Nancy’s Painting Blog

How to Apply Gold Leaf for Oil & Acrylic Painters

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

Gold Leaf + Paint = Fun

You’ve probably figured it out by now, that I really really like gold leaf! I like shiny stuff. But I also like the challenge of combining it with paint. Anyone game to try it? If so, here’s a video and article with all the details you need to dive right in. The video gives all the tips and tricks for creating a gold leaf surface to paint on, and also sealing the leaf for overpainting with acrylic paint. If you are painting with oil paint, first watch the video, then continue reading this article for the change in instructions when using oil. This article here also has updates and links for suppliers.


Real Gold Leaf vs Imitation Gold Leaf

There are two different types of gold leaf you can purchase to use – 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.

There are two ways to apply leaf, regardless of using real or imitation leaf. One application method uses leaf adhesive (also called gilding of leafing size) and the other method called water gilding is more complicated. In my video I demonstrate using the first method with 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 it is because it’s sleekness will not visually integrate with paint when used as a painting background.

In my opinion it is worth the expense to use real gold when you will be showing it off 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 will visually integrate better when used in a painting.

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 apply real gold or imitation gold leaf, using the adhesive method I show in the aforementioned video, and they will look the same because of the application method. When you want to apply the leaf with the water gilding method, then it makes sense to use real gold leaf instead of imitation gold leaf.

On left: real gold leaf; On right: imitation gold leaf

Sealing Gold Leaf

There are two different sealing processes we need to consider for most projects involving leafing with paint: 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. Sealing the leaf allows for over-painting with oil or acrylic without negatively affecting the leaf.

Post-Paint Sealing provides a 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.

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 for each of these two sealing steps.

Gold Leafing Steps

(watch video for more details & demonstrations)

1. Prepare Surface
Paint the surface a color. This will only show minimally under the 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, 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.

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: Sealing the 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. 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. This water-based version also requires some understanding about its application or could result in tarnishing. These points are explained 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.

Method 1: Water-based Sealer

Make a mixture combining two Golden mediums, GAC200 with GAC500, in an approximate 1:1 ratio. You can also use the GAC200 by itself, but combining it with GAC500 to it allows for a smoother application. Brush apply one coat over the leaf using a smooth flat soft brush. Please note – this method will NOT work substituting any other acrylic mediums. Here’s why. 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 either, as they are formulated for different purposes.

This mixture is a bit tricky to apply as you can see from the above information. If it dries too slowly, it won’t work. Eliminate any water on the brush and do not add any into the medium, as this will slow the drying. Don’t apply it too thickly. Do not use a stiff bristle brush, or overbrush by brushing once it starts to dry and gets tacky. If you do, you will create a cloudy film that is permanent and ruins your leaf surface.

If overpainting with heavy applications of acrylic, or you need 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 overpainting with thin layers of acrylic paint or overpainting with oil. Once your last coat is applied and dry to the touch you can overpaint with acrylic or oil paint.

Method 2: Solvent-based Sealer

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 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 with acrylic overpainting. This is 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 in Method 1. You can overpaint with acrylic once the GAC coating is dry to the touch. To apply oil paint over this wait a week or more.

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 GAC 200 and 500 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
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 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 product over oil paint. Do not use this product for the Pre-Paint Seal. If used directly on unsealed leaf it will tarnish the leaf.

Above: Stargate, 48″ x 36″, acrylic & gold leaf on panel
Top of Page: Landscape & Galactic Dust, 48″ x 60″, acrylic & gold leaf on panel

Purchase the DVD demonstrating my acrylic painting techniques over leaf here.
View my paintings on leaf here.

More Resources & Info on Gold Leaf

My book Acrylic Illuminations has step-by-step instructions on leafing with many painting ideas on gold leaf.

Article on acrylic with gold leaf from GOLDEN

My Youtube video How to Apply Gold Leaf

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:

Nancy Reyner, painter, author and instructor offers assistance to artists in a variety of ways. Click here for more info.

72 thoughts on “How to Apply Gold Leaf for Oil & Acrylic Painters

  1. 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!

  2. 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.

    1. 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).

      1. 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?

        1. 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.”

          1. 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.

        2. 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

          1. 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.

      2. 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.

  3. 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

    1. 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

  4. 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!

  5. 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?

    1. 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.

      1. 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

        1. 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?

          1. 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

  6. 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

    1. 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.

  7. 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

  8. Nancy,
    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.

    1. 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.

    1. 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.

  9. 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

    1. 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.

  10. 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

  11. 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!


    1. 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.

  12. 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!

    1. 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.

  13. 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.

    1. 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.

  14. 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!

  15. Nancy
    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?

    1. 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.

  16. Nancy
    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.

  17. 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

    1. 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

  18. 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.

    1. 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!

  19. 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?

    1. 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.

  20. 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?

    1. 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!

      1. 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!

  21. 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.

  22. 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.

    1. 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.

  23. 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!

    1. 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!

  24. 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

    1. 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.

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

  25. 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

    1. 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.

  26. 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?

    1. 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.

  27. 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!

    1. 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!

      1. 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.

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