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The Difference Between Metal Leaf And Foil,
And How To Use Them.

Metal leaf booklets

Metal leaf
Sheeted metal can be used to create stunning effects. You can make projects that resemble dichroic glass, enamel effects, cracked effects and so much more. When applied on raw clay, you need no glue, as it bonds with the clay when cured. You can apply it after curing too, but then you need to glue it on with some size.

Leafed metal is, hence the name, made of metal. You can get real gold like Monastery Gold Leaf , copper and silver leaf, which can be a bit expensive, depending on the quality and karat. Or you can get the cheaper but just as good metal leafs, Imitation Gold Leaf and Imitation Silver Leaf that look like the real thing, but are made of other metals like aluminum.

Then there are the Variegated Composition Leaf, that has beautiful patterns in red, green or black. With these you can achieve some stunning results in your polymer clay projects.

You can see one way of using them in this tutorial: Eye Catching Chinese Brocade Beads

With the exception of real gold, leafed metal will tarnish if not protected. Therefor you should varnish the surface, or cover it with transparent clay. You should also be a bit careful while handling them as touching the leaf may increase the chances of tarnishing because of oils from your hands, so it may be wise to put the clay onto the leaf and not the other way around.

When the leafs are applied, baked and varnished, you can not see any different between precious metals and other metals, so if in doubt about what you shall use, do what suits your wallet best.

Most sheets come in booklets with thin sheets of tissue paper to separate the ultra thin metal sheets. Since they are very thin and fluffy, they tend to fly around and stick to everything it should not stick too, unless you are careful. You can apply the leafs to clay in three ways.

  • You can use a wide, flat brush, and carefully lift the metal sheet onto the clay.
  • Second you can keep the metal sheet between the two tissue papers, and cut out the wanted size with a pair of scissors, remove the upper tissue paper and place your clay piece on top of the metal sheet.
  • The third is to put your clay on top of a metal sheet, fold over the tissue paper and carefully pull the clay piece out, while holding the rest of the metal sheet by pressing down the tissue paper.

Either way will cause metal leaf to fly around. If you find that you have got metal on a place where you don't want some, scrape it carefully away with your finger nail or a crafts knife and clean the spot with a baby wipe.

Some metal leaves can be bought as transfer sheets, like Mona Lisa Simple Leaf. They are then attached to a piece of paper. When applying you just put the metal side onto the clay, and peal away the paper. This means that you can be very accurate when you apply it, which allows you to cut just the piece you need. This is a huge benefit, as you get metal only where you want it, and not all over your clay and workbench. There is no metal flying around, since it sticks to the paper until pressed onto the clay.

Foil to use with polymer clay

Foils are made of plastic, and are more flexible than metal sheets. They are attached to a sheet of Mylar that releases the foil when burnished. While metal leaf sticks to everything almost too easily, you have to work with the foil quite a bit to get it to stick to the clay.

My experience with foil is that it is beautiful when applied, but not all are easy to burnish on to the clay. Some simply won't leave the mylar they are attached to, no matter how much you burnish. Anyway, don't let that discourage you, the foils are worth the effort.

The way to do it, is to lay the foil on top of a clay sheet with the colored side up. Use an old credit card and rub it over the foil. The Mylar sheet gives up the foil when it gets warm, so you have to rub for quite a while. (a loooong while). If, when you rip the Mylar off, the clay is not properly covered by foil, just repeat the procedure. To avoid the clay to stick to the working surface, put it on a piece of paper while you burnish.

You can get foils in vibrant colors, mother of pearl effects and holographic effects. They are also cheaper than the metal leafs.

Because they are attached to a plastic sheet, you can cut out shapes, strips and whatever you want and get foil only where you want it. The burnishing may distort the shape of your clay though, so sometimes it is better to burnish the foil onto a very thin sheet of clay, and then cut out the shapes from that sheet and apply it wherever you want it.

Mother of pearl foil over polymer clay bead

When using foils you can use the same techniques that you can with metal leaf. The difference is that foil looks denser more muted and the crackle pattern finer. You also have the opportunity to create stunning and marvelous effects with transparent mother of pearl, as you can see to the right, or the holographic foils, something you can not with metal leaf. There is also no tarnishing to worry about, since the foil is plastic not metal.

How to use metal leaf and foil:
You can color the sheets with alcohol inks. The effect is stunning, as the inks are transparent and the metal will shine through the color. I normally cover the inked metal with a very thin sheet of translucent clay, to protect it, but also to strengthen the effect of Foil lined glass beads, as it adds depth to the metal sheet. You do of course not have to do this, but I would recommend that you varnish it after baking, to protect it from wear and tear, and potential tarnishing.

The metallic effect using foil, is a bit more muted than with metal leaf. It gives a softer, more silky look. You can see the difference on the photos. The one on the left is inked silver colored foil, while the other is inked silver leaf.

With metal leaf on polymer clay, it is easy to create a crackle pattern. Just run the sheet through the pasta machine on a thinner setting, or roll over it with your acrylic roller. If you want it crackled more, run it through again, but from another side. You can also do it by hand by pulling and stretching the clay. It is actually easier to create a crackled effect than a smooth metallic surface, unless you use transfer sheets.

crackled metal composition leaf crackled silver colored foil

Foils do not crackle equally easy. The foil is more elastic, so it stretches with the clay. The crackling is therefor finer and sometimes it does not crackle at all. Above to the left you see a cracled composition leaf and to the right crackled silver colored foil

Both metal leaf and foil gives beautiful effect when used as a kind of Mokume Gane. Let the top sheet of clay be covered with metal leaf or foil, and stamp it with a texture sheet. Then cut away the raised parts and you are left with a very lovely metallic pattern. It looks a bit like brocade. Below to the left you see metal leaf and to the right foil.

Brocade like effect with metal leaf

Brocade like effect with foil

You can make a kind of enameling effect, if you stamp a piece of clay, cover it with metal leaf or foil and then fill the pattern with colored liquid polymer clay. The metal or foil will shine through the colored liquid clay and the raised parts will be the metal itself.

Swirled polymer clay bead with metal leaf

If you have left over pieces of metal sheet, but they are not really usable for much, mix them into clay, to get a sparkling effect. Use scrap clay with bits of metal sheet to make very special and striking marbling. Swirled beads get very nice if you have metal leaf in the clay and the bits are swirled into bands towards the center of the bead. Bits of metal can also be used when you make faux gemstones, like Lapis Lazuli.

The foils are not equally good for this technique. They tend to disappear in the clay when run through the pasta machine.

Another stunning effect with leafed metal and foil can be done by adding the leaf onto colored translucent clay, cut in half and stack until you have a tall stack where clay and sheets of metal/foil are on top of each other. Cut thin slices with a ripple blade and apply them to your polymer clay project. When cured the clay will be translucent and you have metal/foil in beautiful wavy patterns.

Or make a jelly roll of colored translucent clay and metal sheets. Cut the cane in elongated slices and apply to your project. This will leave 3 dimensional metal rings, embedded in translucent clay. You can see it in this tutorial: Color Full Flower Beads

Polymer clay bead with composition leaf and translucent clay Polymer clay bead with silver leaf and translucent clay

Check out this tutorial on how to make faux mother of pearl inlay with foil:

Make A Bangle With A Tin Can, Clay Gun And Faux Mother Of Pearl Inlay

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