Coating metal nanocrystals with responsive polymers provides a model case of smart, functional materials, where the optical properties can be modulated by external stimuli. However the optical response is highly sensitive to the polymer shell morphology, thickness and dielectric contrast. In this paper we study the nature of cross-linked, thermoresponsive polymer shells for the first time using four different scattering approaches to elucidate the density profile of the shells. Each scattering method provides unique information about the temperature-induced changes of shell thickness in terms of hydrodynamic radius and radius of gyration, the pair-distance distribution functions of the shells as well as the dynamic network fluctuations. Only a combination of these different scattering techniques allows to develop a morphological model of the core–shell particles. We further demonstrate control of the cross-linker distribution in core–shell synthesis by semi-batch precipitation copolymerization. Conducting the polymerization in three steps, we show for the first time that the polymer shell thickness can be successively increased without affecting the shell morphology and response behavior.