FAQs – Gold Leaf, Silver Leaf, Copper Leaf

Imitation Gold / Silver Leaf

What is imitation gold leaf made of?

Imitation gold leaf is made of a copper / zinc alloy, to replicate the look of a gold leaf without paying the price of genuine gold. Obviously, the metal is different from gold, and you will not be able to achieve exactly the same color as genuine gold, the same brilliance in burnishing as genuine gold because of gold’s malleability.

There are various formulations of the alloy in producing imitation gold leaf, sometimes also known as composition gold leaf, or dutch leaf. The alloy formulation used is dependent on the manufacturer. In general, the leaf made from a China-based raw material is more red, and the Italian or German materials are slightly more yellow in tone.

The quality of the leaf is very much dependent on the manufacturer, The commodity grade Chinese produced leaf will have a more matte appearance, this is because, in the beating process, where the metal is mechanically beaten flat, the beating paper that is used has a matt texture.

Whereas the European production process uses a much higher grade beating paper. This affects the brightness and uniformity of the finished leaf. So the European production method produces a much more brilliant and even-looking leaf. However, the price of the European production method has a higher production cost, because of the materials used and a much stricter quality control process. So for large-scale projects, this price difference can be substantial, so on projects like those, it may become a budget or economic discussion.

However, if the quality of the finish is what is required, then the European leaf will give you a closer look at genuine gold. For DIY projects, where the quantities used are not on large scale, for the price of a few coffees, the European production processed leaf will give the user a much higher quality finish than they would with a commodity-grade Chinese leaf.

As these are copper alloys, they do have the propensity to oxidize, so after gilding, they will need to be coated immediately. Depending on the heat and humidity of the gilding environment, the leaf may start to change quickly if not coated against the elements.

Imitation gold usually is made to 14x14cm (5.5”), or 16x16cm (6.3”). They come in interleaf packaging (where there is a piece of paper between each leaf), booklet packing (a booklet of 25 sheets of leaf, and non-interleaf packing, where leaves are stacked one against the other).

What is imitation silver leaf made of?

Imitation silver leaf is made of 100% aluminum, it is to replicate the look of the genuine silver leaf without the cost of the precious metal. The major difference between the aluminum leaf and the genuine silver leaf is in its brilliance and color. Genuine silver has a “whiter” tone, and is more brilliant in its shine, whereas aluminum is duller, and has a bluish tone to the leaf.

One thing that the aluminum leaf does better than the genuine is that it does not easily oxidizes. This means after gilding, where the genuine silver leaf you need to cover immediately otherwise it will oxidize, and the aluminum leaf will not. It does however over time, become duller due to the elements, and as such, it is recommended that the finished product is coated with a sealer.

Aluminum or imitation silver leaf usually are made to 14x14cm (5.5”), or 16x16cm (6.3”). They come in interleaf packaging (where there is a piece of paper between each leaf), booklet packing (a booklet of 25 sheets of leaf, and non-interleaf packing, where leaves are stacked one against the other).

How long does imitation leaf last?

Imitation gold leaf will oxidize over time, this is dependent on the environment around the leaf when it was gild, the package of unused leaf will need to be sealed and packed in a dry and cool location away from direct sunlight. For products gilded, it is suggested that after burnishing the leaf and removing loose scraps, the item is sealed with a sealer to make sure the leaf is protected against oxidation if protected well the item will not oxidize for years. And with age, the oxidation will look like a natural patina to the item.

When gilding do wear cotton gloves, as our sweat will contain chemicals that speed up the oxidation process.

Does imitation leaf tarnish?

As the imitation is made out of 80+% copper, the leaf will tarnish over time. The cupid to it tarnishing is its exposure to humidity and oxygen “hence oxidation”. To protect it from oxidation, a sealer that is applied after the leaf has been gilded will protect and separate it from oxidizing. However do note that depending on the gilding environment, there are pollutants and free radicals that are in the air that will interact with the metal, so it is highly suggested that if the original metal leaf color is desired, it is best to seal the item as soon as it is material to do so.

There are instances where the metal leaf is not sealed to create a desired patina or tarnishing look using chemicals, but this is done by intention rather than happenstance.

Genuine Silver Leaf

Is silver leaf actually silver?

Yes genuine silver leaf, is made with 100% genuine silver.

How do you stick silver leaf?

Depending on the application, all metal leaf is applied onto the surface of the intended substrate, of which the substrate has a tacky surface, the tacky surface is usually created by an application of an adhesive medium. Such as a water-based gilding adhesive. Or an oil-based varnish. In water gilding, the tacky surface is achieved by wetting the “bole” which is a mix of clay and rabbit skin glue. To imagine what stickiness “tacky” mean. It is similar to a cellophane tape that has been touched by the finger a couple of times. That is the amount of tack one needs for gilding. There are other specific gilding techniques and glues used for things like edge gilding, and calligraphy gilding, where different artisans use their own formula of adhesives to achieve their preferred tack level for their application.

What can you use silver leaf on?

Genuine silver leaf is used for a diverse range of applications. Like any other metal leaf, its a surface finish that allows objects to be covered in a real metallic finish, and in this case Silver. Silver has a very unique “glow” to it, unlike metal like stainless steel which feels very “cold” silver has a warm glow that is unlike any other metal. Because of this look. Bakers like to use it as cake decoration. Another famous use of silver is the antique craft of making mirrors also knowns as “eglomise” glass, which is by applying silver leaf to clear glass, and polishing it so that it has a “mirror” reflection. Picture frames and furniture using genuine silver leaf create an exceptional look, as silver patinas and tarnishes, create a diversity of tones that gives the item its unique character. 

Does genuine silver leaf tarnish?

Silver does tarnish over time, so for projects that are intended to maintain its silver color and reflectiveness, a sealer coat is necessary. However many people apply silver with the intention to have it patina, to create a unique look and character.

Is silver leaf heat resistant?

Heat will accelerate the oxidation process of silver, and as such it is not recommended to apply silver leaf on locations and substrates that will be exposed to heat.

Gold leaf

Does the gold leaf have real gold in it?

“Gold Leaf” can be used as a generalized term that refers to “metal leaves which are golden” in colour. But if we are referring to genuine gold leaf, these are metal leaves that contain genuine gold in their alloy composition. Usually, these will be depicted with a “kt” or “k” of its gold content, in its name, such as 22k gold leaf, 23.5k gold leaf, 12k gold leaf, etc. The amount of gold content changes the color and mechanical properties of the gold leaf. As Genuine gold is very soft and very malleable, a 24k gold leaf, in most instances is very very difficult to work with, and if you are a novice, you will waste more leaf than you would apply them. Where 24k is used most, would be in Venetian blown glass. This is an industry that will require the leaf to be pure 24k so that when the glass is blown, the gold distributes and disburses in a uniformed pattern. In the everyday application in renovation, and restoration, 23.5k or 23.75k is used for exterior work, and 22k for interior work is sufficient. This leaf is much easier to handle, and because it is used historically, traditionally carry forward that they are used now for restoration work as well. The 22k or 23k has a slightly more reddish tone which people have grown to like.

For edible leaf, some people do choose to use a 24k leaf, but again the difficulty in the application as it’s so soft, when applied, it tends to fold up and look much smaller visually than a dedicated edible gold formulation which is usually a 23.75k with a composition of genuine silver. This alloy formulation balances the best working properties of the gold leaf, with its gold luster and visual appeal.

On to other “gold leaf” which does not have genuine gold content. These are called “imitation gold leaf”, as the name suggests, it imitates genuine gold leaf. But in fact, it’s a copper and zinc composition, and it’s way cheaper. They are also called “dutch” leaf, or “composition leaf” A lot of the imitation gold leaf is coming out of China nowadays, there is one small Italian beater that still makes it in Italy, but the production is very local. But the rest are coming out from China. These are used in furniture, and DIY products. The quality of these leaves can vary, but the variance will more be from batch to batch rather than one manufacturer being better than the other, as their technique comes from the same roots. There is only one factory in China, which produces a European-based material composition of gold leaf. This should not be confused with the rest of the Chinese leaf, (and the price is quite a bit dearer). The difference in this leaf is, that it is much brighter than the Chinese leaf, and the color is more similar to the genuine gold leaf. This is because the production process was bought from Europe, and the material and preparation are completely different from the Chinese leaf. The currently only make it in booklets. But these are much superior in quality than the other Chinese counterpart. You will be able to spot it immediately if they were presented side by side.

Last of all is the “Taiwanese leaf”. This is something that only came out in the last 10 years or so. It is a “yellow vanished metalized aluminum foil”, so basically, this is a hot stamping foil, with both sides of the aluminum varnished yellow to look gold. You will see many different colour leaves that come out of this process. There are good points and bad points, for small ad-hoc projects like nails, these are fantastic, they are bright, and they come in different colours, as you will be washing them away after a few days, there needs to be no durability. However, if you are using these for furniture or art, the “gold” comes from the “yellow” varnish, as that will deteriorate over time, especially with UV exposure, they will turn silver in a few months. 2ndly they are exceptionally brittle, so when applying you will more than likely need to repatch where the leaf crumbled. So whilst these leaves are great for a kid’s DIY or putting them on nails, they really should never be used on furniture or reno jobs.

Does genuine gold leaf have genuine gold?

Yes, Genuine leaf has genuine gold in them, the name of the leaf will depict what karat of gold is in the composition of the leaf, such as 22k, 23k, 23.5k, etc. refer to “Gold Leaf” above for a longer explanation.