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Decorative Gilding

Gilding is the decorative technique of applying powder or fine gold leaf to printing products such as card, paper, wood, stone or even metal. The finished result adds a layer of gold, giving an exuberant and luxurious feel to your products. Most popular with edge card painting for business cards, a gold gilded edge card can set your business card out from the crowd and leave a memorable, lasting impression to your clients.

Also known as heat foil gilding, the gilding process starts by applying a thin film of colored pigments to the printing surface using a hot glue. The blocking is then done either mechanically, chemically or by hand if required. This process can be applied with either flat or embossed print jobs and the finish is extraordinary.

What is gilding?

Gilding is a decorative technique that involves putting a very thin layer of gold on solid surfaces like metal, wood, porcelain, or stone. The term “gilt” is also used to denote a gilded object. Where metal is gilded, the metal beneath it was usually silver in the West, to form silver-gilt (or vermeil) artifacts, but gilt-bronze is popular in China, and is also known as ormolu in the West. Hand application and gluing, often of gold leaf, chemical gilding, and electroplating, commonly known as gold plating, are all methods of gilding. Only a portion of the surface of parcel-gilt (partial gilt) objects is gilded. This could mean that a chalice or similar vessel is gilded entirely on the inside but not on the outside, or that patterns or images are created by combining gilt and ungilted parts.

Gilding is a technique for giving an object a gold finish for a fraction of the cost of actual gold. Furthermore, a solid gold piece would be too delicate or heavy for everyday use. In addition, unlike silver, a gilded surface does not tarnish.

Gilding Styles

Modern gilding is done in a variety of ways and on a variety of surfaces. More traditional techniques are still used in framemaking, as well as in general carpentry, cabinetmaking, decorative painting and interior design, bookbinding, and ornamental leather work, as well as in the decoration of pottery, porcelain, and glass.


A book with gilded page edges. All activities for preparing gold leaf, as well as the techniques for mechanically attaching gold to surfaces, are included in mechanical gilding. Burnishing, water gilding, and oil gilding are among the processes employed by wood carvers and gilders, as well as the gilding operations of the house designer, sign painter, bookbinder, and paper stainer, among others.

Gilding is done mechanically on polished iron, steel, and other metals by putting gold leaf to the metal surface at a temperature just below red-hot, pressing the leaf on with a burnisher, and then reheating when more leaf may be applied. Cold burnishing completes the procedure.

The simplest and oldest method is “overlaying” or folding or pounding gold foil or gold leaf, which is referenced in Homer’s Odyssey and the Old Testament. This technique was used on wood, with a thin layer of bitumen underneath to enhance adhesion, according to Ur’s Ram in a Thicket (2600–2400 BC).

The next steps were two straightforward procedures. The first is gold leaf, which is gold that has been hammered or sliced into extremely thin sheets. Today’s gold leaf is often thinner than regular paper and appears semi-transparent when held up to the light. It was often ten times thicker in ancient times than it is today, and probably half that in the Middle Ages.

When gilding on canvas or wood, gesso was frequently used as a primer. The term “gesso” refers to a mixture of finely crushed gypsum or chalk and glue. After the gesso had been applied, dried, and smoothed, it was re-wet with a sizing made of rabbit-skin glue and water (“water gilding,” which allows the surface to be burnished to a mirror-like finish) or boiled linseed oil mixed with litharge (“oil gilding,” which does not), and the gold leaf was layered on using a gilder’s tip and left to dry before Sizing was occasionally added to stiffly beaten egg whites (“glair”), gum, and/or Armenian bole for gilding on canvas and parchment, yet egg whites and gum both grow brittle with time, causing the gold leaf to crack and separate, hence honey was sometimes added to make them more pliable.

Other gilding techniques included grinding gold into a fine powder and mixing it with a binder such as gum arabic to use as a pigment in paint. Shell gold, the resulting gold paint, was applied in the same way as any other paint. The artist would sometimes heat the item after gold-leafing or gold-painting to gently melt the gold, providing an equal coat. For materials like wood, leather, illuminated manuscript vellum pages, and gilt-edged stock, these processes remained the only options.

Chemical Gilding

Chemical gilding refers to any procedure that involves the gold being in some stage of chemical combination. Cold gilding, wet gilding, fire gilding, and depletion gilding are examples of these techniques.

Cold Gilding

The gold is obtained in a state of exceedingly fine division in cold gilding, then applied mechanically. Cold gilding of silver is achieved by dipping a linen rag into a solution of gold in aqua regia, burning it, and rubbing the black and heavy ashes on the metal with the finger or a piece of leather or cork.

Wet Gilding

Wet gilding is a type of gilding that is applied on a dilute solution of gold chloride in aqua regia with double the amount of ether is used for wet gilding. To allow the ether to separate and float on the surface of the acid, the liquids are stirred and left to rest. The entire combination is then poured into a separating funnel with a small aperture and set aside for a while, after which the acid is run off from below and the gold dissolved in ether is separated. The ether will be found to have absorbed all of the gold from the acid and can be used to gild iron or steel, which is polished with fine emery and wine spirits for this purpose. With a little brush, the ether is applied, and as it evaporates, the gold is deposited, ready to be heated and polished. A pen or a thin brush can be used to lay on the ether solution for little delicate figures. In electroless plating, gold chloride can be dissolved in water and then gently decreased out of solution onto the surface to be gilded. This method is known as “Angel gilding” when it is employed on the second surface of glass and is backed with silver.

Fire Gilding

The method of fire-gilding or wash-gilding involves applying a gold amalgam to metallic surfaces, with the mercury then being volatilized, leaving a film of gold or an amalgam containing 13 to 16 percent mercury. The gold must first be reduced to thin plates or grains, which are then heated to red-hot temperatures and tossed into previously heated mercury until it begins to smoke. The gold is completely absorbed when the mixture is agitated with an iron rod. Mercury is usually six to eight times more valuable than gold. When the amalgam is cold, it is pressed through chamois leather to remove the excess mercury; the gold, which weighs nearly twice as much as the mercury, remains, forming a yellowish silvery lump with the consistency of butter.

The application of mercury before the amalgam is applied permits the amalgam to spread more easily when the metal to be gilded is worked or chased. When the metal’s surface is smooth, the amalgam can be applied straight to it. The surface to be gilded is simply bitten and cleaned with nitric acid when no such preparation is used. Quicksilver water, a solution of mercury(II) nitrate, the nitric acid attacking the metal to which it is applied, and so leaving a layer of free metallic mercury, are used to deposit mercury on a metallic surface.

After evenly spreading the amalgam over the metal’s prepared surface, the mercury is carefully volatilized with just enough heat to do so, as a temperature too high may cause portion of the gold to be pushed off or else run together, leaving parts of the metal surface naked.

When the mercury has evaporated, the metal must go through several processes to reveal its fine gold color, which is denoted by a dull yellow tint on the surface. The surface of the gilded surface is first wiped smooth with a scratch brush made of brass wire. It is then covered in gilding wax and exposed to fire once again until the wax has burned off. Beeswax is blended with red ochre, verdigris, copper scales, alum, vitriol, and borax to make gilding wax. As a result of the flawless dissipation of some of the residual mercury, the color of the gilding is enhanced by this operation. The gilt surface is then coated with potassium nitrate, alum, or other salts, which are mashed together and combined with water or weak ammonia to form a paste. Following that, the metal is heated before being quenched in water.

This procedure improves the color of the gilding and brings it closer to that of gold, most likely by eliminating any copper particles that may have been on the gilt surface. When done correctly, this method provides gilding that is both solid and beautiful. This process of gilding metal objects was once common, but it fell out of favor when the concerns of mercury toxicity became more well acknowledged. Because fire-gilding necessitates the volatilization of mercury in order to drive off the mercury and leave the gold on the surface, it is exceedingly hazardous. Because inhalation is a very efficient route for mercuric compounds to enter the body, breathing the fumes generated by this process can quickly result in serious health problems, such as neurological damage and endocrine disorders; the mercury used in the process also evaporates into the atmosphere, polluting it. This procedure has largely been replaced by gold electroplating on a nickel substrate, which is both more cost-effective and safer.

Gold Leaf Gilding

In printing, Gilding is commonly done with gold leaf, which is gold that has been hammered into thin sheets by goldbeating. Gold leaf comes in a wide range of karats and colors. 22-karat yellow gold is the most often used gold. This is a process we use at Luxury Printing.

Although gold leaf is a form of metal leaf, the term is rarely used to describe it. Metal leaf is a word that refers to thin sheets of metal of any hue that do not include any actual gold. 24 carat gold is the purest form of gold. The pure gold content of real yellow gold leaf is around 91.7 percent. White gold with a silvery hue is roughly 50% pure gold.

Goldleafing or gilding is the process of layering gold leaf over a surface. Water gilding is the most demanding and prestigious method of gold leafing. It hasn’t changed much in hundreds of years, and it’s still done by hand.

Gold leaf is sometimes used in art in its “raw” state, meaning it hasn’t been gilded. It was employed to wrap objects like bullae simply by folding it firmly over in cultures like the European Bronze Age, and the Classical group of gold lunulae are so thin, especially in the center, that they could be classified as gold leaf. It’s been used as jewelry for a long time, usually as small free-hanging pieces.

Gold leaf has long been the most popular and widely used gilding material for art or picture frames, which are frequently used to hold or decorate paintings, mixed media, tiny objects (such as jewelry), and paper art. Gold glass is gold leaf sandwiched between two pieces of glass, and it was used to embellish Ancient Roman vessels and tesserae gold mosaics, with some of the gold scraped off to make an image. “Gold-ground” paintings, in which the figures’ backgrounds are entirely made of gold leaf, were first seen in mosaics in later Early Christian art, and then in icons and Western panel paintings until the late Middle Ages; both techniques employ gold leaf. In Buddhist art, gold leaf is used to embellish statues and symbols. Domes in religious and public architecture also have gold leafing. While “gold” frames without leafing are also available for a lower price, gold or metal leaf was traditionally preferred when possible, and gold leafed (or silver leafed) moulding is still widely available from many of the companies that manufacture commercially available moulding for use as picture frames.

Gilding is one of our most popular finishing techniques. To add that extra level of beauty, a metallic foil is applied to the edge of your stationery in this highly specialized technique. Gold or Silver foils, in my experience, are the most effective for gilded edges.

Bevelled Edges

We also provide the option of bevelling the edges of your gilt-edged invitations to ensure they have the desired impact. Before gilding, the edges are sanded down to a 45-degree angle, allowing the glossy edges to be visible even while gazing at the invites face-on.


We propose getting your cards inked edges if you want a slightly different color. This is a similar technique that uses ink instead of metallic foil. We utilize our luxury die stamping inks to ensure a lovely deep, rich color on the edges of your invites. To help give your invites that extra WOW factor, die stamping ink includes up to 80% color pigment.

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