tack for many hours thereafter.

Application of Gold Size may be by brush, spray or roller. Full. even coverage is necessary. Any skips or misses will leave open spots where leaf will not adhere. Japan color may be added to size when background is needed. Size is applied to the prepared surface with the same brushes and in the same manner used when applying paint. After you have applied size, and after it has become dry enough to be gilded, it should possess a barely perceptible sticky feeling. Test the tack with a knuckle. You have the proper tack when the size does not stick to your knuckle, yet when you feel a slight pull and hear a slight "tick" as your knuckle is pulled away.

If gold leaf is applied to size that is too wet, the gold will be drowned and the burnish killed. The burnish of gold depends largely upon the accuracy with which tack is judged. When proper tack has been reached, lay the gold leaf, and make certain that all sized surfaced are well covered. When the letters are all covered, and when all spots or cracks, caused by broken places in the leaf have been patched, the sign is ready to be rubbed down and burnished. First, batten down with cotton to insure the gold sticking evenly before you wipe off surplus gold and burnish. To burnish, rub the gold briskly and lightly with absorbent cotton until all laps and wrinkles are removed.