Albert H. Munsell (1858–1918) was an artist and a professor who recognized the need for a clear consistent method of communicating color. A group of people look at the same shade of blue, one might call it sapphire, another deep blue, the third person might say navy, etc. Instead of names for color Munsell developed his Color Notation system in 1905. The Atlas of the Munsell Color Order System was published in 1915 and is still used today.
There are three parts to each color, the Hue or color name, the value, and the chroma or intensity. There are 5 hues red, yellow, green, blue, and purple. The colors in between are red–yellow, yellow-green, blue-green, blue-purple, and red-purple.
Hue families are given a letter and a numerical notation 2.5, 5, 7.5, or 10. A pure Red hue would be 5R, if the red has some yellow in it 7.5R, or if it is slightly red-purple 2.5R. A pure yellow is 5Y and pure blue is 5B.
Value is the lightness or darkness of the hue. Munsell’s model has a central column with white at the top designated as 10, black is 0 and at the base of the column, lightest gray is 9, and darkest gray is 1. Contrasts in value accentuate differences, putting a middle gray (5) on white (10) or black (0) makes the gray appear darker. Similar values blend, putting a middle gray (5) on a gray (4) or a gray (6) will make it appear lighter. The value chosen can also enhance sustainability because the value affects the light reflectance of the color. White will reflect the most light, but as the value deepens the reflectance decreases until you get to black, at the opposite end of the value scale, which absorbs all the light. The higher reflectance values require less artificial lighting and can help to reduce your energy bills. In a commercial building that is working toward a LEED rating the reflectance value will affect the score.
Chroma is also referred to as Intensity or Saturation. The chroma is neutralized or dulled closest to the gray in the center at a value of 1. To dull a color you continue to add its complementary color until it turns neutral. To brighten or intensify the color you use less of the complementary color so it becomes purer or clearer, the brightest level is 16.
There are more lighter yellows because yellow is naturally light, and more darker purples because purple is dark. The Munsell notation for a clear yellow would be 5Y 8/12 a clear red 5R 4/14. Yellow is clear at a lighter value of 8, and red is clear at a darker value of 4.
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