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What Is Gold leaf


Gold Dome

Gold leaf is a decorative material that has been used for thousands of years.  It is commonly seen on picture frames, used in architecture, on furniture, and signs.  It gives a warm golden glow in low light, and is brilliant in sunlight.  The torch on the Statue of Liberty is covered in 24k gold leaf, as are several state capitol domes.  Illuminated manuscripts, and religious iconography also make use of gold leaf.  It can be used to decorate just about any surface.


Gold leaf, sometimes called gold foil, is gold that has been beaten into a very thin sheet that averages about 0.12 microns in thickness.  For comparison, copier paper is around 130 microns, and human hair around 60 microns.  One ounce of 24k gold would make a coin of about 33mm in diameter (the current US $1 coin is 26.5mm), and could be flattened in to gold leaf that would cover the ceiling of 10 x 15 foot room.


Gold leaf is so thin that when holding it up to a bright light, the light can be seen through it.  Blowing on a gold leaf will disturb it, and touching it with a finger will destroy it.  Because of its thinness, a sheet of gold leaf rubbed between your hands will virtually disappear, leaving only a slight sheen.


Karats and Shades of Gold Leaf

Gold leaf comes in a variety of karat values and shades which vary from yellow to silvery. 24k gold is 99.9% gold and is yellowish in appearance.  12k is 50% gold and the rest usually silver, which results in it frequently being called White Gold.  22k gold leaf is about 92% gold, and is commonly used for picture frames. Other metals mixed with the gold change the color or shade of the gold leaf.  More silver or palladium makes the leaf whiter.  Copper makes it redder.  Our 12k gold leaf is silverish since it is primarily a gold and silver mix.  A 12k gold leaf made with copper instead of silver would be reddish. 22k gold leaf made with palladium instead of copper is paler and called Moon Gold


Pure gold leaf (24k) will not tarnish or change color over time.  Silver leaf, 18k and 12k gold leaf will darken if not sealed against oxidation.  Imitation gold leaf, also known as composition leaf or Dutch Leaf, is made of copper and zinc, and will tarnish. Imitation silver leaf is basically thin alumuminum foil, and will also slowly tarnish over time.


Note: Carat (Ct) is a measure of gemstone weight, but is sometimes used in place place of karat.


Approximate colors of gold, silver, palladium and copper.
24k Gold Leaf
23k Gold Leaf
23k Red Gold Leaf
23k Gold Leaf
18k Gold Leaf
18k Gold Leaf
Transfer Vs.  Loose Leaf

Gold Leaf Packaging

Gold leaf is packaged in paper books using specialty tissue paper that separates the leaf and does not adhere to the gold.  Each book contains 25 leaves.  Twenty books make up a Pack of gold leaf with 500 leaves total.


The gold leaf books come in two types:

• Loose Leaf (also called Surface Leaf), shown on the bottom of the image to the left.
The gold leaf is placed in the books, and does not adhere to the paper.  It is easily removed, and if working outside on a windy day, there is a good chance the gold will simply blow away when the leaf is exposed.  Which is why there is also...

• Transfer Leaf (also called Patent Leaf), shown on the top of the image to the left.
The gold leaf is pressed on to its own piece of transfer (or patent) paper, which allows it to be handled without the gold coming loose.  When the gold leaf comes in to contact with a surface prepared with adhesive, it comes off the transfer paper.  The transfer leaves (paper and gold) are placed in a regular gold leaf book.  Transfer leaf books can easily be identified by the transfer paper poking out from the end of the book.


Leaf Size Comparison

Gold Leaf Sizes

Gold leaf is generally either 3-1/8" square (Asian size), or 3-3/8" square (European size).  Silver leaf is larger at 3-3/4" square.  Some gold leaf is available in a 1-3/8" square size that is popular in the Asian market as well as with hobbyists.  Artificial gold leaf, also called imitation gold, is usually only available in larger sizes, which is one way to tell the difference visually.


The image to the left shows, from left to right, imitation leaf (6-1/4"), variegated leaf (5-1/2"), silver leaf (3-3/4"), gold leaf books (3-1/8"), and a mini-bundle (1-3/8").

Gold Leaf Thicknesses

Most gold leaf is sold as single thickness, but some is sold as "double" or "triple" gold, which are unfortunately misleading but accepted, industry terms.  "Double" gold has about 20% more gold by weight than regular leaf, which makes it about 20% thicker, and triple gold has about 40% more gold by weight.  Because it is thicker than regular gold leaf, it is more durable and opaque than regular single thickness leaf.