Country Flag Designs – the Quintessence of Meaning

State or country flag belongs to the key symbols, used to represent a particular country. Another two elements are coat of arms and anthem. The evolution and establishment of different country flags is a very interesting branch of science, yet the meaning of the flags is even more interesting and full of exciting facts and stories. Actually, the whole concept of flags is all about meaning. Hence, every element of the flag (shape, color, design, objects on it) has some particular meaning, showing connection to a particular country or nation. There is even an entire science, called vexillology, which studies country flags, their meaning, types, and designs.

History of Country Flags

The history of country flags dates back to the times of ancient India and China, where flags are believed to have been invented. At those far-away times, flags were mostly used at war battles to identify armies or military formations. War flags received further development during the times of Roman Empire, where they were still used mostly as the war signs. Here is an example of the Roman flag, which belonged to the Xth Legion of Julius Caesar (63 BC – AD 14) and the banner of the Holy Roman Empire (962-1806).

During the Middle Ages flags were also used mainly during the battles to identify knights. Though at this time soldiers and knights usually had special heraldic signs painted on their shields, flags were also widely used as they were more visible during a battle. It was only in the Late Middle Ages, when flags evolved from uniquely warfare signs to the elements, denoting a particular community, city or country.

In the early 17th century, during the so-called “age of sail”, when many people traveled from Europe to other parts of the world on sailing ships, country flags received a new push in their development. During that time, each ship had to have a flag on board in order to designate its nationality. Over time, it turned into a legal requirement for each ship to carry flags, and that was the start of the country flag use in its modern understanding.

The beginning of the 19th century is said to be the period of wide spread of national flags, when every independent country tried to present its own state flag, which became the representation of patriotism and nationalism. In this regard, the first national flag is considered to be the flag of the United States, introduced in 1777. Among the pioneers were also France and Britain, which adopted their flags (Tricolour and Union Flag) in 1794 and 1801 respectively.

United States of America


United Kingdom

Types of Flags

Basically, flags are classified based on their purpose and form or appearance. By purpose, flags can be classified as those for use on land or at sea (naval flags are called ensigns). Some countries have similar flag designs for each of these applications, though many countries use different flags on land and at sea. Both these types of national or country flags are divided into further subtypes, namely: state flags – those, which can be used only on state buildings and governmental authorities, civil flags – these flags can be flown by any citizen of a particular country, and war flags are those used my military forces. A country may have one and the same flag used in each case (state, civil, and war) or there are can be different designs of the flag. For example, both USA and UK have identical flag designs for all three applications, while some countries, like Japan, and countries of Latin America may have different designs for their state, civil, and war flags.

For example, these are the state flag of Japan and the flag of Imperial Japanese Army:

Japan (state flag)

Imperial Japanese Army

If a country has two different designs for state and civil flags, those are usually distinguished by the presence of coat of arms on the state flag. For example, these are the state and civil flag of Costa Rica:

Costa Rica – Coat of Arms (state flag)

Costa Rica (civil flag)

On the other hand, country flags can also be classified based on their appearance or design. In this context,  country flags can be categorized as solid, bicolour, tricolour, quartered, bordered, flags with cantons, various shapes flags, and those, containing images of living organisms, objects or inscriptions. These are some examples of country flags with different types of design or appearance:







European Union




Sri Lanka

Isle of Man

Slovak Republic





Saudi Arabia

Interesting and Unusual Flags Designs

Some country flags have really unique, fancy and interesting design. To show you some examples of such unusual flags, we have gathered several interesting facts here.

There is only one flag in the world, which is not rectangular. This is the country flag of Nepal.


The flag of Libya is the only flag in the world, which contains only one element – green solid color with no other elements, symbols or encryptions.


Most of the country flags are rectangular. However, there are two countries in the world with the flags of exact square form. These are Switzerland and Vatican City.


Vatican City

Only three flags in the world contain the pictures of the countries they represent. These are the flags of Kosovo, Cyprus, and Christmas Island.



Christmas Island

Only a few countries have flags with different front and reverse sides. For example, this is how the flag of Moldova looks like:

Moldova (front)

Moldova (reversed)

Finally, to complete the statement saying that flag designs are all about meaning, here is the interpretation of colors, commonly used on the flags.

  • WHITE – peace and honesty
  • YELLOW – generosity
  • BLUE – truth, loyalty, justice
  • GREEN – hope, love and joy
  • RED – strength and bravery
  • BLACK – denotes ethnic heritage of people

Country Flags – Freebies

Website design is one of the practical applications for country flags images. For example, flag icons can be used as buttons to switch between the languages, in which the site content is displayed, or to direct visitors to the websites of country-specific subsidiaries of some large multi-national company. Practically every website design may require a country flag graphics use. That is why web designers usually have some ready-made illustrations of the world’s countries flags at hand. Of course, a great variety of graphics with country flags are available on the web. So, below we have compiled a collection of some free high quality modern-looking country flag showcases for you to use in your website designs.

Flags of the world by Nordicfactory

Download icon set

Flag Icons by Jojo Mendoza

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50 Flag Buttons (MAC) by Asgard Studios

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WorldCup Flag-Balls – 32 Icons by Philipp Schaffrath

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Iphone Flag Icons by Kevin Hall

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Cruzine magazine founder interested in everything around graphics and design.