Gilding picture frames is an easier task to achieve than you may think. In this article, we’ll detail how to gild a picture frame and will include all of the supplies you need to carry out the task. So, if you’re ready, let’s jump into the details.

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What Is a Gilt Picture Frame?

A gilt picture frame is a frame that is gold-lain or contains another metal leaf. While there certainly are some picture frames that are made of solid gold or silver, most have gold leafing that leads to its spectacular bright gold sheen.

Gilded surfaces like picture frames can be covered in real gold leaf, imitation gold leaf, copper leaf, or other metal materials. To do so, gold leafing is applied to the edge and pressed down with a soft brush atop of adhesive. This makes for awesome DIY projects that you could potentially do at home. But before you try it, let’s dig a little deeper into the details surrounding the gilding process.

How To Gild A Picture Frame

Type of Gilding Used for Picture Frames

There are multiple ways to gild picture frames. For the purposes of this post, we’ll cover the two most basic: the water gilding method and the oil gilding method.

Water Gilding Picture Frames

Water gilding picture frames are frames that are gilded using water based size. Water based adhesive can be ideal for a variety of purposes. These include highlighting intricate detailing on the exterior of your photo frame. The other benefit of using this type of adhesive is its “open” time. This means that water gilding size remains wet for a very long time, which allows you more time to work on larger projects.

The downside? If you plan to expose the surface of your water gilded photo frame to water or the great outdoors, you won’t be able to. Water gilded frames can only be used indoors. You also should bear in mind that water gilded frames will be more difficult to take on for beginners. Therefore, it is recommended that only those experienced in gilding take on the water gilding approach.

Oil Gilding Picture Frame

Oil gilding a picture frame requires using oil based size. This adhesive is ideal for beginners and can also be used to create frames that will be exposed to the outdoors.

The only disadvantage to this technique is that oil size means that your surface won’t remain wet for very long. This means that if you try to rub gold leaf or another metal leaf across it after a certain time frame, it is likely that the adhesive will be dry completely. You also won’t see the intricate details of your photo frame as well as you might if you had used a coat of water size instead.

How to Gild a Picture Frame

The steps to create the perfectly gilded frame are relatively straightforward. In fact, especially if you use oil size, you may find the process simple. The main thing is that you handle your gold leaf delicately throughout the process. Rough-handling your gold leaf with your fingers can cause holes, streaks, and other damages. It will also render your gold leaf frame messy and unsightly.

Try these steps to achieve an awesomely gilt frame:

  1. Start by laying down a drop cloth to protect the surface you’re working on. Afterward, begin sanding your frame. This will help remove debris and help you to achieve a nice smooth surface. Follow up with a soft dry cloth to remove any leftover scrap from sanding.
  2. The second step is to apply your adhesive. For smaller projects, it is usually best to use a small foam brush, gesso brush, or another brush type to paint on your oil or water based adhesive. If your project is large, it is perfectly feasible to use spray adhesive instead. Note: Remember that you’ll need to use oil size adhesive for any frame exposed to water or outdoors. Frames used indoors can utilize either adhesive type.
  3. Now comes the time to add your real gold or imitation leaf to the entire surface. Once your adhesive is slightly tacky, take your shiny gold pieces and begin to lay them over the adhesive. To prevent ripping, tearing, and fingerprints, it is recommended that you use gloves during this process. If your gold leafing comes with wax backing, be sure to lay the leaf with the wax side up (shiny side down).
  4. Once you’ve laid a single gold piece, use a chisel brush to help the gold leaf to adhere. Brush across the gold leaf until it lays flat.
  5. Use a soft brush to brush away any excess gold leaf you find hanging from your picture frame.
  6. Once the excess leaf has been cleared away, you should be left with a thin layer of gold. Apply a sealant to your frame to prevent tarnishing, especially if you are using imitation leaf or gold leaf that isn’t the real thing. You can also opt to use a soft cloth to apply wax once the gilded piece has dried completely.
  7. Use the aforementioned process to create gilded wood or for gilding other precious metals to create a bright shiny yellow frame at a much lower price point than you could have imagined!

Is Gold Gilding Permanent?

Once you’ve laid your gold leaf, you may wonder if what you’ve done is permanent. The answer? Sometimes. It really depends on what you’ve gilded, the size used, and how long it’s been there. There are other factors that’ll play a role in how easily gold leaf comes off as well.

To attempt gold leaf removal, try using a 400 or 600 grit sand block. Some people have also reported success using isopropyl alcohol or nail polish remover. These work to dissolve the gold and thereby effectively remove it from the surface it clings to.

Gilding Picture Frames: A Simple and Elegant Upgrade

Gilding picture frames doesn’t need to be an overly involved process. However, you will need to use the right tools and techniques to get the task done. Remember that the type of adhesive you use matters, as well as your method of metal leaf application. Be sure to use soft gloves for the laying process and to handle your gold leaf delicately as you apply down each piece.

We hope you love your final gilded picture frame!


Is gilding the same as gold leaf?

Gilding isn’t the same as gold leaf, but it does include gold leaf in the process. Gilding refers to the process by which you lay gold leaf. Gold leaves are small pieces of square made up of thin gold. Therefore, a gilded picture frame has gold leaf lain over it to create stunning unique modern and antiquated pieces. 

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