9 Easy Steps to Apply Gold Leaf

Do you love hints of gold on items such as picture frames, vases, cutlery, and even furniture? Then, gold leaf is a god-send when you want to decorate on a budget. Gilding, the process of applying gold leaf, is an age-old practice that was historically done using water-based gold leaf through a complex process.

Today, anyone can learn how to apply gold leaf using simple, accessible, and easy-to-use gilding kits. Gold leaf can be tricky to handle because it tears quickly and easily attracts static, but you will get the hang of it with a little patience and practice. This tutorial will show you how to work with gold leaf to decorate just about any item.

You will need:

  • Imitation gold leaf sheets
  • Gilding cushion and blade
  • Gilding pin
  • Gilder’s sizer
  • Painter’s tape
  • 2 paintbrushes

Step-by-Step Guide To Apply Gold Leaf

Follow these easy steps to learn how to apply gold leaf and become a gilding pro.

Step 1: Block sections you don’t want to gild

Block sections you don't want to gild

You can decorate an entire object with gold leaf. But, sometimes, you might want to create a pattern or apply hints of gold only to some parts of the object. In this case, you should use painter’s tape to demarcate your desired pattern and tape off areas where you don’t want to apply the gold.

Step 2: Wipe down the item

Gold sheeting is extremely thin, and any flaws on the surface of the item you want to decorate will show through the sheeting. For a perfect job, ensure that the item is free of dust and debris before decorating with leaf.

Use a tack cloth to wipe the surface clean. Avoid getting any moisture onto the item you want to decorate; the gilder’s sizer and leafing might not adhere well to moist surfaces.

Step 3: Apply primer to the item

Apply primer to the item

Priming the item ensures that the gold decoration lasts a long time. Most gilding kits come with a primer, but you can use a regular primer if your kit doesn’t include. In this case, first, apply a pigmented paint before applying the regular primer.

The gilder’s primer in the kit is already pigmented to ensure that the gilded surface remains smooth and without unsightly flaws.

Dip the applicator brush in the primer and apply a thin layer to the parts of the item you want to decorate. One layer of the pigmented gilder primer is enough to get the job done. It would be best to be equally modest even when using regular primer—a single layer is enough.

Pro Tip: If you are applying leaf to a piece of furniture, it is a good idea to ligtly sand down the item before applying the primer.

Step 4: Apply the sizer

Apply the sizer

Gilding sizer is the adhesive that helps the gold leaves to adhere to the item you are decorating. Like the primer, you only need to apply the sizer moderately.

Be sure to rub on the sizer on every part where you want to apply the gold leafing. Some sizers are colorless, and others are whitish but will turn colorless or transparent after a few minutes.

Wait 20-30 minutes for the sizer to dry.  To check that the sizer is adequately dry, lightly slide your knuckle along the surface of the item. The surface should feel tacky, as though it is partially dry. This stickiness provides the perfect canvas for decorating with leaf.

Step 5: Prepare the gilding cushion

A gilding cushion helps with handling and cutting leaf for easy application. The cushion is made of a suede material stretched and pinned on a thin wooden block. The suede provides a smooth, static-charge surface to hold the gold sheets in place and prevent tearing.

Before using the cushion, dust it with some pumice powder to remove any residual grease and debris that might tamper with the gold leaves.

Using the gilding knife, scoop a pinch of pumice powder and sprinkle it over the cushion. Use the flat side of the knife to spread the powder, ensuring that the entire surface is covered in a thin layer of powder.

Scrape and brush out any excess powder from the gilding cushion. Before applying any gold leaf, ensure that the cushion surface is free of extra pumice powder; impurities can make it difficult for the gold decorations to adhere to the surface.

Step 6: Cut the gold leaf

Because gold leaf tears easily, it is best to cut the leaves into smaller pieces for easier handling and application.

To get started, lay the leaf on the gilding cushion. The side with the tissue paper should be facing your face.

Next, remove the tissue paper. With the gold leaf laying flat on the gilding cushion, carefully slide the blade in between the tissue paper and gold sheeting to separate the two. Don’t discard the tissue paper—you will use it to polish the gold sheet during application.

After removing the backing tissue, softly blow on the leaf to get it to lie flat on the cushion. Using the straight edge of the blade, cut the leaf into smaller, more manageable pieces.

Step 7: Apply the gold leaf to the item

Apply the gold leaf to the item

Pick up the gilding pin and slightly rub the bristles against the back of your hands. This will help to pick up the thin gold sheets with more ease. Direct the pin’s bristles toward a leaf, pick it off the cushion, then apply it to the item.

Use the tissue paper to smooth out the leaf and remove any air bubbles trapped underneath. Do this in one direction to protect the leaf from scratches and tears.

Step 8: Smoothen out the gold leaf

Smoothen out the gold leaf

Use a small, soft gilder’s brush to help the leaf stick to the item. Move the brush back and forth with gentle strokes over the leaf until the entire item or section is covered with the gold sheets as desired. The brush will also help remove extra leaf pieces, leaving a smooth, gold-decorated surface.

Identify spots on the object where the leaf tore or didn’t adhere properly. Apply small pieces of leaf to mend these spots and use the small soft brush to get the tiny pieces of leaf to adhere and appear smooth. In the end, your item should look like you have painted it with rich and lustrous gold paint.

Pro Tip:  Arrange the leaf pieces in a grid pattern to help cover the entire surface where you had applied the sizer.

Step 9: Apply a topcoat

Apply a topcoat

A topcoat sealant will protect the delicate gold leaf from the elements such as moisture, direct light, grease, and debris.

Apply a single layer of gilder’s sealant, moving the brush back and forth over the surface, ensuring that every part of the item is sealed.

Let the topcoat airdry for 4 to 6 hours or according to the manufacturer’s instructions. If you are applying gold leaf on food items, you do not need to seal with a top coat as you will discard the food soon.

Congratulations on completing your first gilding project! Check out a few additional tips below to help your project along.

Extended Tips

  • Cut the pieces of gold leaf to be a bit larger than the area you are gilding. You will waste more leaf when you use small bits to cover faulty spots where the leaf has not adhered.
  • When choosing primer paint, consider the kind of finish you want for your gold leaf art. For cooler finishes, bluish or greyish primer paint would be a good option. For warmer finishes, use red or orange paint to prime the surface. Painting with a complimentary color will also make any blemishes less visible, especially if you are applying gold leaf to a piece of furniture.
  • Avoid ink as this will deteriorate the leaf. If you must use paint on the gilded area, opt for high quality gold acrylic paint or gilder’s gold drawing ink.
  • If you want to remove gold leaf from a surface, use varnish or paint remover. This will disintegrate the sizer adhesive, topcoat, and the leaf itself.

Add a Little Shimmer To Your Life!

Decorating items with gold sheets isn’t difficult and is something you can get good at with some practice and persistence.

Use this low-cost and fun method to spruce up just about any item in your house from picture frames to jewelry boxes, vases to display cutler, and even as a canvas for your innovative paintings.

Do let us know in the comments how your gilding project turns out!

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