Bringing an Old Frame to Life with New Gold


There are many frames in the world that have been repainted with gold radiator paint. Sometimes it can be removed to reveal the original gilding, but I have found this process to be somewhat frustrating. You have to move very quickly so the solvents don’t take the gold with the paint. Another option is to add new gold.

Yes, gold is expensive, and it’s not something I would do on a large frame, but it’s possible to affordably guild a small frame. First a disclaimer, this is written from my experience and I don’t want it to be construed as a “how-to” article. I have taken classes on the topic, but I’m probably not a master of the technique and, as I’ll explain, I tend to improvise. Someone may give you different instructions.

Rounding up the Supplies

First, you need to round up the necessary supplies. Most of these can be found at an art supply store, but some will need to be ordered online. You’ll need clean, soft brushes, sizing and gold leaf. Optional items are brown oil paint, gold leaf rub and Terpenoid.


The sizing (adhesive), soft brushes, gold leaf rub, Terpenoid, and brown oil paint can be purchased at your local art supply store. You may have to order a special gold leaf brush, but they’re expensive, so you might substitute a soft house paint brush that’s about 1.5” wide and as thin as possible.

I’ve found the imitation gold leaf works ok when putting it on ceiling molding, but the real gold sheets that come in 1.5” x 1.5” sections are the best for working on frames. I’ve found them on eBay—most are sold from Thailand where they seem to guild everything. Sometimes they’re hard to locate, so search for a dealer named “Thaipants.” It costs about $20 for 100 sheets, but that’s not enough to do even an 8”x10”x3” frame! You’ll need 150 or more.

Another item you’ll need is paint. Typically red paint is used under the gold leaf, but one of my own variations on this long-established process is to use gold paint instead. Home supply stores carry a color by Ralph Lauren that closely matches the color of gold leaf. The purpose of the paint layer is to provide a clean surface for the sizing and leaf.

Applying the Gold

First, clean the frame with spray air and a soft cloth. Be careful not to break off any fragile pieces. Then with a soft brush, apply the sizing in these layers, making sure you leave no spot dry. Let this air dry for about one hour. It will turn from milky to clear, but leave a sticky residue.

Take the 1.5” brush (use a 3” brush if you have 3” sheets of leaf) and rub it on your clothing to create a little static. Use the static to pick up the gold leaf sheet and place it on the frame. You can put several together on the frame at a time. Then take a smaller dry brush and move over the frame with a painting motion to make it flat on the adhesive. You’ll see as you add more gold that the edges disappear!

Room with immitation gold leaf molding
Room with imitation gold leaf molding

If there are spots not covered in leaf, you can dab in more gold (use the small particles that are probably now laying around your work surface), or use the tube of gold rub to fill in here and there. Don’t rely too much on the gold rub, however. The color is more like the gold paint you removed than the fresh gold leaf. Use it in small areas only.

“Aging” the Gold

Depending on your taste, you may find the gold frame is now too bright. It may darken with time, but if you’re the anxious sort you can put a dab of brown oil paint on cardboard and mix in some turpenoid. You can paint a very thin layer of brown over the gold to age it a little. Do this slowly, in thin layers so it doesn’t become too brown.

Finally, save any small gold leaf fragments in a zip bag. You can use them on your next project!

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