Learning how to apply copper leaf can help you complete various DIY projects. From transforming vases, picture frames, and other home décor items to completing larger projects, knowing how to work with copper leafing is a valuable skill to have. As an added benefit, copper leafing isn’t too expensive, so you’ll even be able to work within a budget to bring your DIY project visions to life.

Ready to learn how to apply copper leaf to paper, wood, glass, metal, and other surfaces? Keep reading, we’d love to share more information with you.

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Pointers for Working with Copper Leaf

When working with copper leaf — either for small projects or large scale interior projects—there are a few considerations to keep in mind.

If you’ve never worked with copper leaf, gold leaf, or silver leaf before, take a few minutes to read through these pointers before beginning your project.

  • Because of how lightweight it is, copper leaf will blow around your workspace if there is too much airflow. Always turn off fans and close the windows before starting a copper leafing project.
  • Likewise, choose an area for your workspace where you’ll be able to work without interruptions or other issues that could damage the leafing or cause it to blow off as you’re working.
  • Use a shop vacuum when you’re finished working to help clean up the excess copper leafing scraps.
  • Copper leafing is wonderful for interior projects. However, it should not be used for exterior applications because it will tarnish or corrode. You don’t want your project to turn green or pink due to the elements!
How To Apply Copper Leaf: 7 Steps

How to Apply Copper Leaf

Below you’ll find the necessary steps for applying copper leaf.

Prepare the Surface

Before we get into how to apply copper leaf on walls, wood, glass, or other surfaces, the first thing you need to do is to prepare the surface. If you are applying copper leafing to wood, you should use painter’s tape to cover the areas that will not be covered with copper leafing and sand the rest of the surface. You want the surface to be smooth before trying to apply copper leafing.

After sanding the surface, remove any sanding dust using a tack cloth, then apply a primer to the wood. Work carefully and evenly to ensure smooth brush strokes. Otherwise, you may be able to see these through copper learning. If you are planning to burnish the copper leafing, you may want to use a burnish primer to ensure optimal results.

If you’re applying copper leafing to glass or other smooth surfaces, make sure to clean the object to remove any dust or debris. For metal items, you may want to use a metal primer if there are any rusty areas.

Placing a drop cloth or some newspapers out to cover your work area is also a good idea before you start working with the copper leaf.

Apply Bole

If you’re looking for how to apply copper leaf to wood, the next step will be to apply bole. Bole is a base color that is used beneath leafing. It will help enhance the overall look of the copper leafing. The color you choose for the bole will have an impact on the exact color tone of the copper leafing. Red bole will give copper leafing a warmer tone, while black or gray bole will give it a cooler appearance. Yellow ochre bole is a good choice if you want to even out the surface or help conceal blemishes in the finish.

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Apply Adhesive Size

The next step is to apply an adhesive material over the entire surface you wish to copper leaf. Adhesive for gilding is called adhesive size, and there are both oil-based and water-based options to consider. Oil-based adhesive size, the more traditional choice, is burnishable, while water-based size is not. However, water-based size reaches tack more quickly and will continue to be workable for over 24 hours.

Apply the adhesive size carefully in thin and even layers using a soft paintbrush. Be sure to cover all the crevices where you want the copper leafing to go.

Wait for Adhesive to Become Tacky

When you’re asking how do apply copper leaf to metal, wood, glass, or any other surface, it is important to wait for the adhesive to reach proper gilding tack. If you’re using a water-based size, this should only take about 15 to 30 minutes.

On the other hand, oil-based size can take a lot longer (about two hours for quick-dry oil size and about 10 hours for slow-set oil size). The temperature and humidity level of your room will also impact how long the size takes to reach tack. Humid and warm environments will take longer.

Apply Copper Leaf

Once the adhesive has reached proper gilding tack, it is time to apply the copper leafing to the sized surface. These steps will also be the same if you plan on applying silver leaf, genuine gold leaf, imitation gold leaf, or genuine or metal leaf. You can use a transfer leaf or a piece of tissue paper to pick up the copper leaf sheets. Place the copper leaf on the surface and press firmly against the tissue paper backing.

Repeat these steps until the entire surface is covered with copper leaf. If there are any gaps in the finish, apply more adhesive, wait for it to come to tack, and add additional copper leafing.

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Remove Excess Leafing

After you have covered all the gaps to achieve the final look you’re after, gently brush away the excess leafing. This process will cause the loose flakes that aren’t attached to the adhesive to fall off. The result will be a smooth and brilliant copper finish.

Seal the Surface

The final step in the process is to apply a protective sealer. Without a sealer, the copper finish will become tarnished. 

Before applying the sealer, it is important to give the adhesive at least a full day to dry. Then, apply a single coat of the sealer over the copper leafing and allow it to dry fully. 

Now you’re ready to enjoy and admire your hard work.

Give Copper Leafing a Try

Do you feel more confident about how to use copper leaf now that you’ve read through our tutorial? What copper leaf projects are you planning?

Gather all the supplies you need and start today. You’ll be so glad you took the time and effort to use copper leafing to transform everyday objects.


How do you attach copper leaf?

Attaching copper leaf is not very difficult. You’ll follow the same steps required for applying gold, silver, or metal leaf. To apply copper leaf, you need to use either oil-based or water-based adhesive size. Before applying the adhesive size, begin by preparing the surface by cleaning or painting it. Then, apply a thin and even layer of the adhesive over the entire surface you plan to cover with copper leaf. Place the copper leaf sheets over the adhesive size (once it becomes tacky), then remove the excess leafing, and seal the surface.

What glue do you use for copper leaf?

When you’re looking for how to apply copper leaf sheets, you should use an adhesive design for gilding. Both oil-based and water-based adhesive size options are available. While oil-based adhesives are the more traditional choice, water-based adhesive can remain workable without fully drying for longer. However, you will not be able to burnish copper leafing applied over water-based size, so oil-based sizing will be the best option if you want to burnish the surface.

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