How to Apply Gold Leaf

by | Jun 22, 2017 | Blog | 168 comments

Landscape & Galactic Dust, 48″ x 60″, acrylic & gold leaf on panel


How to Apply Gold Leaf – especially for acrylic & oil painters

If you’ve seen my website and other blog articles, you probably figured out that I really really like gold leaf! I guess I just like shiny stuff! I like the challenge of combining leaf with paint. Anyone game to try? If so, this blog article provides all the details you need to dive right in.

First, I suggest watching the free video I made directly below, where I demonstrate the entire leafing process. After watching that, please return to this article for updated information. I am unable to update videos on Youtube, so here is where I add new information. The sealing steps are especially tricky. As you can see from the comments, all types of issues occur at this step. If you (1) READ this article, and (2) Experiment on a surface you don’t care about BEFORE working on your actual piece, you will get best results.  And please scroll down for supply lists and resources.


Important tips

Please note that these instructions are for FINE ART PAINTINGS. If you want to apply leaf on a functional object that will get physical use, like furniture, then use a commercial sealer like polyurethane – NOT a fine art sealer as I recommend below.

If you plan on overpainting leaf with ACRYLIC PAINT, it’s important to know that water-based acrylic can tarnish imitation gold leaf, (only while the acrylic is still wet), if applied over unsealed leaf. Once sealed properly, and fully dry, then the leaf will not tarnish regardless of what you apply over it. This area of sealing is the most misunderstood, so I have included below more details on sealing.

If you are painting with oil paint, there are some differences in the preparation process between acrylic and oil. So first watch the video for general application methods even though in the demonstrations I use acrylic. Then scroll down further for more helpful tips to overpaint with oil.

Nancy Reyner applying gold leaf

If you’ve seen my website and other blog articles, you probably figured out that I really really like gold leaf! I guess I just like shiny stuff! I like the challenge of combining leaf with paint. Anyone game to try? If so, this blog article provides all the details you need to dive right in.

First, I suggest watching the free video I made directly below, where I demonstrate the entire leafing process. After watching that, then return to the article for a summary of steps along with any new information. I will continually update information on leafing here, but may not be able to update in the video. And please scroll down for supply lists and resources. 

If you plan on overpainting leaf with acrylic paint, it’s important to know that water-based acrylic can tarnish imitation leaf, (only while the acrylic is still wet), if applied over unsealed leaf. Once sealed and dry, then the leaf will not tarnish regardless of what you apply over it. This area of sealing is the most misunderstood, so I have included below more details on sealing.

If you are painting with oil paint, there are some differences in the preparation process between acrylic and oil. So first watch the video for general application methods even though in the demonstrations I use acrylic. Then scroll down further for more helpful tips to overpaint with oil.


Leaf Application

There are TWO WAYS to apply leaf, regardless of whether you are using real gold leaf or imitation gold leaf. One application method uses leaf adhesive (also called gilding size or leafing size) while the other method is called water gilding, and is more complicated to do.

In my video I demonstrate using the first option I listed – leaf adhesive. Water gilding is time consuming and difficult, but results in perfectly smooth glowing gold. This is great when used on a picture frame, for example. The reason I do not use water gilding (as well as real gold leaf) for a painting surface that will be overpainted, is because in my opinion, a sleek smooth leaf surface does not easily integrate visually with the way I paint, especially when used as a painting background.


Real Gold Leaf vs Imitation Gold Leaf

There are two different types of gold leaf you can purchase – real gold leaf and imitation gold leaf. Real gold leaf is made of mostly pure gold and comes in different karats. Imitation (or composite) gold leaf is made of copper and zinc, and comes in a few variations of gold colors.

In my opinion it IS worth the expense to use real gold, as long as you also use the water gilding application, when the gold is mostly uncovered and unpainted, like applying it to a picture frame.

The benefit of using the adhesive method is that it will show some brush strokes, and therefore integrates better when used in a painting. Everyone has a different idea in mind when using gold leaf so you need to decide which works best for you.

For my paintings, I overpaint a good portion of the leaf, so it doesn’t make sense for me to use water gilding along with real gold leaf. I know there are some good reasons some of you may have for using real gold, and that’s fine. I just wanted to share my opinion.

In summary, you can use either application method – water gilding or adhesive – with either type of leaf – real gold or imitation gold. My video demonstrates the adhesive method with imitation leaf. You can use this same method with real gold. With the adhesive method, the two types of leaf will look very similar after application, because of the type of application method. In other words, when using the water gilding method, it makes sense to use real gold leaf instead of imitation gold leaf. When using the glue or size adhesive, then it makes sense to use the imitation leaf and not the real gold.

gold leaf compared to imitation gold leaf
Left: real gold leaf; Right: imitation gold leaf


Special Note About Sealing Gold Leaf

There are two different sealing processes you need to consider, for most projects involving leafing along with paint. Let’s call these two sealing processes Pre-Paint Sealing and Post-Paint Sealing.

Pre-Paint Sealing seals over the leaf prior to painting. This is important for both oil and acrylic painters. When you apply paint over the unsealed leaf, which is very delicate, it may get scratched, marred or removed accidentally. Sealing the leaf allows for over-painting with oil or acrylic without negatively affecting the leaf. This sealing process is VERY tricky when sealing imitation gold leaf. That is because this is where you can accidentally tarnish the leaf using the wrong sealer and the wrong sealing application process. See details and tips for avoiding tarnishing below in step 6.

Post-Paint Sealing is a good idea because it provides a protective coat to seal over your finished painting. This usually involves sealing over both leaf and paint, and adds an archival finishing coat when you use an archival varnish. Archival varnishes usually have UV protection and will keep your paintings from fading. They are also removable, which means the layer can be removed for cleaning purposes in the future if needed. This is described further in Step 8.

These two sealing steps have different purposes from each other, and therefore require different products and processes. They also differ depending on whether you are using acrylic or oil under or over the leaf. I have listed the more detailed information below in Step 6 and Step 8 for each of these two sealing steps.


Gold Leafing Steps

Watch video above for details & demonstrations, then read the following UPDATED INFORMATION.

1. Prepare Surface
Paint the surface a color. You can use oil or acrylic paint for this underpainting. If you use acrylic paint you can use the water-based adhesive over it to apply the leaf. If you use oil paint you MUST use the solvent-based or oil-based adhesive to apply the leaf. This color will only show minimally under the leaf if you will be covering your surface all the way with leaf. For a classic look use Red Oxide paint color. Optional – add texture using a mixture of Molding Paste with acrylic paint color.

2. Apply adhesive
Choose water-based or solvent-based leaf adhesive (also called gilding or leaf sizing). I use water-based because it is non-toxic and I apply it over acrylic.

The best way to tell if the size is solvent-based or water-based is to read product label instructions. When it directs you to clean brushes with solvents, it is solvent-based (also sometimes called oil-based), while the water based size will instruct you to clean brushes with water. Use either type if it will be applied over a primed or acrylic painted surface. If applying OVER oil paint you must use the solvent-based adhesive and make sure the oil paint is fully dry. Drying times for oil paint depend on how thick the paint is applied, which paint colors are used, and your climate conditions. Apply thinly. Let dry at least 20 minutes before leafing.

3. Apply Leaf
Place wax paper over leaf, rub gently to create static, lift and position to place. Once placed rub lightly, then lift wax paper and repeat to leaf other areas. Allow excess overlap of leaves.

4. Burnish
Place sheet of wax paper over leaf, then rub with moderate pressure using soft cloth. After burnishing let dry for at least 3 days (I prefer at least one week) so the adhesive is fully cured. Do not burnish without the wax paper in between your cloth and leaf or you will remove the leaf.

5. Clean Excess
Using a stiff small brush gently remove excess leaf on the sides of the panel or canvas, and wherever leaves overlap each other.

6. Pre-Paint Sealing: Seal Leaf Before Overpainting
There are two methods to seal leaf prior to painting with acrylic or oil. One involves a solvent-based varnish which is toxic and requires ventilation and proper protection. This gives a stronger coating with no risk of tarnishing the imitation leaf. Let me repeat that in a stronger way. This is the BETTER way to seal over the leaf before applying paint. It has better protection and less room for error in the application.

The other method uses a water-based acrylic medium which is non-toxic, but will require more coats as it offers a thinner coating then the toxic product. Even with multiple coats this will not provide as good a seal as the method above, when you are using aggressive painting techniques such as sanding, pouring acrylic layers, or using thick applications of acrylic paints or acrylic products. This water-based version also has some risks involved with its application. If applied using bad application habits, it can still cause tarnishing. This method requires some understanding about its application for good results. Tips for good application are described in the next paragraph. Unlike imitation gold leaf, real gold leaf will not tarnish, but sealing is still recommended so it won’t get harmed while painting. If using real gold leaf you do not have to worry about any of the cautions I am mentioning here, about tarnishing.

Very important!!! Do not use Golden’s water-based acrylic varnish called Polymer Varnish for the Pre-Paint Seal. If used directly on unsealed leaf it will tarnish the leaf. You can use it for a final Post-Paint Seal as a final coat. See Step 8.

Method 1: Water-based Sealers 

Before I discuss this method using water-based or acrylic sealers, I’d like to make a big point about this NOT being the best method for sealing over imitation gold leaf. The best method is Method 2 – using solvent-based sealers, and is described in the next section below. It is easier, with less risk of error, and provides the best protection for gold leaf – real or imitation. Some people cannot use solvent-based products because they are toxic and so I am providing an alternative here.

To apply a non-toxic sealer, make a mixture combining two water-based mediums from Golden, GAC200 with GAC500, in an approximate 1:1 ratio. You can also use the GAC200 by itself. If you do then apply it in a room with temperature at 70 degrees F or above. This warmer temperature will allow the GAC200 to cure extra hard – best for sealing. By combining it with GAC500 you do not need to apply it as warm, and also this mixture allows for an easier and possibly smoother application. Brush apply one coat of the medium or medium mixture over the leaf using a smooth flat soft brush. Please note – this method will NOT work if you are substituting the GAC200 and GAC500 with any other acrylic mediums. Here’s why these two mediums together will work as a sealer over leaf, but other water-based acrylic mediums will not.

Almost all acrylic products contain ammonia while wet. Ammonia will tarnish copper, the predominant metal in imitation gold leaf. Since the ammonia dissipates by the time the acrylic has dried we can use acrylic as a sealer if it dries fast enough to keep the ammonia from affecting the leaf. GAC200 and GAC500 are extra hard acrylic and very fast drying. Other gloss mediums will not dry as quickly as these GAC mediums and risk tarnishing. Other GAC mediums will not work for this purpose (sealing over imitation gold leaf) either, as they are formulated for different purposes.

This mixture of the two GAC mediums is a bit tricky to apply as you can see from the above information. If it dries too slowly, it won’t work. It you apply it too thickly it will dry slowly. If you add water to the mediums it will dry slowly. Therefore, eliminate any water on the brush and do not add any water into the medium. Smooth it out to a thin film so it dries fast. Do not use a stiff bristle brush, or overbrush by brushing it once it starts to dry and gets tacky (which happens within seconds) so you need to apply the mixture in very very small areas, smoothing it thinly before adding more medium. If you overbrush, you will create a cloudy film that is permanent and ruins your leaf surface.

Wow! Using water-based acrylic mediums as a sealer over imitation gold leaf is quite tricky, right? Please remember I do not recommend this unless you absolutely cannot use the solvent-based varnishes I recommend below and which I also use for my own work.

How many coats of the GAC200 or mixture of GAC200 with GAC500 should you apply? If you plan on overpainting the sealed leaf with heavy applications of acrylic, or other aggressive techniques that require extra protection for the leaf, apply four coats, letting each dry to the touch prior to applying the next. One to three coats will suffice when you plan to overpaint using thin layers of acrylic paint or if overpainting with oil. Once your last coat is applied and dry to the touch you do not need to wait for a longer period and can go ahead and overpaint with acrylic or oil paint.

Method 2: Solvent-based Sealer

Please read helpful safety tips for using toxic solvents, at the end of this article.

Any permanent clear gloss spray sealer or permanent solvent-based varnish will seal the leaf. First check the label to see if it is permanent. The way to tell is from the instruction label on the product container. Removable vanishes will instruct how to remove the dried layer, while permanent ones will not. If it is removable see special instructions in the next paragraph. With permanent sealers, two coats are recommended. Once dry you can apply oil paint over it. To apply acrylic over it, lightly sand, then apply the water-based sealer over it as described above in Method 1 for best adhesion between the acrylic paint and sealer.

I often recommend using Golden’s MSA Varnish Gloss, or Golden’s Archival Varnish Gloss spray for use over leaf when planning on eventually overpainting with acrylic paint. These two varnishes by Golden are what I use along with the application method described here. These are good fine-art products and seal leaf well even though they are both removable. Since they are removable, wait two weeks after application for the coating to fully dry, then apply a permanent seal coat over it using the water-based sealer I mentioned above in Method 1. You will need to do this whether you are overpainting with oil OR acrylic. You MUST apply something permanent over these removable sealers before applying paint. Once you apply the water-based medium in Method 1 over the removable sealer, you can then overpaint with acrylic once the GAC coating is dry to the touch. If overpainting with oil paint wait a week or more once the GAC coating has dried.

Important: DO NOT overpaint Golden’s MSA Varnish or their Archival Varnish with oil paint UNLESS you seal over the varnish with the mixture of GAC200 and GAC500 as instructed above. These varnishes have UV protection in them, and one of the essential resins used in the varnishes can interfere with the drying process of any oil paint applied over it.

7. Paint
Apply paint opaquely and/or transparently over the sealed leaf to get a variety of effects. For maximum variation and interest, allow some leaf to remain unpainted, some leaf areas to be fully covered, as well as some leaf showing through transparent paint. If you end up with too much paint coverage some of the paint can be sanded off. Here is where it helps to have substantial coats of Pre-Paint Sealing.

8. Post-Paint Sealing- final painting topcoat
It’s a good idea to varnish paintings at the very end, even if you already sealed the leaf prior to painting. Sealing with an archival varnish over leaf and paint is recommended. It enables the painting to be cleaned, and adds UV protection.

For oil painting over leaf, wait about a month for the oil painting to dry before this final varnish coat. Wait longer if oil paint is applied thickly. This final varnish is applied over the whole surface, including leaf and oil paint. Use Goldens Archival Varnish Gloss spray, Golden’s MSA Varnish, Gamvar by Gamblin or any other archival removable solvent-based varnish meant for oil paint.

For acrylic painting over leaf, I like to use Golden’s Polymer Varnish Gloss, which is non-toxic. Do not use this water-based varnish product over oil paint. However it is a good final varnish product to use over acrylic paint and the sealed leaf. And also very important!!! Do not use this product for the Pre-Paint Seal. If used directly on unsealed imitation gold leaf it will tarnish the leaf. If you did not apply enough sealer over the leaf in the Pre-Paint Seal, this varnish may still reach the leaf layer and tarnish it.

For non-fine-art projects like furniture, that will get physically used, apply a commercial sealer like solvent-based polyurethane instead of the fine art varnishes I recommend here.

gold leaf painting by Nancy Reyner
Stargate, 48″ x 36″, acrylic & gold leaf on panel


More Resources & Info on Gold Leaf

Acrylic Painting Techniques on Gold Leaf Video for purchase
View paintings on gold leaf
Acrylic Illuminations step-by-step instruction book and ideas on leafing for painters
Video – How to Apply Gold Leaf
Article on gold leaf by GOLDEN.
Please note! While I highly value the tech team at GOLDEN and their expert advice, I do not agree with everything listed in their linked article above. Everything I have written here has been verified by GOLDEN’s top tech advisor. If there are any discrepancies between my article and theirs, know that I have fully tested and verified everything I wrote here. GOLDEN has expertise in acrylic, yet I have more expertise and experience with gold leaf, as it pertains to acrylic and using their products. Therefore, you may find some contradictions between my article and theirs. YES you can use GAC 200 over imitation leaf in the way I describe. YES you can use the removable varnish in between layers as I also describe. The important thing to note is that Golden is correct, that normally their products are not meant for application in the way I am using it. As long as you follow my special application instructions their products will work well for the purposes I am using them here.


Supply List & Links


Any painting surface such as canvas, fabric, canvas panels or wood panels, objects and walls.

Links for wood painting panels

Links for metal leaf

LEAF ADHESIVE (also known as gilding or leafing size)
Remember there are two choices: water-based (which is non-toxic and can only be used over acrylic) and solvent-based (which can be used over acrylic or oil).

Links for leaf adhesive:

Remember there are 2 different sealing steps and these require different products. Review this article to make sure you get the right product.

Links for sealers:

Link for wax paper:

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Complete Painting Instruction

Learn everything you need from your first brushstroke to the finished painting. Acquire techniques and ground breaking concepts to shape your artistic vision.

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  1. Louise

    How do you sign your gold leaf artwork? I find mine is difficult to do and the size is too big and distracting.

    • Nancy Reyner

      Good question! Signing is important and I often sign differently depending on the painting. If you are signing on a glossy surface such as gold leaf, I suggest using a fluid paint and add some water and some medium so it can be applied easily. If there is too much water in the paint you are using to sign, it will just bead up. You can lightly sand the leaf in the area you want to sign which will help allow the paint to flow more easily. I use a very small brush to add my signature, so as you mentioned, it doesn’t compete with the image. If the work is very small I add mats, put my signature on the mat and put it behind glass in a frame. I also sign the backs of my paintings at times. Another idea is to lightly sand the area for your signature, or you can apply a clear gesso (I use Golden’s Pastel Ground, dilute it with water, apply it and let it dry. It adds tooth to the surface). Then use a finely sharpened pencil to sign. One more suggestion is to shorten your signature by using a logo or just your initials. Hope this helps!

  2. Sandi Parker

    Nancy, I have done an abstract with a textured white background in acrylic, gold leaf applied in an abstract design – and then words that have also been painted on in acrylic (in another area of hte painting.) When I go to spray the gold leaf with the sealer and then follow up with the other sealer – will this change the color or texture of my acrylic background and/or the words that are painted on?

    • Rachel

      Hi! Excellent information. Thanks so much for sharing! Related question: I want to use copper leaf OVER oil paint (quite thick layers). The paint is touch dry but not fully cured. Can I do this now, or do I need to wait until fully cured?

      Also, I know (thanks to your help!) that I need to use oil based sizing to attach the copper leaf to the paint… What else to I need to do differently, terms of varnish, considering that oil is the underpaint.

      Thanks in advance!

  3. Sandi Parker

    Thank you so much for this terrific video. I’m an abstract painter and have been wanting to add abstract elements of gold leaf to my work but didn’t know where to start! Your video was so informative and gave me the courage to dive in! And, I just ordered your book.

    • Nancy Reyner

      Hi Sandi,
      I am so glad you enjoyed the video and also that you found it helpful for your work. Thanks for ordering my book! I’m sure you will enjoy all the embellishment ideas it offers.
      Thanks again!


    • Dina Beshay

      Thank you so much for the generous information you provided!
      I have a question about the boards- can I use any board like the back of an old frame or does it have to be a certain type of board?

    • Nancy Reyner

      Hi Dina,
      You can paint and/or leaf on any surface. Any fabric, any type of wood, any type of glass or metal. If you have a piece of wood that you find, for example, as you said the back of an old frame, you want to make sure the wood is in good condition. If the wood is warped I recommend against using it. Wood for painting panels can be inexpensively had by getting a 4′ x 8′ sheet cut at any place that sells wood. You can get quite a lot of wood panels from that size sheet. Usually a sheet of plywood is about $15 and it costs an extra few dollars to have it cut. So for a total of $20 you get a stack of panels. If you want to use wood you have around, if it is raw then you need to seal it to prevent warping. See this article:
      If the wood has been sealed already, you would need to find out if it is sealed with an oil-based sealer or a water-based sealer. Once you determine this, then you would need to use the same type for your leaf adhesive and paint.

  4. Diane Schreiber

    Thank you so much for the video on applying gold leaf, you explained and showed every process very precise. I’m applying gold leaf to an Icon, but was doubting myself as it has been years since I’d done this process. I’ve done OK! But, you showed some tricks of the trade I was not aware of. Your art work is beautiful!

    • Nancy Reyner

      Hi Diane, Thanks for getting in touch, and your kind words about my artwork! I’m glad the video proved helpful for your work.
      Best wishes,

  5. Thank you

    Thank you so much for the lesson, it’s lovely to hear you, I can’t wait to try it on! ✨ Greetings from Argentina,

    • Nancy Reyner

      Hi Andrea, Glad you enjoyed it!

  6. Carrie Wild

    Dear Nancy:

    I’m so grateful to have found this article. I worked in antique restoration for a long time and know how to seal gold leaf on those types of projects. However, as a professional watercolorist, I’ve begun using gold (composition) leaf on my paintings at the very end, and realized it should be sealed. I work on 140 lb. paper. Would the Golden MSA Gloss Archival Varnish be the best product to apply? This step would come when the painting is finished, and would just be applied to the leaf. I’d like to retain the shine of the gold while preventing any tarnish.

    Any advice you could give would be much appreciated! Thank you.

    • Nancy Reyner

      Hi Carrie,
      I’m so glad you are finding this article helpful for your artwork. Yes that product will work beautifully over a watercolor embellished with imitation gold leaf. I’d apply two coats. This will add shine to the leaf, but not make the watercolor paper glossy because the paper is so absorbent. The varnish will also protect your watercolor, and add UV protection to reduce color fading.

  7. Anne Rewey

    I love your video and you helped me tremendously but the video said that the GAC200 would dry clear and when I used it I got white streaks dried into my coffee table! Then I read your website and it says that the brush strokes are key or your will get a cloudy streaks :(. I think my coffee table is ruined. Is there anything I can do?? Maybe use a light glaze over it to cover the white streaks? any advice? I still love your videos and help!! 🙂

    • Nancy Reyner

      Hi Anne,
      I am sorry to hear you got streaks in your sealing application. I admit that sealing is a tricky process IF you don’t use what I recommend – which is a solvent based sealer. The non-toxic alternative will work, but is more tricky. Because of this need for extra information I have written this article on my blog you have made your comment. The article, and my advice, is for FINE ART paintings. For coffee tables and other functional objects it is best to seal with a commercial sealer like polyurethane. But I guess this isn’t helpful as you already have the issue. The white streaks are created when you overbrush the sealer. Working in smaller areas and with a very smooth soft brush will eliminate the issue during application. Once you applied it and it has the white streaks, these are small bubbles that are permanently embedded in the sealer. The only way to remedy it is to either (1) reapply the leaf. You can redo the entire process over the failed sealer starting with adhesive, then leaf, then seal it with a polyurethane or other commercial household solvent based sealer. Or (2) using an electric sander, sand off the sealer. This procedure may also remove some of your leaf. In which case you would need to reapply the leaf. Again, sorry for your issue. I always recommend to experiment first on something that isn’t important before applying it on your actual project. I hope you are able to remedy this.

  8. Esther

    Thank you so much for this tutorial video , you have no idea how much that helped .

    • Nancy Reyner

      Hi Esther! Thanks for your comment. I’m very glad you liked the video.

  9. Katy C

    Hi Nancy,

    Thank you for all the useful information! I am still learning about leafing and have questions about sealing on wood. I first gesso the wood, paint with acrylic paint, and then apply real 24k gold leaf in a small area on top. Can I just apply the sealant you recommended, Golden’s Archival Spray Varnish to seal? Or do you recommend sealing the gold leaf alone before applying the varnish? Also, in the past I have used a few coats of Decoart Duraclear water-based varnish to seal, but don’t know if I’ll keep using it or what it may do to the gold leaf. Would love to get your insight on that, and any other sealants you may recommend.
    Thank you!

    • Nancy Reyner

      Hi Katy,
      You are correct that you can apply the final coat of varnish over the entire painting – acrylic paint and real gold leaf – at the same time at the end. You do not have to separately seal the gold area prior to this final coat. Real gold leaf does not tarnish, so many of the cautions I mention in the video and this blog article, do not apply to your process using real gold. The only issue with real gold is that it is delicate, and so you may want to seal over the real gold if you will be painting OVER the gold leaf. Instead it sounds like you are adding your real gold as a last step in your painting, and then the final varnish applied at the end will protect the leaf, as well as give your painting added protection, such as the UV in the varnish keeping your paint colors from fading. With real gold I recommend any fine art varnish for a final sealing product. I lilke the one you mentioned by Golden, the Archival Spray Varnish. By spraying you will not risk harming the real gold leaf you applied, with brush bristles for brush application. Hope this helps!

    • Katy

      Thank you for the detailed and very helpful response! Isn’t the Golden archival varnish removable? Do you suggest adding an isolation coat before this step? I am also looking at a permanent Liquitex varnish as an alternative but have read mixed reviews about their varnishes.

    • Nancy Reyner

      Hi Katy,
      Yes all archival varnishes are removable. That’s what makes them an archival varnish – so they can be removed as a final coat for cleaning purposes. This article here has the latest information on this subject. After I apply the archival varnish, I wait 2 weeks for it to fully cure, then I apply a 1:1 mixture of GAC 200 with GAC 500. This is a terrific hard layer of clear acrylic that seals the varnish. These two steps – archival varnish, and then the medium mixture, is what I do over my leaf. It works very well and has been approved by the head of Golden’s tech department – when I ran it by them awhile ago.

  10. Andrea

    Hi Nancy

    I have just started using imitation gold and silver leaf on paper with coloured pencils and water colour pencils. I am not sure which sealer/varnish is the right choice. Is there one aerosol sealer/varnish suitable for this combination of materials on paper? Is there a brush on sealer/varnish you recommend for gold and silver leaf on paper?
    Thanks so much for your help.

    • Nancy Reyner

      Hi Andrea,
      For small sizes I like to use Golden’s Archival Varnish Gloss spray. It is perfect for over metal leaf, and will not hurt the paper. If you brush apply a sealer it may wrinkle the paper. That is because brush applications are thicker, and will affect the paper more then a spray, which gives a light coating, but enough to seal the leaf. You can also brush apply the combination mixture of GAC200 with GAC500 I mention in this article. This medium mixture will dry fast, so it won’t wrinkle your paper, and also won’t cause the imitation leaf to tarnish. For this to work properly, you must apply it correctly. I have listed the key points for proper application within the article.

  11. Rick Hilsabeck

    You are a wonderful teacher. Clear, specific, concise, appealing and light heart-hearted! And your work is beautiful. My wife and I are hoping to move to Santa Fe sometime soon. We have visited on several occasions and have absolutely fallen in love with it all!

    Be safe and stay healthy.

    Rick Hilsabeck

    • Nancy Reyner

      HI Rick, Thank you for your comment and kind words. If you do come to Santa Fe please consider arranging a studio visit with me. It would be fun to meet. Thanks again!

  12. Tyra Somers

    Can you recommend a solvent based permanent clear gloss spray or solvent based permanent varnish for sealing the imitation gold leaf before painting on it? I use oils.Please use product names. I currently use Gamvar as a final varnish. Would that work?

    I appreciate your contribution to the general information. I hope you have time to respond because I really don’t want to spend all the time and money required only to find my products were incompatible. This is a new venture for me using metal leaf and I find imitation to be most cost effective.


    • Nancy Reyner

      Hi Tyra,

      I use Golden’s Archival Varnish Gloss spray for small size paintings, and I use Golden’s MSA Varnish Gloss for brush application (diluted with solvents as per the instructions on the container). I do believe Gamvar will work fine, but have not tried it on leaf. I have used it on oil paint and it is a very good varnish. Since it’s solvent-based it should be fine applied over the leaf. Use a good varnish brush and apply gently so you don’t scratch the leaf while applying the varnish. Hope this helps answer your question.

  13. Maria A Zanetta

    Hello, thank you for your blog! I completed the imitation gold leaf on a wood panel and it looked great. However, after applying the water base sealer GAC200, some parts look tarnished. Is it possible to gold leaf over the sealer? Thank you for your help!!!

    • Nancy Reyner

      Hi Maria,
      I am sorry to hear you are getting some tarnish issues with your imitation gold leaf. I try to emphasize in my video and articles how tricky this sealing step is, and how important it is to understand the risks involved with using water-based sealers such as GAC200. GAC200 has ammonia in it while it is wet. So it will tarnish the leaf IF you don’t apply it correctly. The GAC200 must dry fast enough so that the ammonia will not tarnish. GAC200 will normally dry very fast, so something about your application is not correct.

      If you are getting tarnishing after you apply the GAC200 then here are the possible reasons:

      1. You are applying it too heavily, so it dries slow enough to tarnish. You must apply it very thinly.
      2. You are adding water, either directly into the medium, or because your brush is wet. Water slows down the drying.
      3. You are over-brushing, or brushing over the medium when it starts to get tacky. This means you could be pulling the medium off the surface instead of leaving it alone to dry.
      4. You need more coatings to give adequate protection to the leaf. You must have at least 2 coats of the GAC200 to protect from exposure to air, and you need at least 4 coats to protect from exposure to thick layers of acrylic you apply over it.

      I try to emphasize that the best and easiest way to seal imitation gold leaf is by NOT using a water-based medium as your first coating over the leaf, but instead using
      a solvent based acrylic sealer. Then you will have no problem with tarnishing whatsoever. That is why I use Golden’s MSA Varnish Gloss or their spray sealer called Archival Varnish Gloss, to seal over the leaf.

      Yes you can definitely apply more coats of the GAC200 in parts that are uneven. The tarnish, however, is permanent and you can not bring back your leaf unless you leaf over the tarnished areas. Just apply adhesive over the tarnished leaf and reapply the leaf.

      If you are seeing an “uneven” application it makes me think that you are somehow getting water into your medium. This will absolutely cause all types of issues for this application over leaf.

      I hope this helps give you better results in the future!


  14. Maria A Zanetta

    Hello. Thank you for your blog! I applied imitation gold leaf to a wooden panel and it looked great. However, after I sealed it with the Golden GAC 200, parts of the gold leaf seem tarnished or very uneven. Is it possible to apply gold leaf over the GAC sealer in the parts that are not even? Thank you for your help!!! I am very sad this happened 😞

    • Monterrey Williams

      Nancy, it’s 2020 and I accidentally found your web site. I’m not a fine artist but Two years ago, I tried my hand at pour painting and recently I’ve started abstract art. First, thank you for sharing your knowledge and putting out such an informative video about how to apply gold leaf. I have to tell you , I started laughing when you pulled out your ice cream containers— I believe it was talenti and I recently discovered the coffee cookie crumble! Ooo…lakla! You deserve some of the finer things in life! Monterrey Williams (Mrs.)

    • Nancy Reyner

      Hi Monterrey,
      Thank you for getting in touch. I’m so glad you liked the video and found it helpful for your work. Yep – Talenti ice cream is delicious!

    • Ashley

      Hi Nancy, like many others before me, thank you so much for sharing your knowledge!

      I’ve a few questions on sealing the gold leaf. Regarding Pre-paint sealer, it appears that regardless if a permanent or removable sealer was used, a water-based sealer (Method 1 ie GAC200/500) needs to be used?

      Secondly, I’m not sure if Singapore stocks GAC200/500 but I do have Liquitex Gloss medium (which is similar to GAC200/500?). However, Liquitex Gloss medium is really goopy and thick thus I’m not sure if I can brush on a thin coat without thinning it with water?

      Thank you!

      You’re such an inspiration 🙂

    • Nancy Reyner

      Hi Ashley,
      Good questions! First you seal the leaf properly. This means using a solvent-based varnish (removable or permanent). Let that dry at least a week or more. Once that is dry, then I recommend applying the GAC200/500 OVER it. So, yes is the answer to your question if you still need to use the GAC200/500 over it. However, not just ANY water-based sealer! The GAC 200/500 is a special sealer that will enhance adhesion. If the varnish is removable, this will seal the removable varnish and make it permanent. This is especially necessary for applying oil paint, because the oil paint can actually lift the removable varnish. I still recommend to use it if you will be applying acrylic paint over the removable varnish. This is important because it is not a good idea to have something removable in middle layers. If you apply a final varnish at the end it may react with the removable varnish if this layer is still exposed. If the varnish is permanent, then you DO NOT need to apply the GAC 200/500 IF YOU ARE USING OIL PAINT. If you are using acrylic paint, then I still recommend the GAC 200/500 because it will make applying the acrylic paint easier, and will also add adhesion strength between varnish and acrylic paint.

      Liquitex Gloss Medium is NOT NOT NOT the same as GAC 200/500. GAC mediums are thin (not diluted) so no water is needed, and this is why I recommend it. If you add water to a gloss medium (Liquitex or Golden) it will bead up over the varnish.

      If you can’t get the GAC200/500 and you are using acrylic paint, then skip this step. The only issue will be at the end when you want to apply a finishing varnish. You must use an isolation coat (Use a gloss gel with water in a 1:1 ratio) and also a water-based finishing varnish (like Golden’s Polymer Varnish Gloss) so that you don’t lift the removable varnish at this end step.

      Hope this helps!

  15. Charles Douglas

    Hi Nancy, Thank you for sharing from your very well-researched work! One question going back to your two point step system; in step 9 you mention using an isolating coat before the last step of varnishing. What do you use for that clearcoating? Another spray of MSA perhaps?

    Also, the specs on GAC 200 says not suitable for flexible surfaces (always something’! Ha!). How do you feel about this on canvas?

    Thank you for your thoughts.

    All the best,


    • Nancy Reyner

      Hi Charles,
      An isolation coat is important prior to varnishing, to make the surface even and non-absorbent. If you apply varnish onto a matte or absorbent surface, the varnish will sink into the surface which makes it non-removable, but also risks creating an uneven and unsightly looking sheen. For an isolation coat I recommend the one that Golden recommends – a mixture of Soft Gel Gloss with filtered water. They also make a pre-mixed isolation coat, but making the mixture yourself is fine too. I start with a 1:1 ratio Soft Gel Gloss to water, but play around with the mix ratio, adding more water or more gel, until it isn’t so watery that it puddles, and has enough water it doesn’t leave noticeable brush marks. You can check out Golden’s suggested ratios on their website.

      For an isolation coat, you would absolutely NOT use MSA, which is a removable varnish, as the isolation coat under a varnish. When you suggest another spray of MSA I’m wondering it you are misunderstanding that MSA is actually a varnish. The isolation coat is another product that goes under the varnish.

      Yes, GAC200 should be used for a rigid surface. I use wood panels, and so using the GAC200 is fine for that. I do mention in the article, though, that I recommend a mixture of 1:1 using GAC200 with GAC500. The GAC500 makes the mixture more flexible and thereby suitable for flexible surfaces such as canvas. This mixture was actually recommended to me by one of the top technical advisors at Golden, who said it would be fine on canvas. Hope this helps answer your question! Thanks for your post.

  16. Katrina Lorenz

    I’ve just found your informative and inspiring website and from foggy, rainy UK I can’t wait to get started. Thank you.

    • Nancy Reyner

      Hi Katrina,
      So glad I could help inspiring you to paint! Thanks for your comment.

  17. dianne willitts

    I am not a professional artist but I love to paint, especially now that I am retired. I LOVED your video on applying gold leaf. I’m itching to paint a swan over blue gold leaf. I mostly paint in oils.
    Thank you so much for your video. Being retired, I appreciate that I could just log onto the internet and find you without purchasing it.
    Thank you,

    • Nancy Reyner

      Glad you found the information on my blog and video inspiring for your painting! Thanks for your comment.

  18. tricia

    Hi Nancy
    I watched your video with great interest today. Thank you.
    I work in oils and am having trouble finding a permanent sealer/varnish.
    I live in country Australia, and need to buy online so cannot easily read the labels.
    Could you please recommend some brands and item names for me. I am happy to order from he USA if necessary. As an alternative, I have also tried to find the GAC200 and 500. , but can find the 200 only.

    best regards


    • Nancy Reyner

      Hi Tricia,
      You can use any varnish that is meant for use with oil paint, which will be solvent based. GAC200 and GAC500 are water-based and therefore are NOT meant for application over oil paint. You can use these mediums to go over the leaf but not oil paint. You must use a solvent based varnish and NOT a water-based one. Solvent based varnishes will go over metal leaf as well as your oil paint. For solvent-based varnishes I like Gamblin’s Gamvar Varnish.
      I also like Golden’s two solvent based varnish choices: their MSA Varnish for brush application:
      or their spray version of this same varnish called Archival Varnish Gloss:

  19. Leyli A. Goli

    Dear Nancy: Thanks for sharing this useful information with the art community. I’m going to organize an exhibition for humanitarian purposes and your generous guidance was very helpful for me. I wish you, all the best in a happy and long life. Best regards, Leyli

    • Nancy Reyner

      Hi Leyli, I’m so glad you found it useful. Thanks for the comment!

  20. Caitlin Brown

    Hello Nancy! I’m so sorry if this has already been answered. I tried searching all of the comments for the answer, but I didn’t see it.

    I’m looking to avoid buying solvent-based size, because the kit I bought came with water-based size and I’m currently just experimenting.

    Could I varnish a layer of oil painting with the removable gloss varnish, followed by the GAC 200+500 mixture and then apply the water based size, then leaf? I’m aware that the water based size wont play nice with the oil paint, but would it work on top of the GAC mixture? And then would I be able to continue to paint over the GAC mixture layer with oils? Or should I just suck it up and buy the solvent based size? Thank you for all your incredible information and experience!

    • Nancy Reyner

      Hi Caitlin,
      If you want to apply leaf OVER oil paint, or any oil-based product, then the correct way to do this is to use an oil-based adhesive. That said, there is a way around this and it looks like you are on the right track. Because this isn’t the normal way to do things, and this is being posted in a public forum, I want to make sure this is clearly NOT the recommended method. To trick the oil layer into sticking well to the water-based adhesive you will still need to use a toxic varnish. If that’s OK with you then here are the steps – the same as what you mentioned but I’ll spell it out here just in case. First wait for your oil paint to be dry. If the oil paint isn’t too thickly applied then a couple of weeks should be fine. Apply a solvent-based varnish like Golden’s MSA Varnish Gloss OR that same product in a spray called Archival Varnish Gloss. These two products are solvent-based acrylic NOT oil-based. This means the solvent-base will allow it to adhere to the dry oil paint layer, and the acrylic in it will allow water-based acrylic to be applied on top of it. Once you apply one of those two varnish products you will need to wait 2 weeks before applying anything on top. After the 2 weeks it will be cured enough for you to switch to the water-based mediums (a mixture of GAC200 with GAC500) which will seal this layer from being removable, and allow for easy applications of water-based acrylic paint or water-based acrylic adhesives on top. So after all this – I say suck it up and buy the solvent based size. You can save lots of time doing it the right way – oil paint dries, apply solvent-based adhesive, apply leaf same day, let leaf dry a few days or more, seal over the leaf. Now you can paint oil or acrylic over the sealed leaf. Hope this helps!

    • Caitlin Brown

      Lol alright, you’ve convinced me. I’ll suck it up and buy the solvent based size. Thank you so much for the advice and the speedy answer! It definitely helps.

    • Nancy Reyner

      Just buy a small amount – the adhesives go a long way.

  21. Aleeza Khan

    Hi quick question, i put some gold foil on my acrylic paintings but slowly the gold foil started to rust. I now understand that it reacts with the ammonia in the paint. How do i put gold foil over acrylic painting without it rusting?

    • Nancy Reyner

      If the gold is imitation gold, that means it has copper in it. Copper will tarnish two ways – when it comes into contact with air over a long period of time around 4 or 5 months, and it also tarnishes when it comes into contact with ammonia. Ammonia is in all water-based acrylic products. The ammonia will dissipate once the acrylic has dried to the touch. If the acrylic is wet and comes into contact with the imitation gold leaf, it will tarnish it if the acrylic is wet for too long. This means the acrylic cannot be applied too thickly and/or allowed to dry too slowly. I recommend using a solvent based sealer because these do not have ammonia in them. You can also use a water-based acrylic medium, but ONLY if it dries quickly, like Golden’s GAC200. So, in answer to your question, you can paint with acrylic as a first layer. Wait until it is dry to the touch or longer. Apply the water-based adhesive VERY thinly or use a solvent or oil-based adhesive. Follow instructions on the adhesive container for correct drying times. Wait at least a few days after you apply the leaf using adhesive to seal it. Then seal it as I suggested above. If you haven’t already, please view my video on Youtube about applying gold leaf. I think you will find it useful.

  22. Kate

    I have tried painting over gold leaf in the past but my oil paint would bead and refuse to stick – like watercolour over an oil based surface. There fore I resorted to painting first, gilding afterwards in the negative spaces, which results in an ok but not perfect finish. Perhaps my sealant was a ‘removable’ one, actually I think it was shellac. The other main difficulty was in rectifying any mistakes, as any attempt at removing oil paint from unprotected gold leaf resulted in it dissolving. Does anyone have any suggestions? Does a permanent varnish over the gold but under the oil paint prevent these two problems?
    Does anyone have suggestions for applying the varnish so that it doesn’t affect the natural beauty of the gold leaf (and not dull it).
    Thank you

    • Nancy Reyner

      Hi Kate,
      If your oil paint is beading up over leaf, perhaps the leaf is coated with wax. Some of the less expensive hobby versions will have that. Another reason it will bead up is if you are using a medium that contains water, such as found in the water miscible oils. And yet another reason for beading is what you mentioned – that the sealer you are using is removable solvent based. However, your method of painting first and gilding later is a good resolution of your issue. If you want to try applying oil over the leaf, then use an acrylic permanent sealer. I recommend a mixture of two of Golden’s mediums: GAC200 and GAC500 in a 1:1 mixture. This mixture is the ONLY acrylic you can use over unsealed leaf, to seal it permanently, without tarnishing. Acrylic mediums have ammonia in them which will tarnish if the medium is applied too thickly or allowed to dry too slowly. The ammonia will dissipate when the acrylic is dry. So the idea is to apply the medium mixture very thinly, without adding any water (or that will slow down the drying), and only in small areas at a time. Use a smooth soft synthetic bristle brush to apply, so you can get it smoothed out thinly without creating texture marks on the leaf. Spread out very small areas at a time because the medium dries so fast you won’t be able to smooth it out without overbrushing. When acrylic starts to dry it gets tacky. If you overbrush this medium mixture over the leaf, it will create a cloudy film that will not be removable. There you have it! Try this and let me know how it goes.

  23. Jonas

    Hi Nancy,
    Thanks for your post, it has been so helpful.
    I have a question about the use of MSA varnish as coating. Isn’t it problematic that the MSA is removable? I thought the coating layer must be permanent, not removable for restoration purposed. If you paint acrylics on top of MSA, it might be removed together with the MSA coating layer.
    Thus, isn’t the use of the GAC combination a more suited solution for a (permanent) coating layer? Moreover, I guess that the GAC-combinations allows the use of both acrylics and oils on top. Or do you think that the MSA is preferred over GAC in the case of acrylics?
    Thanks again, Jonas

    • Nancy Reyner

      Hi Jonas,
      Good thinking here! You are correct that MSA Varnish (in both the can for brush application as well as the sprayable varnish called Archival Varnish) is removable. This is why I do the following process: (read all the way through to the end as I have more comments for you here)

      1. Prepare surface (apply color, texture or other ways to change the surface if needed.

      2. Apply leaf adhesive (aka size)

      3. Apply leaf. Let dry for at least 3 days. I wait a week.

      4. Seal the leaf using a solvent-based varnish like MSA, or Archival Varnish spray.

      5. Let dry 2 weeks. This step is important because the varnish is solvent based, and it should be thoroughly dry before applying a water-based product over it. It really takes 2 weeks to fully dry.

      6. SEAL THE VARNISH!! This is what you are asking about. The varnish remains removable unless it is also sealed over with a permanent acrylic product. I use GAC200 or a mixture of GAC200 with GAC500. I brush apply this GAC OVER the varnish from the previous step once that has dried.

      7. Once the GAC layer is dry to the touch it is now ready for painting using acrylic paint or oil paint. The leaf is protected and the underlying varnish will not be removable at this point.

      8. Paint your painting on the now sealed leaf using oil or acrylic paints.

      9. Apply an isolation coat (a clear coating that will allow the next step of final varnishing to be applied evenly)

      10. Varnish AGAIN as a final coat, over the whole painting (leaf and paint). This step will add archival protection. For this last layer use a removable varnish so the painting can be cleaned at some point in time if necessary. Cleaning a painting (if it becomes necessary) means someone removes the top layer of varnish and replaces it with a clean layer of varnish.

      For this last varnish layer (or topcoat as it is often called) I like to switch to a water based varnish if using acrylic. I use Golden’s Polymer Varnish Gloss. This is because the water based acrylic is less toxic, and I prefer to use non-toxic if possible. This varnish CAN NOT ever be used over unsealed imitation leaf or it will instantly tarnish the copper in the leaf. But it can be used here at this point because the leaf is well sealed. This water-based varnish product cannot be applied OVER oil paint. If using oil paint you would need to apply the MSA again as your final varnish.

      Tip 1: If you count the coatings in my steps you are basically sealing 3 times – over the unsealed leaf, over the removable varnish, and at the very end.

      Tip 2: You can skip the MSA over the unsealed leaf and instead just apply the GAC combination. However, I do not do this or recommend it. Skipping that step using the solvent based varnish is not a good idea. This is because the MSA gives a stronger coating. I would need to apply 4 coats of the GAC200/500 to equal the amount of protection that one coat of MSA will give.

      Tip 3: Acrylic and oil paint can be applied over either coating. MSA and Archival Varnish spray can be over painted with oil, and both can be overpainted with acrylic. The only caution is that you cannot apply a water based varnish OVER oil.

    • Jonas

      Thanks for your very detailed answer, Nancy! That makes so much sense, I will follow these steps in the future.
      BR Jonas

  24. Kay

    Hi Nancy. Love your books and tutorials—thanks so much! After painting oil over gold leaf, could I seal with GAC200 vs a solvent based varnish like you mention? Also, my final varnish for oil paintings is usually Gamblin’s Gamvar varnish since it can be applied while oil paint is dry to the touch (as opposed to 6 months minimum). Do you think this would be save to use over the sealers I use for the foil, whether it’s GAC200 or Golden MSA? Thanks again!

    • Nancy Reyner

      Absolutely do not use GAC200 over oil paint! I’m glad you asked. I had recommended a mixture of 1:1 GAC200 and GAC500 for use over the leaf as an alternative to using solvent based varnishes to seal the leaf. This medium mixture CAN go over leaf but NOT over oil paint. In general, the rule is that you cannot apply any water-based products OVER oil paint. Instead, over oil paint, you need to use a solvent based varnish, or ANY varnish appropriate for use with oil paint. This means that Gamblin’s Gamvar (solvent based and meant for oil paint) can be applied over oil paint, leaf, and acrylic (paints or mediums). So this will work just fine over the leaf sealed with GAC200 or oil paint – with ONE esception. DO NOT apply Gamblin’s Gamvar OVER any areas you used Golden’s MSA. MSA is a removable varnish, and so it will soften if Gamvar is applied over it.

      Best process is to apply the leaf to your surface. Let it dry at least 3 days. Apply your oil paint over the unsealed leaf (which is fine) or seal the leaf before applying oil paint to protect the leaf in case you accidentally brush up against it or rub it too hard. If you decide to seal the leaf, use the GAC200 with GAC500 1:1. Apply at least 3 coats letting each coat dry before applying the next. Once your last coat is applied, wait at least a day before applying oil paint over the acrylic medium layers. When your painting is finished, apply the Gamvar over all – paint and sealed leaf. Hope this helps!

  25. Marie

    Hi Nancy!
    First of all, thank you so much for all this useful information, You’ve singelhandedly given me more information about gold leaf than the rest of the Internet combined!
    After reading this article about gold leaf in combination with oil paints I happily went to my local art store to buy the things I need to implement gold leaf for the first time onto my oil painting.
    I told the lady working at the art store about my plan and she showed me the gold leaf ( I’m working with imitated not real) and the adhesive (solvent based, not water based), ok, so far all good.
    But! Then she told me I had to put a sealer on the gold leaf before I put on my general finishing varnish onto the painting cause if not the imitated gold leaf would oxidize.. And that got me a bit scared of course, so I got the sealer. The finishing varnish I would use on top of my painting is a Sennelier Satin Varnish. It’s synthetic, but I was thinking of what you’ve written here about how a finishing varnish is all you need if you are painting with oils and to me that makes a lot of sense.. All this to say, I’m confused. Also, if I put down the sealer onto my imitated gold leaf can I then paint on top of that with oil paints? Or will the sealer interact with the oil paint and prohibit it from attaching properly to the underlying surface?
    Thank you so much again for all this information, looking forward to your reply.

    • Nancy Reyner

      Hi Marie,

      You are right – this does get confusing! The imitation leaf is made from copper and zinc. Copper will tarnish due to exposure to air (which takes months to occur) and/or exposure to ammonia (which happens right away within minutes when using waterbased acrylic paints and products). Once you apply the leaf using your solvent based adhesive, and wait for at least a week for it to dry, then you can go ahead and overpaint with your oil paint, or leave it unpainted – your choice. You do not have to seal over the imitation leaf prior to oil painting, as oil will not harm it. You DO want to seal the leaf within a few months, though, or exposure to air will start to tarnish it. I do not understand why the art store employee would tell you to use two products – a sealer and then a varnish. Art store employees are not trained chemists and don’t always know the correct information. If you accidentally used a waterbased acrylic varnish over the unsealed leaf and oil paint, it is the wrong product and it will not adhere to the oil paint, and will tarnish the leaf. However, it sounds like you know what you are doing, and that you are using a varnish that is


      for oil paint. If it is appropriate for oil paint then it will work as a sealer and varnish (simultaneously with one product and one application) over the leaf and paint. Hope this helps. It is always a good idea to test products on a small experiment you don’t care about prior to applying it to something you DO care about.

  26. Ludmilla Stevens

    Dear Nancy! Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom with us. I watched your video, read your comments, and can’t wait to incorporate your advice. Looking forward to purchase your book. I hope I can use it in my oil painting practice.

    • Nancy Reyner

      You are most welcome! Thank you for your comments.

    • Fiona

      Thanks Nancy, I’m so excited I’ve found a leaf expert!! Just to check I’ve got it right… I’m imitation gold leafing over a ceramic bird. I then spray with golden archival varnish to stop tarnish. I can leave it like this if I don’t want to do anything further, right? If I wanted to paint some transparent acrylic to colour the eyes, I must first put the GAC 200/GAC500 mix onto the eye, then paint the transparent acrylic. Can I leave it at that or do I really need to apply the golden polymer vanish gloss to the tiny area? Is there a brush on alternative to this, or do I just spray some onto a surface until it pools and then use a brush to paint it on? … rather than having to spray the entire bird? Thank you for sharing your knowledge:)

    • Nancy Reyner

      Hi Fiona,

      If you are sealing the leaf on an object that doesn’t need archival varnishes, you can use any clear finishing spray you find at Home Depot or Walmart. I use Golden’s archival varnish because it is meant for fine art paintings. In answer to your question, yes, once you have sealed the leaf with a clear sealer you can leave it as is. If you wanted to just add a small amount of paint color, then I suggest you apply the paint in a thin layer over the unsealed leaf first. Then once dry, you can apply the final sealer. A small amount of thinly applied paint shouldn’t tarnish it. If you want to do it the long way, you can, as you wrote, apply the varnish sealer, then apply the paint color. You can seal over the paint color in the small area using any clear acrylic. You can definitely shorten the process to what I mention here. The long process you mention is meant for large paintings, and large areas of paint over leaf.

  27. Manuel M

    Hi Nancy. Thank you so much for the very informative video and article on gold leafing. I’m planning to make a project in the style of Klimt’s Woman in Gold and I wanted to know what can be used to create texture such as the eye-shaped and spiral designs in his painting. I’m going to use oils. Is liquin impasto ok? Will the gold leaf have reactions if placed over liquin impasto? Any other mediums you can suggest?

    • Nancy Reyner

      For texture I like to use acrylic pastes. You can use oil over these, but do not use acrylic over oil. If you are starting out on a primed surface, apply Golden’s Molding Paste to the surface to create your texture. Let it dry at least one day. Then you can apply oil paint over the texture. If you want to apply texture after you have already used oil paint, then use the Liquin Impasto. Imitation leaf will not tarnish or be affected placed over oil. I do recommend, though, using the oil based adhesive for applying the leaf over any oil paint or oil mediums like Liquin. Hope this helps!

    • Manuel M

      Thank you so much, Nancy! This really helps answer my question. Looking forward to more informative videos and articles from you. Keep up the great job!

    • Nancy Reyner

      Thank you Manuel! Glad I could help.

  28. Denise B

    Many thanks – that does help! I neglected to ask if your same answer would apply if I were eventually to use real gold leaf rather than imitation. And if some of the underpainting on the frame is left to show through, as you do with your leafed panels sometimes, would that matter if I used a water based adhesive and then a solvent-based varnish or should I avoid leaving some of it exposed for effect?

    • Nancy Reyner

      I do not think that real gold leaf is worth using UNLESS you adhere it using a complicated process called water gilding. This is what high quality framers use when they leaf a frame. When you use real gold leaf along with the brush applied adhesive I use in the video (solvent based or water based) it can actually look worst then the imitation because it is more fragile and will crumple using the adhesive more than the imitation leaf which is stronger.
      I think where your thinking is creating confusion, is to realize that adhesive will always be under the leaf. If you want to apply adhesive all over, then apply leaf in some areas you will have exposed adhesive left uncovered. If this is the case then I recommend waiting at least a week for it to dry. Once dry you can put the solvent based varnish over it. I would NOT recommend the reverse – putting a solvent-based adhesive down, leaving it uncovered with leaf in areas, and then trying to apply a water based paint over it. But I think your idea you stated would be fine.

  29. Denise B

    Hi Nancy,
    Your video on preparing a surface with gold leaf is really excellent and clear. Thank you for doing it!! I have not leafed before, and am excited about it. As an traditional oil landscape painter I have always wanted to incorporate leaf into my work. I have a question about frames I’ll use for my work. I’d like to leaf my frames so that they pick up the leaf in the paintings themselves, so want to use the same leaf for consistency. Can I use a water based adhesive for the imitation gold leaf I put on the frame, and then seal that frame with the same spray gloss varnish that I use on my oil paintings (I use Windsor Newton Artist Gloss Varnish)? Or do I need to use a different adhesive or different varnish? Can mix a water-based adhesive with a varnish used for oil paint? Thanks for your advice.

    • Nancy Reyner

      Yes you can use either type of adhesive for imitation leaf. They both work very well. Your process sounds fine – using the water based adhesive on the wood frames (I recommend sealing the wood if it is raw before applying the adhesive). Then once dry you can use any type of clear sealer that is NOT watersoluble. You need to use a solvent based varnish. I imagine the one you suggested should be fine. If it smells like solvent, and the label says to clean up with solvents then it should work just fine. You would not want to “mix” together into one mixture any water-based product with a solvent-based one, but you can layer. Your last question I am not sure if you are asking this, or just wanting to know if they can be used in the same process. These two products you mentioned (the water-based adhesive and varnish for oil paint) are not going to be touching because one goes under the leaf, and the other on top. So this means that you can use both products in this manner for the same project. Hope this helps!

  30. Thomas Slaney

    Hello Nancy,
    I’m a collector of paintings and was wondering if you can give me some advice on a painting I am considering purchasing. I can email an image to you. It has a silver or gold leaf background but I’m not sure if its damaged or it’s just difficult to work with. I don’t see any rips or tears, just dark marks on some of the squares. I love the painting but it’s up there in price and I don’t want to lose any value on it. Sincerely, Tom

    • Nancy Reyner

      Hi Thomas,
      Sure go ahead and email me the image of the painting. If I can see it clear enough in the photo to give you an opinion I will gladly do that. My advice is to take the painting in person (perhaps the vendor selling the painting can come with you or let you borrow it to check it out) to a traditional framer that works with water-gilding methods for gold leaf. In person they would be the best ones to ask about the piece. The vendor should have the provenance on the painting as well. My email is [email protected]

  31. Joe Conti

    Thanks for the prompt response. Didn’t think of calling Sepp until today. They said their solvent-based acrylic clear coat was intended as a final coat; they weren’t surprised the oil didn’t stick. They recommended applying shellac (or lacquer) before painting. Thankfully, I was working on test panels.
    The gilding was very rewarding – thanks again for the video.

  32. Joe Conti

    After watching your video, I used a Sepp kit to successfully gold (imitation) leaf a table. Sealed it with two layers of their acrylic clear coat. I then tried using oil paint for a spattering off technique, but little or no adhesion despite a light sanding with 600 grit.
    Having thus sealed, what must I do for adhesion without losing the golden glow?

    • Nancy Reyner

      Hi Joe,
      I would think your method would give good results as to the adhesion of your oil paint over the last acrylic clear coat, especially if you have lightly sanded it. I have a couple of thoughts. First, adhesion should be strongest when the oil paint has fully dried. Perhaps you are testing your adhesion between the oil paint and the clear coat too soon, and if you wait longer the oil paint may actually adhere well. Second, if you wait for two weeks (or more) after applying the oil paint splattering, and then apply a final varnish using a solvent based varnish (like Golden’s MSA for brush application or their Archival Varnish spray) the oil paint should be protected and not delaminate, especially since you are applying light splattering. And lastly, I highly recommend calling Sepp’s tech department and ask them for advice, as it is their products and you may get some helpful tips from them.

  33. Judy Casad

    Wow – This is so appreciated.
    I assumed oil was out of the question.
    I’m so inspired and cannot wait to get out my oils and “art-in” my creations!
    Thank You!

    • Nancy Reyner

      Glad this added to your inspiration!

  34. Carol Fay

    Hi Nancy, first of all, thank you for your excellent information on gold leaf! I have ordered your book and look forward to trying more of your techniques. I tried painting directly on top of my imitation gold leafed panel using oil paint and found it somewhat slippery to work with. you mention that you can also use a “permanent sealer” over imitation leaf before painting on top with oils. i want to try this. Can you suggest a specific product or brand of permanent sealer? i went to the art store this am and no one knew enough to be able to help me and i dont know exactly what to look for. Thank you so much.

    • Nancy Reyner

      Hi Carol,
      If the leaf is slippery when you apply oil paint over it, perhaps you could try applying a light coat of one of your oil mediums sing a rag. Let that dry. Then your oil paint will not feel so slippery. That is probably the easiest way to resolve your issue. If you want to seal the leaf before applying your oil paint, I recommend Golden’s Archival Varnish Gloss which comes as a spray. HOWEVER this is glossy so might be just as slippery as before. AND this is a removable varnish – not permanent. This is what I use so I know it works. You would not want to apply anything that wasn’t gloss otherwise your leaf will lose its shine. You can also apply any clear spray you find in paint departments in home improvement stores. These are fairly inexpensive and should be fine over the leaf.

  35. Ntina

    Hello!!! I want to use gold leaf for a background in an oil painting!!! Can I use a water based glue to stick the gold leafs on the canvas and then overpaint them, with oil painting? Should I use a black gesso, before I apply the glue and the gold leafs? Sorry for my english I’m from Greece!

    • Nancy Reyner

      Yes you can apply the leaf using a waterbased adhesive to stick the leaf onto the canvas. Then you can overpaint them with oil. When you are finished painting the leaf with oil you will need to varnish over the entire painting to make sure the imitation gold leaf does not tarnish due to exposure to air. Any varnish that is appropriate for over oil paint should be fine to also go over the leaf. I suggest not waiting more than 6 months after applying the leaf, to varnish. You can also varnish the leaf before painting with oil if you prefer.

  36. PaintKatt

    Hi Nancy,

    I have watched some of your videos and read a few columns on your blog regarding gold leafing. I’ve done some test patches but I find that when I want to get gold leaf details, the gold seems to stick to things outside of the adhesive area and the details end up not being precise like I need them to be. I’m so confused about why this is happening. In one of your videos, you seemed to be able to get good edges on splatters. The gold leaf, for me at least, is bleeding into the outer edges. Any ideas on what I can do to get clean edges?

    Thanks for all of your detailed information on your blog and you tube channel!


    • Nancy Reyner

      Hi PaintKatt, It sounds like you are trying to get your edges crisper where you want the leaf to adhere. If your edges are not so crisp, here are some things to check. (1) First make sure your adhesive is a strong tack (not still set). So wait enough time after the adhesive is applied before applying the leaf (check your product’s label instructions) usually at least 20 minutes. You might want to wait at least 30 minutes for a strong tack to build on the adhesive. (2) If your surface is absorbent (or matte) for which you are applying the adhesive, the adhesive may sink into the absorbent surface too quickly, then when you apply the leaf, some areas will stick and other’s wont stick as well. (3) You must wait a few days after applying the leaf, before you try to remove the excess at the edges of the design you are leafing. Perhaps you are trying to remove the excess too soon? (4) You must be very very gently when removing the excess leaf from the edges. Try using a softer brush, maybe even cheesecloth, and wipe it away very softly moving the cheesecloth AWAY from the edge. In other words, don’t remove excess by moving your brush or cheesecloth INTO the edge, but instead away from the edge. (5) I just thought of another possibility. When you apply the leaf adhesive in the design area you want, if your adhesive is too heavy on your brush, or if your brush has water on it (so you are in actuality diluting the adhesive) this may be what is causing the leaf to stick outside your desired edges. Hope this helps you resolve your issue.

  37. Sônia Menna Barreto

    Hi Nancy,

    I’ve watched carefully your video, but still I’m not sure what size adhesive to use, since I paint with oil and this particular painting is already oil painted and I’ll be given some volume to a thin surface before using a real gold leaf.
    For your information, I also work with ceramics and porcelain.
    I’m not sure you’re familiar with the Kentsugi japonese porcelain technique, but what I’m painting right now is a realistic painting of a porcelain plate.
    I hope you understood…and my question is: what size and sealing shall I use in this circunstance?
    Hoping to hearing from you soon.

    Sônia Menna Barreto

  38. jane fulton alt

    Nancy, I have some encaustic panels I wanted to reuse with the composition gold leaf. Can or will cold wax seal the gold leaf?
    Any information you have about gold leaf and encaustic would be most appreciated. thank you

    • Nancy Reyner

      Hi Jane,
      I suggest trying it out on something you don’t care about. If you apply the cold wax over the leaf, and it doesn’t tarnish or change in color while the cold wax is drying, then it should be fine once the cold wax is fully dry. My only concern is that the wax may be slightly cloudy, and if so, may cut the sheen enough to lose the gold leaf appeal. Once you try it out you can see if the wax still allows the leaf to shine enough for your needs.

  39. Mary Ann Rozear

    How would you apply gold leaf over an oil painting that has already been started?
    Mary Ann

    • Nancy Reyner

      I would use the solvent-based leaf size over oil paint. Then following directions for that specific product, apply the leaf over the size. Let it dry, again following instructions for that size, then paint directly over the leaf with oil paint with no need to seal until your painting is complete.

  40. Mary Ann Rozear

    How would you go about using gold leaf with watercolor? I’m thinking it would have to be applied on top as the sealer would make the watercolor bead up if you tried to paint over the leaf once sealed.
    I would love to be able to incorporate leaf in some of my watercolors as well as the acrylic and oil.
    Also, if you are using cold wax with your oils would you need to seal the leaf prior to paininting?
    Thank you for your patience as this is a process I am not familiar with at all.

    • Nancy Reyner

      Hi Mary Ann,
      Yes that is correct. If you used watercolor directly on unsealed leaf, the water will not only bead up, it may cause tarnishing. Water will tarnish the copper in the leaf, when it is left wet touching the leaf for longer periods of time, such as would happen using watercolor. When you seal the leaf, the sealers would all be glossy (never use matte sealer on metal leaf as it will dramatically cut the leaf sheen permanently). So this means watercolor will bead up over the sealer layer as well. However, after sealing you could then apply a product that will offer a clear toothy grit, to allow the watercolor to settle onto the surface evenly.

      Here is a way to create a tooth over the glossy and sealed leaf surface. Make a mixture of Golden’s Pastel Ground (formerly called Acrylic Ground for Pastel) using 60 – 70% water with 30 – 40% of the Pastel Ground. It should be extremely watery. Apply with a brush over any area you want to use your watercolor paints (it could be the entire surface if you want). Let it dry overnight. When it dries it looks like it has taken away the metallic gloss sheen on the leaf. This is true but only temporary, as it will disappear later when you apply a gloss medium. In the meantime, apply watercolor on this dry ground and it will feel just like watercolor paper. Let dry.

      Once your painting is complete, using watercolor paints, you would need to spray apply a solvent based sealer (or spray a water based sealer that is fast drying so the watercolor will not bleed). If you brush apply any acrylic sealer with water in it, it will bleed the watercolor paint. After this last sealing layer has dried, you will not see the previous tooth layer anymore and your metal sheen will reappear like before.

      You do not need to seal leaf prior to using oil paint, wax or oil mediums. None of these will tarnish the leaf. However, you will need to seal the leaf at some point within a few month period, so the leaf does not tarnish due to exposure to air.

  41. Alison

    Brilliant guidance Nancy, thank you so much once again! really looking forward to getting started now I know for sure what process to take x

  42. Alison

    Hi Nancy, I have decided to work with acrylics ONLY to start with, I have two products Gac 200 and golden archival varnish spray. To seal at the end of applying the leaf which one is best? I would like to paint and then try the sanding technique, once I finish sanding what gloss do I apply before I start the glazing? Thanks again for all your support and advice

    • Nancy Reyner

      GAC200 is a medium, while the archival varnish spray is a varnish. GAC 200 is brush applied, while the varnish is spray applied. I recommend to use the varnish spray first over the leaf. The leaf is delicate at this stage, and can be marred using a brush unless very carefully applied. So spray your first coat over the leaf using the spray varnish. Spray as many coats as you want, letting it dry as per the cans instructions in between each coat. The more coats, the more protection. I recommend a minimum of two spray coats, four coats are optimal. Once you finish the last spray coat, and let it dry a few days (or a week if you live in a humid climate) then brush apply one or more coats of the GAC200 over the spray coats. This may seem like too many coats altogether, but they can’t hurt – and will only help keep your leaf looking its best. Since you are sanding, the multiple coats using both sealers will help you sand back the paint without going into the leaf, although you still need to be careful you don’t sand through all the layers. Once you sand, and are finished sanding, you can then brush apply the GAC200 over the sanded areas to get the gloss glow of the leaf back. Now you can glaze. When your painting is complete, you can spray the varnish over the whole painting again for a different type of protection. As a final coat, the varnish will keep the paint colors from fading as it contains UV protection, and the painting will be able to be cleaned, because varnishes (the ones that are archival) are removable. For example, I varnished a children’s mural in a school that the students painted, with my direction. Later it got graffiti on it, and I was able to remove the graffiti along with the varnish layer, and then revarnish it just like new.

  43. Alison

    Thanks again Nancy

    • Anne Rewey

      Hi Nancy. In you video you say that we can use either a toxic sealer OR GAC200 to seal the gold leaf, but we need to apply the GAC 200 at least 2 times. This is what I did and I now have a number of white streaks on my table. I stopped after 1 coat though. What can I do??? Thank you.

  44. Alison

    Hi Nancy, I would like to use acrylic glazes over gold leaf then finish with oil paints. What varnish do I need to consider for this before I apply the acrylic glaze and oil paints, also what would be best to seal with at the end?

    • Nancy Reyner

      Hi Alison,
      Follow instructions as per my video to prepare your gold leaf for acrylic. Then apply your acrylic glazes. Let dry for two weeks. Now you can apply oil paint directly over the leaf whether leaf areas are glazed or not glazed and still unsealed. Oil will be fine applied over acrylic or leaf without any additional process or sealer or coating. To seal at the end use an appropriate varnish for oil paints, such as Golden’s MSA Varnish gloss for brush application, or the Archival Varnish Gloss in a spray. Both these varnishes are appropriate for either oil or acrylic so will work fine with your process.

    • Alison

      Thanks Nancy! Getting my head round it all now, I purchased your book which is fantastic for me to use as a reference. Now to just be patient and enjoy experimenting. Many thanks Alison

    • Alison

      Another quick question while it’s in my head, if using just oils can I go ahead as soon as surface is guilded or should I wait a few days for the size to dry?

    • Nancy Reyner

      Hi Alison, Check the instructions written on the container of size you are using. On mine, the minimum wait time is three days for the size to dry. I recommend waiting for the size to fully dry before applying either oil or acrylic paint. I wait one week just to be sure. Nancy

  45. Allison

    Hello, thank you so much for writing this blog post, it’s very helpful. What kind of oil based size adhesive would you recommend? I would like to apply copper leaf on top of areas of an oil painting and am having a hard time finding oil based adhesive. Thank you!

    • Nancy Reyner

      HI Allison,
      I went online and looked up oil based size for leaf and came up with this one:
      There are others, but Dux is a good brand.

  46. A Lavinia

    Hi Nancy,
    Thank you so much for all your valuable information and guidelines. I use water based oil paint and wondered if it’s still ok to apply the varnish at the end of the imitation gold leaf application and over painting? Also, which is your preferred paint…oils or acrylics? Look forward to hearing from you.
    Best wishes, A Lavinia

    • Nancy Reyner

      Hi Lavinia, Thank you for writing. For water-soluble oil paint you can apply a varnish at the end of your painting, over the leaf and paint, but with a couple of exceptions. First, I would recommend using a solvent based varnish (like Golden’s Archival Varnish Gloss spray, or MSA Varnish in a can for brush application), instead of a water soluble varnish (like Golden’s Polymer Varnish Gloss). If you have a product and are unsure, just check the label instructions to see if clean up uses solvent or water, to tell if a product is suitable or not. If it can be cleaned up with solvents it will work, but cleanup with water will not. As for my preference, I like both oil and acrylic, however I have not used the watersoluble oils. I use oil or acrylic depending on what I am painting. For the majority of my paintings I tend to prefer acrylic because it is so versatile, easy to layer, and best for special effects like poured layers and sanding. Thanks again! Best, Nancy

  47. Paige

    What brand of solvent based sealer would you recommend for use with oil paint?

    • Nancy Reyner

      Hi Paige,
      I think you are asking what type of solvent based sealer you should use OVER the gold or metal leaf, that you later plan to overpaint with oil. Is this correct? In that case you would use the exact same sealer you would use when sealing to then overpaint with acrylic. I like to use Golden’s Archival Varnish Gloss which comes in a spray can, for smaller works, or ones with texture. I also like to use Golden’s MSA varnish which comes in a can, and you need to dilute it with mineral spirits (use TRPS to dilute as I found other solvents to not work as well) then you can brush apply over the leaf. Let the sealer dry about a week or more before applying any paint (acrylic or oil paints).

    • Paige

      So the sealer goes over the gold league before you paint with oil? I thought the sealer went over the leaf and oil paint at the very end?

    • Paige

      You say: “If you are overpainting the leaf with oil paint, then DO NOT seal the leaf before painting. The oil paint may redissolve the sealer. Instead paint with oil paint over the unsealed leaf, and when your painting is complete and fully dry, then apply a sealer over the entire painting – including both leaf areas and painted areas.”

    • Nancy Reyner

      Hi Paige,
      Thank you for your clarification. I admit what I wrote about sealing is confusing now that I see your point. After this reply to you I will make corrections to my blog article. Yes, you CAN seal the leaf (real or imitation leaf) before applying the oil paint. However, you must use a permanent sealer, as opposed to a removable varnish. The varnish I recommended, Goldens Archival Varnish Gloss is removable, and therefore you should not put this under oil paint, as the oil paint if mixed with solvents could redissolve the varnish. In summary, (1) you can seal over the leaf before oil painting, (but you must use a permanent clear sealer for this layer). Or (2) you can seal over the leaf and oil paint after the painting is finished, thereby skipping the seal under the oil paint. In this case you can use any type of clear sealer. However when putting a final seal over a painting and want it to be archival you would want a removable varnish. (3) You can also seal twice – over the leaf under the paint, and then again at the end over both. I hope this helps. Thanks again for letting me know there is a glitch in my information. I will fix it now.

    • Teresa Correll

      I have a oil painting that I haven’t sealed yet . can I still use the gold medal leaf on top of the oil . I would like to use it on my Golden Sky

    • Nancy Reyner

      Yes you can apply gold leaf over your oil painting. I recommend using the oil-based leaf adhesive and NOT the water-based adhesive so it has proper adhesion between leaf and the oil.

    • Nancy Reyner

      Hi Paige,
      Thanks again for bringing some areas in this article to my attention that were confusing. I have now fixed it and hope I have answered your questions more clearly.

    • Paige

      Thank you for all the info!

  48. Catherine Bast

    Thanks Nancy – just the information I needed and just in time.
    Regards – Cathy

  49. Diane

    Thank you for sharing this information with the art community. You are so generous with your time and information. I took one of your classes when you were in Phoenix a couple of years ago. I have been following your work since then and enjoy seeing what you are creating.

    • Nancy Reyner

      Thank you Diane!I remember you in the workshop. Hope all is well!

  50. Mary Manning

    Once again, Nancy Reyner, you have breathed life into work I am creating for a solo art show next year. Your comprehensive and thorough instructions help me to finish work in progress, and I am so excited with this prospect for working through paintings this summer.

    Thank you so much!

    • Nancy Reyner

      Hi Mary! Glad you found the article helpful for your work! Congratulations on your upcoming solo show!

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Professional fine artist Nancy Reyner created this blog about art, painting and creativity from her career of over 30 years. She lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Subscribe below for free tips on art and painting.

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