Gilding is not just about gold leaf. There are many and various metals that can be used. You can get copper, aluminium, silver, palladium, platinum and more. The gold itself is available in a range of cts and colours too. So, what’s the difference between them all then? Here is a quick guide to a few that are available.
First and foremost, and without doubt the most popular is gold leaf. Gold is without doubt the most popular and beautiful metal that’s produced in leaf form. It is available in a range cts, from 6ct white gold to 24ct extra thick gold leaf. The ct of the gold refers to how many parts in 24 is pure gold. Therefore, 24ct is pure gold whereas 12ct is half gold and half of other metals. The industry standard is 23.5 karat gold-leaf.
The different metals that are added to the gold give it it’s different colours. So, white gold, for instance, is an alloy of gold and at least one other white metal - usually nickel, manganese or palladium. Red gold has an addition of copper to it (usually 25%) and green gold has the addition of silver in about the same proportions. These golds are produced and available for the gilder in loose form or transfer. A sheet of gold-leaf usually measures apx 80 mm x 80 mm.
Copper metal leaves are cheap and easy to produce. Because of the availability of this metal they are made in much larger squares of about 140mm x 140mm and are much thicker than gold-leaf, enabling them to be picked up and applied by hand. This makes copper a great metal for the beginner and it can be effectively used to decorate furniture, flower pots, ornaments and all manner of things. I find that what makes copper especially fun to work with is that it can be chemically treated (I use household bleach) to create Verdigris and age items.
Alluminium is another cheap, large and thick metal. In gilding, it is usually used as a substitute for silver in exterior locations where, unlike the silver, it does not tarnish. However, it doesn’t have the full reflective qualities of silver. Palladium can also be used in areas where tarnishing would be a problem. Alluminium is also used as a base metal upon a surface for paint effects, leading to flecks of metallic colour coming through glazes to the surface.
This is an interesting leaf to work with. It is an alloy of zinc and copper and it is primarily used as an imitation gold. It is available in thick large sheets (140mm x 140mm) and can be applied by hand. However, due to the copper base it will tarnish, so cotton gloves are required to prevent it discolouring when being used. It must also be sealed once completed to prevent dis-colouration in the future. However, gold in colour means it can be used cheaply creatively on many projects. When used in conjunction with oil paints to distress it, the final outcome can be devastatingly good!
Finally, I’d like to show you one more leaf, called variegated. This is a composite leaf that has been treated with heat that reacts with the metal and creates a wide range of colours and hues. There are many different types available, and they can be used on all kinds of projects. Again, this metal really is very effective when used properly. This leaf should also be sealed when used.