Alaska Airlines new livery: what makes it so great?

By Norebbo •  8 min read

Even though I haven’t been posting very much here on the blog lately, I have been doing a lot of aircraft illustrations for trip reports for my SANspotter brand. However, it’s a lot of work, and I’m getting to the point where I’m feeling like it’s a wasted effort if I don’t use them for anything else. Why not post some of them here? Better yet, what if I talk a bit about what makes some of these liveries great? That sounds like a pretty good idea to me, so here we go with an in-depth discussion about the new livery for Alaska Airlines.

Yes, I do realize that this livery has been flying for more than four years now, but it’s still technically “the newest”. So there.

Alaska Airlines’ new livery

Designed by Hornall Anderson (now Sid Lee) and unveiled on January 25, 2015, this was the first major update the Alaska Airlines livery in over 25 years. The launch aircraft for this new design was the Boeing 737-800, which was fitting considering that the 737 was (and still is) the back bone of the Alaska Airlines fleet.

Alaska Airlines new livery side view

Side profile illustration of the new Akaska Airlines livery on my Boeing 737-800 template.

Considered to be an evolution of the Alaska Airlines livery rather than a complete redesign, there were three major elements to this redesign effort:

  1. The typeface
  2. The Eskimo character
  3. A new color palette

1. The typeface

To me, it was the simplified typography of the main title that was the biggest change. A refined style was created to replace the rugged theme of the old font, bringing it more in line with current styles and trends. This was an incredibly important change, because it reflected the growth (and evolution) of the Alaska Airlines corporate culture over the years.

new Alaska Airlines logo

The new Alaska Airlines logo. Purists may hate it, but it’s a nice evolution of the brand IMHO. It sort of reminds me of an italic version of the typeface used in the Breeze Airways livery.

Gone are the days of this being a scrappy little airline from the north whose sole purpose was to serve a small niche of customers to and from Alaska. Alaska Airlines is growing into a more global brand with every passing year, and having a typeface which reflected modernism and sophistication was key.

2. The Eskimo character

To Alaska Airlines, one of the biggest challenges to their brand refresh was the modernization of the face of their iconic Eskimo graphic (who has been gracing the tail end of Alaska Airlines airplanes since 1972). The goal in this redesign was to make him appear to be more warm and friendly than he already appeared to be, which if you ask me, wasn’t all that necessary. He already seemed like a decent dude to me!

Alaska Airlines new livery eskimo face

The revised Eskimo face graphic. It’s almost as if you can hear him saying “hey baby – how you doin?” (in a very Joey Tribbiani way).

The general face structure is still the same, but you’ll notice that he’s smiling just a little bit more than he used to be. They also made him appear to be slightly younger, which was no doubt a result of cleaning up and smoothing out the hard edges.

However, most people won’t even notice the difference within the face itself unless you compare to aircraft side-by-side. The designer in me loves these little Easter egg style differences that most people never notice. If anything, it gives me a lot to talk about in these blog posts…

Anyway, for those of you who use Adobe illustrator, you’ll understand me when I say that it’s like they used the Auto Trace feature on the old logo and then simplified it by toning down the threshold and reducing the number of corners. I can sense some of you nodding your head in agreement…

Wait – was the Eskimo graphic modeled after a real person? Or not?

Nothing would satisfy my curiosity more than having Alaska Airlines unveil the identity of the model for their iconic Eskimo figure. They’ve never publicly stated if he was a real person or not. Regardless, most of us in the AvGeek community simply refer to him as “Chester.” And until Alaska Airlines unveils his true identity, he will forever be named Chester in my mind.

Now the question is: who came up with the name “Chester”?

3. A new color palette

Brighter colors across the entire brand was the third big change. The color palette was updated to include tropical hues which reflected some of their newest destinations.

Bright blues and tropical greens are very much a part of the new Alaska Airlines livery, and to me, it was exactly what what was needed to inject this brand with more character – which makes it far easier attract a more global customer base.

Alaska Embraer 175 livery

The new livery looks great on my Embraer 175 template as well.

What makes this livery so great?

Alaska Airlines’ new livery is utterly brilliant in my opinion. Not because of the cleaner typography and the refined color palette, but because of the way that the colors were applied asymmetrically to the aircraft.

Most airline liveries in this day and age (such as the new American Airlines livery) are mathematical and precise, completely symmetrical from one side to the other. This one is a little bit different.

Yes, the livery is applied exactly the same way on both sides of the aircraft. However, it’s the overlapping of the shapes from the fuselage up into the vertical stabilizer that seem to have been applied with no rhyme or reason.

Very much like how the color palette was chosen to mimic tropical tones and hues, it appears as if the colors are applied in a way which mimics flowing water. The transition from white to blue along the aft section of the fuselage is extremely free-form and random, which creates a very nice upward flow into the Eskimo graphic on the vertical stabilizer.

Alaska Airlines new livery details

There is no rhyme or reason to the pattern of these colors – which is exactly what the designers intended (I presume).

This free-flowing design was extremely difficult for me to illustrate by the way. I suspect it was quite easy for the original designer, since he or she likely just overlapped transparent shapes of color until a balanced and visually pleasing solution was found.

However, when trying to re-create that exactly for myself, it was extremely difficult because there are no set proportions or specific measurements to adhere to. It was basically just a free-for-all – and was heartburn inducing for real

Comparing the new Alaska Airlines livery with the old

When compared side-by-side, the new Alaska Airlines livery is so much better than the old “Icicles” version. Don’t get me wrong – I’ve always been a fan of the old Alaska Airlines livery because of its simplicity and attention to detail. I’m not sure how many people will agree with me, but I really liked the ruggedness and sharp edges!

new alaska airlines livery vs old livery

A side-by-side comparison of the new Alaska Airlines livery compared the old Icicles livery. Which do you prefer?

What’s interesting to me is that there was actually a “transition” livery unveiled back in 2015 which slightly modernized the old livery – but didn’t go quite as far as this new one did. The modifications were so subtle that most people didn’t even notice (including me).

Anyway, I wrote a complete blog post about this transition livery several years ago, so I recommend reading that if you want to learn more.

Alaska Airlines interim livery

Did you know that Alaska Airlines updated their old livery in 2015 – right before the all new livery was introduced in 2016?

Color palette of the new livery

Because I thought it might be helpful for anyone out there who wants to create their own illustration of the Alaska Airlines new livery (using my 737-800 templates of course), here is a list of all the colors are used in the new palette. Following that is a graphic showing where those colors are applied.

Alaska Airlines new livery colors

All the colors used in the new Alaska Airlines livery


My name is Scott, and I started in the design industry over 20 years ago with a bachelors degree in Industrial Design from the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, MI. I have an extensive background in both 2D and 3D illustration, and these days, I spend a majority of my time creating aircraft templates and airliner art. I’m basically an airplane dork.

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