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In Packaging, All That Glitters Is Gold

Bringing the gold can elevate your packaging’s colorway and your brand identity.




In Packaging, All That Glitters Is Gold

Golden hues speak to new opportunities, optimism and success. Although brand-owners have embraced the use of gold in packaging for decades, startup companies are also using gold inks, foils, and boards to imbue their new products with an aura of permanence and dependability, so consumers can feel safe buying from them. This couldn’t be more perfect timing, as color influencers such as Pantone and Shutterstock have selected Champagne gold as the signature color of 2021.

Gold as Opulence

Luxury brands have often used gold accents to elevate a limited-edition product from special to extra-special. Such is the case with prestige pen producer A.T. Cross.

When designing their Chinese Zodiac limited-edition pen set packaging, Sal Juarez of Sketchworkx chose to enclose the pen container in a matte black folding carton imprinted with a gold foil design. He then blind varnished zodiac patterns on the sides of the carton before applying a protective scuff coat.

“The Chinese believe that gold is a harbinger of good fortune,” explains Juarez, “so it made sense to print the zodiac design in a color that the Chinese find beneficent.” The pen set sold so well that the company re-released several other limited-edition sets as well.

Metallic effects can also help distinguish between an original product and a new release targeted at a different group of consumers. Calvin Klein took this to the extreme when designing its new CK One Gold. Although their design team usually embraces a minimalist aesthetic, when they introduced the new, high-end cologne, they broke this rule by making it appear as if the product bottle and packaging of the original CK One had been dipped in liquid gold.


To achieve this hyper-realistic effect, designer Stephen Moss applied gold foil to the top half of the carton and then embossed the gold drips. When the fragrance cartons now sit beside each other on the store shelf, the playful yet opulent gold-on-white carton makes it easy for consumers to distinguish between the original CK One and the premium CK One Gold.

Cosmetics company Jeffree Star also achieved packaging “gold” with his not-so-subtle approach to metallics. With a name like 24 Karat, it’s no surprise that Don Romine of Impress Communications chose to embrace gold’s universal appeal when designing the packaging for this new product release.

Because foils don’t cover large regions well, Romine instead printed brown and orange inks on a silver met/pet board, and then added dimensionality by debossing the text. The result? A realistic-looking brushed-gold bar package that has sold so well that it quickly became a website top seller.

Gold as Permanence

Startups that usually embrace a nature-based aesthetic are also realizing the benefits of metallic printing effects and substrates. Not only do gold embellishments help a brand stand apart from its competitors, but gold can also foster a sense of longevity, characteristics that new companies with little to no track record must cultivate in order to develop long-term, loyal customers.


Inhale is one such startup. Although they wanted to emphasize the organic basis of cannabis, the brand also wanted to support their clinical side as well. So, Wendy Barr of Barrcode Branding suggested a brand design that included both kraft board and gold foil.

In Packaging, All That Glitters Is Gold

“The upscale gold foil against the natural-looking kraft created a design tension the company loved,” Barr explains. “The gold reflected the brand’s science-based approach to mixing extracts while the kraft embodied the natural aspect of the plant.”

Startup Ancient Roots also took a leap of faith when the brand decided to play with gold packaging. But instead of taking baby steps with a few golden accents, they went all-in by creating a carton that has the literal look and feel of a gold ingot.

Utilizing a MET-PET (metallized polyester film to solid bleached sulfate) silver board, Impress Communications first experimented with transmuting the metallic silver into gold by overprinting a series of transparent yellow inks. Once the company found an ink combination that mimicked the look and feel of real gold, its ink lab developed a custom PMS to apply to the silver board. The text was then printed in a brown PMS and debossed. Impress Communications also printed the packaging with UV inks on a UV press so the inks would dry quickly and trap properly. The end result is a carton that feels as if it’s been smelted in a forge centuries ago by Viking craftsmen.

Let Design Dictate the Process


Each process for creating a gold effect has its benefits and downsides so it’s important to understand what techniques work best with any given design before finalizing the project or setting a print budget.

Because metallic inks are applied like any other spot color, they retain a greater level of detail than other printing methods. For projects with intricate designs or small font sizes, metallic ink is the way to go. Just keep in mind that the ink color may shift, depending on the shade of the board because metallic inks are not fully opaque.

Moreover, because inks more easily soak into the fibers of textured or matte boards, to achieve a shiny effect, white glossy board should be used. It’s also recommended to apply a protective coating to the finished package and avoid embossing/debossing areas that have been printed with metallic inks, as the metal flecks in the ink make the ink prone to cracking, especially over time.

If your packaging design does not have areas that require wide coverage of a metallic, has fine details, or features small font sizes, then printing with metallic foil is ideal. Foil stamping requires the printer to develop a custom die, so depending on the number of metallic colors or textures you wish to use, it can be costly. However, unlike metallic inks, metallic foil is 100% opaque so the color will remain consistent regardless of the substrate on which you are printing. Foils also retain clarity when embossed/debossed.

If the design requires large areas of the package to be printed in a metallic, then metalized board, such as Mainline Holographics’ new Aurora Gold, is the way to go. Pre-made metallic board can be easily overprinted, as long as a hit or two of opaque white is applied to key areas to prevent bleed-through.

Whichever process you use to support your package design, adding a gold metallic background or embellishment will help secure a positive relationship with your customer and elevate your brand. (A glass of champagne, anyone?)

Kim Guarnaccia is the owner of marketing consultancy Huzzah, LLC. She has also served as the market director for Case Paper and Mainline Holographic, in addition to her role as director of marketing and communications for The Markens Group, which manages associations such as the Paperboard Packaging Council. She earned a bachelor’s degree in graphic design from Yale University and has studied customer and operational analytics at The Wharton School.

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