How to Read Munsell Color Chart Numbers

By Melanie Cheung
In Munsell's color system, color is defined by three dimensions: hue, value and chroma.

Munsell's color system is a model used for identifying every existing color in the spectrum. While various color models exist, Munsell's is the most recognized. The system was developed by Albert H. Munsell, who conducted numerous scientific experiments to measure the way in which humans perceive color. He concluded that color is comprised of three components: hue, value and chroma. Munsell created a chart comprised of numbers and letters to represent the levels of hue, value and chroma in a color. Before attempting to read Munsell's color chart numbers, it is important to understand the three dimensions of color.

Identify the color chart number that you would like to read. An example of a Munsell color chart number would be "5P 4/10." The color chart number refers to the three elements of color: hue, value and chroma.

Identify the hue. Hue is measured around a horizontal circle, comprised of five main hues: red (R), purple (P), blue (B), green (G) and yellow (Y). Additional hues are positioned halfway between the principle hues: RP, PB, BG, GY and YR. The hues are further divided by 10, resulting in a total of 100 hues around the hue circle.

In the example in Step 1, the "P" refers to the hue name, purple. The "5" directly in front of the "P" refers to the position of the hue around the circumference of the horizontal hue circle. Hues closer to PB would have a different number before the "P."

Identify the value. Value is the lightness and darkness of a color, which is measured in a vertical line through the center of the hue circle. At the bottom of the value measure is black, with a value of 0. At the top is white, with a value of 10.

In the sample color chart number, the number directly after the "P" indicates the value number, in this case "4." The value of a color is measured vertically from the center of the hue circle. A value of 4 would indicate that this color is darker than the median, since the value scale positions black at 0 and white at 10.

Identify the chroma. Chroma is measured through the radius of the of the hue circle. Chroma refers to the purity of color. A lower chroma number indicates that the color is less saturated or pure.

The last number in the color chart number refers to the chroma. The chroma measures the purity of a color. A low chroma number appears more washed out and pastel-like, and a high chroma number appears saturated. In the case of the sample color chart number, a chroma of "10" would be more pure and saturated than a chroma of "1."

About the Author

Melanie Cheung is a Montreal-based writer and designer who began writing professionally in 2009 for a fashion and music-centered lifestyle blog. She holds a Bachelor of Design in fashion design from Ryerson University.