Military Heraldry

Military Heraldry Primer

When designing a distinctive device for a unit, there are some basic rules to keep in mind. Firstly, the crest should tell the story of the unit, depicting its values and mission. If the unit has won a significant battle, that fact should be incorporated into the crest. As such, crests will evolve over time. Generally speaking, if the unit wins a battle in a particularly lopsided manner or if it wins a particularly important battle to a campaign (or if, in game terms, it wins a tournament or storyline event) that fact should be reflected in the unit's insignia.

For example, even though my army is a household unit, it has served on Imperial campaigns against Chaos and the Tau. As a result, it's insignia incorporates the Imperial Double-Headed Eagle. The unit's religious and military virtues are proclaimed by the crest as well.

When designing a crest, you should bear in mind some basic rules. Front-line combat formations should have their arms on a shield. Reserve formations or PDF forces should have their crests on a tablet, support formations (like artillery or military police) should have their arms on a lozenge and higher commands (armies, corps or divisions) should have their arms on a block.


Coloration is important as different colors traditionally have different meanings. Heraldry uses a relatively limited color palette. There are two metals (gold and silver) and 6 tinctures (red, orange or tawny, green, blue, purple, and black), items can also be 'natural' or the color that they appear in real life (e.g. a steel ribbon natural is a steel ribbon colored steel or gray).

A metal should appear only on or next to a tincture and a tincture should only appear on or next to a metal. Otherwise the device becomes hard to read.

The colors and their meanings are:

Color Heraldic Meaning
Metals Gold (Yellow) Excellence, Professionalism  
Silver (White) Purity, Honor  
Tinctures Red Military Fortitude, Sacrifice  
Orange (Tawny) Worthy Ambition, Dedication to the attack  
Green Wisdom, Tactical Acumen  
Blue Loyalty, Steadfastness  
Purple Victory, Royalty  
Black Stealth, Power, Special Operations  

 If the unit is or has served in Imperial service, the Imperial Eagle should be incorporated in some way. If the unit is affiliated with a specific world, marine chapter, Tau sept, or other recognizable polity then that symbol should also be present in some way. For example, in the real world eagles, the stars and stripes, and other symbols of the United States appear in most American military insignia while American national guard units from New York will also incorporated allusions to the Statue of Liberty, the NYC skyline, the Adirondack Mountains and other symbols of the Empire State. In your paper units, you should incorporate similar, relevant symbology.

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