How to gold leaf on exterior surfaces.

6 easy steps! Learn how to apply Genuine Gold, Silver and Palladium leaf to exterior surfaces.

Metal, wood, stone, plastic and more. Why use genuine leaf instead of imitation metal leaf when gilding outside? Find tools, tips and support for exterior Gold leaf applications.

These simple guidelines will help you produce a professionally finished exterior gilded project.

When selecting gold leaf for an exterior architectural project, look first for the gold content and gram weight. A 23kt to 23.75kt gold leaf weighing 18 to 23 grams/1000 leaves properly applied will shine for decades.

The proper selection of gold weight and karat level must be the first consideration in any exterior gilt application.

Exterior architectural features, be it wood, stone, fiberglass or metal, when properly gilded, take on the dynamic qualities of gold - its luster and color. The correct selection of gold leaf, its gold content and thickness, will ensure a long lasting gilded exterior ornament or feature.

exterior gold leafing
Knowledge is is the key to successful exterior gilding projects... plain and simple.

Choosing your Gold Content Gold leaf is manufactured in a wide range of colors and karat levels. Leaf made from 100% gold is 24kt. To produce a wide vvariety of colors, copper and Silver is mixed with gold. When copper is added, the leaf becomes warmer and richer in tone. When Silver is added, the leaf becomes paler in tone. The addition of these other metals lowers the karat value of gold leaf. Gold leaf is manufactured in a range from 6kt "White" to 24kt "Fine Gold".

Gold is completely resistant to corrosion. The addition of Silver and copper lowers the resistance of gold leaf to corrosion. However, the copper or Silver in 23.75kt or 23kt leaf is so low that it will maintain its integrity outdoors for 30 years or more. A dome, building detail, metal fence or outdoor statue will require a 23kt to 23.75kt leaf that ranges from 96% to 98.5% in purity. Karats less than 23kt are recommended for indoor use and many colors and karats are available.

Leaf Thickness and Weight Leaf thickness is best described as grams per 1,000 leaves. This measurement is used to compare one vvariety with another. The approximate weight of leaf for an outdoor surface is 18 to 23 grams per 1,000 leaves. The heavier the leaf, the longer it will repel the abrasive effects of snow, rain, wind, dust and sand particles.

Quick Dry Oil Size gilding

Quick Dry oil size gilding - This detailed demonstration shows you how to apply genuine gold, Silver, imitation gold, aluminum and copper leaf to objects and furniture using the classic 3 hour oil size method.

Application Technique

Priming the surface

It is necessary to apply a high quality primer over your metal, stone, wood and plastic surface to insure the gold layer has an appropriate surface to rest on. We recommend a product specially formulated for exterior gilding on metal. The 'Burnish Sealer' is a primer-sealer specially designed for use under gilding size (adhesive). It is available in 3 colors, Red, Gray and Ochre. For Traditional gilding use either Red or Ochre colors as a base for genuine gold leaf. This product creates a high quality, smooth surface for gilding.

Stainless steel requires an 'etching primer' rather than a standard solvent based, alkyd primer, so be sure to do due dilgence when working with this material. Have questions? Ask us!

Applying the Adhesive Sizing

Size refers to the adhesive used to adhere the leaf to a surface. There are different kinds of size adhesive dependant on the finished look you desire. When applying Genuine Gold, Silver or Metal leaf over metal, LeFranc Mixtion 3 hour or 12 hour size is recommended. This is a Traditional, clear, natural, oil based size made in France. LeFranc has earned the reputation of being the best oil size available and experienced Gilders request LeFranc for their most important projects.

We also offer the superior quality oil sizing Dux, made in the US. Dux Quick Dry. and Slow Set Oil Size.

Apply carefully and evenly, working the size to an even film as much as possible. Watch for 'pooling' in ornamental surfaces and recessed areas. Watch our 'Gilding on metal surfaces' video tutorial for detailed use and product information, including drying and tack times for oil size.

Testing your 'tack'

This is perhaps the most important phase in achieving a properly gilt surface, and determining the proper 'tack' time of adhesive sizing will result in the professional finish you are after. As your 'size' dries it naturally goes from a wet to a dry state. The proper time to apply your leaf is when the 'size' is not wet but 'tacky', just before it dries completely. To learn more about proper tack times, and testing your size to determine if it is ready to receive genuine or metal leaf, watch our 'Gilding on metal surfaces' video tutorial for detailed application techniques.

Use 23kt or higher Genuine Gold Leaf

23.5 karat genuine gold leaf is recommended for exterior gilt surface. It is also OK to use 23 karat leaf, though anything less pure may provide inadequate results, lack of durability and longevity. Genuine 23.5 kt gold leaf is available in individual sheets (3 3/8" x 3 3/8"), Patent leaf (each individual sheet is attached to a piece of wax paper for easier handling), and Rolls of genuine gold, 4 1/8" leaf on a continuous roll of 68ft. For exterior gilding using Patent Gold leaf is infinitely more efficient, as you can handle and manipulate the leaf with ease due to the gold being attached to the paper surface.

Visit our extensive line of Genuine Gold leaf products. We offer the highest quality Italian, German, French and Chinese gold leaf. 24 karat all the way down to 6 kt Genuine leaf. Visit now!

'Burnishing' and 'Cleaning Off'

A soft hair Squirrel mop brush is recommended to remove excess leaf and 'polish' the surface. Insure that there is full gold coverage on your object before cleaning with your mop brush. Once all the 'holidays' or gaps are filled with gold, use the mop brush to dust off any excess gold.

Be fairly comprehensve but leave a small amount of gold dust. In otherwords, don't give an aggressive 'polish' directly after applying the gold. The adhesive is still soft and your gold may dull if you over work the brush. Allow to set up over night then come back and complete the final 'burnishing' the next day. You can complete this process by using soft cotton, to remove any excess gold pieces and create the finished, burnished gold appearance.

Sealing and 'Finishing Off

Genuine 23.5 kt or 23 kt gold leaf does not need to be sealed on exterior surfaces. Gold less than 23 karats has enough Silver and/or copper belended into it that these lower karat levels will tarnish, and therefore require a clear coat sealer.

It is generally recommended not to seal the gold in exterior applications, which is why it is recommended to use a 23 karat or higher gold content in your leaf. Sealers tend to break down or become milky/hazy, within 3-5 years. Unsealed 23kt or higher gold leaf can last 20- 30 years unsealed , if properly gilded.

However, it is sometimes desired to seal high traffic areas that have been gilt outside. For interior use on gold and imitation metal leaf you can use the Dux 'Acrylic Topcoat' - (available in High gloss and Semi-gloss).

'Acrylic Topcoat' is a non-reactive, premium water clear sealer for genuine and metal leaf. Made from acrylic copolymers, Acrylic Topcoat provides protection from abrasion, water and ultra violet light.