Due to the physical properties of gold, you can hammer it into thin sheets called gold leaf. This application of gold leaf to the surface of objects to improve their appearance and value representes the art of gilding. There are many gilding tips and techniques.

To ensure that your object looks like its bathed in golden glory, you can either use oil or the ideal water-based adhesive size in applying gold, silver or gilding metal. But take note that water-based adhesives are completely different from water-gilding methods.

Table of Contents

This guide on gilding tips and techniques below aims to give you an overview of the gilding process so you can start your gilding projects with ease.

There are many gilding tips and techniques.

Beginners Guide to Gilding: Tips and Techniques

1. Prepare and prime the surface you want to gild

When it comes to gilding, preparation is the key to achieving the desired effect. This is also the right time to prepare the gilding supplies needed for the project.

First, sand the surface and apply a suitable primer. For better adhesion of the gold, silver leaf or metal leaf, ensure that the surface is non-porous. If you are gilding metal, make sure that the surface is completely clean and free from grease or dirt.

Meanwhile, if you want a warm rich finish to your gold leaf art, use a red colour paint or clay to prime the surface. On the other hand, if you want a cooler tone beneath the silver leaf, opt for a grey or bluish colour paint or clay when priming.

The colours act as an undertone to the gold, silver or copper leaf.

Check our collection of genuine gold leaf for your unique projects!

2. Apply the adhesive size

You call the adhesive you use to fix the leaf to the surface the “size”.

You can find either water-based or oil-based size, depending on the object you want to gild.

Water-based size

Remember to use water-based size indoors and never outdoors.

Water-based sizes become tacky in 20 minutes and are ready to receive the gold leaf. You will have at least 36 hours or more to apply all the leaf. This size is only ideal when you’re working on large scale surfaces such as walls or ceilings.

Oil-based size

Oil-based size, on the other hand, has varying drying times, ranging from 1.5 hours to 24 hours. They equally have different open times.

Quick-dry oil sizes become tacky in 1.5 hours and give you an open window for about two hours. Therefore, you only have to apply enough size that you can gild realistically within the 2-hour period.

This size is suitable for small areas or higher-quality projects. Remember to use a good oxtail brush to apply your chosen size in thin and even coats. Avoid laying the leaf on a wet size, as this will cause blotchy marks, affecting the quality of the finished product.

3. Start applying the gold leaf

There are two types of gold leaf you can use: the Transfer leaf and the Loose leaf.

If you are using Transfer leaf, take a gold leaf sheet out of the booklet and place it face down onto the sized area. Rub over the back of the backing paper gently to release the gold onto the surface. You can overlap the leaf for about 2mm, as you keep on gilding to fill in any gaps between the leaves.

Meanwhile, if you are using loose leaf, lift the gold leaf from the booklet very gently using a gilders tip or a soft brush. You can use a gilders mop to tamp the leaf into detailed areas of the moulding.

Select the genuine gold leaf sheets you need for your gilding process

There are many gilding tips and techniques to learn from.

4. Finishing

Once you lay all the gold leaf, allow the gilding size to dry out beneath the leaf. Lightly brushing over the surface will create a soft burnish or shine on the leaf.

You can use skewings to touch up any gaps in the leaf. Don’t forget to inspect the finished product carefully before sealing.

5. Seal the surface.

Genuine gold leaf 22 carats and above not needing sealing and looking better without a varnish.

However, most gilded items need an antiqued finish as protection. You need to seal them in some way, especially if you intend to expose the surface to heavy traffic areas or if it is prone to scratches or finger marks.

Moreover, anything lower than 22 carats can oxidize; that is why we recommend sealing.

6. The finished product

You can now inspect the finished product and brag it to your friends or family.

After all, not many people know this ancient art—so, give yourself a pat on the back and enjoy your own gold leaf crafts!

Craftsmen have used many gilding tips and techniques to create wonderful gold pieces.


Mastering the art of gilding does not happen overnight. However, with constant practice, time, and the right gilding techniques, you can perfect this art.

Soon, you can easily transform ordinary objects into beautiful masterpieces covered in gold.

You can find many resources online about this ancient art that will help you channel your inner Midas touch.

FAQs for Beginners: Gold Gilding Tips and Techniques

What are the 3 Methods of Gilding?

There are three different gilding methods that may be used. The first is water gilding, which has been used for centuries to apply gold leafing to a variety of objects. More recently, additional methods of gold leaf application have been invented. These can use either an oil-based on water-based adhesive and are less time-consuming and challenging for those without gilding experience.
When deciding on the best tips and techniques for your project, consider what you plan to apply leafing to (i.e. frames, plaster, furniture, glass, stone, etc.). These methods for gilding can be used with silver leaf, copper leaf, metal leaf, and imitation leaf, and, of course, genuine gold leaf.

What is the difference between gold leaf and gilding?

Gold leaf is the thin metal sheets of gold that can be applied to a surface. Gilding refers to the process of applying these gold leaf sheets (and other types of leafing, like silver or copper) to the surface. 

What is the Difference Between Oil and Water Gilding?

Water gilding has been used for centuries, while oil gilding is a more recent innovation. Of the two gold gilding techniques, oil gilding is less involved and cheaper to complete. However, unlike with traditional water gilding, you cannot burnish the gold leaf’s finish, so it won’t look as shiny. An agate burnisher won’t have the same effect as it would on a surface gilded using water gilding.
A few oil gilding tips include starting with a smooth and prepared surface, making sure you give the adhesive time to come to tack, using transfer leaf to avoid getting your fingerprints on the gold leaf, and using a soft brush to remove the excess leafing once finished.

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