Abstract Dendritic-shaped, Au nanoparticles (AuNPs) aggregates with the fractal feature could be formed by using a complex template of surfactant/polymer films. Hexadecyltrimethylammonium bromide (CTAB)/modified partially hydrolyzed polyacrylamide (MHPAM) complexes deposited on mica substrate were observed to form the dendritic aggregates (e.g. tree-like ramified structures) through the salt-induced self-assembly. Then this structure was used as “soft template” for the self-assembly of the AuNPs. The effects of the surface pressure and AuNPs concentrations in subphase on the morphology of AuNPs self-assembly were studied. The resulting morphology and structure have been observed and characterized by atomic force microscopy.