May 19, 2010

Silver Leaf Tutorial!

So I've had this old frame sitting around my apartment for over a year now and I've known what I wanted to do with it for about just as long.  I'm glad, however, that I waited so long because now I actually got to document the fun process of silver leafing!  If you have ever wanted to try your hand at leafing but thought you wouldn't be able to pull it off, this is the tutorial for you.  I've broken it down into easy steps that will help you silver, gold, or copper leaf that object you have lying around the house that needs a little something special. 

1. Sand and prime (any old acrylic or latex primer will do) your object.  I actually primed my frame a while ago, so I don't have a pic of me doing that.  It is a wood frame, I'm not sure I've leafed anything other than wood objects, but as long as you prime your piece first, I don't see there being a problem.

2. Gather your materials:

-silver leaf
-metal leaf adhesive size
-metal leaf sealer
-artist brush (I used a 1", but it depends on what size your object is)
-chip brush
-object you want to cover with metal leaf
(you can get most of these materials at a Michael's or Hobby Lobby type craft store)

3.  Take your artist brush and begin to brush the adhesive size (this is kind of like glue) onto your object
 Use even strokes and try to gently brush out any bubbles that inevitably happen.  Make sure you   cover your object as evenly as possible.

don't worry if this takes a while, you are going to let the adhesive size "sit" until it becomes tacky but not all the way dry

4.  After you let it dry for 45 minutes to an hour, you can start applying the leaf.

Your silver leaf will most likely come in a little orange booklet once you get it out of the plastic packaging,  Technically, you're not supposed to use your fingers to handle the leaf (I think it has something to do with the oils on your fingertips or something) but I usually end up using mine at some point. 

But, you can take the leaf straight from the booklet and apply it to your object without touching it if you are careful (see pic)!

also, try not to touch the object directly; the "finger oils" can disrupt the sticking ability of the adhesive size as well

okay, right about now, it looks like tinfoil and you're probably like, "Hey, I could have just glued some tinfoil to my object!"    But wait... the magic happens in the next step>

5.  Take your chip brush and very gently (again, try not to let the brush touch the un-leafed parts of your object) touch it to the leaf with slow strokes. 

It should be noted that silver leaf is very delicate and thin; when it tears, you can use the stuff that is falling off to fill any cracks that happened to not get leafed
Also, keep a vacuum cleaner handy.  Use the tube attachment to catch all the little tiny pieces that float away:)

6.  Continue applying the silver leaf all over your object.  And like I mentioned earlier, when excess falls off, you can use that to fill in spots that got missed.  Also, continue to gently press the leaf to the object with the chip brush as you work your way around. 

It's nice if you are working with a partner who can hold the vacuum or work the brush, but it is possible with just one person.  However, silver leafing and documenting it with a camera was a somewhat difficult process, so please forgive my pics:)

Hang in there- almost done!

7.  Look over your object and see if there are any spots that you missed.  The adhesive may still be active, so you can try pressing more leaf over the area (I actually ran out of silver leaf near the end; I got together as many "scraps" to try to fill in the holes and cracks, but definitely missed some).  Once it is covered, take your cheesecloth out.  Unroll about 2 feet and cut.  You can fold it up into about the size of your hand or just bunch it up like I did. 

8. Again, keep your vac handy!  Take your cheesecloth and gently yet firmly rub your leafed object; this gets rid of all the extra tiny pieces that didn't fully adhere.  You can just keep your vacuum tube right under wherever you are rubbing so that the pieces just get sucked up.  Remember- keep your finger tips off the silver as much as you can:)

It's starting to get really pretty now! Just one more step!

9.  I haven't decided yet whether I am going to go get more silver leaf and try to go back and cover the spots that I missed because of running out of leaf.  So because of that, I, myself, haven't done the final step in the process (and thus no pics). 

 But it is easy- just take your artist brush (make sure you washed it really well after using it for the adhesive with warm water and soap) and dip it in the Metal Leaf Sealer.  Evenly coat your leafed object with the sealer using gentle strokes.  Try not to get any puddles or gloppy areas (is gloppy a word?).

I'm kind of diggin' the crackled, unfinished look my frame has going on so I might just slap some sealer (gently, of course!) on and call it done.  Any preferences?  I'd love to know- leave a comment.

10. Congratulations- you are now a master metal leafer!  Didn't think you could do it, did you?  Now the possibilities are endless; you will be eyeing objects all over the house that could use a little something extra special:)

Email me and attach a pic of an object you leafed- we'd love to see it!


  1. that's awesome! can that be done with other materials? obviously it wouldn't be considered silver leaf anymore, but you know...

  2. Hi Patty! Yes, there are lots of other metal leafs out there. I've gold leafed and copper leafed objects as well. It's so much fun because it completely transforms otherwise dull objects.

  3. Hi Emily,
    I enjoyed your "just do it" attitude about silver leafing. I'm still cautious about trying my first gold-leafing but I have the materials and I plan to do it soon. I'll let you know if I'm successful or not. I like your blog and the tutorials.
    Jerry H.