07 January 2013

The trouble with maroon

Galway won the All-Ireland Football Final for the first time in 1934. That game was the county’s first outing in the maroon and white colours that still define their identity today. But what colour is maroon?

Galway maroon flags outside a house supporting Galway hurlers in 2012, photograph by Larry Hynes

Maroon is an uncertain, hard-to-define colour, accurately described1 as:

Brownish crimson;

from the French marron, chestnut. Perhaps in turn from armon, Hebrew for chestnut.

Wikipedia2 lists three colours as maroon, and I think it’s fair to say that we saw all of them, and a few more, on display over the summer.

Different colours of maroon

On the left is maroon according to Crayola3, the colouring pencil people. Quite red, for a maroon, I would have thought. In the centre is the maroon of the X11 naming system4, which is quite pink, and on the right is the web standard maroon which appears to be heading rapidly towards brown.

An official Maroon?

I’m not alone in wondering if there is an “official” Galway maroon: there’s a short thread, from 2010, on boards.ie asking the same question. (And with the number of times that I’ve been asked to use maroon over the years, I have a vested interest.)

If you’ve ever prepared anything for print you’re probably familiar with the Pantone5 Colour Matching System. Galway City Council specify Pantone 2026 as the maroon in their crest. Here it is against the other colours…

Different colours of maroon with the addition of Pantone 202 from the Galway City Council crest

Hmmm. Not too red, not too pink and not too brown. We might be on to something! But if we accept the “brownish crimson” definition of maroon, I think this is more crimson than brown. That’s probably a good thing.

The matter of the background

OK, so we have a maroon that we’re happy with, on a Pantone colour swatch at least. But bear in mind that we’re dealing with a colour that has a tendency towards darkening. A brownish darkening, which sounds like the worst kind, actually. If we print our maroon on anything but a nice bright white paper, it will darken and tend towards brown. In fact, if we print the exact same ink on two different coloured papers we will end up with two quite different maroons.

So if maroon is inherently a compromise between brown and crimson, I propose that we are better-off starting with a little more crimson that brown, as the brown element is always looking for an opportunity to show itself. Our maroon will naturally tend towards brown if left to its own devices.

A tentative specification

Here is my tentative attempt at a colour specification for an official Galway maroon.

System Specification
Pantone PMS 202
RGB R152 G0 B46
CMYK C0 Y100 M61 K43
Hex #980023

I would tread carefully with these, especially the CMYK values given here. They are a guideline, only. On one particular digital press I have seen C50 M100 Y88 C14 as the CMYK spec. for Pantone 202, and it worked.

  1. A Dictionary of Color: A Lexicon of the Language of Color by Ian Paterson. ISBN 1-85418-247-1 

  2. Maroon (color) - Wikipedia 

  3. If you’re interested in that sort of thing, there’s an excellent two-part post entitled The crayola-fication of the world: How we gave colors names, and it messed with our brains on the Empirical Zeal website. 

  4. X11 colour names on Wikipedia 

  5. Pantone maintains a proprietary colour standard from a long history of producing printing inks 

  6. Unless I’m mistaken, the use of Pantone 202 in the Galway City crest is derived from a redesign of the NUIG logo some years ago. The design, one of many projects deemed too difficult for local design talent and sent to Dublin, specified Pantone 202 as the maroon on the somewhat historically-leaning “clock tower” logo. The design has been altered more recently, introducing brighter colours.