• Palina Gurinovich

Munsell's Colour theory vs Colour Wheel (from the past)

Munsell Colour System vs The colour wheel

The Colour Wheel

A generic colour wheel consists of



Tertiary colours

Doesn’t include black, white and any greys

Example of the colour wheel

Munsell Colour System

The Munsell colour system was created by Albert Henry Munsell in 1800s. It is both infinite and ultimately limited by its 2-dimentionality.

Colourist Albert Munsell took 2 dimensions and turned it into 3-dimentions, by simple addition of black and white and the grey scale. Thus, turning infinite into infinitely infinite, as every colour can be made infinite due to black and white scale.

Information is taken from Defining Colour(Presentation)

The Munsell Color Order System is a three-dimensional model based on the premise that each color has three qualities or attributes: hue, value and chroma. Munsell established numerical scales with visually uniform steps for each of these attributes. In Munsell notation, each color has a logical relationship to all other colors. This leads to endless creative possibilities in color choices, as well as the ability to precisely communicate these choices.

Hue (H) is the actual “color” that follows a natural order of red (R), yellow (Y), green (G), blue (B) and purple (P); designated principle hues. Between each were intermediate hues yellow-red (YR), green-yellow (GY), bluegreen (BG), purple-blue (PB) and red-purple (RP). Arranged in an equally divided circle, these colors form the Munsell Hue Circle.

Value (V) indicates the lightness of a color. The scale of value ranges from 0 for pure black to 10 for pure white. Black, white and the grays between them are called “neutral colors.” They have no hue. Colors that have a hue are called “chromatic colors.” The value scale applies to chromatic as well as neutral colors.

Chroma (C) is the degree of departure of a color from the neutral color of the same value. Colors of low chroma are sometimes called “weak,” while those of high chroma are said to be “highly saturated,” “strong” or “vivid.” The chroma scale starts at zero, for neutral colors, but there is no arbitrary end to the scale. As new pigments have become available, Munsell color chips of higher chroma have been made for many hues and values. The chroma scale for normal reflecting materials extends beyond 20 in some cases. Fluorescent materials may have chromas as high as 30.


Tone-> black, white and grey

Saturation -> strength of the same colour

Desaturation-> taking colour out, with the use of opposite primary colours

Comparing the generic colour to Munsell’s colour system

Normal colour wheel is lying flat on the surface, when Munsell’s system allow it to rise above and below the surface.

An understanding of this opens up a world of a chiascuro – light and shade, a tonal range.

it is also helps in an understanding of venetian painting(grisaille) overtopped with glazes and washes.


Glazes – transparent layer of a colour, derived from a liquid pigment, die

Washes – this translucent layer of a colour which is derived from a solid pigment.

When mixing colours from ‘the colour wheel’ it is almost impossible to get the colour you initially indented to mix. For example, when trying to get a green, you will use red and blue, but no matter which type of red/blue you would use, you would never get the green you wanted. When compared to Munsell’s system , you will need a yellow, black and a white and the different combination of black and white allows you to get a different and rich shade of green.

Colour wheel doesn’t contain colours that can be found in Munsell’s globe.


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