Munsell Color System
The Munsell Color System, developed in 1898 by American artist A. Munsell, is another
commonly used color measurement system. Munsell aimed to create a "rational
way to describe color" that would use clear decimal notation rather than color
names. In 1905 he published a color notation, which has been reprinted several times
and is still a standard for colorimetry.
Munsell modeled his system as an orb around whose equator runs a band of colors.
The axis of the orb is a scale of neutral gray values with white as the North Pole
and black as the South Pole. Extending horizontally from the axis at each gray value
is a gradation of color progressing from neutral gray to full saturation. With these
three defining aspects, any of thousands of colors could be fully described. Munsell
named these aspects, or qualities: hue, value, and chroma.
Figure 1: The Munsell System
Munsell defined hue as the quality by which we distinguish one color from another.
He selected five principle colors: red, yellow, green, blue, and purple; and five
intermediate colors: yellow-red, green-yellow, blue-green, purple-blue, and red-purple.
He arranged these in a wheel measured off in 100 compass points. The colors were
identified as R for red, YR for red-yellow, Y for yellow etc. Each primary and intermediate
color was allotted ten degrees around the compass and then further identified by
its place in the segment.
Munsell defined value as the quality by which we determine light colors from dark
ones. Value is a neutral axis that refers to the gray level of the color, ranging
from white to black.
Chroma is the quality that distinguishes a pure hue from a gray shade. The chroma
axis extends from the value axis at a right angle and the amount of chroma is noted
after the value designation. Therefore, 7.5YR 7/12 indicates a yellow-red hue tending
toward yellow with a value of 7 and a chroma of 12. However, chroma is not uniform
for every hue at every value.
Mussel saw that full chroma for individual hues might be achieved at very different
places in the color sphere. In the Munsell System, reds, blues, and purples tend
to be stronger hues that average higher chroma values at full saturation, while
yellows and greens are weaker hues that average fullest chroma saturation relatively
close to the neutral axis.
In the "Munsell Book of Color", you will find the complete system in 40
pages. Each page has a different hue running around the spectrum to red and on through
purple back to violet (PB in the Munsell notation). The colors on each page are
arranged in rows of equal Value and in columns of equal Chroma. Each color has three
references corresponding to hue, value, and chroma (ex: 5YR/5/10 is a saturated