When the average person thinks of color, he or she usually considers the aesthetic aspects of color such as the shade and whether it’s light or dark; or a cool or warm tone. However, A.H. Munsell saw color in terms of its relationship to other colors, which led him to develop his 3-dimensional color space concept. He described color space using objects with which most people would be familiar, such as a “color tree” to teach and communicate color with greater understanding and clarity.
Hue Dimension of Color Space
Hue represents the color itself—red, yellow, blue, etc. The hue aspect of color space dates back as far as Sir Isaac Newton in 1704 with the hue circle. If you were to take the visible spectrum—red, orange, yellow, blue, indigo and violet—and place each color in a circle, you would have a close replica of the Munsell Hue Circle, which doesn’t include orange. In Munsell’s color tree, each hue represents a branch of the color tree. After you’ve established the hue dimension of color space, then you can describe the value and chroma dimensions of color space.
Value Dimension of Color Space
Value is the one dimension of color space that can stand alone. Value represents the lightness or darkness of a given hue. In Munsell’s color system, value ranges from 0 for pure black to 10 for pure white. In the absence of hue you would simply have black, white or shades of gray. . . 37 shades of gray to be exact. The Munsell Color System includes 37 steps in its Neutral Value Scale, an independent set of color standards based on the neutral axis of Munsell’s Color Order System. The neutral value scale represents the trunk of the color tree with white at the top and black at the roots.
Chroma Dimension of Color Space
Chroma is often described as the brightness or saturation of color. Chroma is the least uniform dimension of color space, because not all colors can achieve the same level of chroma. For example a highly saturated red can have a chroma that exceeds 20, while a green may only reach a chroma of 12-14. Remember, Munsell’s system was based on visual perception of color and was created with paint, so the chroma limits of various pigments used to create each hue will limit the overall chroma. Use the chroma dimension of color space in relation to value because as you approach the black or white poles of the neutral value scale, chroma is limited, hence the color tree concept where the branches taper at the upper and lower sections of the tree and are widest at the center. In Munsell’s color tree, numerous branches of varying lengths represent chroma with lighter and lower chroma colors as the upper tree branches and darker lower chroma colors as the bottom branches . . . excluding the conical evergreens, of course! Learn more about Munsell Color Space.