How to Design a Heraldry Shield

Written by meredith burgio
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How to Design a Heraldry Shield
Your coat of arms should include qualities important to your family. (coat of arms grunge background - illustration image by Vania from

A heraldic shield, or coat of arms, was first established to identify warriors during battle. The pictures and symbols used on the shields were ideal in a culture where very few people were literate. As the popularity of heraldic shields decreased, they became associated with the aristocracy. Traditionally, the oldest son inherited the original coat of arms. Siblings added symbols to the coast of arms to designate who they were. A coat of arms generally has three parts. The crest is in the centre, above that is the family motto, and an animal supports the shield.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Paper
  • Coloured pencils, markers or paints

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  1. 1

    Select the shape of your shield. The classic look, pictured, is the most common shape for a coat of arms. However, you can take this design and manipulate to create a unique shape. Removing the point at the bottom, turning the shield 15 degrees to the right or left, and scalloping are some variations on the classic crest to consider.

    How to Design a Heraldry Shield
    The classic shape is a popular choice for family crests. (eagle crest image by Ekaterina Lozanova from
  2. 2

    Select divisions for your shield. You can divide your shield into as many sections as you want. These sections will contain different elements that will be discussed in step four. Shields do not have to be divided evenly. You can incorporate different angles and colours into the shield design.

    How to Design a Heraldry Shield
    A shield can be divided into as many sections as you choose. (shield image by NataV from
  3. 3

    Choose colours for the field of your shield. Red (warrior, military strength), royal blue (truth, loyalty), emerald green (hope,joy), royal purple (royalty), orange (worthy ambition), maroon (patience, victorious) and black (constancy, grief) can be used on the field, or background, of your shield. Silver (peace, sincerity) and gold (generosity) are also popular choices and can be represented by white (silver) and yellow (gold).

    How to Design a Heraldry Shield
    You can use a variety of colours in your shield design. (heraldic shield image by ann triling from
  4. 4

    Choose the other colours for your shield. The rule for choosing colours is to avoid metal on metal or colour on colour. For example, it you choose a silver field, you should not have gold as your other choice. Instead, your next choice should be a non-metallic colour. Think "colour on metal" or "metal on colour." Additionally, you can embellish your shield with furs. Furs from different animals was commonly represented by a solid colour background with spots. For example, the ermine, or short-tailed weasel, has a white coat with black spots. On a shield, a section with this design denotes nobility. For more examples and inspiration, visit

    How to Design a Heraldry Shield
    Aninmal fur designs were common on coat of arms. (heraldic shield image by ann triling from
  5. 5

    Select the elements to complete your shield. A charge is an animal--common charges are lions, bears, dragons and eagles. They appear in an attack position and flat on the shield--they are not three-dimensional. Charges can appear in one of the sections or two can stand on either side of the shield to support it. Keep the colour rule from Step 2 in mind when selecting an animal. At the top of the shield you can include a crown or a knight's helmet. These elements are found centred on the top of the shield in silver or gold, but you can adjust the colour to match your coat of arms. Mantlings are placed behind the helmet. These stylised leaves can also appear with the charges on the side of the shield (pictured). Stylised lines called ordinaries also carried meaning on a coat of arms. If you place a wavy line in one section, it implies sea or water. A "fleur de lis," or flower of the lily, was originally associated with French royalty, but has come to mean perfection, light and life.

    How to Design a Heraldry Shield
    Embellishments add character and authenticity to your cost of arms. (heraldic shield image by NataV from
  6. 6

    Select a motto to go above your coat of arms. Historically, the motto appeared in Latin, but feel free to select a more current motto for your coat of arms. Banners can be placed behind the motto.

    How to Design a Heraldry Shield
    Incorporate a family motto into the design of your heraldry shield. (manitoba crest image by Peter Helin from

Tips and warnings

  • Be creative. There are unlimited elements that can be incorporated into your coat of arms.
  • Take your time. Do not add elements that are only aesthetically pleasing. Many elements have meanings that you might not want represented in your coat of arms.

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