Tutorial: How To Apply Gold Leaf

Applying gold leaf to your DIY projects can have a truly profound effect on the finished product. Gold leaf transforms everyday objects and gives them a stunning, upscale look. Learning how to apply gold leaf is something pretty much anyone can do. However, there are a few steps that you’ll want to follow to ensure the project turns out as you are envisioning. Read on to learn some tips for applying gold leaf. 

What surfaces can you apply gold leaf to?

Before we get into how to apply gold leaf, let’s learn a little bit more about what gold leaf is and the types of surfaces you can apply it to. Gold leaf has a texture that resembles very thin foil. It is made by beating real gold into thin sheets (just 0.12 microns thick). Gold leaf is popular for decorative purposes. The process of applying gold leaf, often called gilding, has been used for centuries and is still performed today by experts and DIYers alike.

One of the benefits of gold leaf is that you can apply it to a wide variety of surfaces. Some examples include wood, ceramics, metal, glass, canvas, and fabric. 

As you’re reading through the steps for applying gold leaf outlined below, keep in mind that these steps will be the same if you want to apply other metal leaf variations. Some examples of other types of metal leaf include silver leaf, copper leaf, imitation gold leaf, and imitation silver leaf.

how to apply gold leaf

Pointers for Working with Gold Leaf

Knowing how to use gold leaf is important before you get started with any project. Below are a few pointers and tips to keep in mind, especially if this is the first time you’re learning how to apply gold leaf to paper or other surfaces.

  • Gold leaf is very thin and very light. It will blow around if there is too much airflow in the space where you are working. Turn off all fans and keep the windows closed when you’re working with it.
  • Set up your workspace in a location where you can work without disruptions. This will help prevent any issues or unexpected visitors (such as children or pets) that could damage the leaf or accidentally blow it around.
  • Consider wearing a mask when working with gold leaf. As you’re brushing pieces off, the gold can float in the air because of how lightweight it is, which could lead to you inhaling it.
  • Have a shop vacuum handy to clean up the scraps once your project is complete.
  • When working with gold leaf, apply it in small sections at a time.
  • Take your time and enjoy the process of gold leafing. You’ll be more appreciative of the final project if you make it a labor of love.

Preparing a Surface for Gold Leaf Application

You will also want to prepare the surfaces for the gold leaf application before getting into how to apply gold leaf to metal or other surfaces. To do this, you should thoroughly clean the surface and paint it (if desired).

How to Apply Gold Leaf

In the next few sections, we’ll outline the steps you need to take to apply gold leaf. Before you begin, you may also want to tape off the area where you’ll be applying gold leaf to minimize the mess and allow for more precision.

Apply Adhesive to the Surface

The first step is to apply the adhesive to the entire surface where you’ll be applying the gold leaf. You want to apply the adhesive evenly and should only have a very thin layer.

In most cases, a water-based adhesive, also called size, will be the best choice. However, if you’re looking for how to apply gold leaf to canvas, you should use an oil-based solvent if it is an oil painting.

After you apply the adhesive, it is essential to wait until it turns clear and tacky. Generally, this should take between 15 and 30 minutes. However, the time could be shorter or longer depending on the humidity and temperature of the space where you’re working.

gold leaf how to apply

Lay Gold Leaf Sheets Across Adhesive

The next step for how to apply gold leaf to a painting or any other surface is to lay the gold sheets across the adhesive. Because of how thin and lightweight the leafing is, you may find that using tissue paper to lift it and place it over the adhesive will keep it from getting torn accidentally. 

Once you place the gold leaf over the adhesive, leave the tissue paper on top to gently tap it down and help the leaf stick. It is OK if there are some wrinkles in the gold. Then, remove the tissue paper and use a paper towel to gently smooth out the gold by rubbing across it.

Continue these steps with the other foil pieces. Just take care to avoid overlapping the pieces because they won’t stick over the other sheets.

Apply Additional Adhesive and Gold Leaf Sheets As Needed

Sometimes, you may need two coats of adhesive if there are some areas that haven’t been fully covered with adhesive. In these cases, use a little more adhesive over the bare spots, let it get tacky, and then apply a new gold leaf sheet.

Burnish and Remove Excess Gold Leaf

When you’re searching for how to apply gold leaf flakes, the next step is to burnish the gold. Use a sheet of wax paper and a soft cloth (with the wax paper directly over the gold). Rub the two to burnish the gold, then allow everything to fully cure (three or more days is best).

Once fully cured, use a small, stiff brush to remove any excess gold from overlapping regions or the edges of the area you wanted to cover.

gold leaf application

Seal the Gold Leaf

The final step for how to apply gold leaf to wood, glass, metal, or other surfaces is to seal the gold. Genuine gold leaf will not tarnish, but imitation leaf will, so sealing is the best choice. A clear varnish or sealer should be sufficient for this step. Once you apply a thin coat of the sealer, let it dry fully.

Give Gold Leafing a Try

Now that you’ve had a chance to learn more about applying gold leaf, hopefully you realize that you can give the technique a try even if you’re not experienced. With some practice and patience, you’ll be able to transform the look of a picture frame, vase, canvas, or another object with gold leaf. Are you excited to try your first gold leafing project?

FAQs

What adhesive do you use to apply gold leaf?

The right gold leaf adhesive may vary depending on the specific project you are completing. When you’re looking for how to apply gold leaf to glass, wood, metal, canvas, or another material, there are two main adhesive types (also called sizes) you can choose from: water-based adhesive or oil-based adhesive. Before you choose a leaf adhesive, consider the material type. For example, if you are applying a gold sheet over oil paint, you will need to use an oil-based adhesive. In most other cases, water-based adhesive will be OK.

Do you need adhesive for gold leaf?

Yes, when you’re looking for how to gold leaf, you will need adhesive. You’ll want to use an adhesive, or sizing, specifically designed for leafing. In most cases, a water-based adhesive is best. However, if you are applying gold leaf over oil paint or some other surfaces, you should use an oil-based adhesive.