Gold Leaf Basics

Quickly learn gilding essentials, tips and tricks.

Get the basics on gilding almost anything. From metal, glass, wood and objects to walls, ceings and exterior surfaces. Our detailed step-by-step instructions help insure a professional project everytime.

Every project has a unique profile. You (or your client) may want the 'real' stuff... until you start pricing it. A 35sqft dresser is one thing, but a 1,200 sqft ceiling is another.

Here's a great starting point - essential gilding info, facts and specs for you to pull together for your unique project.

What you need to know...

Leaf Coverage

A book contains 25 leaves, a pack contains 20 books, equaling 500 leaves. Each pack of 500 leaves covers a surface area of 39.50 sq.ft. without waste or overlap. The gilder can determine the percentage of waste based on the complexity of the object and his or her own expertise in laying leaf. If for example, the surface is very ornate with deep crevices, it will require more leaf than the same size area of a flat surface.

Karats and Alloys

Gold is alloyed with Silver, Copper and other metals to achieve a variety of colors and shades. A higher gold content and/or greater amount of copper will result in deeper tones of leaf. The higher karat leaves are also more durable due to the higher gold content. In the lower karats of leaf, such as 18kt, 16kt, and 12kt, gold is alloyed with Silver or other metals to achieve lighter colors.

About Gold content

Gold leaf is manufactured in a wide range of colors and karats. 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 9kt "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 23 are recommended for indoor use and many colors and karats are available. More about Exterior Gilding.

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. 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. Gilding step-by-step tutorials, tips and techniques.

Different Types of Leaf

Regular Gold - This term refers to the average thickness which a manufacturer has deemed as the standard for gold leaf. This standard may vary from one manufacturer to another. One gold beater's regular may be thinner than the regular leaf of another brand.

Surface Gold - Surface gold leaf may have a few irregularities and is often used where double gilding is required or the leaf will be distressed or toned.

Loose Gold - A book of loose gold leaf is assembled by placing each piece of gold leaf between pieces of thin rouged paper. The gilder can then remove one leaf at a time without disturbing the remaining leaves. It is removed from the book with a gilder's tip, a flat natural hair brush.

Glass Gold This term applies to gold leaf which is selected for it's higher quality having fewer pinholes and irregularities.

Double Gold Double gold does not mean that the leaf is two times thicker than regular leaf. Double leaf may be only 10% to 20% thicker than regular gold leaf. Double means that it is a heavier gram weight per 1000 leaves than standard gold at the same karat level.

Patent Gold Patent gold leaf, also referred to as transfer leaf, is gold leaf mounted to special tissue paper by a pressure process. A book of patent gold leaf is assembled by placing each unit of gold leaf and tissue paper between pieces of thin rouged paper. The gilder can then remove one leaf at a time without disturbing the remaining leaves.

Patent leaf is removed from the book without the aid of a gilder's tip. The leaf will stay on the tissue until it is pressed onto the prepared surface and the tissue backing is removed. This form of gold leaf is necessary for outdoor work or where conditions would make loose leaf unmanageable. Patent gold leaf is not suitable for water gilding and is best suited for flat surfaces.

Patent gold leaf is sensitive to changes in temperature and humidity and needs to be stored properly. Store patent leaf in a damp environment of about 80% humidity wrapped in plastic wrap. This helps to prevent the moisture content of the tissue paper from fluctuating.

Patent leaf may become loose on the tissue paper if stored in a dry warm environment. To correct this problem, the book of patent leaf needs to be stored in a humid environment under pressure to 'remount' the leaf to the paper. If the leaf was stored in a very hot and humid environment, the leaf may adhere too tightly to the paper. To correct this problem, store patent the patent leaf in a refrigerator or a dry cool place.

Gilded Building details made from wood, stone, fiberglass and metal 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 ornament.