Watercolor paintings are beautiful pieces that are easily amplified by using watercolor gold leaf. While there is no specific type of gold leaf that is best for watercolor paintings, there are a few specifications you’ll want to note, as well as tools you’ll want to have to get the job done.

In this article, we’ll break down the process of applying gold leaf sheets and other types of metal leaf to a watercolor painting that can help you create wonderful realistic or abstract art work easily. So, without further delay, let’s learn all there is to learn about this inspiring topic.

Adding Gold Leaf To Watercolor

Table of Contents

How Do You Add Gold Leaf to a Watercolor Painting?

Gold leaf is easily applied to a watercolor painting using size and a brush. “Size” refers to the special adhesive used to apply both loose leaf and transfer leaf gold foil.

Loose leaf gold or metal refers to a leaf that doesn’t contain a wax paper backing. It can be very delicate in nature and hard to control. However, it can offer more versatility in how you use it because it doesn’t contain a backing.

Transfer leaf, on the other hand, has a wax paper backing, which can help when you are applying it to something flat, such as a watercolor painting. This is because the wax backing can help you press the metal leaf onto the paper.

To apply gold leaf to watercolor paint (or even acrylic paint for that matter), you really only need to allow the painted piece to dry and know exactly where you want the gold leaf to go. Having a plan for where the gold, copper, or silver leaf will go in relation to the entire painting is important as it will dictate where you will lay your size.

Once you’ve determined how you want to use your gold leaf on your watercolor, you can begin to make interesting and creative designs. It will help to use a pencil to outline the areas where the adhesive should go.

For additional steps on how to carry out this gold leafing task on watercolors, stick with us. We’ll delve more into the steps to help you create fun and interesting projects on both watercolor and acrylics later in this post.

How Do You Seal Gold Leaf in Watercolor?

Sealing gold leaf in watercolor isn’t always recommended. In fact, there are times when it should absolutely be avoided.

If you are using genuine gold leaf, you won’t want to seal it at all. Sealed pure gold will change color over time, and may end up looking a way you did not intend.

Other types of metal leaf, however, are not subject to tarnish, and therefore, must be sealed. This includes any gold leaf that is less than 23 karats along with imitation gold leaf sheets, copper sheets, and pure silver sheets.

When sealing gold leaf in watercolor, you’ll want to apply your size and metal leafing first. From there, you’ll allow the project to dry before adding a couple of coats of sealant or varnish to the area to finish things off.

Remember that though genuine gold can cost a bit more in regards to price, it can still be worth it to splurge a little, especially if your goal is to promote grandeur in a painting. Not to mention you’ll save on the cost of sealant. But if you already have sealant on hand, the added cost of purchasing this won’t actually be an issue.

Do You Apply Gold Leaf Before or After Painting?

You should always apply gold leaf after painting. But depending on your project, you may be able to get away with applying it beforehand.

Remember, there are no hard and fast rules to art, but generally speaking, it can be easier to apply gold leaf sheets after your work of art has been created rather than trying to guess where you’ll place your gold or metal leaf gild ahead of time.

How to Apply Silver and Gold Leaf to Your Artwork

If you want to apply gold leaf or metal leaf to watercolor painting, collect the following gilding supplies:

  • Gold leaf, silver, leaf, or copper leaf
  • Size adhesive (remember to select an oil-based size if you watercolor will be exposed to the outdoors)
  • Clean, wide brushes
  • A watercolor painting
  • Pencil

DIY Watercolor Painting With Gold Leaf

  1. Begin by preparing your work surface. Be sure to work in an area free of drafts, preferably indoors.
  2. Once your watercolor painting has dried, use a pencil or other writing utensil to carefully mark where you want your size adhesive to go. Bear in mind that the gold leaf will stick wherever you place the adhesive, even if the placement of the adhesive is a mistake. Thus, you must lay adhesive with caution to avoid mistakes on your watercolor painting.
  3. Once your adhesive is laid, please wait an allotted amount of time for your adhesive to reach tack. How much time this will be will vary depending on your size. Read the directions on the label carefully to know how long your adhesive needs to sit before applying the gold leaf.
  4. Once your adhesive reaches tack, carefully lay your gold leaf. You can do this using a knife, tweezers, or cotton gloves as these can help with the delicateness of the leaf. Alternatively, choosing transfer leaf will naturally give you better control of the gold leaf and make for easier application because of the wax backing on the leaf.
  5. Carefully press down your gold leaf sheets and tamp them down using a clean brush. Clear away any excess using the same brush.
  6. If you notice imperfections, try not to worry. These can be repaired by applying additional adhesive and gold leaf sheets once the majority of your gold leaf has been laid.
  7. Allow the project to dry. Once finished, you may display your piece or if you’ve used imitation, silver, copper, or gold leaf less than 23 karats, you’ll need to apply a sealant at this point. Apply sealant or varnish according to package directions and allow it to dry.
Adding Gold Leaf To Watercolor

Watercolor Gold Leaf: An Incredible Upgrade

All in all, adding gold leaf to watercolor is an incredible upgrade to a project. Whether you are applying watercolor and gold to a wall, flat paper, or other medium, know that the metal leaf can cause your watercolor to stand out in a wonderfully unique and creative way by breathing life through the unexpected shine of metal to the piece.

Use the gold as inspiration to create a beautiful background or sparkle highlights to any portion of your painting. We hope this has motivated you to create something uniquely inspiring.


How do you make paint look like gold leaf?

There are a variety of gold leaf paint types available that can help you achieve the look of gold without actually using gold leaf if that’s what you intend. Just know that gold paint won’t have the same shine as real gold; but it will do the trick depending on the project and your goals for the piece.

Is gold leaf paint real gold?

There are a variety of gold leaf paint types available that can help you achieve the look of gold without actually using gold leaf if that’s what you intend. Just know that gold paint won’t have the same shine as real gold; but it will do the trick depending on the project and your goals for the piece.

Is gold leaf paint real gold?

No, it is not. Real gold can be found in sheet form from online distributors.

Will gold leaf stick to paint?

It can, but the best thing to do is to stick gold leaf to dry acrylic or watercolor using gilding size made specifically for the adherence of metal leaf.

How do you get gold leaf to stick to canvas?

Use gilding size, also known as metal leaf adhesive, to properly adhere gold leaf to a project.

How do you use gold leaf in mixed media?

Gold leaf can be used in a variety of ways on a variety of surfaces including glass, wood, canvas, and other mediums. Each requires its own process, so be sure to do your research before embarking on your project. 

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