There are only few surfaces to which gold leaf cannot be applied. That is why you should unleash your creative side whenever possible and use it to add some glamor to outdoor decorations and furnishings.

Learning how to put gold leaf on exterior surfaces is easy once you know the steps. Expect gorgeous, professional-looking results when you follow the steps listed in this article for applying genuine gold leaf.

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What to Know Before Putting Gold Leaf on Exterior Surfaces

Before putting gold leaf on exterior surfaces, there are a few things you need to know.

First, you should always select genuine gold leaf for your projects. Never use imitation gold leaf. Why? Because genuine gold leaf—anything 23 kt or above—is guaranteed to last for years, even without any sealing. Imitation-gold leaf is made with a copper alloy that tarnishes within a few years. Meanwhile, 23 kt gold leaf can last for decades.

With that in mind, also consider:

  • The amount of gold in your leaf. 24kt genuine gold leaf is 100% pure but also the most delicate. You can find a wide variety of gold leaf colors, thanks to combinations made with added metals. For example, when copper is mixed with gold, the color of the leaf is much richer. When silver is added, the gold looks paler.
  • How combinations affect corrosion. While adding color to the gold leaf is fine, it does affect how long it will last outside. If you have a 23 kt genuine gold leaf, the copper or silver added is so minuscule that the durability is not altered. Avoid choosing anything that is less than 23 kt, because those will corrode at a much faster pace. Use imitation gold leaf and anything 6kt to 22kt for indoor applications only.
  • Weight and thickness of your gold leaf. The heavier the gold leaf you use, the better it will endure the outdoors. Ideally, you want between 18-23 grams per 1,000 leaves. Anything thinner than that will fall apart.
How to put gold leaf on exterior surfaces.

6 Steps for Applying Genuine Gold Leaf on Exterior Surfaces

Now that you know which kind of gold leaf to use outdoors, let’s take a look at the steps:

1. Prime the Surface

Whenever you want to gild something for your yard, you will need to prime the surface. It does not matter if the finished result is going to be indoors or outdoors.

There are a variety of primers, but some are specially formulated for exterior surfaces. Metal, wood, plastic, and stone will need a burnish sealer, which can be applied prior to the gilding size. You will typically find three different color varieties for the burnish sealer—gray, red, and ochre. Use ochre or red if you want a traditionally gilded appearance.

Plan on applying the gold leaf to stainless steel? You are going to need what is called “self-etching primer.” The product etches the surface and also primes it, so the gold leaf will stick more successfully.

2. Choose and Apply Your Gilding Size

To make your gold leaf stick, you need to apply an adhesive, also known as gilding size. There are different kinds of sizes. For genuine gold, a 3-hour or 12-hour gilding size is best.

When applying gilding sizes, you will need to work evenly and smoothly. The size should go on in a single coat. Avoid any pooling, which is common when working with recessed areas. Soft or medium bristle paintbrushes work the best, but nooks and crannies may require a smaller brush.

3. Wait for Tackiness

Depending on the material, the drying times may be longer than usual. However, you can estimate that it takes about 1-2 hours for the tack to be achieved.

Check the surface with the back of your hand. Once it is tacky—not too wet or too dry—you can begin the gilding process.

4. Apply Your Gold Leaf

As mentioned earlier, you will want 23 kt or 23.5 kt when gilding on exterior surfaces. Anything less than 23 kt will not have the same level of durability. A patent leaf (where each individual sheet is already attached to a section of wax paper) is the best option for exterior surfaces since you can manipulate the leaf more readily.

Apply genuine gold leaf or gold leaf sheets as you usually would. Gently lay it over the adhesive, using the pressure of your hand to ensure it sticks. You may need more than one sheet, depending on the size of your project.

Take your time, and avoid rubbing or ripping the leaf as you go. If any pieces tear, or you find parts where the gold leaf did not take, you can try a second application for a full gold coverage.

Gold leaf on exterior surfaces enhances their beauty.

5. Clean Off the Gold Leaf

Once the real gold leaf has been fully applied to your project, it is time to remove the excess pieces.

A soft hair brush is the best option. Gingerly mop away the remaining pieces of excess gold leaf from the properly gilt surface. It is OK to leave a small amount of dust behind. Do not aggressively polish your project, as that could prematurely dull the gold.

After cleaning away or dusting gold leaf off, leave your gilded project to set overnight. The next day is for burnishing.

Use a soft cotton cloth to remove whatever excess gold pieces remain. The cloth will also soften the gold layer, giving it a gorgeous, long-lasting warmth.

6. Seal and Finish Your Project

If you have used 23 kt gold or higher gold leaf, then you do not have to worry about sealing it. Anything lower than 23 k or mixed with copper or silver will need to be sealed since there is a chance of it tarnishing.

You want to avoid sealers for outdoor applications, if possible. Generally, sealers break down within 5 years, leaving behind a hazy look. Proper gilding with genuine gold leaf can last for 20-30 years outside without any sealing required.

Apply Gold Leaf on Exterior Surfaces: Answered

So hopefully, you have found our article on applying gold lead on exterior surfaces useful. We are confident that you now feel ready to do this process on your own and enhance the beauty of your chosen surface with some of this extraordinary material.

Just remember to choose the right kind of gold before starting!

Applying Gold Leaf Outside – FAQ

Will gold leaf last outdoors?

Yes, real gold leaf will last outdoors. Applying gold leaf to get an exterior gilt surface is very possible. You need 23 kt or above and have to seal the gold correctly. Unsealed, gold leaf can last for about 20-30 years. A seal will extend the lifespan of your gold leaf by 5 or more years.

What surfaces can you apply gold leaf to?

Gold leaf can be applied to nearly any surface with the correct preparation. You can apply gold leaf to metal, glass, plastic, wood, and stone.

Can I use imitation metal leaf outside?

Imitation metal leaf, also known as composition leaf or metal-like leaf, is a substitute for genuine metal leaf and is typically made from a combination of materials such as brass, copper, or aluminum. While this type of leaf can be used outside, its durability and longevity in outdoor conditions may vary.

Will gold leaf left outside have a burnished gold appearance?

Compared to gilded interior projects, gold leaf left outside for an extended period is likely to undergo changes in its appearance, including a reduction in its burnished gold shine. The outdoor environment exposes gold leaf to various elements that can cause it to tarnish, oxidize, or dull over time. Factors that contribute to these changes include exposure to moisture, sunlight, air pollutants, and temperature fluctuations.

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