Glass Gilding

The basic method for gilding on glass is as follows:
  • Clean the glass thoroughly with a combination of methylated spirits and whiting; the spirit breaks down the dirt whilst the whiting absorbs oil residues. This first step is very important because dirty glass will result in a cloudy, dull gild.
  • The next step is to apply your lettering/design to the outside of the glass. Either draw it directly onto the glass using a chinagraph pencil or you can make a drawing of the lettering /design on paper. The latter is the most accurate and surest way to achieve a quality job.
  • Now you need to apply a painted outline around the design or lettering. The original paint used for this was Japan colour which was usually black around lettering. It was ground upon a slab with goldsize to form a paste for signwriting, however it has long since been replaced by Keeps Readybound Intenso – a paint specifically made for signwriting on glass. This paint itself is no longer available, although AS Handover and Wrights of Lymm both make their own versions of it.
The art of gilding is an ancient one, however the technique of gilding on the back of glass is a relatively recent development. It's documented use does not really go back further than the 1840s.

Once you have outlined the lettering/design and it has dried which usually takes 30 minutes you are ready to apply some goldleaf.

  • First make some gelatine size by gently heating one gelatine capsule in a small stainless steel pan of water. The water needs to be deionised or distilled to exclude impurities.
  • This done you then add some cold water to finish the size, be sure to make enough to finish the job. The size is applied to the glass using a camel haired brush. Starting at the top working from left to right, flood a small area of the glass with size. Then open a book of gold leaf, carefully folding back the pages to reveal the leaf. The goldleaf is picked up by a gilders tip. This is squirrel or badger hair sandwiched between 2 pieces of card.
  • Run the hairs of the tip across your forehead so as to charge the tip with oil, this will help pick up the goldleaf with ease.
  • Place the tip about a third of the way down the leaf and carefully lift it from the book and in one continuous motion land the goldleaf where you have sized in almost a slapping motion. Do not hesitate or the leaf will crumple up.
  • The leaf should arrive on the glass as smoothly and wrinkle free as possible. To achieve this you must flood the area you are working on with size; if the gold lands on dry glass it will crinkle up and have to be cleaned off.
  • Continue laying the leaf until the entire lettering/design is covered in gold, at this point it is a case of waiting for the size to dry. The easiest way to tell whether the size has dried is to look at it from the front of the glass. Any bright areas are dry but dull areas indicate wet size. You can help it dry quicker by aiming a fan heater at the glass.
  • Once the gold is dry all the loose leaf is very gently rubbed off with cotton wool. Use a gentle up and down motion and do not rub too hard as the gild is still very delicate at this stage.
  • When all the loose gold is cleaned off it is ready for the second gild. Flood the entire area with size this will take away much of the dullness of the first gild. Then starting at the top left hand corner of the design/lettering float on some more size and start second gilding the entire area. When this is dry start rubbing down the gild to remove the loose gold as before, only this time you can rub harder so as to polish the gild.
  • When this is completed, the next step is to back up the gild with paint, using the same paint as for outlining. It’s a simple case of backing up the areas between the outlines.
  • Once this is done and the backing paint is dry, clean off the excess gold from the glass using cotton wool and water.
  • The last step is to varnish the entire design/lettering the idea is to come over the edge of the painted outline one sixteenth of an inch. This protects the painted outlines from chipping due to repeated cleaning of the glass.
  • Some very good types of this work can still be seen in Brighton & Sussex.

Gold leaf lettering on glass can really convey a sense of dignity & permanence to a business. It is especially attractive to the professions i.e solicitors, accountants, doctors & dentists. Although high end shops & boutiques that want to create an up market look are inclined to use this beautifully elegant style of lettering to achieve this. And not just gold leaf either, there are many types of leaf i.e. silver, copper, lemon gold, white gold & many more which can combine to produce striking window signs.

British Inn Signs