Gilding domes provide a look of grandeur often associated with buildings of importance. Gilded domes can be found featured on a myriad of buildings, including the rooftops of a state house, church, and another structure. In order to achieve this look, gilders use specific methods and tools for seamless application. Exterior rooftops and domes receiving gold leaf require special treatment, and must be lain with specific types of gold leaf, as well.

To learn more about the process and history of gilding domes and roofs stay tuned. We’re unveiling the details about how expert gilders make the tops of these all-important buildings glitter and shine.

So, let’s jump in.

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gilding domes

Are Gold Domes Real Gold?

In most cases you’ll find that gold domes are made of real gold. These domes are often covered in gold leaf, but not any gold leaf will do. In order for the gold to remain glitzy and attractive despite many years of battering by the wind, sunlight, and rain, the gold leaf must be genuine. Thus, you can expect exterior gold metal surfaces, especially ones lining the tops of important and significant national buildings, to be made of actual gold. Not only does it signify regality and importance, but it is also required for the longevity of the gold coating on the structure.

What Is the Purpose of Gilding?

Using gold leaf or other metal leaf types works to highlight certain aspects of a building. Whether simply for beauty or to signify a specific level of grandeur, buildings throughout history have utilized these artistic methods, and it isn’t difficult to understand why. Outlined in genuine gold that glints in the sun, these buildings are a stunning sight to behold and are particularly fitting for structures that serve as influential and noteworthy landmarks.

Gold leaf gilding on domes and rooftops can be dated back centuries ago in the United States and afar. The act of gilding often utilized red lead as a primer, however, in modern times, other methods, such as the use of etch primer and zinc chromate are used as safer methods for application of gold leaf atop a dome, rooftop, or important structural features.

What Are the Benefits of Gilding?

The purpose of gilded dome rooftops or gilded building domes exudes sophistication and paramount importance. They often highlight buildings marked by religion, government, or other important aspects of global culture. Gilding can be found over a smooth surface atop of building over textures or beveled surfaces, including intricate designs. This adds beauty and attractiveness as well as symbols of importance in ways that other metals, such as silver or copper, may not.

Gilded Interior Dome and Exterior Dome Application

The process of gilding an interior or exterior dome is not as complicated as one might think. However, care, skill, and the right tools are needed to cause the finished product to run out correctly. Of course, most gilded domes are completed by professionals, and as such, tools and application methods will change depending on the project and the technologies available. The following is a snapshot of what the process of a dome guild might look like, but remember, the method used to apply layers of gold leaf will vary from project to project.

The following is often needed for gilding domes in churches, government buildings, and other important architectural structures:

  • Genuine gold leaf- Using gold leaf that is genuine is important, especially if you are gilding outdoors. Pure gold is known for longevity and does not require sealant.
  • Lifting machinery (or ladder)- You’ll need to utilize some kind of machinery or ladder to suspend yourself high enough to complete the gilding process. As always, use proper safety measures (LINK) when applying gold leaf while in suspension.
  • Proper primer- There are several types of primer that can be used that vary depending on the project. Always use the proper primer for the location and project, and do your best to stick to yellow or red toned primers for the best enhancement of the color of the gold itself.
  • Oil or water based primer- If the dome is exterior, you must lay any gold leaf using oil primer. This is the only primer resistant to weather elements. You can utilize either oil or water based primer for interior application.
  • Brushes- Squirrel hair brushes are common for the application of gold leaf. Depending on the process and intended outcomes, other brush or tool types may be used.

Gilded Dome Process

There is a general process for applying gold leaf to domes. Please note that the following process will vary greatly depending on the project at hand. Know that dome building will take a long while to complete, and therefore, it is important to pay close attention to your oil or water based tack times to ensure you are able to lay your gold leaf while the glue is still tacky and wet.

The following is the general process for laying gold leaf over a dome:

  • First, prep and smooth the surface of the object. This may require sanding, repainting, or removing paint from a previously painted surface prior to application.
  • Once the surface is prepared, it is ready to receive primer. There are several types of primer to use with zinc chromate being one of the more popular options. Allow the primer to fully dry before moving onto the next step.
  • Apply your oil or water based size. Remember that oil size is most important if the dome is stationed outdoors. Indoor domes can receive fresh gold leaf, re gilding, or gold leafing repairs using water or oil size.
  • Allow your size to achieve the proper tack .The size should feel tacky but should not be too wet nor too dry.
  • Apply your gold leaf using a squirrel haired soft brush or other forms of equipment. Some gliders use gold leafing rolls to make this process easier.
  • Leave the gold leaf to dry. Restore any knicks, gaps, or imperfections in your gold leaf by adding more gold leaf on top of it.
  • Finally, remember that the use of genuine gold leaf does not require sealant. Pure gold is resistant to tarnishing. If you do opt to use varnish, doing so may lead to corrosion or a milky white haze over your gold paper over time. Consequently, attempting to protect your genuine gold may end up causing you more headache in the long run.

Gilding Domes: A Beautiful Sight to Behold

Gilding dome buildings is an awe-inspiring and regal way to add elegance and sophistication to an already meaningful landmark or building. Though silver or copper dome would no doubt add its own version of grandiosity, it won’t necessarily have the same effect of pure gold.

Remember that gold leaf is applied to stone, metal, rugged wood, and a variety of other surfaces making gilding domes using gold leaf sheets a fairly straightforward job considering its elegance.


Which buildings around the world feature gilt domes?

The Colorado State Dome, the Massachusetts State House, and the Iowa State Capitol are all examples of buildings that feature famous golden domes to highlight the significance of each building.

Does pure gold require varnish?

No. In fact, though genuine gold does not tarnish, adding a top coat to it may cause it to look different over time. It is for this reason that applying a topcoat of any sort over anything 23.5 karats or higher is discouraged.

What is the difference between oil size and water size?

Oil size is best for beginners and is the only adhesive that works for outdoor use. Having said that, water based size is an excellent choice if you are working on a long project indoors. Tack times, also known as “open times”, are much longer when using water based adhesive.

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