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What is Gold Leaf?

Gold leaf is a decorative material that has been used for thousands of years, and is commonly used on picture frames, in architecture, 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 0.5 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 13 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 visible sheen.

Karats and Shades of Gold Leaf

Gold leaf comes in a variety of karat values and shades. 24k gold is pure gold, and is yellowish in appearance.  12k is 50% gold, with the rest usually with silver. It is also frequently called White Gold.  22k gold leaf, which is sometimes called Moon Gold and commonly used for picture frames, is about 92% gold. The 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. 12k gold leaf made with copper instead of silver, would be reddish.

Pure gold leaf (24k) will not tarnish or change color over time. Silver leaf, and 12K gold leaf will darken if not sealed against oxidation. Artificial gold leaf, also known as composition leaf, is made of copper and zinc, and will tarnish.

Gold Leaf Packaging

Gold leaf is packaged in paper books, using specialty paper that 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)
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)
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 edge of the transfer paper poking out from the end of the book.

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 is usually only available in larger sizes, which is one way to tell the difference visually.

Gold Leaf Thicknesses

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