How to Apply Silver Leaf: Step-by-Step Guide

Genuine Silver Leaf 95mm 3 3/4″ Booklet

Do you have a project in mind that requires silver leafing? If you’ve never tried silver leafing before, thinking about trying it for the first time can be intimidating. Fortunately, apply metal leaf, such as silver leaf, is a project that can be done by virtually any skill level. Just make sure that you’re open to trying something new and having some patience while you learn. In the next few sections, we’ll help you learn how to apply silver leaf and really transform that next DIY project for the better!

Oil-Based vs Water-Based Size

Before we get into the steps for applying silver leaf, it is important to understand a little more about the best adhesive (also called size) to use. You can find adhesive specifically designed for use with metal leaf, such as silver leaf and gold leaf. In most cases, you will want to choose a water-based adhesive for most materials, such as wood, glass, metal, or ceramic. 

However, if you’re looking for how to apply silver leaf to painting, an oil size adhesive is best if it is an oil painting. Water-based adhesive will not work over oil paint, so it is essential to look for oil sizing for these tasks.

How to Apply Silver Leaf

If you’ve been searching for “silver leaf how to apply,” let’s get right into the steps you’ll need to follow. As mentioned above, this is a project that individuals with varying skill levels can take on. Just give yourself some grace for your first few projects if they don’t turn out 100% professional-looking. Practice makes perfect.

Prepare the Surface

Whether you’re looking for how to apply silver leaf to walls, glass, metal, wood, or any other surface, the first step is to prepare the surface. Make sure the surface is clean and ready for the loose leaf. For wood surfaces, you may need to use a filler to hide any flaws or knicks and some sandpaper to smooth out the surface. Applying a base coat of rust-inhibiting primer over a metal surface is also a good idea.

For wood surfaces, you might also choose to seal the surface or apply a primer before applying the silver leaf sheets.

Apply the Adhesive

Next, it will be time to apply a water-based adhesive, or size, over the entire surface. Remember, if you’re applying silver leaf to an oil painting, you should use an oil-based size.

When applying adhesive size, work to achieve a thin and even application—it doesn’t take much. This is especially true when you’re looking for how to apply silver leaf to paper. Whether you want to know how to apply silver leaf to a frame, glass, or any other surface, it is essential to wait for the adhesive to become clear and dry slightly. A tacky surface is required before you begin placing on the silver leaf sheets. It typically takes between 15 and 30 minutes to become tacky. However, depending on the temperature and humidity of your workspace, it could take more or less time.

how to apply silver leaf

Lay Silver Leaf Sheets Across Adhesive

Now, you’re ready to apply the genuine silver leaf sheets to the sized area. If you’re looking to apply other types of genuine or metal leaf, such as gold leaf, imitation gold leaf, or copper leaf, these steps will all be the same.

When you apply silver leaf, keep in mind that it is very lightweight. If you’re not careful, it can blow away. Many people find that using a piece of tissue paper helps them lift the sheet and place it over the adhesive. When you lay the silver leaf over the adhesive, leave the tissue paper on top for a moment and tap it down gently. Then, take off the tissue paper and smooth out the surface by gently rubbing a paper towel over the silver. Repeat these steps until the surface is covered.

Sometimes, there may be a few small cracks or areas where you need more silver leaf. To cover these areas, apply a second coat of the adhesive size over the first layer where there are gaps. Wait for it to become tacky, then place more genuine gold or silver leaf over the bare areas.

Burnish the Surface and Remove Excess Silver Leaf

The next step is silver gilding is to burnish the leafed surface. Lay a piece of wax paper over the silver leafing. Then, hold a soft cloth over the wax paper. Use it to gently rub the wax paper over the silver surface. After burnishing, leave the project to cure, typically at least three days.

After the curing time has passed, remove the excess leaf using a stiff brush. 

Seal the Surface

Once the leaf is removed and the surface appears as desired, apply a thin coat of sealer or clear varnish. This will help prevent the silver leaf from tarnishing, so you won’t want to skip this step.

If desired, you can use antique glazes or try physical distressing to achieve more of an antique look with your picture frame or other projects.

Now you’re ready to step back and appreciate all the hard work that went into creating your project.

How to Apply Silver Leaf to Cake

Pure silver and gold leaf are considered edible-they’re even vegan and certified as kosher. If you want to learn how to silver leaf, clearly the steps will look different than they do for applying silver leaf to other surfaces, mainly because you won’t be using an adhesive.

The icing on the cake should be sticky enough to help the edible gold leaf or edible silver leaf sheets adhere. For cakes that are covered in fondant, get the surface just a little damp using a wet paper towel (with excess water squeezed out).

Then, transfer the silver leaf using the transfer sheets or tweezers, very carefully. Apply a small amount of pressure to get the gold to adhere to the surface as desired.

silver leaf how to apply

Silver Leafing: Give it a Try Today!

Are you excited to give silver leafing a try? If you came to this article worried that applying silver leaf was an extremely complex process that you wouldn’t be able to do, we hope you now feel empowered to take on this project. What DIY silver leafing project are you ready to try?

FAQs

What glue do you use for silver leaf?

When you’re trying to learn how to apply silver leaf to metal or a variety of other surfaces, it is important to choose the right adhesive. In most cases, you should look for a water-based adhesive (also called sized) specifically designed for use with metal leaf. If you plan to apply silver leafing over an oil painting or some other surfaces, however, you should look for an oil-based adhesive.

Do you have to seal silver leaf?

Silver leafing can tarnish when exposed to the air. Because of this, it is best to use a clear coat sealer to prevent tarnishing after applying silver leaf.