This is a comprehensive listing of terms used in reference to USAF patch collecting. It includes collector, heraldic, embroidery, and uniform terms as well as official definitions prescribed by the Department of the Air Force. While this listing is comprehensive, it is not definitive. If there are additional terms which you believe should be added, please contact the Webmaster.

For terms related to Air Force organization, please go the the Air Force organizational glossary (coming soon).

Special thanks to Greg Ogletree who substantially contributed to the glossary.


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Adopted Patch

A patch produced by an individual or vendor that was not commissioned or ordered by an organization, but was subsequently adopted by that organization.

Air Force Colors

The official colors of the USAF are Air Force Blue and Air Force Yellow. Air Force Instruction (AFI) 84-105, Organizational Lineage, Honors and Heraldry provides the significance of those colors:

Air Force yellow signifies the excellence required of Air Force personnel; Air Force (ultramarine/reflex) blue signifies the sky as the primary theater for Air Force operations.

Swatch Color Yarn Pantone Management System (PMS)
Air Force (Ultramarine) Blue 67118 Reflex Blue
Air Force Yellow 67108 116

Anniversary Patch

A type of morale patch produced to commemorate or celebrate the date or year of a notable event. Such events include the anniversary of an organization’s establishment or the number of years a particular organization has operated a specific type of aircraft.

1st Reconnaissance Squadron 100th Anniversary of the Establishment of the 1st Aero Squadron

1st Fighter Wing 95th Anniversary of the Sinking of the SMS Ostfriesland

50th Operations Group 60th Anniversary of the Activation of the 50th Fighter Group

445th Airlift Wing 25th Anniversary of Operation HOMECOMING, the Repatriation of US POWs Held in North Vietnam

Approved Patch

Any patch authorized by a competent authority, such as a commander or director, for wear or other use by an organization or its members. A patch may be approved, but not be an official patch.

Authentic Patch [also Legitimate Patch]

A patch that:

  • Is commissioned by an organization or one of its members
  • Has been ordered by that organization or one of its members
  • Originates from the vendor who that organization or one of its members placed an order
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Back Patch [Also Jacket Patch]

Term used to refer to any very large patch, typical 7 inches or greater in height, width, or diameter. The term originates from large patches that were worn on the back of coveralls or jackets.  This type of patch is commonly worn on the back of coveralls worn by “transient alert” personnel (maintenance personnel who service visit aircraft).  These large patches were also produced for use on engine covers, helmet bags and some organizational flags.

51st Equipment Maintenance Squadron Transient Alert Back Patch. Patch is approximately 11.5 inches in diameter.

Backing [also Backing Support]

Material on the back side of a patch. It is used to prevent fraying; provide strength, stability and support; and/or a means to adhere the patch to a surface.  Types of backing used for patches include adhesive, fabric, gauze, heat-seal (iron-on), plastic, and hook and loop fastener (VELCRO©).

Example of Patch with No Backing, 97th Bombardment Wing

Example of Patch with Gauze (Cheesecloth) Backing, 84th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron

Example of Patch with Plastic Backing, 157th Tactical Fighter Squadron F-16

Example of Patch with Plastic Backing, 6514th Test Squadron

Example of Patch with Fabric Backing, 421st Fighter Squadron F-16

Example of Patch with Fabric Backing, 93d Fighter Squadron Desert

Example of Patch with Hook and Loop Fastener Backing, 61st Tactical Airlift Squadron

Example of Patch with Hook and Loop Fastener Backing, 26th Special Tactics Squadron

Base Material

The material that forms the foundation or “base” of a patch. Such materials include leather, vinyl, plastic and cloth fabric. For cloth patches, the base material is typically twill, but can also be wool, felt or sateen.

BEVo [also BeVo, Be Vo, BEVO]

Term adopted by collectors to refer to a tight weave machine-woven embroidery manufacturing style most commonly used by German manufacturers. This method of manufacturing weaves rayon (also referred to as “fake silk”) or cotton thread on a rayon or cotton thread base.  While the name is derived from the one of the manufacturers, Bandfabrik Ewald Vorsteher located in Wuppertal-Baren, Germany, other vendors also produced this type of patch. This style of manufacturing originated in France in the 1800s.

Bevo Example

501st Tactical Missile Wing BeVo Patch

Close-up of 501st Tactical Missile Wing patch showing the BeVo weave pattern


The technical description of heraldic insignia. The blazon uses heraldic terms derived from French to describe the insignia. Blazons are typically only used for official emblems. The blazon is included as part of the “Emblem Significance and Description” document provided as part of an organization’s official emblem approval package.


On a disc Azure, a tiger Proper riding and grasping with its sinister paw a bulldozer Bronze, its exhaust, radiator, blade, and tracks Argent detailed of the first, winged Or garnished of the third, all within a narrow border Yellow.

Attached below the disk, a Blue scroll edged with a narrow Yellow border and inscribed “23RD CIVIL ENGINEER SQUADRON” in Yellow letters.

Blazon example for the 23d Civil Engineer Squadron (Source: The Institute of Heraldry)

Bullion Patch (also Blazer Patch)

Embroidered patch made with metal wire thread on a cloth backing, typically hand-sewn, often manufactured in Pakistan and India. This type of patch is often for one-of-a-kind patches since each bullion patch is hand-made. In the Air Force, bullion patches were worn on blazers and on dress uniforms for formal occasions. Since bullion patches were never widely used by U.S. Air Force organization most are reproductions.


Inscription in either ink or marker appearing on the back of some patches. This marking indicates that the patch was once owned by Rick Burns, a retired Los Angeles fireman, who would write his last name on the back of every patch in his collection. He sold his collection and many of these patches have found their way into other individual’s collections.

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Chenille Patch

Type of patch in which a loop stitch is formed on the top side of fabric using heavy yarn of wool, cotton, or acrylic thus giving a “rug” like appearance. In the United States, this style is often used for high-school “letter” patches. This style is uncommon in US Air Force patches and most that exist date from the 1950s.

Chenille patch from the 913th Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron, Pagwa Air Station, Canada. The unit was active from 1952 to 1963.

Class Patch

Type of morale patch produced by members of a training class. This includes, but is not limited to, pilot training, navigator training, Weapons School, and space/missile training classes. They are not official patches and may or may not be approved patches.  Class patches are typically indicated by the last two digits of the fiscal or calendar year, sometimes a dash and a letter or numeral designator to indicate which class in that year (e.g. — 68-D to indicate the fourth class in 1968 or 90-08 indicates the eighth class of 1990).

Undergraduate Pilot Training Class 67G, Laredo Air Force Base, Texas

Undergraduate Missile Training Class 13-05, Vandenberg Air Force Base, California

Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training Class 11-04, Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi

USAF Test Pilot School Class 15A, Edwards Air Force Base, California

Space Weapons Instructor Course Class 06A, USAF Weapons School, Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada

Undergraduate Navigator Training Class 84-05, Mather Air Force Base, California

Undergraduate Space and Missile Training Class 98-05, Vandenberg Air Force Base, California

Undergraduate Air Battle Management Training Class 04-007, Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida

Computer Embroidery

Style of embroidery made on computer-driven multi-head sewing machines allowing for a much greater level of detail than older methods of embroidery. Computer embroidery became widespread in the mid-1980s and is now the predominate manufacturing method for patches.

Current Issue

Patch currently issued and used by member(s) of an organization.

Cut Edge (CE) [Also Flat Edge, Schiffli Edge]

Type of border that is sewn on a patch then cut to shape, thus making the base material visible outside the sewn border. Cuts are most commonly made by a die, hand, a hot-edge knife or in recent times, a laser. This type of border was extremely common on patches prior to the wide-spread adoption of the merrowed edge in the 1960s. Most irregular shaped patches use a cut edge to prevent the fraying associated with a merrowed edge.

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Physical disfacement of a patch to include, but not limited to, tears, cuts, holes, stains, burn marks, fraying, removed thread, discoloration and rust.  In general, damage reduces the value of patch. Patches which have  mounting residue on the back, even heavy residue, are not considered damaged unless its presence or effects are visible while viewing from the front (e.g., the glue has soaked through the fabric and stained or discolored the front).

Death Patch

Term occasionally used in reference to a morale patch produced to commemorate the inactivation of a unit/organization or the retirement of a weapon system, often with the year(s) indicated in the design or on scroll. See also Inactivation Patch, Retirement Patch.


Some vintage patches, especially WWII leather patches, were created by applying a decal to the surface rather than by painting or embroidering the design elements. These typically show their age by cracking and/or flaking as the decal becomes more and more brittle with age.

Deployment Patch

Type of morale patch produced by units/organizations or individuals for real world, exercise or training deployments. See also TDY Patch.

Desert Subdued [Also Desert, Tan]

Subdued color palette featuring predominately brown and tan color tones for wear on the desert color scheme uniforms. The official Air Force desert color palette was created in the 1990s and consists of black, spice brown and khaki (see table below). This palette is used for converting full color official patches to desert colors for wear on the Desert Camouflaged Uniform (DCU), the Desert Flight Duty Uniform (DFDU) and other desert uniforms. Many morale patches use additional colors in addition to the three approved as part of the official palette.

Swatch Color Yarn Pantone Management System (PMS)
Black 67138
Khaki 67193 452
Spice Brown 67196 168


The right-hand side of the shield from the standpoint of the person behind it. Source: Guide to Air Force Heraldry.

Heraldic positions on a shield.

Heraldic positions on a disc.


(Air Force Definition) Shape on which the heraldic devices, symbols, or elements of a unit emblem are displayed. The disc of today originated with a roundel, which consisted of a white five-pointed star in a blue circle, with a red disc in the center of the star. The roundel was displayed unofficially on early USA Signal Corps airplanes, adopted officially in 1917 for airplanes, and later evolved into the national star and bar aircraft marking of today.

The disc became mandatory for use by US Air Force squadrons, numbered flight or equivalent organizations in 1964 for their official emblem. Prior to that year, any shape could be used. Disc may also have scrolls above the disc, below the disc or both.

Disc with no scroll.

Disc with scroll under the disc.

Disc with scroll above the disc.

Disc with scrolls above and below the disc.

Distinctive Unit Insignia (DUI) [also Distinctive Insignia (DI)]

A metal heraldic device based on an organization’s coat of arms worn on uniforms.  DUIs are not used by the U.S. Air Force. However, prior to the Air Force separating from the Army in 1947, many Army Air Force unit/organizations were authorized DUIs. Many of these DUIs subsequently were modified for use as the unit/organization’s official emblem.


A patch that has been intentionally changed in some manner from what was produced originally. This may be anything from cutting off a rocker, scroll, or tab, to something as subtle as adding embroidery (often difficult to detect without a close examination of the back side). Post-production embroidery may include the addition of one or more elements to the field, but more often it is done to correct a “typo” in the designation or motto. Occasionally, it’s even done to change an inscription rather than to fix an error-even officially!

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In emblem design, a symbol or group of symbols portraying a single characteristic, trait, or concept. Source: Air Force Instruction 84-105.

Emblem [also Logo]

An officially approved symbolic design portraying the distinctive history, mission, and general function of an organization. It is an important, abiding element of the organization’s heritage. Official emblems have been approved by a formal process outlined in Air Force regulations/instructions and are registered with the Air Force Historical Research Agency or the Air National Guard History Office. Official emblems are protected by Federal law (Code of Federal Regulations Title 32, Part 507 and US Code Title 18, Section 701). Source: Air Force Instruction 84-105.


The application of thread to the base material for the purpose of creating an emblematic design using one or more elements. (There are known to exist patches from several units, particular back in the 1940s, where colored beads were added to the thread, sometimes to outline and other times to completely “fill” an element and/or the field itself, but such “beaded” patches were custom-made and not at all common.)

Error Patch

Patch that contains a mistake, typically in spelling, size and/or thread colors. Error patches are often rejected by the ordering unit/organization, but in some cases the unit/organization used the error patches.

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Factory Patch [Also Manufacturer’s Patch]

Patch given out as promotional items by a weapons system contractor. Factory patches are often adopted by military units for wear (e.g. the F-16 Fighting Falcon “Swirl”).

Fakes [Also Eye-Candy, Fantasy Patch, Novelty Patch]

Fakes are patches that were never issued or used by a unit/organization. Unlike a reproduction, in which a copy of an existing patch is produce, a fake is based off an original design or artwork/decals that were never made into patches by the unit/organization, hence the alternate term “fantasy patch”. In patch collecting fakes carry little to no value.


Nonwoven fabric made from wool, fur or hair matted together by heat, moisture and pressure.

Felt Edge

Raw or unfinished embroidery border.

Full Color Patch [Also Color Patch, Vivid Patch]

Patch whose color palette features the full spectrum of colors. For official patches, The Institute of Heraldry color palette is used.

Fourteenth Air Force Embroidered, Full Color Official Patch

Bangor Air Defense Sector Embroidered, Full Color Official Patch

73d Air Division Embroidered, Full Color Official Patch

96th Bomb Squadron PVC, Full Color RED FLAG 16-02 Morale Patch

Fully Embroidered Patch [Also 100% Embroidered]

Patch in which the entire surface has been completely embroidered rendering the base fabric invisible. Fully embroidered patches cost more to manufacture due to the use of additional thread. See also partially embroidered.

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Gaggle Patch [also Wing King/Queen Patch, Pizza Patch]

Patch which depicts multiple organizations by depicting unit emblems, weapons systems (such as specific types of aircraft) and/or other representative symbols. The term originates from a mother goose and her young, “a gaggle”.  The most common Gaggle Patches are worn by Wing or Group commanders and feature the emblems of their assigned subordinate organizations. As such, the term “Wing King” or “Wing Queen” patch is often used to described this type of patch. The term “Pizza Patch” is also used because some Gaggle patches feature subordinate organization emblems arranged in a circle thus resembling pieces of pepperoni on a pizza.

Gauze Backing [Also Cheesecloth Backing]

A backing for patches that is very thin and has the appearance of the type of material used for surgical dressings or first aid. This backing was common on many patches during the 1950s and 1960s.

Gauze (Cheesecloth) Fabric Swatch

Example of Patch with Gauze (Cheesecloth) Backing, 84th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron

Example of Patch with Gauze (Cheesecloth) Backing, Washington Air Defense Sector

Closeup of Gauze (Cheesecloth) Backing, Washington Air Defense Sector

Generic Patch

Patch used by numerous units/organizations.


Collector term for a patch that is embroidered in only one color, usually black or white, making the design very difficult to discern. Some of these actually use a different color for the merrowing or they have a normally colored scroll and inscription, but such patches are more accurately called “Quasi-Ghost.”

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Hand-Made Patch [Also Custom Patch]

Style of embroidery in which a patch is produced by an individual embroiderer using a needle and thread or a generic sewing machine. The design is transferred to cloth by punching holes in the original drawing, placing the drawing on a piece of cloth, and rubbing blue powder to transfer an outline of the design to cloth. Designs may also be drawn directly on the cloth or done freehand. Because each patch is individually embroidered, no two patches are exactly alike.

Hat Patch

Generally, any patch that was intended for wear on a uniform hat or cap. These include small rectangular patches bearing unit designations, and also smaller versions of approved unit emblems (generally 2.5″ or less in height or diameter).

Heat-Seal Backing [Also Iron-On]

Special backing placed on a patch that allows it to be affixed using heat.


The emblem, motto, designation, scroll(s), and shield (of an establishment) or disc (of a unit). Source: Air Force Instruction 84-105.


Those traditions embodied in the history, lineage, honors, and heraldry of an organization. Source: Air Force Instruction 84-105.

Heritage Patch

A type of morale patch and reproduction, ordered and used by an organization/unit, which features a historical design previously used by that organization/unit. World War II insignia are the most popular heritage patches, although designs from the Korean and Vietnam have been used. Many squadrons use a heritage patch in place of their normal squadron patches on Fridays or other days as designated by the commander. Heritage patches are often mistaken for reunion patches. While technically reproductions, in patch collecting circles they are considered authentic patches since they are ordered and worn by the members of a unit/organization.

Hook and Loop Fastener [Also VELCRO©, Hook and Loop Closures, Hook and Pile Fasteners, or Touch Fasteners]

A two-sided fastener consisting of hard or stiff “hooks” and soft “loops”. Hook and loop fasteners were patented by Swiss inventor George de Mestral in 1955 under the name VELCRO©. Although VELCRO© is often used generically to refer to hoop and loop fasteners, the term actually is a registered trademark referring to the company and its line of products.

Hook and loop fasteners were first used to affix name tags to flightsuits in the 1960s.  In the 1970s, they came into widespread use to attach patches to flightsuits. The “hook” side is attached to typically affixed to the patch by sewing or gluing the material, although in some cases the hook side is used as the base material. The “loop” side is sewn onto clothing or other items.

Hook Side

Loop Side

Hours Patch [also Combat Hours Patch, Flying Hours Patch, Flying Hours Milestone Patch]

Morale patch awarded to aircrew members who have completed a specified number of flying hours. Although many variations exist, flying hour milestone patches are typically awarded in 500 and 1000 hour increments (e.g. 500, 1000, 1500, 2000, 2500 or 1000, 2000, 3000, 4000). Flying hour milestone patches are often tab patches worn above another patch (e.g. major command patch). In recent years, many major commands have created one-piece major command patches with a scroll inscribed with the number of flying hours. A variation of this type of patch is the combat hours or combat missions patch.

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Inactivation Patch [Also Deactivation Patch]

Type of morale patch produced to commemorate the inactivation of a unit. See also Death Patch, Retirement Patch.


The alphabetic/numeric characters or words on an emblem or patch.

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Launch Patch

Type of morale patch commemorating the launch of a rocket, missile or spacecraft. Launches patches are produced by the USAF organizations responsible for launch, contractors and/or program offices responsible for the program management. Besides USAF patch collectors, launch patches are also popular with collectors of space patches.

Leather Patch

Emblem that is printed, painted, decaled or assembled on leather. Leather patches were popular during World War II and Korea and often worn on leather flight jackets.


Term occasionally used to describe the backing upon which emblems are embroidered that are intended for wear on the modern A-2 jacket, though it is actually vinyl. Also, this term was used to describe “patches” made during the 1950s and 1960s whose construction consisted of a screened emblem or a decal that was applied to a cardboard-like material with a peel-and-stick backing that was intended for attachment to flight jackets (these emblems would never have endured the launderings a flight suit or uniform shirt experiences). The most commonly observed patches of this sort are from the 4082d Strategic Wing and the North East Air Command (NEAC).


The unique, official, traceable record of organizational actions peculiar to each Air Force organization and to no other organization. Source: Air Force Instruction 84-105.

Lineage & Honors History

A statement that identifies the lineage, accrued honors, assignments, stations, and emblem of an organization. It may include a list of commanders and a list of aircraft, missiles, or both. If the organization is an establishment, the lineage and honors history may also identify component organizations. Lineage and honors histories for combat or support organizations that participated in significant Air Force operations may also contain narrative summaries of operations. Many lineage and honors histories are available on-line from the Air Force Historical Research Agency Organizational History Branch. Source: Air Force Instruction 84-105.


A machine for weaving together threads of various colors to form a patch. The most popular of these were manufactured by Schiffli, and the patches they produced are often referred to as Swiss Embroidery. The principal advantage of loom-made patches was that large numbers could be made relatively inexpensively, since each run of a large Schiffli loom could produce a hundred patches. After setup, a typical order of 1,000 patches could be made in little more than an hour.

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Merrowed Edge (ME) [Also Overedge Stitch, Overlock Stitch, Rolled Edge]

A patch having a protective “molding” of thread all around its edge, often referred to as a “rolled edge” because of its appearance, the original purpose of which was to prevent raveling. Merrowing is an overedge stitch added using a special machine. On loom-made patches, this is performed after a patch has been embroidered and cut; on multihead-made patches, it’s done to the pre-made twill “blanks” before they are embroidered. The telltale sign of merrowing is the “pigtail” end that is usually either glued or taped to the back of the patch. Merrowing machines are named after their inventor, Joseph M. Merrow. Although a few patches with merrowing from the 1940s and 1950s have been observed, merrowing of military patches didn’t emerge until the 1960s, didn’t really “catch on” until the 1970s, and didn’t become widespread until the 1980s. Merrowing now seems to be the industry standard, though quite a few are still unmerrowed. It should be noted that because twill doesn’t ravel and is often treated, cut-edge patches really don’t need merrowing, so nowadays it’s usually added because the designer thinks it enhances the looks of the patch.

Missions Patch or Combat Missions Patch [also Alerts Patch and Sorties Patch]

Morale patch worn by aircrew, missileers, space operators and other specialities indicating the number of missions, sorties or alerts they have completed. These patches are often formally awarded to the member.  Combat mission patches indicate those missions were completed in a combat zone.  One of the most famous combat missions patch is the one designed in 1965 by Capts. Bruce Holmes and Will Koenitzer, two F-105 pilots in the 469th Tactical Fighter Squadron. The design of the “North Vietnam 100 missions F-105” patch has served as the basis for many combat mission patches.  Visit the National Museum of the US Air Force for more information on this patch.

Vietnam Era 100 Missions Over North Vietnam in the F-4 Phantom II Combat Mission Patch

Vietnam Era 202 Missions Over Southeast Asia in the F-4 Phantom II Combat Mission Patch

341st Strategic Missile Wing 100 Alerts (Missions) Patch

3d Space Operations Squadron 250+ Error Free Sorties Patch

Morale Patch [Also Friday Patch]

Any unofficial patch used by an organization. Morale patches may be, but are not necessarily, an approved patch. The patches are intended to raise the “morale” of the organization, thus the origins of the term.  Morale patches are also referred to as “Friday Patches” as it has become customary for organizations to allow personnel to wear any patch in good taste (although this is commonly violated) on Fridays. Morale patches are generally worn on the left sleeve of the flight suit or Operational Camouflage Pattern (OCP) uniform. Morale Patches includes, but is not limited to, the following sub-categories:

  • Anniversary Patches
  • Class Patches
  • Combat Hours/Combat Missions Patches
  • Deployment Patches
  • Exercise Patches
  • Gaggles
  • Heritage Patches
  • Inactivation Patches
  • Launch Patches
  • Retirement Patches
  • Temporary Duty Patches


Part of the heraldry of an organization. It expresses in a word or short phrase the organization’s goals, ideals, or principles. Source: Air Force Instruction 84-105.

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A patch with visible moth damage, usually one or more holes of varying sizes, but could also include, or might be limited to, munching done at the edge (technically, not holes).


This term describes a patch that does not fluoresce when illuminated by an ultraviolet light (i.e., blacklight). More recent patches tend to be constructed of synthetic fibers which will “glow” when exposed, whereas patches made before the introduction of synthetics generally do not glow. The one exception is when an older patch has been washed with a detergent, which tends to leave a residue that appears to glow.

New Old Stock (NOS)

Term created to describe both the condition and the age of an item simultaneously (i.e., an older patch that is unused and in like-new condition).

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Official Emblem

An organization’s heraldic emblem that has been submitted and approved through appropriate procedures outline in regulations/instructions and registered with the Air Force Historical Research Agency (AFHRA) and The Institute of Heraldry.  Official emblems are protected under Title 18 United States Code Section 704 and Title 32, Code of Federal Regulations, Part 507, Manufacture and Sale of Decorations, Medals, Badges, Insignia, Commercial Use of Heraldic Designs and Heraldic Quality Control Program. Active US Air Force organizations maintain exclusive use of their official emblem while AFHRA is responsible for controlling the use of all other official emblems.

1724th Special Tactics Squadron official emblem approved in 1990.

814th Air Police Squadron official emblem approved in 1953.

1st Fighter Wing official emblem newest rendition approved in 2017.

9th Bombardment Wing, Medium official emblem approved in 1952.

Official Patch

A patch made based on the organization’s official emblem.

1724th Special Tactics Squadron official patch.

814th Air Police Squadron official patch.

1st Fighter Wing official patch.

9th Bombardment Wing, Medium official patch.

Operation ENDURING FREEDOM Camouflage Pattern (OEF-CP) or Multicam Subdued [Also Subdued, Camo, Camouflaged]

A subdued color palette used to convert full color patches for wear on the Operation ENDURING FREEDOM Camouflage Pattern (OEF-CP) Uniform first worn by the US Army and adopted by the US Air Force for wear on September 29, 2010. The palette consists of four colors (see table below).  The OEF-CP subdued color palette was replaced by the Operational Camouflage Pattern (OCP) or Spice Brown subdued palette when the OCP uniform became the US Air Force’s primary utility uniform in October 2018. The OCP subdued color palette differs by one color from the OEF-CP subdued color palette; spice brown was used instead of khaki.

Swatch Color Yarn Pantone Matching System (PMS)
Black 67138
Olive Drab 67133 455
Khaki 67193 452
Spice Brown 67196 168

Operational Camouflage Pattern (OCP) or Spice Brown Subdued [Also Subdued, Camo, Camouflaged]

A subdued color palette used to convert full color patches for wear on the Operational Camouflage Pattern (OCP) Uniform adopted by the US Air Force in 2018. OCPs replaced the Airman Battle Uniform (ABU) as the standard utility uniform for the US Air Force and the Operation ENDURING FREEDOM Camouflage Pattern (OEF-CP) Uniform (also know as Multi-Cams) used while deployed to Southwest Asia and Afghanistan. The palette was formally introduced on 20 September 2018 and consisted of four colors (see table below). The OCP subdued color palette differs by one color from the OEF-CP subdued color palette; spice brown was used instead of khaki.

Swatch Color Yarn Pantone Matching System (PMS)
Black 67138
Bagby Green 67204 399
Olive Drab 67133 455
Spice Brown 67196 168

Overruns [Also Manufacturer’s Overruns]

Extra patches produced above and beyond a customer’s original order. Overruns are made in anticipation of a re-order from the customer or for resale on the collector’s market. Overruns are considered authentic patches by the vast majority of collectors if they originated from the original manufacturer and are 100 percent identical (and thus indistinguishable) from the customer’s original order. A large number of patches available on the resale market are actually overruns.

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Painted Patches

Patches, almost always using leather for the base material, upon which the elements have been depicted by painting them on. These were quite popular and fairly common during World War II, especially in flying units. Because high-tech methods are about the only way to determine the vintage, and therefore the authenticity, of such patches, these are frequently reproduced.


An informal term used to refer to the cloth or leather depiction of an emblem (either in full color, woodland subdued or desert subdued) that can be affixed to a uniform. Source: Air Force Instruction 84-105.

Patch King

American Patch Manufacturer and Reseller. Patch King was an embroidery company founded during World War II in New York City, New York by entrepreneur Sol Marks. After World War II, Marks anticipated demand for military patches and dispatched buyers around the world to purchase surplus stocks. After amassing a large stock, Patch King resold the patches to collectors and veterans worldwide primarily through a print catalog. While many of the patches sold immediately after World War II were authentic patches, Patch King also commissioned reproduction patches of World War I and other patches. Patch King apparently closed its doors sometimes in the late 1980s/early 1990s. Sources: “King of Patches”, Colliers Magazine, January 24, 1948.

Partially Embroidered [Also Embroidered on Twill]

Patch in which parts of the base fabric is visible because only parts of its surface has been embroidered. Partially embroidery costs less to manufacture than fully embroidered patches and are thus a popular way to save on production cost. Partially embroidered patches are referred to as “Embroidered on Twill”, however the term is incorrect as technically, fully embroidered patches are embroidered on twill as well. Additionally, the base material used is not always twill.

Pencil Pocket Patch

Type of morale patch designed to be affixed to the hook and loop fastener located on the left sleeve of a flightsuit. The pencil pocket flap is often removed from the flightsuit thus allowing patches to be attached.


Piece of thread on a merrowed edge that extends beyond the patch. Pigtails are often taped or sealed to the back of a patch.

Plastic Backing

Plastic added to the back of a patch which prevents fraying of threads and provides rigidity to the patch.

Pocket Patch

Any patch intended for wear on a uniform pocket, though in practice these were/are worn above the pocket also. Does not include square or rectangular patches containing only a unit designation, as these were intended for wear only above the pocket (like a name tape) or on headgear. Because of their equivalent sizes, Shoulder Sleeve Insignia are properly considered pocket patches by most patch collectors.

PVC Patch

A type of patch made with flexible Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC), a thermoplastic polymer. PVC patches are sometimes called “rubber patches” even though they are different materials. There are two types of PVC patch: “2D” or “3D”. A 2D PVC patch is flat across the surface of the patch. A 3D PVC patch has raised, curved surfaces. When compared to embroidered patches, PVC patches are considered more durable and weather-resistant. PVC patches can only be made in solid colors so they cannot reproduce color gradients like embroidered patches.  Additionally, PVC lack the “depth” of an embroidered patch. For the US Air Force, PVC patches started appearing on a wide scale basis in the mid-2010s although they have been around for a longer period of time.

Previous Issue

A patch that was previously issued and worn by member(s) of an organization.

Puff Embroidery

Stitching over embroidery/craft foam to create a three-dimensional effect.

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Reject (Also Rejected Patch)

Patches that were ordered by a customer but were refused and/or returned to the manufacturer. Patches are rejected for a multitude of reasons including errors or issues with quality. However, not all error patches are rejects since some units will retain error patches for use. When patches are returned to the manufacturer, they are often dumped onto the resale market in order to recoup losses. In patch collecting, a reject carries little to no value.

Reproduction [Also Knock-Offs, Repro, Replicas]

An exact or close imitation of an authentic patch. Patches considered reproductions were never ordered, used and/or authorized by the unit/organization owning the design. Instead, they are produced by individuals to fill holes in collections or businesses for the resale market. In patch collecting, fakes carry no resale value. Reunion patches and heritage patches are specific types of reproductions that are considered “authorized” reproductions and thus are not typically grouped in the reproductions category. Some collectors view any patch beyond the first one produced as a reproduction, but this generally represents a minority opinion since most patches are intended to be produced in some quantity. While there is disagreement among collectors for and against reproduction of patches, there is widespread agreement that the larger issue is that individuals and companies not deliberately misrepresent or mislead consumers on reproductions.

Retirement Patch

Type of morale patch produced to commemorate the retirement of a system/weapon system. See also Death Patch.

Reunion Patch [Also Reunion Piece]

A type of reproduction ordered by individual veterans or unit alumni which features an emblem of their respective unit/organization. Reunion patches are made because original patches are cost prohibitive and often difficult, if not impossible, to locate. While reproductions, many collectors group these patches separately since they are ordered by former members of a unit/organization. Reunion patches can usually be easily identified from the original by the style of embroidery. For pricing purposes however, reunion patches are treated as reproductions. Reunion patches are often confused with heritage patches but they are two separate and distinct categories of patches.

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Sample [Also Manufacturer’s Sample, Prototype Patch]

Pre-production patch used by a manufacturer to obtain customer approval for full-scale production. Samples are sometimes one or few-of-a-kind since a customer will direct changes prior to full-scale production.

Screenprinted Patch [Also Screened Patch, Silk-Screened Patch]

Screenprinting is a technique using a stencil on a silk, nylon or organdy screen. Paint is applied to the screen and penetrates areas of the screen not blocked by the stencil. Several stencils are used to achieve multiple colors.

Scroll [Also Rocker, Tab]

A ribbon, often with rolled ends, used to inscribe a motto, unit designation or other information. In patches, scrolls are often found attached to discs and shields.


Similar to merrowing in both appearance and purpose, but this edge finishing is performed with a sort of cross-stitch (very much like a button-hole stitch) rather than by using a merrowing machine, so there is no pigtail remnant and the edging lacks the look of merrowing.


Shape on which the heraldic devices, symbols, or elements of an establishment’s emblem are displayed. This shape derives from the shield displayed on the Air Force Seal, which the Department of the Air Force adopted in 1947. The Air Force requires establishments to use this type shield to display their distinctive emblems on organizational flags and emblems. Patches for uniforms using this shield shape were phased in during late 1940s and early 1950s as the US Army Air Forces shield was phased out. Source: Air Force Instruction 84-105.

Example Shield Used by Air Force Establishments

Shoulder Sleeve Insignia (SSI)

Patches intended for wear on the upper portion of the uniform sleeve, near the shoulder seam, primarily used in reference to U.S. Army patches. Term also applies to United States Army Air Forces or Air Corps insignia, such as the Army Air Forces patch and World War II Numbered Air Force patches.


The left hand side of the shield from the standpoint of the person behind it. Source: Guide to Air Force Heraldry.

Heraldic positions on a shield.

Heraldic positions on a disc.


A patch that has not only lost any original luster or sheen it may have once had, but which also has visible dirt, grime, or skin oil accumulation or contamination on its surface.


A patch that, at first glance, very closely resembles another patch, but has been slightly modified for the purpose of making fun of the original or what it represents. This modification can be to the inscription or changes to the actual design. A spoof patch differs from a doctored patch in that doctored patches are changed after production, whereas spoofs are manufactured that way.

Subdued [Also Muted, Camo or Camouflage]

Color palette that is used to convert a full color emblem or patch to a color scheme that more closely matches a uniform’s color and camouflage scheme. The full color palette is “toned down”, thus the term “subdued” is use. While “subdued” originally referred to the Woodland Subdued color palette, the addition of additional subdued palettes have necessitated further differentiation.  The US Air Force uses or has used the following subduing schemes:

Full Color 1st Fighter Wing Emblem

Woodland Subdued 1st Fighter Wing Emblem

OCP Subdued 1st Fighter Wing Emblem

Full Color Air Force Space Command Patch

Woodland Subdued Air Force Space Command Patch

Desert Subdued Air Force Space Command Patch

OCP Subdued Air Force Space Command Patch

Swiss Embroidery [Also Schiffli Embroidery]

Style of embroidery involving a paper tape, punched like the roll for a player piano, that is mechanically “read” by a machine that directs hundreds of needles on a loom simultaneously. The process begins with a sketch of the patch, enlarged to six times the size of the finished product, with every other stitch actually drawn in by hand. The operator traces every indicated stitch line with a metal stylus, creating a paper template for the loom. During the sewing, a different color of thread is used on each “pass” and this, in effect, layers one color on top of another, creating a bas-relief effect, as opposed to the uniformly flat surface of a Multi-Head patch. Two or three layers is fairly common, but attempting to penetrate too many layers tends to break needles, so rarely are more than four or five observed. The perception of depth from the raised layers of color, and the effects of highlighting and shadowing that occurred naturally when light hits the patch from various angles, tends to make some of these patches with more elaborate designs true works of art. This type of patch embroidery had its genesis in Switzerland, hence the term “Swiss embroidery,” but the process was imported into the United States and was firmly established in the northern New Jersey area by the outbreak of World War II. Swiss embroidered emblems are often referred to as Schiffli patches because they are made on Schiffli looms. These looms use a shuttle that resembles the shape of a sailboat’s hull, and “Schiffli” means “little boat” in the Swiss dialect of the German language.

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Tab Patch [Also Arc, Tab]

A indistinguishable patch typically worn above or below another patch. Tab patches are usually constructed in a manner that allows them to fit along the edge of the other patch and typically consists only of an inscription indicating a specialty, qualification or flight/crew hours.

Temporary Duty (TDY) Patch

Type of morale patch produced by units/organizations for temporary duty (TDY) assignments. See also Deployment Patch.

Theater-Made [Also In-Country Made, Theater-Make]

Patch made by a local vendor located near or on overseas bases. Theater patches are typically, but not always, hand-made in limited quantities (since the 90’s many local vendors have switched to computer embroidery machines). Frequently, theater-made patches are specified by country or region (e.g. Turkish made, Korean made, Far-East made, Middle East made). Some of the more common countries for theater-made patches include Japan, Korea, Philippines, Vietnam, Qatar, Thailand, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Theater-made patches are usually more sought after by collectors due to their limited numbers.


Actually, aluminized Mylar, this is a metallic-looking polyester thread that has the appearance of either silver or gold. Mylar should not be, but often is, confused with bullion thread.

The Institute of Heraldry (TIOH) Color Palette

The Institute of Heraldry’s (TIOH) color palette is a selection of 41 standardized colors that are used when TIOH creates the renderings for the USAF’s official emblems. Every color in the TIOH’s color palette has a corresponding thread number which allows manufacturers to use the correct color when producing a patch based on an organization’s official emblem. The following table lists all the colors in TIOH palette:

Swatch Color Yarn Pantone Matching System (PMS)
Black 67138
Smoke 67201 425
Silver Gray 67137 422
White 67101
Air Force Yellow 67103 116
Yellow 67108 123
Golden Orange 67109 1375
Orange 67110 1655
Marine Corps Scarlet 67154 185
Scarlet 67111 200
Crimson 67112 220
Brick Red 67113 202
Garnet 67158 209
Maroon 67114 504
Purple 67115 267
Brittany 67119 551
Bluebird 67117 542
Oriental 67172 285
Light Blue 67120 5415
Ultramarine 67118 Reflex
Cobalt Blue 67122 281
Flag 67124 282
Old Glory 67178 280
Grotto Blue 67165 3115
Teal 67121 3035
Mosstone 67127 377
Emerald 67128 369
Irish 67189 348
Green 67129 357
Spruce Green 67130 3302
Bottle Green 67191 343
Army Green 67131 553
Olive Drab 67133 455
Natural 67192 454
Khaki 67193 452
Buff 67135 465
Bronze 67147 874
Gold Brown 67194 471
Spice Brown 67196 168
Brown 67136 161


The destructive trail left by moth larvae as they eat their way along the surface of a woolen object. These “tracks” are usually about 1/16″ (1 mm) wide.

Twill [Also Twill Weave, Twill Fabric]

Twill refers to a specific type of woven fabric, made with cotton, polyester, or poly/cotton blend fibers and characterized by a diagonal rib pattern, often used as the base material in patch manufacturing.  It is a strong and durable and can withstand a lot of wear to include frequent washing.

Twill Fabric Swatch

Twill Fabric Swatch

24th Special Operations Wing Patch with Twill Utilized as a Base Material

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Difference in two patches of an otherwise similar design. This term is often debated as to what constitutes a “minor” and “major” variation. The following are some, but not all, criteria used by collectors to classify variations: size, manufacturing, colors and wording (e.g. abbreviated versus spelled out).

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Woodland or Forest Subdued [Also Subdued, Camo, Camouflaged]

A subdued color palette used to convert full color patches for wear on the olive drab (OD) utility uniform (fatigues) and subsequently, the Battle Dress Uniform (BDU). Originally just called “subdued”, this color palette was later referred to as “Woodland Subdued” (a reference to the camouflage pattern used on BDUs) or “Forest Subdued”.  The palette was formally introduced on 10 January 1979 and consisted of five colors (see table below). Woodland subdued patches came into widespread use after 1977 and became mandatory for wear on the utility uniform in 1980. While primarily won on the utility uniforms, Woodland Subdued patches were also worn on flight suits by members of the Air Force Special Operations community. In the early 1990s, the Air Force Chief of Staff, General Merrill A. McPeak, ordered the removal of all organizational patches from the BDUs. This decision was subsequently reversed in mid-1990s by McPeak’s successor, General Ronald R. Fogleman. With the adoption of the Airman Battle Uniform (ABU) in the mid-2000s, the Air Force again elected to eliminate organizational emblems from the utility uniform. On 1 November 2011, BDUs were formally phased out, thus eliminating widespread use of Woodland Subdued patches. After this period Woodland Subdued patch were worn primarily on flight suits by Air Force Special Operations community and by some Airman on deployments to non-desert areas.

Swatch Color Yarn Pantone Management System (PMS)
Black 67138
Flag Blue 67124 282
Garnet 67158 209
Spruce Green 67130 3302
Olive Drab 67133 455


Occasionally used in lieu of twill, especially on older patches from the 1940s or earlier.

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