Would you like to learn how to apply gold leaf to metal? You may be surprised to find out that this project is one that you can do on your own with just a few key supplies and materials—and a little bit of time and patience. Adding gold leaf to a metal surface can help you create an impressive home décor item, a lovely gift for a friend or family member, or a variety of other beautiful items.

If you’re ready to learn how to apply gold leaf on metal, keep reading. We’ll outline the necessary steps in the next few sections.

Table of Contents

How To Apply Gold Leaf To Metal

Applying genuine gold leaf is not as complicated as you might imagine. Follow these easy leaf application tips for a luxurious project outcome.

Prepare Your Work Area

Before getting into the process of applying gold leaf to metal, make sure that your area is prepared. Lay out a drop cloth or some newspapers over your work surface to limit the mess and prevent accidental damage to anything else in your home.

You should also note that gold leaf is very thin and lightweight. Because of these properties, it can blow around very easily. When you are working with gold leaf, it is a good idea to leave the windows closed and turn off any fans. This will limit the chances of the foil-like material from blowing around while you work.

Another important pointer before getting into the steps for applying the gold leaf is to be purposeful about where you set up your work area. Choose a location where you can work without disruptions from pets or children to further reduce the chances of something getting knocked or blown as you’re working.

High-quality genuine gold leaf for metal surfaces

Tape Off Sections You Do Not Wish to Gild and Apply Primer

After preparing your work area, you’re ready to get the metal object ready. When gilding on metal surface, you want to make sure that the metal is clean. 

If you are not planning to gild the entire metal object, use painters tape to tape off the sections you do not want to apply the gold leafing over. This will help keep these areas free of adhesive and gold leafing.

After cleaning the metal and covering any areas you do not wish to gild, apply a primer over the rest of the item. If you’re gilding over stainless steel, use an etching primer. Rust-inhibiting primers are best for gilding over cast iron. 

The primer helps prepare the item for gilding and ensures a smooth surface for the gold leafing to adhere to.

Apply a Thin Layer of Adhesive Size

The next step for metal gilding is to apply a thin layer of adhesive size to the areas where you want to place the gold leaf. When applying gold leaf to metal, you can choose to use either an oil-based or water-based adhesive size. Oil-based sizes will allow you to burnish the finish of the gold, but water-based sizes will remain workable for longer periods of time (over 24 hours), making them a better choice for some beginners.

Apply an even and thin coat of adhesive to the entire surface you want to gild.

Gold Leaf on Metal

Wait for the Adhesive Size to Turn Tacky

Once you’ve finished applying the adhesive size, wait for it to reach tack.

For water-based sizes, this may only take a few minutes. Oil-based sizes can take longer to reach tack—typically 2 to 10 or 12 hours depending on the product. You’ll know that the size is ready when it feels sticky.

Lay Gold Leaf Sheets Across the Metal Object

Now, you’re ready to apply the gold leaf on metal. Use tweezers, tissue paper, or white gloves to pick up one sheet of genuine gold leaf or imitation gold leaf and lay it over the adhesive. Gently press it down against the gold.

Repeat these steps to cover the rest of the metal object with gold leaf sheets. Overlap the sheets ever-so-slightly to ensure full coverage.

Work the Leafing Into All the Crevices

After the gold leaf sheets are laid out over the adhesive, the next step in the process is to use a dry (and clean) paintbrush to press the gold leaf into any creases.

If there are any gaps in coverage, apply more adhesive, wait for it to reach tack, then apply more gold leaf.

How to Apply Gold Leaf on Metal

Let the Adhesive Dry and Then Remove the Excess Gold Leaf Flakes

Leave the metal object to dry overnight. Then, use a soft brush to remove the excess gold leaf not stuck to the adhesive.

Work using a back-and-forth motion to loosen the leafing. If you used painter’s tape to section off the object, you can remove it now as well.

Genuine gold leaf sheets for jewelry and design

Seal the Gold Leaf

Your gilded metal masterpiece is almost complete. To keep the gold leaf protected, you’ll want to apply a thin layer of varnish or shellac to seal the finish. Ensure the sealant dries completely before handling or moving the gilded metal product.

Gold Leaf for Jewelry

Using gold leaf for jewelry really seems like a no-brainer when you understand that many gold leaf types are made from genuine gold. Thankfully, just like applying gold leaf to other metal surfaces, you can also apply gold leaf to metal jewelry and end up with stellar results.

Can You Use Gold Leaf on Jewelry?

Yes, you can use gold leaf on jewelry. In fact, there are people who make use of gold foil in a variety of ways whether over silver charms or as decoration over pre-existing earrings or rings for a whole new look that everyone will love.

Just as with applying gold leaf or other metal leaf types to metal surfaces, you’ll need a thin layer of adhesive size to ensure that your gold leafing stays put. Gilding size ensures that your gold leafing materials go on smooth and that your jewelry stays coated and covered in your gold leaf rather than chipping off over a short period of time.

Are Gold Leaves Real Gold?

When making gold leaf jewelry, it is important to keep in mind that not all gold leaf sheets sold are made of pure solid gold. Instead, they may contain a mixture of metals, which may affect its ability to tarnish. Remember that only gold that is 23k and up will resist tarnishing. Thus, if you purchase anything that is of a lesser karat, you will run the risk of your gold lain jewelry tarnishing over time.

How Much Does One Sheet of Gold Leaf Cost?

 The cost of gold leaf can vary greatly. How much you buy determines how expensive it is, especially since gold leaf is pounded so thin. Because of its thinness, you likely won’t be too thrown off by its price, however, know that if you buy it in large amounts it could end up costing you some heavy change.

How Is Gold Leaf So Cheap?

Genuine gold isn’t cheap, so if you require a lot of it to make your jewelry pieces, you’ll need to keep this in mind. Because of its weight per ounce, the price reflected may seem low, when in actuality, it isn’t actually as inexpensive as you think. Still, if you can get away with using a lesser amount of gold leaf on your jewelry, you’ll likely enjoy the benefits of real gold without the inconveniences of a solid gold price tag.

Gold Leaf for Jewelry Making

Know that if you choose to use gold sheets for jewelry that the process will require the same steps as indicated earlier in the post for adherence to any metal surface. See the above details for how to properly lay 24k gold leaf for jewelry. Recall also that though you may use imitation leaf (STOREPLUG) for your jewelry making, that issues with tarnishing may arise over time, especially when and if your jewelry pieces are exposed to water.

Either way, making your own gold jewelry is a fun craft you can learn to do at home. It enables you to make many designs using minimal tools outside of a brush, a stick (for tacking on gold leaf onto smaller surfaces), and gilding size. Choose 23k gold or higher to take advantage ofthe non-tarnishing qualities of pure gold foil.

We hope this helps!

Give Metal Leaf Gilding a Try!

Now that you know how to gold leaf metal, do you think you’re ready to give it a try yourself? Which metal item in your home would you like to upgrade with a brilliant gold leaf finish?

Gather all the gilding supplies you’ll need, and plan out your project. You’ll be impressed with what you can accomplish with some time and effort.

If you’re looking for starting on applying imitation gold leaf, check out our blog post!


Does gold leaf stick to metal?

Yes, gold leaf will stick on metal if the appropriate adhesive size is used. Both oil-based and water-based adhesive sizes will work on metal. However, if you’re adding genuine gold leafing to metal that stays outdoors, oil-based products are the best option.

How do you adhere gold leaf to metal?

Water gilding on metal typically isn’t the best option. Rather, to adhere genuine gold leaf to metal, you will want to use an adhesive size for leafing. Apply the adhesive size in a very thin and even layer. Then, wait for the adhesive to dry slightly and become tacky (a few minutes) before applying the gold leaf sheets.

Can you put gold leaf on silver?

Yes, you can apply gold leaf to silver following the steps shared above.

How do you do metal gilding?

To apply gold leaf to metal, you need to apply a thin layer of adhesive size to the metallic object. Let the adhesive become tacky, then place the gold sheets over the sections of the metal you want to gild. Work the leaf into all the crevices to ensure full coverage, then remove the excess leafing and seal the finished product.

Can you apply imitation gold leaf to metal?

Yes, you can apply imitation gold leaf to metal surfaces. Imitation gold leaf is typically made of brass or copper that has been treated to resemble the appearance of gold. It is commonly used in various decorative applications, including gilding metal objects. Remember to follow the specific instructions provided by the manufacturer of the imitation gold leaf, adhesive, and varnish you are using, as different products may have slight variations in application techniques, unlike when you apply genuine gold.

Can you apply copper leaf to metal?

You can apply copper leaf to metal surfaces. Copper leaf, just like imitation gold leaf, is a thin sheet of metal used for decorative purposes. It can be applied to various surfaces, including metal, to achieve a copper appearance.

Can you use Chinese gold leaf on metal?

Yes, Chinese gold leaf can be used on metal surfaces for decorative purposes. Chinese gold leaf, considered one of many genuine gold leaf products, is made from pure gold and is often considered higher quality compared to imitation gold leaf. It’s important to note that Chinese gold leaf is delicate and can be easily damaged, so it requires careful handling during the application process.

How do I give gilded metal a burnished gold appearance?

To give gilded metal a burnished gold appearance, you can follow a process called burnishing. Burnishing is a technique that involves polishing the gilded surface to create a smooth and reflective finish.

How can I tell if a metal surface is properly gilt?

Examine the surface of the metal for an even and consistent layer of gold. Proper gilding should exhibit a smooth and uniform appearance, without visible gaps, uneven patches, or areas where the base metal is exposed. Check if the gold layer adheres securely to the metal surface. Gilded metal should not have any loose or flaking areas. Ensure that the gold layer covers the entire intended area. Proper gilding should extend consistently over the surface without any missing or bare spots. Observe the color and luster of the gilded surface. Genuine gold leaf should display a warm, rich golden hue and a reflective, metallic shine. If the surface appears dull, uneven, or has a different color tone, it may indicate issues with the gilding process, therefore it is not a properly gilt surface. Gold is highly resistant to tarnish, so properly gilded metal surfaces should maintain their brilliance and resistance to discoloration over time. If you notice significant tarnishing or changes in the appearance of the gilded surface, it may suggest improper gilding or inadequate protective measures.

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