Munsell System by donBeeship

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       he Munsell Book of Color is arguably the first
       modern color model. It is based on the three
       attributes of color: Hue Saturation and Value,
and was developed through careful color measurement.
Conceived by the American artist Albert H. Munsell
(1858-1918), it was described as a color order system in
1905 and published as an atlas of color samples in 1915.
(This was republished in 1929 as
the Munsell Book of Color.) The
Munsell was extensively revised
or “renotated” in the early 1940’s,
when it was adopted as the standard
color reference system in the USA.
Munsell’s system is based on the
2D hue circle.
Hue is the major organizing principal
behind Munsell’s system. Hue was
defined by Munsell as “the quality by
which we distinguish one color from

He selected five principle colors:
red        yellow
green      blue      purple
and five intermediate colors:
yellow-red green-yellow
blue-green purple-blue red-purple
While the selection of colors in our hue
circle differ from Munsell’s, the same
principals can be applied. Munsell’s sys-
tem was created, in fact, to be infinitely
Color Solids
Munsell’s system is described as a color solid or a three dimensional
color model. Many color theorists, scientists and artists have used
three dimensional models in order to explain the dynamics of color.

Three dimensional color solids such as these allow for the primary
aspects of color (hue, value and saturation) to be illustrated in a sin-
gle model rather than a series of unconnected charts.
Munsell originally conceived of
his color system as a sphere.

The qualities of the hues in the
Munsell system are very irregu-
lar, however, and are best de-
scribed visually by a solid such
as the one shown to the right.
This unusual shape has come to
be known as the Munsell color
Three views of the
Munsell Color Tree
The Munsell color tree is organized by three
fundamental aspects of color:

  Hue is the purest form of a color.
  Hue is represented here as a ring.
  (Think of your hue circle)

  Value refers to the light or dark
  quality of a color. Value is rep-
  resented as a vertical axis with
  black at the bottom and white at
  the top.

Saturation (Chroma)
  Saturation (called Chroma by
  Munsell) is the intensity or purity
  of a color. saturation is what dis-
  tinguishes a pure hue from a gray            Tone Scale
The backbone of the
Munsell system is a vertical
value dimension, which
represents equal steps of
perceptual contrast from white
to black.
Every Hue has a relative
value. Some hues are light
in value (like yellow) some
are dark (like blue-violet).
The fully saturated hue is
located in a row next to it’s
relative value.


Saturation is measured horizon-
tally, with the fully saturated col-
or farthest away from the value
The distance between the hue and       more saturated
its relative value depends on the
color’s intensity (or saturation).

The goal is to achieve even per-                        less saturated
ceptual steps of saturation from
gray to the fully saturated hue.

The steps of saturation should
perceptually match those of the
value scale. This is tricky since
contrast of value and contrast of
saturation are quite different
The completed hue
chart has the overall
effect of even steps of
contrast in horizontal,
vertical and diagonal

The steps of value
contrast are even and
the steps of saturation
contrast are even.
Hues can have very different
levels of saturation and also
value (think of the value differ-
ence between yellow and blue-

As a result, some hue charts can
have very different appearances.

In the Munsell system, reds,
blues, and purples tend to be
stronger, more saturated hues.
Yellows and greens are weaker
and achieve their full satura-
tion closer to the value axis.
Complementary hues are ar-
ranged across from each other
in the Munsell tree.

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