Hue, Chroma and Value: The Munsell Color System

By: Isabel Freedman

Munsell Color System 

                 In 1898, Albert Henry Munsell, an American artist, created an influential color-modeling system that included these three aspects. With the creation of his color sphere, Munsell created a rational way to describe color with a decimal notation.

We may categorize and simplify one color, but there is more depth and complexity to just “one color.” Many colors are created through the combination of these three elements. The properties of hue, value and chroma are able to express various color tones, and draw out certain emotional associations in people.


                According to Munsell, a hue means the actual pigment or wavelength of a colored surface or projection, such as the colors red, blue, green, yellow and purple. A hue is a way to distinguish one color from another color. On Munsells color wheel, he had selected those five colors, and created intermediate colors that would be placed on a compass like wheel. Munsell’s created an organized system of color that has been a helpful guide for artists and designers for centuries.

Color, Munsell, Design

Hues: Red, yellow, green, blue and purple


                     The lightness or darkness, or the grey level of the color can describe the value of a color. The lighter a color is, the more light it emits. On Munsells color sphere, the notion N was used to denote the value on any point of the axis. The higher the number, the lighter gray value would be, and the lower number would refer to a darker value of gray.

Value, Design, Color, Elements

This image is an example of a low and high value of color


                  A chroma refers to the saturation or intensity of the color, a highly saturated color will have more pigment to it. A less saturated color will be dull and washed out. A chroma can distinguish the derreence from a pure hue to a gray shade. Munsell did not see a uniform pattern for chroma, and saw that it could be achieved throughout the color sphere. The term “fullest chroma” would mean the highest saturation of the color, and the lowest chroma would be a less saturated version.

Chroma, Color, Saturation, Design, Elements

The red in the image above is an example of low and high chroma (saturation)

Over time, Munsell’s color system has been studied and revised, but the original color sphere has been internationally accepted and recognized for centuries. This methodical and organized color sphere recognizes three vital elements of color that may benefit all designers and artists.


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