Gilding technique

Gilding is the process of applying a thin layer of gold or gold-like substance to a surface. This ancient technique has been used for centuries to decorate and enhance the appearance of various objects, ranging from picture frames and furniture to manuscripts and architectural details. There are several gilding techniques, each with its unique methods and applications. Here are some of the most common gilding techniques:

1. Gold Leaf Gilding

Water Gilding:

  • Preparation: The surface is prepared with multiple layers of gesso (a mixture of chalk and glue) and then covered with a bole (a reddish clay mixed with glue) to provide a smooth, adhesive surface.
  • Application: Gold leaf is applied using a brush and water to activate the bole’s adhesive properties.
  • Burnishing: Once dry, the gold is burnished to a high shine using a smooth, hard tool, often made of agate.

Oil Gilding:

  • Preparation: The surface is coated with an oil-based adhesive (size).
  • Application: Gold leaf is applied to the tacky adhesive once it reaches the correct level of tackiness.
  • Finishing: Unlike water gilding, oil gilding is not typically burnished but can be left matte or lightly polished.

2. Gold Powder and Gold Paint

Powder Gilding:

  • Preparation: The surface is coated with an adhesive or size.
  • Application: Gold powder is dusted over the adhesive and pressed into place.
  • Finishing: Excess powder is brushed away, and the surface can be polished gently.

Gold Paint:

  • Application: Gold paint, which contains fine particles of gold or a gold-like substance suspended in a medium, is applied with a brush.
  • Finishing: Often used for less intricate work, gold paint provides a simpler and less expensive alternative to gold leaf.

3. Electroplating

  • Preparation: The object to be gilded is cleaned and coated with a conductive material.
  • Application: The object is submerged in a solution containing gold ions and an electric current is applied, causing the gold to adhere to the surface.
  • Finishing: The thickness of the gold layer can be controlled by the duration of the electroplating process.

4. Chemical Gilding

  • Application: Involves applying a solution of gold chloride or another gold compound to the surface, which reacts chemically to deposit a thin layer of gold.
  • Finishing: Often used for very fine or delicate work, this method requires precise control of the chemical reactions.

5. Mechanical Gilding

Gold Leaf Overlay:

  • Application: Thin gold foil is mechanically bonded to the surface, often through pressure and heat.
  • Finishing: This method is durable and often used in industrial applications.

Gold Beating:

  • Application: Gold is hammered into extremely thin sheets (gold leaf) and then applied to surfaces.
  • Finishing: Often used for decorating books, artworks, and religious icons.

Materials and Tools for Gilding

  • Gold Leaf: Available in various karats and shades, with 22-karat and 23-karat being most common.
  • Adhesives: Such as gesso, bole, and oil-based sizes.
  • Brushes: Special brushes made of squirrel hair or other fine materials for handling gold leaf.
  • Burnishers: Tools made of agate or other smooth stones for polishing gold leaf.


Gilding is a versatile and time-honored technique for adding a touch of luxury and elegance to objects. The choice of method depends on the desired finish, the nature of the object being gilded, and the level of expertise of the gilder. Each technique offers its unique aesthetic and practical benefits, making gilding a fascinating and valuable craft.

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