Blog Home Design Design Inspiration Good as Gold: The Symbolism and Design Power of the Color Gold

Long associated with wealth and prosperity, gold is a color synonymous with luxury and riches…and sometimes vulgarity and excess. Discover gold’s history and meaning, as well as how to use this rich yellow hue in contemporary design.

Skip to the end of the article to discover three contemporary gold color palettes to use in your designs. You can also discover a whole spectrum of incredible colors to use in your designs with our new color tool.

Good as Gold: The Symbolism and Design Power Color Gold — The Meaning of Gold
The gilded interior of the Great Mosque of Cordoba in Spain. Image by contributor Roman Sigaev.

Where is Gold on the Color Wheel?

Gold is a deep, rich yellow, taking its name from the precious ore. While metallic gold doesn’t feature on a traditional painter’s color wheel, its non-metallic incarnation, gold (or “golden”) does.

Good as Gold: The Symbolism and Design Power Color Gold — Gold on Color Wheel

Gold is a warm yellow, sitting between yellow-orange and yellow on a standard color wheel.

Good as Gold: The Symbolism and Design Power Color Gold — Golden Yellow

Web designers can use a variety of RGB values, which imitate the hue of metallic gold. A web-friendly version of gold can be achieved using the hex code #D4AF37 or RGB value of 212, 175, 55.

Color wheel images adapted from contributor Antun Hirsman.

Types of Gold

Golds can range from brown-hued olive golds (often referred to as “antique” or “old” gold) to strong, vivid yellows.

Gold is a diverse color, with a wide variety of hues and historically defined shades. The precious metal gold can vary in appearance due to age and brightness, and the color has also been used to describe other objects, such as barley (inspiring the shade “harvest gold”), blond hair, and the fur or feathers of some animals, such as golden eagles and golden retrievers.

Some of the best-known gold shades are:

  • Old or antique gold—Ranging from light olive to dark orange-yellow, this hue recalls the patina on aged gold metal. Reminiscent of historic buildings and established luxury, this gold is somber and sophisticated.
  • Pale or light gold contains more brown and white than pure gold, making it a calmer and more understated cousin to bright gold hues. Associated with fields of wheat, sand and blond hair, pale gold has close ties to the natural environment, making it a great choice for nature-inspired schemes.

    Good as Gold: The Symbolism and Design Power Color Gold — Harvest Gold
    Image by contributor niktalena.
  • Goldenrod and golden poppy are shades of gold inspired by the flowers of the same name.
  • Vegas gold, a punchy olive-gold shade, is sourced from and named after the glamorous casinos and hotels of the Las Vegas Strip in Nevada.
  • Golden yellow is a more playful and youthful version of gold. Matte as opposed to metallic, this hue combines orange, yellow, and a hint of magenta. Golden yellow is breezy, friendly, and optimistic.
  • Golden brown is often used to describe the optimum color of baked cakes and fried food. A mix of orange, brown, and yellow, this is a homely gold hue with a comforting, warming nature.

Discover how you can use a variety of golds using the Shutterstock color tool. This tool explores palettes and images related to a range of dynamic and beautiful gold hues, including light gold, old gold, and metallic gold.

Gold’s Complementary Color

Gold’s complementary color (which sits directly opposite it on a color wheel) is blue. Darker golds, such as old gold, will complement purple-blue.

Good as Gold: The Symbolism and Design Power Color Gold — Complementary Colors

Color wheel images adapted from contributor Antun Hirsman

The Meaning of Gold

Gold is the most materialistic of all colors, symbolic of wealth, extravagance, and riches. Sharing some of the psychological attributes of yellow, bright gold can be optimistic and cheerful. Darker golds that incorporate more brown are also more antiquated in nature, giving a somber and conservative mood to designs.

The color is undeniably glamorous, associated with good times, celebrations, and glitz. However, when used in excess, gold can signal just that—excessive materialism, greed, and vulgarity. Some designers use the color gold to create a commentary on kitsch and nouveau riche culture, with fashion brands like Moschino and John Galliano famed for their use of gold to create clothing that celebrates flamboyance and excess.

Good as Gold: The Symbolism and Design Power Color Gold — Gold and Fashion
A model wearing a gold outfit walks the runway at the Moschino show at Milan Fashion Week. Image by contributor

A favorite color of Hollywood stars, royalty, and even despots, gold is symbolic of power, individualism, and prosperity. In some parts of the world, such as Asia and many Islamic countries, gold is connected to spirituality and knowledge, with the color symbolic of purity and wisdom.

Some other associations of gold include:

  • Gold has a strong connection to Buddhism. It is symbolic of enlightenment, purity, and happiness. Statues of the Buddha are usually painted metallic gold or covered in cold plating.

    Good as Gold: The Symbolism and Design Power Color Gold — Buddhism
    Image by contributor Amnartk.
  • Gold is often used in language as a signifier of superior quality or outstanding talent. Gold medals are awarded to Olympic champions, the “gold standard” is a signifier of excellent quality or service, and a “golden child” is considered to be a favored or particularly talented person.
  • Gold can be symbolic of achievement and longevity. It is the official fiftieth wedding anniversary metal (with copper for seventh, bronze for eighth, and silver for twenty-fifth).

Where Does Gold Come From?

Since gold ore was first discovered (the earliest gold artifacts date from the 4th century BC from archaeological sites in the Levant and Bulgaria), the precious metal has been treasured, hoarded, and melted down to create jewelry, statues, masks, and currency.

In ancient mythology, gold is often used as a symbolic color of aspiration, rarity ,and beauty. The Greek legend of the Golden Fleece sees the hero, Jason, and the Argonauts set out on a quest to retrieve a gold-flecked fleece, symbolic of his rightful ownership of the throne of Iolcus in Thessaly. The Book of Revelation describes the beautiful city of Jerusalem as having streets “made of pure gold, clear as crystal” (Revelation 21:21).

In the Old Testament gold is often symbolic of greed, excess, and immorality. Stories like that of the golden calf highlight the pitfalls of worshipping false idols and material wealth.

Generally accessible by only the richest in society, gold is historically associated with royalty and the merchant classes. In many societies across the world gold became the most highly-prized material, valued for its rarity and beauty.

Good as Gold: The Symbolism and Design Power Color Gold — Incan Mask
An Inca funerary mask made of hammered gold. Image by contributor steve estvanik.

Historically, gold inspired many ambitious expeditions, including the Conquistadors’ quest for the mythical City of Gold, El Dorado, in the 1500s. It also drove the 19th century gold rushes, in which masses of hopeful individuals journeyed to parts of California, Australia, and South Africa in the hope of discovering fresh gold fields.

The World Gold Council estimates that 190,040 metric tons of gold have been mined and are in circulation today. Gold has retained a high value, but is also more widely accessible and visible. Gold jewelry accounts for about 50% of the world consumption of the metal*, making it a visible indicator of wealth and status. Gold-imitation materials, such as brass and fool’s gold, as well as metallic paints and other industrial finishes have allowed the look of gold to be translated to products and furniture without the high price tag.

In printing, the look of metallic gold can be imitated using hot foil stamping, which uses aluminum foil to create a look reminiscent of gold leaf. Pantone also have several of their own metallic gold colors, including 871C, a beautiful old gold color.

Good as Gold: The Symbolism and Design Power Color Gold — Imitation Gold

The matte, non-metallic version of gold is inspired by the precious ore, and is used frequently to imitate the look and mood of gold, especially for web design.

*(Soos, A. [2011])

How to Design with Gold

Because gold is so evocative of wealth and prosperity, it’s the perfect color to use if you want to make a design appear more high-end and luxurious. However, a word of caution—use gold sparingly, ideally as an accent color, to avoid cheapening the look of your design.

A small dose of gold is a fantastic technique for making products and branding feel a bit extra-special. While metallic foiling adds extra expense to your print product, the added value that a small flash of metallic gold color can bring to a brochure or business card is really worth the effort.

Gold is a great color choice for luxury products (or to simply make a product appear more luxurious). In this example, Ryan Romanes Studio has set a simple handwritten brand name in gold foil to give these Kelly Washington wine labels an understated luxe vibe.

Good as Gold: The Symbolism and Design Power Color Gold — Adding Luxury

Good as Gold: The Symbolism and Design Power Color Gold — Touch of Gold
Label design for Kelly Washington by Ryan Romanes Studio.

Here, Turkish designer Cihangir Öziş opted for indulgent gold typography on the stationery and signage used at The Bulga luxury hotel in Copenhagen. This example also demonstrates how gold makes the perfect color partner to Art Deco styling.

Good as Gold: The Symbolism and Design Power Color Gold — Luxury Hotel

Good as Gold: The Symbolism and Design Power Color Gold — Art Deco Elements
Corporate identity for The Bulga hotel, Copenhagen, by Cihangir Öziş.

In its metallic form, gold can be treated as a neutral and paired with a wide range of colors to create a heady and luxurious scheme. Jewel colors, like ruby red, emerald, and azure blue can create rich, vibrant schemes, as in this book design for the Design Council of Hong Kong by FUNDAMENTAL Studio.

Good as Gold: The Symbolism and Design Power Color Gold — Jewel Colors

Good as Gold: The Symbolism and Design Power Color Gold — Neutral Gold
Book design for Design Council of Hong Kong, Designing a better tomorrow, by FUNDAMENTAL Studio.

What Colors Go With Gold?

Colors that go with gold depend on the type of color scheme you want to use:

  • A monochromatic gold color scheme uses pale and dark (antique) gold hues to create an entirely gold palette.
  • A complementary gold color scheme incorporates blue or purple-blue. Blue’s neighbor colors, green and violet, are complementary to red and yellow, respectively.
  • An analogous gold color scheme uses the colors bordering gold on either side of the color wheel. Gold’s neighboring colors are yellow-orange and yellow.
  • A triadic gold color scheme includes red and blue since they are equidistant from gold on a modern color wheel.

To find the colors and exact hex codes that go with gold, use our color combinations tool. It shows you monochromatic, analogous, triadic, and contrasting color palettes for a variety of gold hues. Try a scheme with light gold, old gold, or metallic gold.

Below, discover three cutting-edge, pre-made color palettes for the color gold.

Palette 1: From Dusk Til Dawn

This palette is a lively and high-contrast collection of colors, teaming metallic gold with deep fuchsia pink, cobalt blue, and zesty orange. A fun and friendly way to incorporate gold into your designs, this would work well for retail branding or packaging.

Good as Gold: The Symbolism and Design Power Color Gold — From Dusk Til Dawn

Palette 2: Precious Jewels

Inspired by the rich, luxurious colors favored by fashion designers like Tom Ford and Alberta Ferretti, this palette combines antique gold with forest green, magenta, and cabernet for an ultra-sophisticated mood.

Good as Gold: The Symbolism and Design Power Color Gold — Precious Jewels

Palette 3: Moroccan Metal

This palette is a calm and soothing take on gold, teaming it with Mediterranean-inspired blues to create a scheme evocative of the beautiful colors of ornate Moroccan doorways. An easy-to-use and versatile scheme, this could be used to balance warm and cool tones on a range of designs.

Good as Gold: The Symbolism and Design Power Color Gold — Moroccan Metal

Eager to discover more incredible colors to use in your designs?

Discover a whole spectrum of incredible colors with our new color tool that helps to bring your projects to life.

Cover image via contributor Jingjing Yan.