Have you ever sat back and wondered just what your car might look like if it were bedazzled with racks of silver leaf? What is silver leafing on cars like? And can you do it at home yourself?
Yes you can, and we are here to exhibit how!
Table of Contents
- How to Apply Silver Leaf
- Can You Use Imitation Silver Leaf?
- Why Not Just Use Silver Paint?
- How Is It Made?
- Final Words
How to Apply Silver Leaf
Applying silver leafing on cars follows broadly the same process as silver leafing to anything else really.
Just cut yourself some slack for your first few projects if they don’t turn out 100% professional-looking. Practice makes perfect.
Step 1: Preparing 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 as clean as possible 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.
This will, of course, be a different story for a car as you will want to avoid doing any damage as much as possible.
Step 2: Applying the Adhesive
Next, it will be time to apply a water-based adhesive, or size, over the entire surface that you wish to apply silver leaf.
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 a car.
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.
Step 3: Laying Silver Leaf Sheets Across the 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, copper leaf, or even aluminum leaf, these steps will all be the same.
When you apply silver leaf, keep in mind that it is very lightweight, so if you’re not careful, it can blow away. Many people find that using a piece of tissue paper or a brush 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, taking care to 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 silver leaf over the bare areas. These imperfections are, however, rather in these days.
Step 4: Burnishing the Surface and Removing Excess Silver Leaf
The next step in 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, using it to gently rub the wax paper over the silver surface. After burnishing, leave the project to cure, typically at least 3 days.
After the curing time has passed, remove the excess leaf using a stiff brush.
Step 5: Sealing the Surface
Once the excess 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.
Can You Use Imitation Silver Leaf?
Otherwise known as aluminum leaf, imitation silver leaf is a type of thin metal sheet used during the gilding process.
As you can likely surmise, like other types of leaf this will be applied to a gilding surface such as plastic, ceramic, glass, wood, paper, stone, fabric, and an assortment of other materials to give the appearance of silver. The results are often incredibly beautiful with the gilded surfaces becoming fantastic works of art.
However, pure aluminum leaf, like copper leaf which is often used as imitation gold leaf will have some different traits of its own. In this case, the most obvious one is the thickness of the aluminum/imitation leaf. For this reason, it might not be the best idea to use it to silver leaf a car.
As many have likely said before, imitation leaf can certainly look the part, but in a lot of ways it is just a letdown.
Why Not Just Use Silver Paint?
Many people see silver paint as a good substitute for silver leaf and while it can be used for some projects in place of silver leaf, the paint will not have the same effect. Silver paint is available as a spray paint or in a paint can. Its formula delivers a silvery, shiny finish to a variety of surfaces, including furniture, metal, walls, and ceilings.
Silver leaf and silver paint both have a lot to offer. However, if you’re really looking for a unique and long-lasting finish, the decision should be clear. Silver leaf is superior to silver paint for many project types because of its lustrous finish, something that you cannot replicate with paint.
Applying silver leaf can, of course, be a challenge, though, with a little bit of patience and perseverance, it is definitely something that anyone is capable of doing. Plus, it shouldn’t be difficult to imagine how much more satisfied and proud of your finished product you might be.
How Is It Made?
According to the traditional practice in Asia, the intestinal lining of a recently slaughtered sheep, cow, or ox was used during the production of silver sheets. The silver is placed in the intestinal lining and then pounded down into very thin sheets.
Obviously, using the intestinal lining of an animal to make the metal leaf means that it is not a vegetarian-friendly item. For this reason, production methods in Asia have changed to use different materials when pounding silver. These may include the use of parchment paper, phone books, or another similar material.
So, there you have it! Hopefully, you are now feeling ready and able to give it a go yourself!
To apply silver leaf to metal, start by cleaning and, if necessary, sanding the metal surface for better adhesion. Apply a suitable adhesive known as “size” and wait for it to become tacky. Carefully place the fragile silver leaf sheets onto the tacky surface, pressing gently with a soft brush. Fill any gaps with additional leaf pieces. After application, polish the surface with a burnishing tool, and to prevent tarnishing, seal the silver leaf with a clear protective coat. Working in a draft-free area and using clean hands or gloves can help ensure a smoother application process.