How to Apply Gold Leaf to Paper

By Ellen Dean

Applying gold leaf, or gilding, is a beautiful way to add ornament to gift wrap, manuscripts, greeting cards and books. Illuminated manuscripts dating back as far as 400 to 600 A.D. still show pristine examples of gilding. Although they are over 1,000 years old, the gold used in them still shines as if it were new. Synthetic gold leaf will not last as long without tarnishing, but is a good alternative to the expense of real gold leaf. In addition to gold, it is now common to find silver and copper leaf as well.

Paint a ground or undercolor onto your paper. If you are only applying gold leaf to a small area, only paint that area and allow to completely dry.

Apply liquid adhesive or paste adhesive to the area you want to gold leaf. Allow to dry until it is tacky to the touch.

Fold back the glassine paper exposing the gold leaf. Dab a tiny amount of Vaseline on a cotton ball to lift the gold leaf out of the glassine and onto the tacky glue.

Use the squirrel's hair brush to gently press the gold leaf flat onto the tacky glue surface, making sure it is even. Remove and keep any excess bits of gold leaf that flake off to use as filler if necessary.

Tip

Using gold leaf that is 22 kt gold leaf or a finer grade will assure that your artwork will not burnish or change colors over time.

Yellow, red and black are the most used undercolors for gold leaf, as they all help to illuminate and enhance the natural beauty of the material once it is applied.

Other metallic colors are also available such as copper and silver.

To save on costs, synthetic gold leaf may be used. It is a bit stronger to use than real gold leaf.

Warning

Oil paint or oil-based adhesives may cause paper to deteriorate.

About the Author

Ellen Dean is a visual artist and painting teacher. She has been teaching and writing articles on art since 2001, and has been a professional artist since 1999, (ChadwickandSpector.com), after studying sculpture at Virginia Commonwealth University. She is an NYFA Fellow and was nominated by the Sovereign Art Award/Sotheby's Hong Kong, two years in a row.