If Duke and Kentucky meet in college basketball’s national championship game, will you root for Pantone 286 or Pantone 287?
The official color for each school is blue, but there is a difference, however slight.
Describing and defining shades of blue may feel like a vague concept, but in fact colors can be precisely classified by the Pantone Matching System. The method, developed by a company based in Carlstadt, N.J., is used by printers, designers and others to ensure consistency of color. It categorizes about 2,000 shades.
Kentucky’s official blue is a slightly tweaked version of Pantone 286, said Craig Hornberger, director of multimedia of the athletic department.
Kentucky’s 16-page Official Graphics Standards Manual admonishes, “To maintain consistent color matching, the U.K. logos and signatures must be printed” in that color.
Duke’s style guide is even more strict about Pantone 287: “All and any adjustments to the opacity or saturation of the official Duke blues are prohibited.”
Each Pantone color can be further defined as a mix of four basic colors: cyan, a greenish-blue; magenta, a purplish-red; yellow; and black.
Though the percentages can vary slightly depending on what material the color is printed on, Kentucky generally uses 100 percent cyan, 60 percent magenta, 0 percent yellow and 6 percent black, and Duke 100 percent cyan, 69 percent magenta, 0 percent yellow and 11.5 percent black.
The upshot is that Duke’s blue has a little more red and is a bit darker.
Leatrice Eiseman, the executive director of Pantone Color Institute, described the two colors as “very close” but finds Kentucky’s blue to have more “vibrancy and excitement,” while Duke’s conveys “power and authority.”
In general, she said, blue is one of the most dependable colors because of its constant presence in the sky.
The two universities’ colors have long histories. After a brief flirtation with blue and yellow, Kentucky established blue and white as its colors in 1892. Duke’s blue officially dates only to 1965, when the trustees named “Prussian blue” as the university’s official color. But blue has been associated with the college since at least 1910 and perhaps earlier.
“Color is a very powerful force for attracting the human eye and establishing an emotion,” Ms. Eiseman said, while noting that an emotional connection with a team color may grow over the years. “Because it has become firmly entrenched as the color of the team, it takes on an emotional reaction” for fans.
Those supporters who have painted their houses Duke blue or tattooed their faces Kentucky blue certainly agree.
Though each shade of blue has its passionate partisans, Kentucky and Duke’s blue rivals have gone their own way: North Carolina blue is Pantone 278, and Kansas blue is Pantone 293.
The Delaware Blue Hens? That’s Pantone 2945C.