How To Apply Gold Leaf To Acrylic Painting?

Gold leaf is a gold foil. It is so thin that it will be powdered in your hand if you rub it. It is hammered or beaten to make a very thin sheet of about 0.12 microns. 

It has been used as a decorative material for thousands of years. We usually see it on photo frames, architecture, canvas, and signs. When light is low, it gives a warm golden glow and is radiant in the sunlight.

How To Apply Gold Leaf to Acrylic Painting?

Incorporating gold leaf into acrylic paintings has been a popular approach to give work a sense of distinct value. There are two methods for applying gold leaf by overpainting and underpainting. 

If you are going to overpaint gold leaf, you should first paste the gold leaf on your canvas. Then do acrylic painting on gold leaf.

Secondly, do the acrylic paint first and then use the gold leaf over acrylic paint in the underpainting process. 

Now let us first jump into the work of underpainting of gold leaf to acrylic painting. Follow the steps.

Choose Your Surface

The surface you choose to apply gold leaf may be a canvas, photo frame, or panel.

  1. Underpaint the surface you like with acrylic paint. 
  1. Then spread over the adhesive. You can deal with two different types of gilding adhesives. One is a solvent-based gold leaf adhesive, while the other is a water-based gold leaf adhesive. Next, apply gold leaf adhesive to the surface of your painting.

This type of adhesive is non-toxic. You may spray adhesive. Make a thin layer over the painting. Wait till the painting completely dries. Let it dry overnight. 

  1. Alternatively, if you put your gold leaf directly to the painting surface, using a solvent-based gold leaf adhesive is best.
  1. When the painting is dry, apply the gold leaf. If your leaf is loose, wrap the leaf with wax paper from the upper side. If you use branded leaves, they already adhere to wax. Gently press the paper to pick up the leaf.
  1. Keep the gold side of the gold leaf on the down surface. Press the wax paper adhered gold leaf all around the surface and remove the wax paper. The gold leaf will stick to the painting by this pressure.
  1. Remove the unnecessary gold leaf. When the leaf has adhered, try to brush the extra leaf. Take a stiff brush but brush lightly to remove the extra leaf. These brushes are best known as gilding brushes and work in shoveling-type motion.

This time you need to seal the gold leaf. Again, spray adhesive and gloss varnish. This protective seal will protect the gold leaf. Remember sealing is necessary if you are working with imitation gold leaf. 

  1. If you are using genuine gold leaf starting from 22 karats onwards, you need not sealing.


In overpaint painting, gold leaf is pasted beneath the acrylic painting. In that case, the procedures will differ a little. You can do this with genuine gold leaf and imitation gold leaf as well. You will use acrylic paint to cover the gold leaf. 

However, if you are using an imitation gold leaf, you must seal it first before painting over it with acrylic paint. In that circumstance, keep in mind that water-based acrylics tend to tarnish imitation gold leaf. 

This will happen if the acrylic is wet and unsealed. However, you can apply the leaf if it is sealed properly and dry. Then imitation gold leaf will not tarnish.

Now follow the overpaint procedures.

  • Pick up the surface like canvas or photo frame.
  • Spray adhesive over the surface.
  • Take a wax paper to pick up the gold leaf off from its sheet.
  • Keep the gold side of the gold leaf onto the surface you wish to gild. Press the wax paper adhered to gold leaf all around the surface and when the gold leaf is attached to the surface, remove the wax paper.
  • The gold leaf will stick to the surface by this pressure. Let the adhesive dry.
  • Add Acrylic Painting. Paint the final painting using traditional acrylic painting techniques.
  • Use a Brush to varnish Golden’ Polymer Varnish, which is non-toxic. This will protect your gold leaf. Varnishing is necessary only when the leaf is imitated.
  • Remove the excess leaf by brushing.

Why We Decorate Our Acrylic Paintings with Gold Leaf?

Gold leaf, with its shine and reflection, is a beautiful decoration to acrylic paintings. Gold leaf has been used extensively in architecture and painting for centuries. The reason is aesthetics and gold’s non-reactive nature, which provides a protective surface.

Gold leaf has long been the most popular and widely used gilding medium for art, such as sculptures and Eastern Christian icons, as well as picture frames. But many acrylic paints may be used to paint over gold leaf, and if so, whether the gold leaf must be sealed first? 

The quick answer is that most imitation leaves require intermediate coats before being painted with acrylics to prevent tarnishing. 

Are Varnishes Required?

Varnishes are required to protect your imitation gold leaf to retain the look and gorgeous feel. The precious portraits and paintings come down to generations. The use of varnish to acrylic paint with imitation gold leaf will help remove dust, dirt, etc., in the future. 

To get back to the old vibrant glory of the artwork, you will have to remove the varnish. Again, apply a new coat of the varnish. You have to use one isolation coat before varnishing. 

But real gold leaf from 22 karats to 24 karats need no varnishing. It never tarnishes when it is exposed to dirt, smoke, and weather change.

What is an Isolation Coat?

A clear, non-removable isolation coat serves to separate the paint surface from the washable varnish physically. Isolation coat serves two purposes. First, to safeguard the paintwork when the varnish is removed by isolating the pigmented area. 

Second, an isolation coat gives an even and sheen glass-like surface. If you are using soft gel gloss, you will need to prepare an isolation coat; otherwise, the pre-mixed isolation coat is ready to use directly from the pot. 

You need to work quickly – paint the soft gel gloss over your painting in all directions to ensure you don’t miss a bit.

How Long Does a Gold Leaf Last?

Applying gold leaf, we know, is a very intelligent and costly process. But it provides lustrous and impressive artwork. If properly gilded, 23 karats or higher gold leaf can survive between 20 and 30 years. 

It is suggested that gold leaf with a purity of 23 karats or over should not be sealed, as most sealers degrade with time and typically last for around 3-5 years. However, the real gold leaf can last up to 20-30 years in an unsealed exterior.

What Is a Real Gold Leaf and An Imitation Gold Leaf?

There are two kinds of gold leaves. One is a real gold leaf, and the second is an imitation gold leaf. The real gold leaf is from pure gold, i.e., 24 karats gold, and another imitates real gold. 

So, it is an imitation gold leaf. But they cannot be differentiated by their colors. 

Imitation gold leaf comes in the color of gold, but it is composed of zinc, copper, etc. 

You will find no distinction between a real and imitation leaf. The only distinction is that it is slightly larger than genuine gold leaf. You need to choose which one will best fit you.

Can I Varnish My Acrylic Paint?

Of course, you can varnish your paint. But you can do so if your gold leaf is an imitation. Also, you can varnish it if you want your acrylic painting to be readily cleaned or restored in the future to the same finish as it was painted. But you must apply an isolation coat before varnishing so that the varnish may easily be removed with the dirt.

Should My Gold Leaf Needs to Be Sealed?

Generally, sealing is not required when using pure gold leaf with a purity of more than 22 carats. However, a sealer will protect the leaf if the gold leafing work is done in a high-traffic area.

Can I Use a Gold Leaf Adhesive?

Gold leaf, also known as gold foil, is a very thin sheet of genuine gold that is far lighter than a similar-sized piece of aluminum foil. To apply gold leaf to a product, you can use a specific glue called adhesive sizing. You can also use a spray adhesive in some cases.

Is It Possible to Varnish Over Gold Leaf?

You should not varnish genuine gold leaf. Genuine gold leaf is resistant to tarnish and protects the size beneath. The margins are delineated with a very fine black sign painter’s paint. You can varnish up to that point.

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