Classifying Color

01/02/09    Scott Ferguson  |  Architectural Services Representative, Dunn-Edwards Corporation

Before becoming known as the creator of the design industry’s most widely recognized color identification system, Albert H. Munsell was a noted European painter. In fact, his “The Ascension of Elijah” was on display in the galleries of the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris for years. Once in America, “Henry” Munsell became a noted teacher and lecturer, which led to a lifelong mission to rationally classify color for his students.

This quest, and his solution, was outlined in the groundbreaking book, “A Color Notation,” first published in 1905. The book became the cornerstone for what is today known as the Munsell Color System. The Munsell Color System describes color in a logical way using clear decimal notation instead of color names that he considered foolish and misleading.

Color relationships in the Munsell Color System are based on the recognition of three color dimensions: Hue, Value and Chroma. Hue distinguishes one color family from another, while Value distinguishes a light color from a dark color. Chroma distinguishes more saturated color from a lighter, less saturated one.

Munsell felt this three-dimensional nature of color was best illustrated using a globe, where the Value axis is a scale of neutral gray values, with white as the North Pole and black as the South Pole. The Equator (Hue) line represents the band of color families and extends horizontally from the axis at each gray value in a gradation of color progressing from neutral gray to full saturation of color (Chroma).

The Munsell Color System identifies 10 principal Hues. These hues are arranged in a circle (the Equator): red (R), yellow-red (YR), yellow (Y), green-yellow (GY), green (G), blue-green (BG), blue (B), purple-blue (PB), purple (P) and red-purple (RP). Each principal hue is divided further into 10 linear subhues. For example, 1R would be a light red; 2R a darker red; up to 10R, a deep red.

Both Value and Chroma use numeric scales to denote linear extremes: a color Value of 0 represents black and 10 represents white, while intervening steps of Chroma, from weaker to stronger colors, are expressed by linear numbers between 0 and 10.

How do you use this with the Dunn-Edwards Perfect Palette® color system? The Munsell Color System is noted within the system on the fandecks and color albums. The notation is shown as H/V/C (H=Hue, V=Value, C=Chroma). As an example, for Haze Blue DE6311, the Munsell notation is 7.29BG/7.3/0.7. This translates to a blue-green Hue, a lighter Value (7.3) and a darker Chroma (0.7).

What are the benefits of using the Munsell Color System?

Overall, using a mathematical system like Munsell’s helps provide for a quality color match. Here are some other specific benefits of using the system:
  • Using the system results in a quality color match that brings order and consistency to color design by matching a color choice to a current color standard. This, in turn, reduces costly errors by not needing to repaint a project due to human error.
  • Using a mathematical color matching system, such as Munsell’s, helps put clients at ease because it eliminates the guesswork of visual matches and removes the chance of human error in the color selection process. For example, as we get older, our eyes age naturally in a way that causes us to see more yellow. We may be tempted to disregard a color that may be an exact match by relying entirely on our eyesight.
  • It eliminates the metamerism factor when comparing and contrasting colors, especially when needing to maintain consistency with using older color standards. Therefore, new colors can be used interchangeably with older colors for a project.

Thanks to the work of Henry Munsell, we have a consistent, scientific way to create dynamic spaces using color, while avoiding guesswork and costly mistakes.

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Sara McLean says:
March 06, 2013 at 2:55 PM
Hi Katie-this is Sara McLean from Dunn-Edwards. Green is uptrending once again; Pantone has named Emerald as their 2013 Color of the Year. Two D-E colors that utilize this trend are DE5699 Emerald Pool & DE5685 Irish Beauty. These are dramatic colors for a LR; we see lots more use of dramatic color now. Another trend is pastels & DE5575 Pastoral reflects this trend as a soft, muted green. Lastly, mid-century retro glam is also trending; DE5571 Ivy Enchantment reflects this. Happy painting!
Katie says:
March 05, 2013 at 9:49 AM
which green is the trend for living room? please help
Munsell Color says:
October 20, 2011 at 5:05 PM
Thank you for featuring the life and work of Albert Munsell, whose Munsell Color System is one of the most widely used color systems in the world for designers, artists and professionals in the sciences.

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