The U.S. government agency, the General Services Administration (GSA) is charged with providing the official specifications by which the federal government procures U.S. flags. This information is found under “Federal Specification, Flag, National, United States of America and Flag, Union Jack,” DDD-F-416E, (November 27, 1981).
These specifications apply strictly for flags used by the executive branch, but presumably what’s appropriate for the executive branch would be appropriate for the rest of the government. But as you’ll see below, there’s a lot of deviation from the standard.
The GSA, in the DDD-F-416E, sets the color specifications by reference to the Standard Color Card of America. This is a color system designed for use with textiles, and of course, flags are made from fabric. The specifications are:
red= Cable No. 70180 (Old Glory red)
white= Cable No. 70001 (White)
blue= Cable No. 70075 (Old Glory blue)
That’s easy enough, huh. The problem arises when other color systems try to match the precise colors of Cable number system.
Pantone, an international authority on color and provider of color systems, suggests their Pantone Matching System colors of PMS 193 red, and PMS 281 blue as equivalents to the Cable number colors.
Within the federal government, the U.S. State department’s American Embassy systems is inconsistent in identifying the precise colors of the U.S. flag. The website for the American Embassy in London calls for PMS 281 blue and PMS 193 red for the flag, but the embassy in Stockholm calls for PMS 288 blue and PMS 186.
And the U.S. government printing office (GPO) specifies PMS 288 blue and PMS 186 red, which is the same as the embassy in Stockholm.
The official State of Texas website calls for the State Flag of Texas to be the same red, white and blue as the U.S. flag, and then identifies those colors as Pantone PMS 193 red, and PMS 281 blue.
If that’s not enough to confuse you, consider the RGB, a codified system of color matching for the computer graphics industry. In the RGB color system, the American flag colors are designated as blue #002868 (0,40,104), red #BF0A30 (191,10,48), and white #FFFFFF (255,255,255). And if you understand what those numbers mean, you are way above my pay grade, because I am still using the Crayola Crayons color system.
I’d be confused about which red, white, and blue too, but I’ve decided to stick with what the State of Texas recommends.