Gilding metallic objects using chemical gilding is one of the many processes of laying gold. It produces a gilt surface of pure gold using a special process known as electro-chemical gilding. In this post, we’ll unlock more information about this method of achieving a gilded surface. Stay tuned!

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What Is Electro-Chemical Gilding

Electro-chemical gilding is a process in which copper or silver items are immersed in gold. The components of these elements cause a chemical reaction to occur that produces a thin layer of gold across the surface.

This method of electro-chemical gilding is also known as depletion gilding, replacement gilding, or immersion gilding. When the metal object is dipped into soluble gold, the thin layer produced will stop the gilding process once the entire surface is covered. Because of this, the electro-chemcial gilding process isn’t considered durable. Instead, the thin plates produced are rather temperamental and unuseful for outdoor or often handled objects.

Since immersion gilding utilizes a chemically reactive process involving soluble gold, sources believe that it isn’t likely this method of gilding was used for ancient gilding the way that other popular methods might have been.

chemical gilding

What Is the Process of Gilding?

The gilding process can happen in a variety of other ways besides electro-chemical gilding. These processes typically utilize gold foil to achieve a metallic surface rather than soluble gold used as in the case of immersion gilding. The following are a few other gilding methods along with their processes.

What Are the Different Types of Gilding?

Fire gilding: Fire gilding is an old-fashioned yet tried-and-true method of gilding. Fire gilding requires dissolving gold with mercury to create an overlay to ultimately produce a shiny gold surface. Despite its efficacy, gold gilding using fire gilding methods isn’t very popular these days. This is due to the possibility for unsavory health outcomes as a result of overexposure to fumes from the mercury throughout the gilding process.

Oil gilding: Oil gilding is achieved by using oil size and a soft brush for applying gold leaf to a particular surface. The surface doesn’t have to be a metal surface like it does for electro-gilding. In fact, oil gilding can be used on a variety of surfaces including wood, metal, and even concrete. This is also one of the only methods that could feasibly be used outdoors.

Water gilding: Water gilding, like oil gilding, is another common way of applying gold leaf in addition to other complex traditional techniques. Though popular, water gilding isn’t considered feasible for beginner gilders. Nevertheless, it is the preferable method for gilding glass, and also, is a great option for gilding 3D prints and other objects that will be stored indoors.

Cold gilding: Cold gilding is a method for applying a gold layer to a surface by burning a rag dipped in gold solution and rubbing the consequent ashes on the item to be gilt. This decorative technique is similar to the results produced by electro-chemical gilding as it only produces a very thin coating of bright gold which eventually can fade over time.

Replacement Gilding

Replacement gilding is another word for electro-chemical gilding. It is called replacement gilding because the surface of the metal surface, usually silver or copper, is replaced with a thin layer of gold during the chemically charged gilding process. As the gold combines with the components of these other metals, it chemically bonds to the surface, allowing the gilding to take place.

Remember, however, that this gilding process produces only a fine gold color once finished. Because of this, you shouldn’t expect this modern gilding method to be particularly long-lasting in certain conditions.

Other Methods of Gilding

There are other methods of gilding outside of the methods mentioned previously. While chemical gilding, fire gilding, water gilding, and oil gilding are certainly the most common and well-known techniques, there are also other less laborious ways of achieving a glinty gold look.

Consider these other gilding options if chemical gilding or other gilding methods aren’t appealing to you:

Gold paint: Gold paint can be applied to a number of surfaces, though, admittedly, it won’t produce the same sparkle and sheen that using real gold would. Still, if you are looking to add a bit of glimmer to a canvas or are simply looking for an inexpensive way to add a little glitz to a project, then using gold paint may be a viable option.

Gilding wax: Gilding wax is a step up from gold paint as it not only can be applied to many surfaces, but also, is quite durable. Gilding wax can be used on furniture, antique hardware, and other items, but you should be careful not to use a top coat over it. If you plan to use a sealer or wax, plan to use the gilding wax on top of it rather than underneath.

Chemical Gilding Method: A Decorative But Thin Layer of Gold

If you’re looking to create a solid gold surface atop a silver or copper object, using the chemical gilding method may work well. The chemical gilding technique works as chemical reactions transpire between copper or silver objects immersed in soluble gold salt. The final result is a thin layer of gold over the item’s surface.

Though this method is an effective modern way of achieving a gilt surface, there are other methods that may be easier to achieve at home. Try water gilding or oil gilding methods using gold leaf and a soft brush to complete gilding operations for indoor and outdoor use.


Can you gild wood using chemical gilding?

Gilded wood usually achieves its appearance by the use of water or oil gilding, or even gilding wax. However, the chemical process that occurs during the electro-chemical gilding process requires certain metals for the chemical reaction to take place.

What is gold powder gilding?

Unlike electro-gilding, gilding with gold powder can be traced back even to the early 19th century. The application of gold powder only produces dull yellow color, so it isn’t the most sought-after method of achieving a gilded object.

Can electro-chemical gilding occur using gold leaf?

No. The immersion gilding process requires dipping copper or silver objects into a soluble gold solution until the surface is fully covered. This process does not require gold leaf.

Can you use electro-chemical gilding techniques on numerous and diverse surfaces?

No. The electro-chemical process requires a chemical reaction that can only take place on certain surfaces. Therefore, it isn’t as versatile of a gilding method as other techniques. 

What is the easiest method of gilding?

If you’ve never tried gilding before, we suggest you start with gold leaf and oil size. Other techniques require skill and possibly special equipment.

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