This topic has 17 replies, 9 voices, and was last updated 5 years, 2 months ago by EvanWRapp.

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  • #14777
      • Experience: 5-10 years
      • Scenic Status: Full Time Regular

      I have a job that will require a tremendous amount of gold leafing. Let’s just say about 800 sq.ft.

      Any tips or tricks to simplify the process? Adhesives? Application methods? PPE?

      I can’t wait to get to work. It’s going to be so glam

        • Experience: 15-20 years
        • Scenic Status: Full Time Regular

        Member Member

        A regional theatre that I used to work with used gold colored hot potato foil and applied it with Super 77. I’ve used that trick on lots of things (including full sets) since then and had very good luck. I’ve found that the keys to doing it well are to wrinkle the film and then flatten it before applying (the slight texture helps to hide seams) and then use something firm yet flexible to smooth it after applying it, kind of like applying sticky-backed vinyl. Good luck!

         Jason Strom
          • Experience: 15-20 years
          • Scenic Status: Full Time Regular

          Genuine gold leaf or imitation? There is a slight difference in application methods. I will assume imitation. Strike some light pencil line guides to make sure you stay in your grid as you work. It’s easy to start to slanting as you go.

          Unless it’s for a permanent installation, wunda-size is a pretty good water based sizing. If it’s for anything permanent, oil size is better. Go thin with it. You know it’s ready when you run your dry knuckle across it and you hear it “squeak”. Work in a book at a time. Hold the book, binding towards you, with both hands but only using your first two fingers and thumbs. lift back the first tissue to reveal the gold, but only about half way, this will help with any breeze. You should be holding the book with your middle finger and thumbs, using your first finger to press the leaf against the up, and slowly slide the leaf onto the surface. repeat overlapping the previous leaf by about 1/8″. It should look like cedar shingles when you are done.

          Once you get a sizable area complete, use a gilding mop, or really soft watercolor brush to tamp down the surface and remove excess leaf. Be careful not to scratch the surface with the bristles. Leaf is very soft. You can seal it or not. Imitation will tarnish over time if you don’t seal it.

          You will get a rhythm once you get a few under your belt. I love leafing, it’s total zen. Wear a dust mask, the leaf bits can start flying around. Oh, and don’t forget about a base coat. leaf is super translucent. Clay red bole is the traditional look. The smoother the base coat the better the final product. Leaf will show off every imperfection. I usually spray the base if I can.

          Good Luck!


          Yes to everything above with a couple of adds:

          Do some samples to see what works for materials. Consider use and durability. Sometimes I use orange shellac…it is easy to rework, does not dull the leaf, and holds up well. Drawback…it stinks. Mona Lisa products are good ( in small batches). Whatever you select, sample how it goes on, dries, and time how long until perfect tackiness. That will determine how big of an area you work at a time.

          RESOURCE: Sepp Leaf NYC – They know EVERYTHING about leaf if you get in a bind and carry a

          LOT of tools and varieties of the real deal as well as alloys in terms of product.

          TIPS: MOST important – quiet your mind and body….a little yoga or stretch is good before you start. Do not multi task while leafing.

          1. Control your area – people walking past and any breeze will ruin your day ( and $26/sheet if it’s real) no fans, saws, etc. and NO sawdust, dusty theatre masking, etc etc. Hold your space…it will also make for more fabulous reveal.

          2. You can also use the empty tissues from the leaf book to smooth over ( or larger soft sheets). A real burnishing cloth is worth the price.

          I try not to touch the leaf with my hands or brush directly in application

          3. Keep a LOT of clean smoothing brushes ( super-soft bristles)they can pick up adhesive residue and ruin your day – I like to brush on the back of the tissue with the leaf down.

          4.Never scratch the surface rubbing it out…it will dull and stick out like a sore thumb in a smooth application.

          5. Keep ALL of your leftovers, and work scraps into any tears or holes before you burnish.

          6.PREP is key for good Smooth, bump free, grit free, dust free…grid or thread helps keep from getting the wobbles.

          7.PRIME with a good primer, and appropriate color ( red or black is traditional, etc OR my favorite is to prime in one of those colors, then throw a quick layer of mica gold paint down- if you have tears it will be at least the right ballpark of color)

          8.APPLY adhesive with a smooth pad or foam brush and even coat. Laps or drips will effect the ability to lay a smooth clean surface. Let it dry until tacky…not wet. Never leave your adhesive open to air. Work in an area you are comfortable with ( 4′ x 4′ etc).

          9.Stick a corner, Blow the leaf, push with tissue….repeat a zillion times with humor to good music.

          10. If something goes awry, let it be…don’t mess with it too much you can go back in…..later.

          Really just walk away and let it dry. Once you overwork it is hard to get it to look right.

          Make sure you test your sealer, and pick one appropriate for what happens to the surface. Leaf will flake off if not perfectly applied, which rarely happens on theatrical surfaces.A lot of water-base sealers turn leaf into a mica paint look. Test it, tap dance on it.

            • Experience: 5-10 years
            • Scenic Status: Full Time Regular

            It is imitation all the way.

            The look is somewhat forgiving since it is meant to be aged and dirty. I’ve found that the amber shellac seals the gold leaf, allows for water based paint on top and really makes it appear very rich and vibrant.

            I’ll be looking into the adhesive recommendations.

              • Experience: 5-10 years
              • Scenic Status: Full Time Regular

              Is Elmer’s glue an option for an adhesive?


              Yes to everything above! I have some additions. As we just did a show last season with about 1800 square feet of gold leaf. Floor too! We used wonda size for the glue. We also used a larger square 6.5 inch squares. Without out liner. Which was a scary surprise, but turned out to be a blessing.

              We put them in small dust pans and pulled each piece one out a little just to tack the edge down. Then it was easy to just pull the rest easily, & get into a nice rhythm. I also recommend work at waist height.

              We aged it with a mixture of Amber shellac leather dye & denatured alcohol.

              We also took the sheen of the leaf/shellac down by sealing it with a water born modified oil sealer. It held up to tracking scenery.

              It did bounce a lot of light around the set. I had to glaze down the non leaf things a lot.

              Here is the company I found my lead from:


              As far as Elmer’s glue for the adhesive. I’m sceptical about this idea as you want the surface to be tacky not wet. But it can’t hurt to try. I would be interested to know if that works!

               Jason Strom
                • Experience: 15-20 years
                • Scenic Status: Full Time Regular

                kkrause – What was the water modified oil sealer you used?

                Love this thread! Lots of awesome info here! Yes to everything so far. Especially the zen part and working at waist high. Having the right head space for leaf is important. It is repetitive and mind numbing: recipes for falling into the comfortable trap where mistakes happen. I would also be careful with amber shellac as opposed to a de-waxed shellac. Standard shellac, the kind that looks opaque when mixed, contains the original wax and will resist water based materials and can cause failure over time. The de-waxed shellac is just that: the wax has been removed and water based material will adhere better. If it is for a short run then you will probably be ok, but be careful with anything that has to last a while.


                Here’s a link to the waterborne modified oil sealer we used.


                It is a wonderful product, just in general, it was easy to apply. It settles nicely. It does yellow over time, but that wasn’t a problem over top of our gold leaf.

                  • Experience: 5-10 years
                  • Scenic Status: Full Time Regular

                  It’s a stage floor for a one off gig so I’m not too concerned about being built to last.

                  I’ve found the Elmer’s glue to actually work better than the Super 77. For whatever reason, the 77 didn’t seem to fully cure. I could still move the leaf around with my fingers if I applied enough pressure. The good old Elmer’s on the other hand, held like a charm.

                  The other difference I noticed was the way the shellac was pulling away from the seems in the leaf on the sample I used the 77.

                    • Experience: 20+ years
                    • Scenic Status: Full Time Regular

                    I love this thread too… there is NOTHING like “Gold leaf” , (even if it’s “composition” or “Dutch Metal”)Great advice all around …

                    I vote for Wunda Size.. (water based.. a lot like elmers but stays tackier – very flexible – works great on backdrops!) we get our supplies from Sepp Leaf too. As far as sealing, we’ve had great success with two things – Yes, shellac, and if you want it tinted use leather dyes – and Pledge floor finish with paint in it to taste. Burnt Sienna always a favorite. The Pledge still retains the shine of the metal unless you put too much paint in.


                    This thread appeared at just the right time! I was headed to the forum to ask some questions about gold leafing because I’ll be doing it for the first time on a show coming up, and here this was! Thanks everyone, this was super helpful!!

                      • Experience: 5-10 years
                      • Scenic Status: Full Time Regular

                      This thread was incredibly helpful. We flew through the gold leaf. In the end, it was a little over 1200 square feet.


                      If you watched the Grammys and saw Sam Smith perform, you saw the stage.

                      Let’s see if I can get some pics up.

                        • Experience: 5-10 years
                        • Scenic Status: Full Time Regular

                        A few more along the way


                        The stage is spectacular! Well done!

                        I’ve wondered from time to time over the years if confectioners foil would work as a metal leaf substitute for the stage. I’ve never had a reason to try it but it’s very thin and comes in a wide variety of colors. It also comes on rolls and has to be pretty cheap.

                        Has anyone tried this?

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