The 2019 Gary Hilliard FQC Scholarship Recipient’s Research on Clemson Orange and Brand Color Consistency

This project examines just how well Clemson Orange’s color consistency is maintained.

The project consisted of testing various samples of flexographically printed Clemson Orange materials. A sampling of products ranging in substrates and sources was collected. These samples were read with a spectrophotometer to determine the Delta E from true Clemson Orange.

Once the data was collected, it was examined to determine the possible cause(s) of the color differences and their magnitude. Digital and lithographic samples were also collected to examine variation across printing processes. Finally, a survey was taken to gauge consumer recognition of Clemson Orange. Clemson students and fans were asked to identify the brand color from a lineup of orange swatches.

Figure 1: The CIE LAB color space.
All data and charts courtesy of Dovie Jeffcoat


Clemson University’s campus is bursting with orange, but is it truly Clemson Orange? As an institution, the university is tremendously proud and protective of its brand, as it should be. This protection is imperative for such iconic symbols as the Tiger Paw, Howard’s Rock and Clemson Orange. It is vital for brand color to remain consistent and recognizable across platforms and locations.

Color can be used to communicate with or elicit emotions from the consumer, as well as create brand equity. In a study to determine the significance of standardization in global advertising, color had a substantial effect on brand equity when combined with the standardization of graphics (Carassi, 2016). Additionally, Jessica Lee Ridgway’s research on brand personality found color has a strong impact on the personality associated with brands (Ridgway, 2011). Therefore, it can be said that color consistency plays a pivotal role in the relationship between a brand and its consumers.

Figure 2: Processes for Clemson Orange reproduction


Color may be measured, discussed and categorized in various ways. It may be considered as the location and intensity of a spectral reflectance spike on the visual spectrum. It may also be measured by the dot percentages of color separations such as cyan, magenta, yellow and black. Color is often identified using color matching systems such as a Pantone swatch book. These ways of thinking about color are valid and useful in their own ways; however, CIE LAB will be used in this project as a device-independent method of quantifying color.


CIE LAB is a color space designed to quantify and communicate hue, chroma and lightness using a numerical coordinate system. Simply put, hue can be thought of as what color an object is (blue, red, yellow, etc.). Hue varies across the wavelengths of the visible spectrum, from violet (400-nm.) to red (700-nm.). Chroma, also called saturation, is a measure of a color’s intensity. It may also be defined as the purity of a color in relation to neutral gray. For instance, while a color closer to neutral gray looks faded or “dirty,” a purer color is more vibrant. Finally, lightness (also called luminance) determines how bright a color is. It is referred to as “achromatic,” meaning a lightness value can only identify how light or dark a color is (Sappi, 2013).

As shown in Figure 1, the CIE LAB color space is a three-dimensional model containing three axes: L* for lightness, and a* and b* for color. The a* axis represents opposing colors red (+a*) and green (-a*), while the b* axis represents opposing colors yellow (+b*) and blue (-b*).

Figure 3: Survey Pantone swatches

Color Differences

While CIE LAB provides a device-independent way to communicate color, it also offers a precise method of measuring color differences. This value is known as Delta E, which pinpoints the exact coordinates of two colors and measures the distance between them. This project will use Delta E 2000, which compensates for the nonuniformity of human color perception (Schuessler).

Print Sample Collection & Measurement

To gain an understanding of the consistency of Clemson Orange in commercially sold products, samples of varying caliper, material and manufacturer were collected from stores in and around the Clemson area. While the main focus of the project was flexography, digital and lithographic samples were also collected to determine the consistency of Clemson Orange across multiple printing processes. In total, 30 samples were collected, of which 15 (50.0 percent) were printed flexographically, seven (23.3 percent) lithographically and eight (26.7 percent) digitally. Additionally, 18 (60 percent) of the samples were process color (CMYK) and 12 (40 percent) were spot color, as shown in Figure 2.

Once collected, the samples were read with a spectrophotometer for L*a*b* data. It is important to note that Clemson University’s official color palette contains two Pantone options for Clemson Orange. Pantone 165 is typically used for athletics; however, it is so vibrant that it lies outside the process color gamut and cannot be accurately reproduced with CMYK inks. Therefore, the university offers Pantone 1595 to be used for CMYK applications. The Delta E between these Pantone colors was measured to be 8.36, which is well above the limit for a noticeable visual difference. This significant difference may contribute to decreased consumer recognition of Clemson Orange.

An X-Rite eXact spectrophotometer was used to measure the Delta E from Pantone 165 and Pantone 1595 for each of the samples. A Pantone+ Solid Coated book was used to reference Clemson Orange. The samples were measured over a standard white backing tile, and the spectrophotometer settings were as follows:

  • Illuminant: D50/2⁰
  • Delta E Method: 2000
  • Measurement Condition: M1
Figure 4: Participant demographics