Seeing all the specific terms related to gilding can feel like you’re trying to learn a new language. The glossary below will help you understand essential gilding terms that you’re likely to hear or see when discussing gold leafing and gilding.

Table of Contents

What is Gilding?

First off, let’s define the process of gilding. What does gilded mean?

Gilding refers to the process of applying a thin layer of gold or a gold-colored substance onto the surface of an object. It is a decorative technique that has been used for centuries to add an ornate and luxurious appearance to various items.

Gilding can be applied to a wide range of objects, including furniture, picture frames, sculptures, architectural elements, and even manuscripts. It is commonly found in religious art, such as gilded altarpieces or icons, as well as in ornamental designs of various cultures throughout history.

Gilding is a skilled and meticulous process that requires expertise and precision to achieve the desired result. It is valued for its ability to enhance the appearance of objects, adding a touch of elegance and opulence.

What is the Process of Gilding?

Traditionally, gilding involved the use of gold leaf, which is extremely thin sheets of gold that are carefully applied to a prepared surface. The surface is typically coated with an adhesive substance, known as “gilding size,” which allows the gold leaf to adhere to it. The gold leaf is then gently applied and smoothed over the surface, creating a lustrous and reflective coating.

While gold leaf is the traditional material used in gilding, other substances can also be employed to achieve a similar effect.

For example, gold paint or metallic powders can be used as a more affordable alternative to gold leaf. These materials are applied using brushes or sprays, and they can create a similar visual effect, albeit with a slightly different texture and sheen.

Gilding Terms to Know

  • Agate: You can use Agate for burnishing gold leaf. A polished stone attached to a handle is rubbed across the metal leaf surface.
  • Aluminum Leaf: Thin sheets of beaten aluminum metal that you can apply to a prepared surface.
  • Bole: Bole is a base for water gilding. You can make it by mixing clay with rabbit skin glue. You can use bole to prepare an object for gilding. The clay offers an ideal surface to receive gold leaf.
  • Burnish: Burnishing refers to creating a reflective surface on gold leaf, silver, leaf, or other metal leaves. To burnish these surfaces, you need to use a hard tool, often agate or hematite stone, to rub the surface until it becomes reflective.
  • Copper Leaf: Copper leaf is very thin sheets of beaten copper metal. Like gold leaf and silver leaf, you can apply copper leaf to a prepared surface and adhesive.
  • Fish Eye Glue: You can use fish glue when applying gold leaf sheets to bole. You can make it from the eyes of fish.
  • Gesso: Gesso — say jesso — is used for water gilding. It helps to prepare a wood surface by smoothing it down and filling in the smaller grains. You can sand gesso down and make it very smooth before applying gold leaf. 
  • Gilder’s Knife: A gilder’s knife is a tool for gold leaf gilding. The special knives cut through gold leaf (or other leafing) pm a gilder’s pad. Because of how thin gold leaf is, you do not need to use much pressure when cutting through it. However, it is still very important to keep a gilder’s knife sharp. If it is dull, it will end up snagging and tearing the gold.
  • Gilder’s Dusting Mop: A gilder’s mop is a special type of brush that removes excess leaf from the surface. They have a domed head and are often have either squirrel or goat hair bristles.
  • Gilder’s Pad: A gilder’s pad is helpful throughout the gilding process for cutting gold leaves into smaller pieces. Ensure the pad is relatively small and lightweight, as it needs to be held in one hand as the gilder works.
  • Gilder’s Tip: With guilder’s tips you can pick up gold leaf and apply it to the surface that is to be gilded. The tip is about the size of an index card with squirrel hair on one side of it. The squirrel hairs are help pick up the gold leaf pieces more easily. The tip of the hairs have a little oil that keeps the leaf on the gilder’s tip once it is picked up. However, because gold leaf has a stronger attraction to water than it does to oil, when you place the leaf on the surface, it will release from the gilder’s tip.
  • Gold Leaf: You can make gold leaf, sometimes called gold foil, by beating genuine gold until it is transparent. You can cut the gold into small squares, approximately 3 inches by 3 inches, and sell it as a book with 25 squares. Traditional techniques involved beating gold by hand, but with more advanced technology you can make gold leaf with machines. This way, you can create even thinner leaves. You can apply gold leaf to a variety of surfaces including furniture, wood, ceramic, glass, and porcelain. The finish of the gold will vary—from bright gold to less brilliant shades—depending on the properties of the surface beneath it. Unlike simply applying gold paint over a surface, gold leafing offers a brilliant, reflective finish. It is also highly durable. Genuine gold leaf will not tarnish.
  • Gold Size: Size is an adhesive for various gilding methods. When you apply gold leaf, apply the size in a very thin coating. There are different types of adhesive sizes, including oil-based and water-based, depending on the type of project you are completing.
gilding terms
  • Loose Gold: Loose gold leaf is another term you may see referring to gold leaf sheets.
  • Metal Leaf: Metal leaf, also known as Dutch Metal and Composition Leaf, is a type of leafing made using copper, tin, and zinc. These metals are gold in color, which makes metal leaf a suitable option for those who may not want to spend more for genuine gold leaf. Keep in mind that metal leaf will be thicker than gold leaf. This means you can manipulate the sheets using your hands. However, unlike genuine gold leaf, metal leaf will begin to tarnish and overtime can completely break down.
  • Methylated Spirit Denatured Alcohol: This solvent helps clean paint brushes or thin out oil-based paints.
  • Mica Powder: Mica powder is a gold pigment. You can use it in the same way as bronze powder, to make a liquid gold for painting a surface, or to prepare areas of a gilded item that you can see nicked or damaged.
  • Oil-Gilding: Oil gilding is a type of varnish based gilding. It dries slowly and works as a gold adhesive size. Oil gilding is an alternative method to traditional water gilding, which uses water-based adhesives.
  • Patina: Patina is a term that refers to the change in appearance of metal leaf. Over time with acids, and exposure to the elements, metal leaf oxidizes and darkens in color.
  • Rabbit Skin Glue: You can make rabbit skin with the gelatine from animals, though not typically rabbits. Also referred to as RSG, rabbit skin glue is dehydrated, so you need to mix it with water before use. You can use it for water gilding.
  • Silver Leaf: Sheets of beaten silver that you can apply to a surface.
  • Skewings: The excess pieces of gold leaf that brushed off during the process. These pieces are typically very small and irregularly shaped.
gilding glossary
  • Transfer Leaf: A transfer leaf is a type of gold leaf that is pressure-mounted to tissue paper. A book of transfer gold leafing consists of several pages of gold leafing separated by tissue paper. This design makes it possible for gilders to remove just one gold leaf sheet while leaving the others in place. Patent gold leaf is another term that means transfer gold leaf.
  • Water Gilding: Water gilding is one of the traditional techniques for applying gold leaf to furniture and other wood surfaces. You can trace it back to ancient times.
  • Water Gilding Liqueur: This is a special liquid you can use to wet a surface before you apply gold leaf following the water gilding technique.


What does gilded mean?

When something is described as “gilded,” it means it has been coated with a thin layer of gold or a gold-colored material. It suggests that an object or a concept has been adorned with decorative or ornamental elements, giving it a more pleasing or showy appearance.

What is an example of something gilded?

An example of something gilded could be a gilded picture frame. Picture frames are often made of wood or metal, but a gilded frame is one that has been coated with a thin layer of gold or a gold-colored substance.

What is gold gilding?

Gold gilding, also known as gold leaf gilding, is a decorative technique that involves applying thin sheets of gold, known as gold leaf, onto a surface to create a golden finish. It is a traditional method used to enhance the appearance of various objects and surfaces.

What is extensive ornamental gilding

Extensive ornamental gilding refers to the application of gold leaf or gold-like materials in a decorative manner on a significant surface area or a large number of objects. It involves gold leaf and the use of gilding techniques to embellish and enhance the visual appeal of various elements within a particular setting.
This type of gilding is often seen in grand and opulent settings, such as palaces, cathedrals, temples, or ornate architectural structures. It can involve gilding on walls, ceilings, columns, arches, intricate moldings, and other architectural details. The purpose of extensive ornamental gilding is to create a lavish and luxurious atmosphere. It elevates the aesthetic experience of the space.

What is a a gilt surface?

A gilt surface refers to a surface that has been coated or adorned with a layer of gold or a gold-like substance. It is a term commonly used in the context of decorative arts and design.

What is chemical gilding?

Chemical gilding, also known as chemical gold plating, is a method of applying a thin layer of gold onto a surface using a chemical process. Unlike traditional gilding techniques that involve the application of gold leaf or gold-like materials, chemical gilding relies on the electrochemical deposition of gold onto a substrate.

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