Guide to Gilding

What is gilding? Gilding is an ancient decorative art of applying a thin coating of gold leaf – or lesser materials, such as powder or paint - to solid surfaces. Gold leaf has been widely used to embellish buildings, wood, stone, glass, porcelain and metal objects for thousands of years. Its unique colour, reflective nature and permanence have been associated with beauty and richness in cultures and societies around the world. Although, the earliest known gold foil wrapped objects date back to 3000BC to Northern Syria, the historical origins of gilding using gold leaf started in 20th century BC as revealed on Egyptian tomb paintings and reliefs.


Small golden gilt edge red invitation card stationery Small yellow colour painted ink edge book diary

Edge gilding is regarded as a specialist print-finishing technique that involves coating the edges of luxury stationery with thin metallic foil, creating a lasting impression. Edge painting, a more modern development uses a wide variety of ink. We at Downey use both, edge gilding and painting, on bespoke business cards, invitations, notebooks, brochures and books we produce. Besides applying metallic foil or colour ink, we can match any pantone shades or create special colour mixes.


Large gold gilt edge bound manuscript book

Edge gilding has its origins in bookbinding and decorating. In Europe around 400AD, gold and silver leaf were used by monks and holy men to create beautifully embellished manuscripts. The ornamented works included decorations, such as initials and borders. On some of the most precious books a thin layer of gold leaf was applied to the edges for aesthetic and practical reasons: to impress the reader and to protect the page edges from damp and dust.



Small coloured ink edge card stationery Small copper gilt edge business card

The process of gilding requires a huge amount of skill and experience and here at Downey it is all done in-house with utmost care. The gilding process starts by trimming the paper or card to the desired size. Once the edges are clamped together and filed, to create a perfectly flat and even surface, a thin layer of metal foil – usually silver or gold - is applied on the prepared edge. This process is repeated on each required side, leaving the edges with a beautifully finished metallic shine.

Painting the edges requires a similar process to gilding, only here we use ink instead of metallic foil to apply a deep, rich colour onto the edges of stationery.


Large bevelled gilt edge wedding invitation and menu

For a more striking aesthetic effect, we also offer the option of having the edges bevelled, providing an angled edge with square or traditionally rounded corners, before gilding or colouring. Edge gilding and painting can be applied to any thickness of paper or card. Naturally, the thicker the card the more powerful the effect.


A gilt edge is the ultimate finishing touch on any bespoke stationery and our craftsmen’s attention to detail ensures the most stunning results.


Gilding adds a touch of luxury and importance to any corporate stationery, event invitation, business card or business brochure and will set your brand apart from the rest. Combined with other embellishing techniques, such as embossing, it creates an ultimate visual impact. 

by Agnes Bobvos