Coloring Coat Of Arms: A Guide

how to color the coat of arms

Heraldry and the use of colours in coat of arms have been around for centuries. The practice was first thought to be implemented by early soldiers or knights as a way to identify each knight in battle with full armour and helmets with face shields. The use of colours in coat of arms, known as tinctures, is one of the most striking elements and helps to distinguish and identify the wearer of the crest.

There are no strict rules governing the number of colours that can be used in a coat of arms, but there are some guidelines and conventions that have evolved over time. The most common tinctures used in heraldry are gold (or yellow), silver (or white), red, blue, green, and black. These colours were originally chosen because they were easy to produce using natural dyes and were highly visible against the metal and stone backgrounds on which the crests were displayed.

Different combinations of tinctures can create different effects and convey different meanings. For example, a crest featuring a gold lion on a red background might represent bravery and strength, while a crest with a silver eagle on a blue background might represent wisdom and loyalty.

In addition to these primary tinctures, there are also several other colours used in heraldry, including purple, brown, and pink. These colours are less common and are often used to add variety and interest to a coat of arms or family crest.

Characteristics Values
Red Military fortitude, magnanimity, martyr, warrior
Blue Loyalty, chastity, truth, strength, faith
Black Wisdom, prudence, constancy, grief
Green Hope, joy, loyalty in love, abundance, riches
Purple Royalty, regal, sovereignty, justice, temperance
Yellow or Gold Wisdom, constancy, faithfulness, glory, generosity
Silver or White Truth, innocence, purity, sincerity, peace
Mulberry Maroon
Blood red Murrey
Orange Ambition, drive for success


Choosing colours with relevant meanings

The colours used in a coat of arms are called "tinctures" and they are of three types: a set of colours, two metals and several stylized depictions of furs. There are no hard and fast rules governing the number of colours that can be used, but there are some guidelines and conventions that have evolved over time.

When choosing colours for your coat of arms, it is important to consider the meanings associated with each colour. Here are some of the most common tinctures and their meanings:

  • Gold (or yellow): Symbolises wisdom, constancy, faithfulness, glory and generosity.
  • Silver (or white): Represents truth, peace, sincerity, purity and innocence.
  • Red: Expresses military bravery, magnanimity, martyrdom, strength and cunning.
  • Blue: Symbolises loyalty, truth, faith and strength.
  • Green: Represents hope, joy, prosperity, abundance and loyalty in love.
  • Black: Signifies constancy, prudence, grief or steadfast inner beliefs.
  • Purple: Signifies royalty, regal, sovereignty, justice and temperance.

In addition to these primary tinctures, you can also use other colours such as orange, brown or pink to add variety and interest to your coat of arms. These colours have their own meanings as well. For example, orange represents ambition and a drive for success, while brown can signify the earth and nature.

When designing your coat of arms, consider the use of colour combinations as well. Different combinations of tinctures can convey different meanings. For example, a gold lion on a red background might represent bravery and strength, while a silver eagle on a blue background could represent wisdom and loyalty.

Furs, which are patterns created by alternating two tinctures, are another important aspect of heraldry. The most common fur, ermine, is a pattern of black dots on a white background and represents nobility, purity and innocence. Furs add texture and depth to your coat of arms while also carrying symbolic meanings.

Ultimately, the number of colours and their combinations in your coat of arms is a matter of personal preference and design aesthetics. You may choose a limited palette for a simple and elegant crest or opt for a more complex design with a wider range of tinctures.

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Using the correct heraldic terms

When creating a coat of arms, it's important to use the correct heraldic terms for colours, known as tinctures. These are the Latin names for the colours used, and they are as follows:

  • Red is Gules
  • Blue is Azure
  • Black is Sable
  • Green is Vert
  • Purple is Purpure
  • Gold is Or
  • Silver is Argent

These seven colours are the most traditional and commonly used tinctures in heraldry. They were chosen for their visibility and because they were easy to produce using natural dyes.

There are also two furs that are considered separate from colours and metals: Ermine and Vair. Ermine represents the white winter coat of a stoat with black spots, and Vair represents the winter coat of a red squirrel, which is blue-grey above and white below.

Over time, variations on these basic tinctures were developed, and two additional colours, Sanguine (a venous blood red) and Tenne (an orange or brownish colour), were introduced. These were considered “stains” by some heraldic writers, signifying dishonour, and so were rarely used.

When designing a coat of arms, different combinations of tinctures can be used to convey different meanings. For example, a gold lion on a red background might represent bravery and strength. It's important to note that there are no strict rules governing the number of colours used, but most crests feature two or three tinctures to avoid a cluttered appearance.

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Combining colours for effect

The first rule of heraldry, known as the "rule of tincture", states that metal should not be placed upon metal, nor colour upon colour. This rule ensures sufficient contrast between the elements of the design, making them distinguishable and visually appealing.

When selecting colours for a coat of arms, it is essential to consider the symbolic meanings associated with each tincture. For example, green represents hope, joy, and loyalty in love, while blue signifies unwavering loyalty, chastity, and truth. Understanding the symbolism allows designers to choose colours that align with the qualities and message they want to convey.

The number of colours used in a coat of arms is typically limited to two or three tinctures. Using too many colours can make the design appear cluttered and confusing. It is crucial to strike a balance, creating a simple yet elegant crest that is easy to reproduce accurately using traditional heraldic techniques.

When combining colours, it is important to consider the overall aesthetic appeal of the design. Some colour combinations may result in strange hybrids or a confusing shield that resembles a single coat of arms rather than a combination of two. Finding the right balance and harmony between the colours chosen is essential for an attractive and effective coat of arms.

Additionally, the historical context and cultural variations should be taken into account when combining colours. For instance, in medieval heraldry, gules (red) was the most common tincture, followed by the metals or (gold) and argent (silver). French heraldry is known for its use of azure (blue) and or (gold), while English heraldry is characterised by heavy use of gules (red) and argent (silver).

In conclusion, combining colours effectively in a coat of arms involves considering symbolic meanings, limiting the number of tinctures, adhering to the rule of tincture, creating visual harmony, and taking into account historical and cultural variations. By following these guidelines, designers can create a coat of arms that conveys the desired message and represents the qualities of the family or individual it signifies.

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Using furs for texture and symbolism

Furs are an important aspect of heraldry, adding texture and depth to a coat of arms. They are patterns created by alternating two tinctures in a specific way and carry their own symbolism and historical significance. The most common furs used in heraldry are ermine and vair.

Ermine is a fur with a white background and a pattern of black shapes, representing the winter coat of the stoat, a species of weasel with white fur and a black-tipped tail. In heraldry, ermine symbolises nobility, purity, and innocence. It is often associated with royalty and high-ranking peers due to its use in ceremonial robes and coronation cloaks.

Vair mimics the appearance of squirrel pelts, with blue and white bell-shaped lines. This fur was highly prized in medieval times for its warmth and beauty and was commonly used to line the cloaks of the nobility. In heraldry, vair signifies protection and the rewards of a hard-fought victory, reflecting perseverance and resilience.

The use of furs in heraldry adds a layer of complexity and symbolism to the coat of arms. They provide texture and depth to the design while also conveying specific meanings associated with the fur type. The choice of fur can indicate the bearer's rank, virtues, or historical deeds, contributing to the overall message conveyed by the coat of arms.


Using metals for symbolism

Metals are an important component of the colour palette used in heraldry, also known as tinctures. The two metals used are or and argent, which represent gold and silver, respectively, and are usually depicted as yellow and white.

Or, or gold, symbolises generosity, elevation of the mind, and peace. It is also associated with the sun and its rays. In combination with argent, or silver, it can be used to represent a warrior's helmet and the mantling that protects the neck from the sun.

Argent, or silver, symbolises sincerity and peace. It is also associated with the moon.

These metals are used as the background, or field, of the shield, and can be divided into chief and base (top and bottom), and sinister and dexter (left and right, from the viewpoint of the bearer of the shield).

The rule of tincture, one of the most important conventions of heraldry, dictates that metals should never be placed on metals to ensure contrast and visibility. This rule is strictly adhered to in British armory, with only rare exceptions.

In addition to the two metals, there are five universally recognised colours: gules (red), sable (black), azure (blue), vert (green), and purpure (purple). There are also two additional colours that are less common: sanguine or murrey (a dark red or mulberry colour), and tenné (an orange or dark yellow-brown colour).

The choice of colours and metals in heraldry is not merely aesthetic but carries symbolic meaning and helps to identify the bearer's virtues, aspirations, and identity.

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Frequently asked questions

There are seven traditional colours used in heraldry: red, blue, black, green, purple, gold, and silver. However, there are no strict rules, and other colours such as brown, pink, and orange can also be used.

Each colour has a symbolic meaning. For example, red symbolises military strength and magnanimity, while blue signifies loyalty, truth, and strength. Gold represents wisdom, glory, and generosity, and silver signifies peace and sincerity.

There is no fixed number, but most coats of arms use two or three colours to avoid looking cluttered and to make them easier to reproduce accurately.

Consider the symbolic meanings of the colours and choose the ones that best represent your values or the message you want to convey. You can also use colours that are personally meaningful to you or your family.

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