Gilding describes the application of gilt, which refers to gold or something resembling gold. However, gilding encompasses a variety of specialty finishing techniques involving metallic leaf in a variety of colors, which is created by rolling and pounding alloys of metals such as gold, silver, aluminum, palladium, copper, or brass, until they are thinner than paper. Genuine gold leaf alone can vary from brilliant 24k red gold to 12k white gold.

Additionally, gilding techniques can range from highly polished and burnished water gilding to matte gold finishes, which in turn can be toned with decorative glazing or patinas. To apply the leaf, the substrate is smoothed, primed, and prepped with an adhesive depending on the material. The leaf is carefully transferred and can then be coated. While gold does not tarnish, hand soiling, dirt accumulations, exposure to moisture, and weathering, cause losses over time. Coating can prevent damages and tarnishing that occur in other metals. Routine maintenance is suggested to slow surface loss, limit substrate exposure, and preserve the grandeur of gilding.