Using gold leaf for your art or craftwork

by Jun 1, 2021Art Supplies, Crafts & Crafting

Adding a touch of luxury to your work

Using gold leaf, whether it’s the real thing at 23ct or imitation gold leaf, will add luxury to your art or craft work. Jane takes us through the different options and gives an overview of how to use it.

Why gold leaf?

Gold has traditionally been the most popular and most common metal leaf used for gilding or decoration of art works. Silver leaf is also readily available and widely used by artists.

The use of gold leaf dates back millenia, to when it was the first metal soft enough to be beaten to thin sheets. It can be found as a decoration of art works, including statues and eastern Christian icons, or on picture frames used to hold/display paintings. It has been used in mixed media, on small objects, including jewellery, and in paper art.

Gold remains popular today because of the look of luxury which it can give to a piece. Everyone knows the look of gold and, whether it is real 23ct gold or the imitation leaf available today, it adds that touch of luxury to any work you might use it on.

Gold leaf

What is imitation gold leaf?

Imitation gold leaf is brass alloy where the mixture of zinc and copper has been specifically controlled to create tones that closely mimic genuine gold leaf. It is also known as Dutch metal, composition metal or Schlag metal.

Loose leaf vs transfer leaf

You can buy gold leaf in loose leaf packs and in transfer leaf. What’s the difference?

Well both loose leaf and transfer leaf come in sheets, the difference is that a loose leaf sheet of gold sits loosely between the sheets of the book, whereas transfer leaf will stay on the paper until you go to apply it to another surface. Depending on how you want to use the leaf can make a difference to which is preferable. But for most uses it is mainly a matter of personal preference with neither being ‘better’ or ‘worse’.

imitation gold leaf
art and craft metal

What glue can I use for gold or imitation leaf?

There are a few products that can be used to apply gold leaf to a surface and these include:

  • Gedeo Gilding Paste
  • Eberhard by Staedtler or
  • alternatively an acrylic medium or a good PVA glue thinned to a milky consistency
  • traditional oil based size such as Japan Gold Size works best on hard smooth surfaces but will take longer to dry sufficiently to accept the leaf.

How to apply gold leaf

Putting the leaf onto your work is fairly straight forward, although the first few times it can be a little nerve wracking. First, make sure the surface you are applying the gold leaf to is clean then apply your chosen glue.

Leave the glue to go tacky, and once it is tacky, using a very soft brush, lay the gold leaf over the area that has been glued and pat down using the brush. Don’t use your fingers as the static from your body will attract the leaf and make it impossible to work with. The brush helps to bed the gold leaf down to the surface.

Does gold leaf need to be sealed?

If you are using imitation gold leaf then it does need to be sealed, otherwise it will tarnish. Simply add a clear coat of sealer. The protective coat of sealer not only prevents oxidation but gives durability to the leaf.

If gilded correctly 23ct or above gold leaf can last for between 20 – 30 years external unsealed. It is recommended that gold leaf that is 23ct or above is not sealed as most sealers tend to break down over a period of time and typically only last for around 3-5 years.

Size for leaf metal
Winsor Newton size

A bit of history

Pure gold is the oldest form of beaten metal with the technique dating back to the ancient Egyptians. The craft of the gold beater involves converting precious metals, such as gold or silver, into extremely thin leaves used to adorn a variety of surfaces. The gilding technique is still used today on many different surfaces using the loose leaf or the transfer gold leaf.

Size for leaf metal

The costs

Imitation gold leaf

Art & craft metal – 16 x 16cm 25 sheets @ £12.50

Leaf metal – 14 x 14cm 7 sheets @ £8.95

Genuine gold leaf

22 ct – 25 leaves 80 x 80mm @ £49.00

23 3/4 ct – 25 leaves 80 x 80mm @ £54.00


Jane is a member of the Gadsby’s team. She has a wide knowledge of the arts & crafts products and materials sold by Gadsby’s both from the perspective of an advisor in the shop and, for many of the products, from personal use too.

Please note that this is not a service that Gadsbys offer to clients – just an example of the private work done by one of the highly skilled and knowledgable Gadsby’s team shown for your interest.


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