Gilding on the Cheap (and Easy)

I’m certainly not an expert on gilding, but I’ve experimented with it and taken a few classes and I’ve been playing with it lately.  One of the things I hear is that people find it expensive to do and fussy to work with.  So here’s gilding on the cheap (and easy.)

Traditional methods call for loose gold, gesso sizes, burnishers, and a lot of other equipment such as a gilder’s pad, gilder’s knife and gilder’s tip.  Instead, let’s look at using patent gold and a modern size.

You will need a bottle of Kolner Miniatum, patent gold, a cheap brush and a cotton ball.


Kolner Miniatum is available from John Neal Booksellers (  It comes in both a yellow and a clear version.  Most people buy the yellow, but you can add your own colorant if you buy the clear.  It currently runs about $24 per bottle, but a bottle will last for a long time.

Patent gold is gold leaf adhered to a backing sheet which makes it much easier to work with than loose gold.  Depending on where you get your gold, the price will probably be $45-$60 for a packet of 25 leaves.  (But remember that will also last quite a long time.  Most scrolls will only use 1 or 2 leaves of gold at most.)  So there will be outlay of cash at the beginning, but the cost for each scroll is pretty low.

You will also need a cheap brush for laying the Miniatum.  Do not use your best, favorite or most expensive brush but make sure you use something that won’t leave brush hairs behind.

Optional items include a plastic straw, small pair of scissors and a pair of tweezers.

Patent gold leaf works best in small areas where you can lay the size (miniatum) down smoothly.  Get some paper the same as you will be using for your scroll so you can do some testing in advance.  Using just a little size, paint a small circle, then take a larger dollop of size and dab it on top, so it forms a slight dome.  (Or experiment with other methods.)  It works best if you keep the size as smooth as possible. Try not to get air bubbles in it.  Make several more dots and note the time.  Clean your brush immediately and well!  Wait a few hours.


Breathe heavily over the dot of size a couple of times.  (Or breathe on it through a straw, but be careful not to get condensation inside the straw).  Take the patent gold and lay it gently over the dot.  Rub it gently with the cotton ball.  Try not to wrinkle or fold the gold leaf when you rub it.  You want it to be as smooth as possible. It’s usually better to go just one direction at first.  Lift off the gold leaf sheet.  Look with amazement!  Or not.  Look to see how well the gold has adhered.  If it isn’t sticking well, breathe more on the next dot, or wait another hour or two.  If it’s worked well, you can gently burnish it a bit with the cotton ball.


I’ve found it works pretty well after 6 or 7 hours (it’s also worked fine after 3-4 hours) and should still be fine to gild up to 24 hours, but I suspect the relative humidity in your area will make a difference.  If it’s dry, gild sooner.  If it’s moist, you can take more time.

If you are gilding a lot of small areas, I find it works better to take a small pair of scissors and cut the patent gold leaf into small squares a little bigger than the area I want to gild.  You can use a pair of tweezers to move the gold into position.  Using the full sheet will likely get gold on areas you aren’t ready to work yet.


Thanks to Dame Richenda for all her advice on this method and thanks to Baroness Tetchubah for all her classes on gilding.  Shiny!