How to Apply Gold Leaf

by | Feb 19, 2023

Everything I know about how to apply gold leaf! You can apply any color of leaf, in this way, but my favorite is gold. If you are looking for the most brilliant metal shine possible…leafing is your answer!

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There is always a time and place for metallic paints but I believe all creatives should try metal leafing and be comfortable enough with the process to add it to their toolbox! I have an entire drawer dedicated to Gold leafing supplies! It’s so satisfying!

Gold leafing isn’t a new process, but was actually used 8000 years ago by the ancient Egyptians.  

I receive a lot of messages and emails from creators with failed attempts, so I want to break down some basics this week!

Watch this week’s YouTube video to learn How to Apply Gold Leaf.

Types of Gold Leaf

There are different types of gold leaf and it can be purchased in a variety of different styles.

Imitation vs. Real

First of all, there is imitation leaf and real leaf. I use imitation because it is more affordable and slightly thicker.  I purchase it most often at Amazon and Hobby Lobby. Regardless of the type you choose, it is all applied the same.

Sheets vs. Flakes vs. Rolls

Gold leaf can be purchased as loose-leaf sheets, loose-leaf flakes, or on a roll that requires rubbing to release it from the roll. 

Gold Leaf Foil Sheets
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Gold leaf Foil roll
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Gold Leaf Foil Flakes
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How to Apply Gold Leaf

The process to apply the gold leaf sheets vs. gold leaf from a roll requires a different technique for each so I will walk you through the process for both.

Applying Gold Leaf SHEETS

STEP ONE: Choose the adhesive that will work best for your project.  

No matter what type of gilding leaf you choose, it will be applied with one of two types of adhesive.

Tracey showing metal leaf adhesive spray
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Tracey showing bottle of adhesive paste
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Spray Adhesive

Spray requires you to protect all surrounding areas because of overspray. Let me warn you that it is extremely sticky!

I only use spray adhesive if I have a large surface that I am able to spray without worrying about the surface area around.

Spraying adhesive onto white wood
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The benefit of using the spray is you can leaf almost immediately. It is tacky within a minute or two so it doesn’t require a wait time.

Tracey touching white board to test tackiness of adhesive
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Paste Adhesive

Paste adhesive (which I use most often) is applied using a brush just to the specific areas that you plan to gold.  This works great when working with trims, moldings, or stencils. The drawback to using the paste, however, is it requires a wait time of approximately 30 minutes before it becomes tacky. 

spreading adhesive paste on white wood board
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Pro Tip: This is where most people make their mistake. Waiting approx 30 minutes to apply the gold leaf after applying paste adhesive is a CRITICAL step

If you apply the leaf before the adhesive has come to tack, the leafing sheet just melts into a gooey mess. 

Tracey pointing to goey mess from gold leaf
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Gold Leaf Sheet applied too soon before the adhesive was tacky

STEP TWO: Apply the leafing sheet.

Once your adhesive is completely tacky (1-2 minutes with spray OR ~30 minutes for paste), apply the leafing sheet and smooth it out with a soft brush or cloth. 

PRO TIP: It is best to not use your bare fingers as it can cause tarnishing to occur. 

STEP THREE: Remove Excess Leaf

Once leafing has been applied you will likely have excess leaf around the edges of the surface you are working on.  

Just continue with your brush or a soft cloth to rub off the excess flakes.  

Tracey brushing away excess gold leaf sheet
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STEP FOUR: Clean up Sheet Lines (if desired)

I am so often asked why the lines of the leafing squares show. If you are working on a large flat space and you’ve applied the sheets side-by-side, you will almost always be left with the typical leafing square lines visible.  

Tracey pointing of small line between sheets of gold leaf
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Many people, like myself, have a love for these lines and leave them be. 

If these bother you, you can apply leaf paste adhesive to the lines, wait for it to come to tack, .and apply leafing just over these areas.  This layering helps to diminish the look of the square edges. 

Apply Gold Leaf from a ROLL

Should you choose gold leaf on a roll, it requires a different method to apply it. The benefit of this gilding leaf is there is no mess and no waste!

Tracey showing a new gold leaf roll
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STEP ONE: Choose the adhesive that will work best for your project.

Choosing your adhesive for gold leaf from a roll will be the same as the gold leaf sheets. If you are not sure which to pick, click HERE to determine which will be best for your project

STEP TWO: Apply the leafing sheet.

Once your adhesive is completely tacky (1-2 minutes with spray OR 30+ minutes for paste), place the leafing over the adhesive and rub with a toothbrush or scrub brush to release the leafing from the plastic backing. 

Peeling up the gold leaf roll to reveal gold leaf remaining on board
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There will be no excess to rub off or smooth out so less mess and less waste! 

Tracey showing remaining gold leaf on the roll after applying from the middle
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I find this method to be a bit more difficult to apply and recommend trying loose sheets to start with.

As you become comfortable with leafing, you will want to try this method and it offers so many fabulous options in color and design!

Seal the Gold Leaf

Once you have completed your gilding process, it is important to seal your leaf. The imitation gold leaf has a high level of copper and it will tarnish over time if you do not protect it. I recommend sealing all leaf with metal leaf sealer no matter what color or type.

Metal leaf sealer comes in spray and liquid. 

Tracey showing metal sealer options with spray or liquid
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Spray Sealer

The same rules for the adhesive spray apply to the sealer spray – you will need to protect surrounding areas and it’s best to only use it on large surfaces.

Liquid Sealer

The liquid sealer is what I use most and I apply it with a soft brush. It is very thin, like water, and a little goes a long way. One coat is all you need.  

Applying metal leaf sealer with a small paint brush
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I hope you found this both helpful and inspirational……and that you’re planning your gold-leafing adventure in your creative brain right now! Check out the gold on this chest!

colorful bombe dresser with gold and copper leaf
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More Gold Leaf (and other metal leaf) Project Inspiration:

I have SO MANY gilded finishes that I’d love to share with you! Here are a few of my favorites! Pieces like the Metallic Silver Dresser and this Rose Gold Metallic Dresser are fully covered in metallic. While others like the Gold Leaf Harlequin Buffet and the Gold Splatted Dreser have the metal leaf creatively placed as an accent. Click the images below and it will take you to the blog!

JOIN ME FOR MORE…with Curiously Creative

If you enjoyed this and want more of a deep dive into home decor and DIY processes, I would love it if you joined my exclusive online creative group, Curiously Creative. I show up LIVE to guide you through every step of updating, upcycling, crafting, and creating on-trend home decor and gift-giving ideas! 

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Products you NEED to apply gold leaf:

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