Types of Leaf

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 of the most popular metals that are available:


First and foremost, and without a doubt, the most popular is gold leaf. Gold is the most popular and beautiful metal that exists. It is produced in leaf form that 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. In the world of gilding, the industry standard is 23.5 karat gold-leaf.

The different metals that are added to the gold, as well as strengthening it, also give it its range of 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 standard sheet of gold-leaf usually measures apx 80 mm x 80 mm.


Copper metal leaves are cheap and easy to produce. Because of the wide availability of this cheap 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 with a range of household chemicals to create Verdigris, ageing effects and much more. This is a really effective way to decorate and age items. There are two main producers of copper leaf available, and that is Italian and Chinese copper leaf. Although they are both mainly made of copper, some impurities inevitably get into the mix and so the two types of copper are very slightly different coloured. But if you mix them together... this creates another interesting finish!


Silver is another popular material to work with. Available a lot thicker than gold, and thinner than copper and the other cheaper leaves, it is easier to use but must still be handled with caution. Squares of silver are 90mm x 90mm. It is available in a range of thicknesses to suit. One of the biggest problems with silver is that it tarnishes easily and so must be sealed. Silver is best sealed with a water based varnish.

There are many brands available to use, and comes down to personal preference. Even after it is sealed however, it is not always successful. In some regards, it is one of the hardest metals to use because of the ability needed to maintain a clean finish. This can also work in a favourable way. Gilding in silver and then ageing it appropriately can create some really nice and interesting finishes. Silver is effective in use with glass gilding, as it is the most reflective material known, and therefore creates the best mirror finish.


This is an interesting leaf to work with. It is an alloy of zinc and copper and 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, just like silver. Cotton gloves can help to to prevent it discolouring when being used. It must also be sealed once completed to prevent dis-colouration in the future. Both water and oil based varnishes can be used over composite.

Because it is gold in colour (which is available in a range of shades) this means it can be used cheaply and creatively on many projects. When used in conjunction with oil paints to distress it, the final outcome can be devastatingly good! Most mass produced gold furniture is created with the use of composite metals. It is usually only used in oil and glass gilding, as it's thick nature makes it a poor contender for all the labour that's involved in water gilding production.


Aluminium 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. The more expensive Palladium can also be used in areas where tarnishing would be a problem.

Aluminium can also be used as a base metal, that once applied upon a surface can then be developed with further with assorted paint effects, such as colored water and oil based glazes. Clever manipulation can lead to flecks of metallic colour coming through glazes to the surface, almost giving a quartz like effect. It is also a useful metal to use for backing up gilded work on glass. Aluminium is another great metal for the beginner to use, as it is cheap, thick and easily handled. Another effective use is to break the aluminium up into smaller pieces and mix it with broken pieces of copper and composite metal to create a


Finally, I’d like to show you one more leaf, called variegated. This is basically the 'composite Leaf' that has been treated with heat. When heated to high temperatures it creates a reaction within the metal that creates a wide range of colours and hues. Through the use of hot plates, and specific control, 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.

Like the other thick metals, it is only suitable for oil and glass gilding. This leaf should also be sealed when used, similar to the composite leaf. Another way to create patterns upon the metal similar to the composite leaf is with the use of spirit stains.

This is only a small sample of the range of metals and colours that are available. There are hundreds of variations in colour and finish, and you should have a look at the different finishes available for your own personal choice and project. A great selection of colours and variations can be found here