Albert Munsell's Color Theory

Instructor: Summer Stewart

Summer has taught creative writing and sciences at the college level. She holds an MFA in Creative writing and a B.A.S. in English and Nutrition

Most everything we know about colors and how we use them comes from Albert Munsell's color theory. In this lesson, we will cover a brief history of Albert Munsell as well the three main components of his theory: hue, value, and chroma.

Background

Did you know that Albert Munsell's color theory is the official color system used by the USDA for soil research? Munsell's theory is an important system in colorimetry, and it is used by many disciplines including art, design, science, and more. His color theory defines colors based on three factors: hue, value, and chroma. In this lesson, we will define Albert Munsell's color theory, examine its main components, and briefly touch on Albert Munsell.

Who Was Albert Munsell?

Albert Munsell was an artist and professor. At Massachusetts Normal Art School, he taught students about color composition. In 1905, he published A Color Notation, which outlined his color theory. He went on to publish Atlas of the Color Solid and The Munsell Book of Color, both of which elaborated on his system of color.

Albert Munsell's Color Theory

Albert Munsell's color theory is a system of color comprised of three main components: hue, value, and chroma. The system can be drawn like a cylinder that has circles that ripple outward at various degree measurements.

Vertical and horizontal axes exist on the three-dimensional cylinder. The cylinder is made up of horizontal circles that represent the hues. Chroma is represented radially from the center of the color model outward. Lastly, value is measured on the vertical axis from light to dark.

Let's look at hue, value, and chroma in depth to better understand Munsell's color theory.

Hue

The hue in Munsell's color theory runs along the horizontal axis of the color model and the circle is split up into five main hues (remember, as you go up and down on the color model, each horizontal circle is either lighter or darker in color, something we will talk about in a moment). Red, yellow, green, blue, and purple are the five hues on Albert Munsell's color model. Five intermediate hues exist as well and they are the hues that are halfway between two main hues. For example, GY is halfway between green and yellow. Hues are marked using the first letter or letters of the color.

The system gets more exact by breaking down hues further. For example, the ten hues that are created with the main and intermediate hues are further divided into 10 more hues, which result in a total of 100 hues. These hues are given integer notation from 2.5 to 10 to mark designate the hue. By using this notation system, most Munsell color models show 40 hues represented through the notation system.

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