Munsell Color System; Color Matching from Munsell Color Company > Color Theory & History > The Munsell Color Tree

The Munsell Color Tree

Munsell Color Tree New Model

The Munsell Color Tree is a three-dimensional model that helps visually explain the Munsell color space. It features 309 colors mounted on clear panels and assembled on a base. This allows you to spin the tree and see the relationships between the colors.

How the Color Tree Works

Each color has 3 dimensions or attributes, Hue (H), Value (V) and Chroma (C). Hue is assigned a number and letter(s) which represents the color. Value and Chroma are assigned numbers. This is referred to as the Munsell notation.

For example, 5PB 5/1 would be:

  • Hue: 5 Purple-Blue
  • Value: 5
  • Chroma: 1

So why did Munsell choose a tree to represent his color space? We break down each dimension to explain how they relate visually to the tree concept.

Hue (H)

Each branch of the color tree represents a hue, the color itself:

  • Red (R)
  • Red-Purple (RP)
  • Purple (P)
  • Purple-Blue (PB)
  • Blue (B)
  • Blue-Green (BG)
  • Green (G)
  • Green-Yellow (GY)
  • Yellow (Y)
  • Yellow-Red (TR)

– making up the 10 panels on the color tree.

The Munsell color tree on the blue-green side

A Vintage Munsell Color Tree – View #1

Value (V)

The trunk of the tree represents value, the lightness or darkness of any color. Values in the Munsell color system range from 0: for pure black – at the root of the tree, to 10: pure white – at the top of the tree. As your eyes move vertically from the top to the bottom of the tree, the value goes from light to dark.

The Munsell color tree on the green side

A Vintage Munsell Color Tree – View #2

Chroma (C)

Chroma is the brightness or saturation of a color. On the color tree, the branches extend from the center out horizontally to represent the chroma scale, moving from low to high chroma. Branches on a tree are not always uniform in length, just like the colors, which have varying levels of chroma. Low chroma colors are weak, while high chroma colors are strong and more vivid. For example, 5R 5/7 is weaker than 5R 5/10. Colors move from light and lower chroma, at the top of the tree, to dark and lower chroma, at the bottom of the tree.

The Munsell color tree from the red-yellow angle

A Vintage Munsell Color Tree – View #3

Using the Color Tree as a Learning Tool

The Munsell color system comes to life with the color tree, making it easy for anyone to understand the attributes associated with color, the relationships colors have to each other and how to determine color notations.

Has the color tree helped you learn to understand and communicate color better? We would love to hear your story. Want a color tree of your own? Click here for the new edition.


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One response to “The Munsell Color Tree”

  1. The Munsell color tree was a fixture in my office the years I taught color at Ohio State. I would have the students first derive the the three attributes of color perception by comparing and contrasting color swatches until those three attributes were discovered and agreed upon. I then told them if they discovered a 4th attribute to let me know and we would publish a book and become famous.

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