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The new United livery: an in depth look at all the design elements

A little over a year ago, the new United livery was unveiled to the world. And you know what? I don’t actually hate it. That says a lot coming from a guy who hasn’t been happy with the United Airlines livery since the Saul Bass design. United Airlines has been flopping around with their livery designs since the 90s and I was thrilled to see them finally get it right.

A brief summary of the new United livery

Unveiled on April 24, 2019, United’s new livery is an evolution of the previous design. Not only does it borrow elements from its previous liveries, it also introduces a new design language unlike anything that United has identified itself with before.

united 737-800

The new livery on the 737-800

Familiar elements such as the segmented globe on the tail and the block letter UNITED titles remain. However, both have been strengthened with thicker line weights and a more vivid color palette to help promote the idea of strength and solidarity.

The new UNITED font

The new UNITED typeface

Prior to the launch of this new livery, rumors were circulating within the aviation community that United would be ditching the globe icon and reintroduce their iconic “tulip” logo. That didn’t happen obviously, which begs the question:

Is the globe icon now the official symbol of United?

Back when United Airlines adopted the Continental livery (after merging with them in 2010), it only seemed natural to hold on to the legacy of Continental Airlines in any way possible. Adopting the full Continental livery while keeping the United name seemed like a pretty good way to emphasize the importance of keeping the legacies of both airlines alive.That’s just my opinion anyway.

However, I always thought that United would eventually revert back to the “tulip” logo. Especially since United has fully absorbed Continental’s assets into its daily operations without any regard to paying respect to the brand they destroyed. Yeah, that’s a harsh way of saying it, but it’s also the best way I could summarize the situation.

United tulip logo

RIP “tulip” logo. You will be missed.

With the unveiling of this new livery, it appears as if United does have a heart after all. They could’ve easily gone back to the tulip as the icon to represent the brand, but instead, they chose to stay with an updated version of the Continental globe. Considering that this is the livery for the next 20 years or so, I think it’s safe to say that the tulip is dead. For now.

A closer look at the iconic globe graphic

One of the most interesting and most overlooked elements of the new United livery is the iconic globe graphic painted on the vertical stabilizer of every aircraft.

The new United globe icon

The new United globe icon / graphic

In the previous livery, that globe graphic was taken directly from the Continental livery when the two airlines merged in 2010. Most people were split on that decision:

  • Continental employees were thrilled to death that United chose to use the Continental airlines livery instead of their own. Not only that, that globe graphic was the symbol of Continental Airlines. Painting it on a fleet of hundreds of aircraft made a lot of people very happy.
  • Diehard United fans (and employees) were disappointed in United’s decision to drop the iconic tulip logo in favor of the globe. For the record, I’m fairly neutral when it comes to the United and Continental merger, but I too was a bit surprised that they axed the tulip logo so easily.

Despite your own personal stance on the issue, it is what it is and we’ve got to move forward with it. That being said, I quite like how united evolved the design of the Continental globe in the new livery.

The overall design has stayed pretty much the same. There are two very important differences compared with the previous design:

  1. It’s all one color (white) instead of two (white and gold). Making the entire logo white gave it a much thicker and bolder look.
  2. The vertical lines in the globe (Y axis) are now broken instead of solid. This is a much better look in my opinion. However, it was an absolute nightmare to illustrate in my renderings.

Speaking of the vertical stabilizer in United’s new livery, The blue background color is different as well. More specifically, it’s now a top-to-bottom 3-color gradient instead of a solid color.

  • Top color: #02A6E1 (R=2, G=166, B=225)
  • Middle color: #02255A (R=2, G=37, B=90)
  • Bottom color: #315EA1 (R=49, G=94, B=161)

It should be noted that the majority of the tail is painted in the middle HHH color (in other words, it’s not an even gradient). Only the very top and lower section of the vertical stabilizer is painted in the other colors.

FYI, I’ll be talking about the colors of this livery in more detail in a moment…

How does the new livery compare to the previous one?

When viewed side by side with the previous color scheme, the new one looks absolutely brilliant IMHO. I’d even go as far as to say it’s one of the best new livery designs we’ve seen from any airline in the past 10 years.

new United livery compared to the old livery

The new United livery compared to the old livery

  • The United title font is bolder and slightly more stylized. However, it’s still features the same classic san-serif block letter design from previous generations.
  • The fuselage of the aircraft is still split into two halves (top and bottom) – just like the last three UA livery designs. However, this new design features a wavy line running the length of the aircraft separating the two halves. It’s very similar to the line in the special livery they painted on their 787‘s.
  • The globe graphic on the tail of the aircraft remains. However, it’s a much simpler design with bolder lines and one color instead of two.

Video of the livery painting process (how I did it)

The new United livery was one of the most difficult I’ve ever done (but not as tough as the Alaska Airlines new livery). I think I may have even cursed more than I did when I illustrated the new American Airlines livery a few years ago. Anyway, the entire process of creating the illustrations for this article took about 2 1/2 hours to do.

Of course, I started with my Boeing 737-800 template, which saved a ton of time. However, the process of creating all of the individual elements (globe icon, titles, etc.) took quite a bit of time. Applying those elements to the template itself took about another hour or so. This livery is a lot more complex than it looks!

The full color palette of the new United Airlines livery

In my opinion, the color palette is one of the very best things about the new United livery. It’s bright, clean, and I personally feel as is if it’s going to stand the test of time quite well.

United Airlines new livery color palette

Full color palette of the United Airlines new livery

I guess I didn’t realize how stodgy and stale the colors of the old livery were until I saw the new and the old together for the first time. I guess it makes sense since that livery was originally created by Continental Airlines in the early 90’s. It was definitely time for an update! Here is the full color palette:

  • Fuselage: #FFFFFF (R=255, G=255, B=255)
  • Fuselage lower section: #A3A3A4 (R=163, G=163, B=163)
  • Wavy swoop line: #000000 (R=0, G=0, B=0)
  • Titles: #064596 (R=6, G=69, B=150)
  • Engines: #064596 (R=6, G=69, B=150)
  • Vertical stabilizer gradient top: #02A6E1 (R=2, G=166, B=225)
  • Vertical stabilizer gradient middle: #02255A (R=2, G=37, B=90)
  • Vertical stabilizer gradient bottom: #315EA1 (R=49, G=94, B=161)
  • Globe graphic: #FFFFFF (R=255, G=255, B=255)

Pros and cons of this new livery design

There’s a lot to like and dislike about United’s new brand image. As a designer myself, it’s extremely hard for me not to criticize the way something looks. I know, it’s a horrible way to go through life, but I just can’t help it. Therefore, here we go with all of the things that I like and don’t like about the way United airlines is painting their aircraft now.

Pros

  • I love the colors. While I’m not a huge fan of the majority of the aircraft being white, the vivid blue accent colors balance it all out quite nicely in my opinion. The gray and black accents on the lower section of the fuselage are a nice touch as well.
  • I always found it odd that united painted their 787‘s with a wavy line instead of the straight line like they did on all of their other aircraft. Now, with this new livery, United has a consistent look across all aircraft types.

Cons

  • As much as I like the swoopy section line splitting the upper and lower half of the aircraft, it doesn’t jive all that well with the tail graphics. Personally, I would’ve loved to see the blue colors in the vertical stabilizer (and maybe even the globe) come down to meet that swoopy line in the tailcone somehow.
  • Why is it that the only black element in the entire livery is that swoopy section line? That was the exact first thought that I had when I saw this livery for the first time, and it still bugs me to this day. Personally, I would have liked to see that blue. Just sayin’.

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