Gold & Metal Leaf

Published on 10.02.2021 by Rachel

There's a lot to consider when buying gold leaf, genuine or imitation, loose of transfer, thickness, etc. I'm going to try and break it down and make it a little easier!

Each book of genuine gold leaf contains 25 leaves that measure 80mm x 80mm (this is European sizing, in America, they use 86mm x 86mm - we do have a small range on American leaf). One book of European genuine gold will cover an area of 0.16m² without waste or overlap.

Books of imitation leaf still contain 25 leaves but they measure 140mm x 140mm.

Thickness / Weight
The thickness of the leaf is measured in weight per 1000 leaves. This gives us the measurements you see on the descriptions of the leaf - 12gms, 14gms, etc. Our leaf goes up to 20gms (or 28gms in the silver) as this is the maximum usually needed by signwriters and decorative gilders, however, it can be made much thicker for other practices such as glass blowing.

Loose or Transfer
You can tell the difference between loose and transfer leaf by looking at the book - transfer books will have the ends of waxed paper sticking out past the pages of the book.
Loose leaf is, as the name would suggest, loose. This means each sheet is not attached to the pages of the book. A gilders tip is used to pick up a leaf and transfer it to your work, or onto the gilders cushion if the leaf requires cutting.
Transfer leaf also comes in a book, but each leaf is pressed onto a sheet of wax paper - you use this paper to transfer the leaf to your work, rubbing the back to gently press the gold off the paper and onto your surface.
No adhesive is used to attach the transfer leaf to the paper, which brings me on to the next point...

Pressing is only available on transfer leaf as this is how it is attached to the wax paper. As a standard, transfer leaf comes loosely pressed, a loosely pressed leaf will come straight off the paper as soon as you stick any part of it to the gold size. A medium or hard-pressed leaf will only come off where you have pressed the leaf to the size, the rest of the leaf will stay on the paper to use again - a bit like a Letraset! The hard-pressed leaf is ideal when working on small letters and details, like honors boards, where the whole leaf coming off would result in a lot of wasted gold!

Carat, or Karat in the US, is how we measure the purity of gold. 24-carat gold means pure gold, which means 24 of 24 parts are gold. 22-carat gold means 22 of 24 parts of the alloy are gold, making it 91.6% pure etc. The metals that are added to the gold vary and affect the tone and colour of the finished leaf.

Tarnishing, Varnishing, and Alloys
Any gold or metal leaf under 22ct will tarnish - this means it will go green or eventually black as the metal alloys react with the oxygen in the air. This is because (as above) we add other alloys to the gold - often silver or copper - these are what will tarnish! Gold itself does not tarnish, neither do metals such as Platinum or Palladium.

Depending on which alloys (silver, copper, etc) and how much is used, the leaf can take on a different colour. This is where we get things like red, white, lemon or green gold leaf from. The German Ducate leaf for example uses exclusively copper alloys, giving it a lovely pinkish tint.

If you are still unsure which leaf is right for you, please email me on [email protected] and I will happily discuss your needs.


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