Gilding FAQ’s


Questions + Answers About Gilding

Whether you are new to the world of gilding or an old pro, you may have questions about gilding or Society of Gilders. If your question does not appear below, feel free to contact Society of Gilders and we will do our best to help you.

Do you use real gold?
Yes, but in the form of gold "leaf", or sheets of gold beaten tissue thin. Gold's beauty, lustre and non-tarnishing properties make it the preferred material for most applications. Other metals or metal alloys in leaf form are used sometimes depending on the desired effect.

I have an old frame that is dirty and dull. What should I do with it?
If there is a chance that the frame has any antique value, probably nothing. You can use a soft, dry brush to remove dust and dirt gently from an old gilded frame. Further cleaning of any gilded surface should be undertaken only by a professional conservator, especially if your frame has any antique value. Improper cleaning methods can damage the gilded surface (or even remove it altogether!). Before attempting anything other than dusting on a frame of any value, have it evaluated by a professional.

How can I tell if something is covered with real gold leaf?
Sometimes "gold" frames are gilded with other materials, such as alloys of other metals, or silver, usually with tinted varnishes over them. An experienced eye can usually determine what material was used. In some cases, chemical testing may be required. As with cleaning, have the item evaluated by a professional conservator.

I carved a sign. How do I gild the letters?
Gilding on signs is usually done using "oil gilding", where the varnish-like "size" is applied, and leaf applied when the size is almost dry, but with still enough "tack" to adhere the gold to the surface.

Why not just use gold paint?
"Gold paints" are not really gold. The older types are usually made with bronze powders suspended in a varnish-type of medium, and will tarnish over time. Newer formulations often utilize mica powders in an acrylic base. Some of the newer paints supposedly will not tarnish, but even so, the resemblance to real gold is remote, at best. Despite the ease of applying this material, its visual and physical properties are inferior to those of gold leaf. Objects decorated with gold paint simply do not exhibit the true beauty of real gold.

Where can I learn how to gild?
An easy way to start is by checking the Society of Gilders education listings. Many Society of Gilders members also teach. If there are no suitable classes listed, or if you have a specific requirement, contact Society of Gilders for assistance in locating a teacher.

Where can I buy supplies for gilding?
Many of our Society of Gilders advertisers and sponsors are suppliers of gilding materials. Some materials are available at general line art and craft suppliers and through online stores, but you will find a much better selection from gilding specialists. In addition, businesses specializing in gilding materials will be better prepared to give you advice.

I just want to learn enough to do one project. Can you tell me how?
Because of the depth of knowledge required to learn every aspect of gilding, it becomes extremely difficult for the Society to answer individual technical questions. Most often questions require an answer too complex for a quick email or telephone call. Mistakes can be costly, either in waste of expensive materials, or damage to a valuable item. Gilding is a process that involves many steps, including surface preparation, application of leaf and finishing. Because the nuances of gilding require a depth of knowledge and experience handling various materials, it is very difficult to "tell" someone how to gild successfully. The best way to learn how to gild is to take a basic course from a qualified instructor. This will help to avoid mistakes, which can be costly or damaging to a valuable item.

What is the purpose of Society of Gilders?
The Society of Gilders is a resource for gilders, restorers, conservators, and all those who work with and love gold leaf. Our goal is to educate the public and the trade about how to honor and respect the gilded object.

Why would I want to join Society of Gilders?
Membership offers you a wonderful resource on the history and techniques of gold leaf, materials sources, classes, events and trade shows around the country, as well as an opportunity to network with other gilders. In addition, members receive discounts on Society of Gilders classes, materials, and events.

I would like to join, but I am not an experienced gilder. Am I allowed to join?
Society of Gilders Membership is open to any interested individual, institution or corporation. Membership is based on interest in gilding, not skill level, so this would be an excellent opportunity for developing your gilding skills.

As a Society of Gilders member, why should I come to Society of Gilders conferences/meetings?
Especially for gilders who work on their own, or who may be in non-metropolitan areas, Society of Gilders events provide opportunities to meet other like-minded artisans, so you can network and share ideas and problems relating to the gilding arts.