If you’re new to the world of gilding, you may question how to make gold leaf stick to anything. After all, a gold leaf sheet doesn’t come with adhesive, so applying gold leaf can become cumbersome when you aren’t sure how to get the genuine gold leaf or imitation gold leaf to stick.

The answer to this question? It’s easier than you think. There are a variety of ways you can apply gold leaf to a particular item, but the type of adhesive you use definitely matters. Join us for an in-depth look at which types of adhesive are best for gold leafing and which projects, if any, don’t require adhesive at all.

Let’s jump in.

Table of Contents

Tutorial – How To Make Gold Leaf Stick To Anything

Things You Should Know Before Applying Gold Leaf

Before you attempt to gold leaf a project, you’ll first want to determine what kind of adhesive you’ll use. While there are rare instances in which you don’t need any adhesive for gold leaf to stick (more on that later) you can bet that you will need to use adhesive for most projects. These especially include those involving gold leaf on metal, wood, glass, marble, plaster, paper, canvas, or concrete surfaces.

In order to determine which type of adhesive you’ll need to use for your project, you’ll need to consider at least three things:

  • Where will my final piece be located?
  • What type of surface am I working on?
  • What is my final intended look?

These three questions will give you a general sense of what kind of adhesive to use for which projects.

Location of Project

Determining the location where your final piece will be stored is imperative for determining which type of adhesive to use for your gold leaf, metal leaf, silver leaf, or copper leaf gilded project.

Projects that will be housed externally will require that you apply the gold leaf with oil based adhesive (also known as “oil size”) rather than water based adhesive (also known as “water size”).

The reasoning behind this is that it is only oil based adhesive that is approved for outdoor use. It can withstand a variety of weather elements without worry of the gold leaf peeling or chipping away.

Having said that, it is important to note that both oil based size and water gilding projects are fine for interior use. Which of the two you’ll choose will depend on your final intended result, but again, in most cases for interiors, either one will suffice.

Surface of Project

The type of surface you are applying the gold leaf or imitation gold leaf to will also determine the type of adhesive you use.

While most large or small projects housed indoors can be done with either or, there are some surfaces that might do better with one adhesive type over another. Glass, for example, might fare best with water adhesive while applying gold leaf over an oil painting will require oil size rather than water size.

Know also that oil size tends to be a bit more beginner friendly than water size, but water size has a longer tack time. This means it’ll stay wet for longer intervals making it ideal for time-consuming projects.

Remember when we told you that some surfaces wouldn’t require any adhesive at all? The surfaces that don’t require adhesive are usually those involving food.

Obviously, you would never want to apply oil or water adhesive to food items. Instead, you’ll use a thin layer of water. This can be applied using brush strokes or a steamer to help gently lay gold sheet(s) across the intended edible surface. 

Just be sure to only use edible gold leaf for food purposes; never attempt to consume anything labeled otherwise. 

The Project’s Intended Outcome

Lastly, you’ll want to determine the intended outcome of your project as part of your reasoning behind which adhesive you choose.

Know that oil based size can often achieve a smoother final outcome. Mwanwhile, water based size may show texture and brush marks.

Knowing the difference between the two in terms of outcome can really help, especially if you’re a beginner and have never laid gold leaf before.

What to Use Before Applying Adhesive

Some projects may require that you take a few extra steps before applying adhesive. Though the steps you’ll need to take will vary widely depending on the project, know that certain surfaces may require one or two coats of primer allowed to completely dry before applying adhesive.

Know also that some surfaces such as wood, plaster, or rough plastic may require you to gently sand the surface before the laying of primer or adhesive. Do this using sandpaper and follow up with a brush to gently clear away any excess.

What Do You Use to Get Gold Leaf to Stick?

As mentioned, in general, the type of glue for gold leaf you’ll use will depend on the surface of the project you’re gilding. Consider the following surface types to help you determine which type of adhesive may be best in each scenario.

How to Make Gold Leaf Stick to Cloth

A gel medium or transfer adhesive is preferable when gold leafing cloth. Gold leaf on cloth can create bold, glittery, and interesting designs, but won’t necessarily adhere with normal gilding adhesive the way it would to another surface.

How to Make Gold Leaf Stick to Food

Making gold leaf stick to food is relatively easy. Simply use a handheld steamer or use a paintbrush with a thin layer of water as your adhesive. Paint the water onto the surface of the food you are gilding. Carefully lay the gold sheets on top to create a miniature or full coverage design over your food. Just be sure to use the good stuff here; only edible gold leaf is a plausible option when you apply gold leaf to food.

How to Make Gold Leaf Stick to Parchment

To make gold leaf stick to parchment, try using a water based size.

How to Make Gold Leaf Stick to Canvas

Gold leaf will stick to canvas using either an oil based size or water based size. However, if your canvas is already painted, please match the type of adhesive you use to the paint type.

For example, if your canvas contains oil paint, please use oil based adhesive to adhere your gold sheets.

How to Make Gold Leaf Stick: Let Us Count the Ways

As you can see, there are many ways to make use of adhesive to make your own at-home DIY projects come to life. In most cases, simple oil or water based size will do. Simply use a soft bristle brush to apply it over picture frames, furniture, hardware, and other surfaces.

Still, there are times when you may wish to skip gold leaf adhesive and try other methods of adhering the gold leaf to a particular surface, depending on what it is. Remember that gilding items that are edible requires only water and that placing gold leaf over cloth or fabrics may require adhesive of a different sort (such as gel medium).

We hope this gives you a good reference point for discovering all there is to know about how to make gold leaf stick to a variety of surfaces.

Stay creative!


Can you use Mod Podge to glue gold leaf?

Yes, you can. In fact, in certain instances, such as gilding over plastic it may even be preferred. Nevertheless, the standard glue to use for gold leaf typically remains water or oil based size. This is especially true if you want the smoothest, most long-lasting results.

What happens if you use something else other than gilding size for gold leaf?

Gold leaf will still adhere to a surface if you use most other adhesive types, however, depending on your project, it may not prove as durable, nor will it yield as smooth of a finish as it would have if you would’ve used gilding adhesive.

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