The subtle evolution of the Emirates livery

By Norebbo •  7 min read

Love it or hate it, the Emirates livery is one of the most recognizable airline livery designs in the world. I’ve heard it being referred to as “overly flashy” on aviation forums all over the internet, but I don’t understand the hate. In my opinion, it has a perfect balance of eye-catching bling and clean negative space.

There have only been three Emirates liveries so far. The first one, launched in 1985, was very similar to the redesigned version launched in 2005. The one launched in 2023 was very similar the the one from 2005.

It’s slightly confusing, but all you need to know is that Emirates prides themselves on subtle iterations from one livery to the next.

A closer look at the evolution of the Emirates livery

Personally, I’m a big fan of airlines who continuously refine their livery from one version to the next (as opposed to coming up with something new each time). The Qatar Airways livery has evolved in the same manner, and in my opinion, it’s a great way to build brand recognition over a long period of time. Emirates has succeeded admirably with the transition of their first livery to the next.

1985-2005: Debut UAE flag livery

The launch livery for Emirates in 1985 was very different from what many other airlines were doing at the time. Cheatlines (or pinstripes) that ran down the entire length of the fuselage were still very common.  As a matter of fact, the 1984 Korean Air livery was a modern take on cheatlines. The Qantas livery of 1984 was one of the first to eliminate the cheatline, and the 1985 Emirates livery wasn’t far behind.

Emirates Airbus A300-600R side view

The debut Emirates livery as seen on my Airbus A300-600R template

The predominant element of this livery was an abstract representation of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) flag which extended from the middle of the vertical stabilizer down into the fuselage. Very few airlines were doing this at that time, and it was a very bold design element which helped to give Emirates instant brand recognition.

The rest of the livery wasn’t all that daring (in my opinion). Yes, the use of the gold was a bold choice for the Emirates titles and the adjacent Arabic script (as well as other little design details), but the typeface that they chose was extremely basic.

From what I can tell, it was a custom font. However, it was very easy for me to replicate it in the illustration you see above using Times New Roman and a handful of little tweaks.

2005-2023: Updated UAE flag livery

In 2005, Emirates unveiled a subtle evolution of their first livery design. All of the same design elements were retained, but everything was massaged and adjusted slightly to give it a more modern look. It was basically the opposite of what we saw with the new Etihad livery (which was an all-out attempt at being as daring as possible).

Emirates Boeing 777-200 side view

The 2005 Emirates livery as seen on my Boeing 777-200 template – a very nice evolution of the brand IMHO!

The abstract UAE flag graphic on the vertical stabilizer was reworked to look more fluid. It had much more curvature to it than the first version, and I like the way that the bottom point flows into the body of the fuselage (instead of just straight down). Interestingly enough, the red green and black colors from the first livery are left exactly the same.

Emirates livery on the Airbus A380

Love it or hate it, I’m willing to bet that this is what most people think of when imagining the Emirates livery. Can you imagine a world in which Emirates exists without the A380?

The Emirates titles and the adjacent Arabic script were completely reworked in the 2005 version. Although they retained the same gold color, they were scaled up in size nearly 300%. This is a much better use of space IMHO, and it helps to fill the otherwise blank fuselage. Especially on large aircraft such as the A380.

An all new typeface was created for both the Emirates titles and the Arabic script. Both seem to be a custom font created exclusively for Emirates. Also worth noting is that the Arabic logos on the engines of the first version were retained for the updated version (with slight modifications).

Emirates Year of Zayed 2018 livery airbus a380

Interestingly enough, the Emirates titles were eliminated altogether for most of the special liveries. The Year of Zayed 2018 livery is a perfect example (as seen here on my Airbus A380 template).

Full color palette for the 2005 Emirates livery

The Emirates livery design is a perfect example of less being more. In other words, despite the color palette consisting of only four colors, it’s arguably one of the most beautiful airline livery designs in existence. It’s not always necessary to go wild and crazy to create a powerful brand image.

Here is the full color palette for both versions:

emirates livery colors

A visual diagram showing the full color palette of the Emirates livery. Subtle, but nice!

Although there are many other airline liveries with simple color palettes, the use of the color gold in the Emirates livery is a uniquely powerful choice. Especially considering how well it contrasts with the red and green in the vertical stabilizer.

2023-present: Waving UAE flag livery

Emirates unveiled an all new livery in March of 2023 that continued with the tradition of refinement (rather than creating something entirely new from scratch). Upon first glance, this updated livery looks nearly identical to the one that preceded it.

2023 Emirates livery on the Airbus A380

The 2023 Emirates livery is basically what happens when an airline livery designer is told by his/her client to “keep the existing livery but make it look like more like Aeroflot.” They succeeded magnificently.

New vs old Emirates livery

Yes, it looks a lot like what would happen if you told an AI bot to blend the current Emirates livery with the current Aeroflot livery. I think it looks great (if not slightly over-designed). Here are the most notable changes:


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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