You can bring any gilded but faded antique picture frame back to life with a variety of craft and paint materials that are easy to use and available at hardware, art supply, and craft stores. These materials and techniques will also work on picture frames that are other colours and finishes. Just remember that some restorative techniques may actually devalue true antique frames so proceed with caution.
Remove the art work in the frame. All of the techniques demonstrated here are permanent and could ruin the artwork if the piece is not framed under glass. Undo any backings used to secure the picture inside the frame and carefully remove the piece.
Inspect the frame for needed repairs. If a bit of fancy three dimensional moulding is missing from the frame edge, you can make a passable replica of the missing work. Use a generous piece of modelling clay to make an impression of the moulding from an existing section of the frame. Cast a Plaster of Paris or Hydrocal copy from this mould. Remove the plaster copy from the mould and trim it to fit onto the missing section of the frame. Glue it in place with a strong craft adhesive like Goop. Repair any cracks in the frame with Goop and wood putty.
Use Rub n' Buff brand gold craft wax to recolor the frame. This waxy substance comes in a small tube and is applied "dry" to the frame with a finger or a small piece of cloth. It will apply successfully to any surface and gives off a very natural gold leaf colour. Buff the treated area with a soft cloth after it dries to bring out "all that glitters." This is the most common method used by antique and collectable dealers to re-guild a picture frame. But it can devalue a piece, especially if overdone.
Spray paint the frame with metallic gold spray paint. A true "gold" paint is available that has a shine much like real gold. Consider highlighting any complex decorative work after spray painting with a dry-brushing of black or charcoal paint. Apply the highlight colour and then wipe away any excess so the dark paint remains in any crevices. Spray painting can often devalue a piece, especially if poorly done with "flat" gold spray paints.
Dry brush the frame with metallic gold enamel paint. Use a true metallic gold. You can often find small bottles of gold paint at craft and hobby stores. Tap out any excess paint from your brush before applying paint to the frame.
Gild the frame using real gold leaf. Apply a special gold-leaf adhesive to the frame. Lay a small sheet of micro-thin gold leaf over a section of the frame, gold side down. "Pounce" the back of the gold leaf sheet with a stiff stencilling brush so the gold leaf is transferred onto the adhesive surface. After pouncing, pull the gold lead backer sheet away, leaving the gold behind. Gold leaf is rather expensive and the sheets are extremely thin and frail so handle them gingerly. This is the best way to regild a picture so that it retains its value.