Gilding Onto Leather
leather is different from gilding on wood or
There are many different types of leather, from the soft,
flexible vegetable tanned leathers used in bookbinding, to hard
chromium tanned leathers used in briefcases and saddlery.
With regard to bookbinding, in general the gilded decoration
you see on a modern book will be either gold foil or gold
leaf, genuine gold leaf is reserved for the real quality
leather bindings, and gold foil for cheaper work.
For those whose interest lies in bookbinding there is a
fully illustrated step by step method showing the gilding process
Both methods of gilding onto leather involve the use of
heat activated adhesives, gold foil has a built in layer of
adhesive on the carrier film.
In traditional gilding on leather, the heat activated
adhesive takes the form of either the whites of eggs or a
shellac based adhesive.
First the adhesive is applied and allowed to dry, then the
leaf is laid over it. Heated brass tools in the form of
lettering or decoration are then pressed down onto the gold
foil or gold leaf. When the surplus gold leaf or gold foil film
is removed the letters or decoration are left in gilt.
You can of course use imitation
gold leaf when gilding leather, it has the
advantage of being very cheap and is good to practice
with, though the work has to be sealed with lacquer after
If there is a secret to success with gilding on leather it
lies in understanding and working with the 3 variables
involved, they are; Heat, Pressure &
The heat of your tools is fairly critical for success, also
how much pressure you apply and how long you stay in contact
with the work are important and can best be learned by good
instruction and a little trial and error.
With other leathers such as the type of sheepskin you might
encounter when recovering desk tops, I suggest either using
gold foil for cheaper work and 23 carat gold leaf on a paper
carrier for best work.
Saddlery leather or briefcase leather is best treated with a
shellac/spirit based glaire (adhesive.)
Some materials are called leather just because they are made
from reconstituted leather shavings held together with a
form of resin, I suggest using gold foil for this type of
As you have seen, when gilding on leather different methods
need to be applied according to the leather.
Go to gilding supplies.
Generations of bookbinders have made their
own parchment papers and imitation vellums, we
show you how.
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