Munsell Color Systems – For Industrial, Scientific + Government

UNDERSTANDING THE MUNSELL COLOR SYSTEM

How do people perceive subtle differences in color and, more importantly, how do they know they’re looking at the exact same color at any given time or place? These questions obsessed Albert H. Munsell, a man who in 1905 came to define color – literally. His enduring color theory, notation method, and namesake company’s invaluable products, live on through X-Rite Pantone today.


MUNSELL’S 3-ATTRIBUTES OF COLOR

Munsell realized he could define all colors precisely with three distinct attributes: Hue (basic color), Chroma (color intensity) and Value (lightness). He plotted these attributes in a 3-D model that was mostly spherical, but not quite.

What distinguished Munsell’s Color-Order System is that Munsell tested his color definition theory vigorously against what humans could actually see. If a color could exist, but people couldn’t see it, it had no place in a practical model.

Munsell’s insights have been used to define colors for companies, industries and governments across the globe. His system is still used to compare solids and liquids in hundreds of practical applications, from matching colors of soil samples to comparing the look of different beers – even to establishing uniform standards of golden french fries for the USDA! And, of course, even with all its technical uses, Munsell’s Color System still has wide applications to the worlds of fashion and design, ensuring people everywhere have more meaningful conversations about color up and down the production process.

MUNSELL PRODUCTS

Munsell color sample books and technical standards are essential reference tools for what Pantone calls Industrial, Scientific + Government users. With specialized charts devoted to color matching beads, creating accurate grey scales for camera calibration, setting and testing acceptable color tolerances for electrical wire coverings, and contrasting lighter pastels for cosmetics, the Munsell brand continues to be the standard for technical applications from archeology to forestry and beyond.

Munsell products also play a large role in both fashion and design. Their educational tools let anyone learning about color have a deeper understanding of how color works. Munsell products also offer easy-to-apply tests to determine a person’s color perception and acuity, essential for people who work with and evaluate color in their jobs.

MUNSELL CUSTOM COLOR CONSULTING SERVICES

Munsell Custom Color Consulting Services are offered exclusively through the Pantone Color Institute, setting custom color standards and defining acceptable tolerances for quality control in all production processes. Munsell custom color standards can match physical samples or numeric data and provide stable, reproducible tech specs – complete with Munsell System notations - for suppliers and others in need of precise color matching.

Frequently Asked Questions

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE MUNSELL COLOR SYSTEM AND PANTONE COLOR SYSTEMS?
The Munsell Color Order System is a way to define any visible color with a specific notational format that references the color’s Hue, Value, and Chroma. (See How Does Munsell Color Notation Work? FAQ Below). This same notation can be used with Munsell Color charts to aid in accurate color communication.By contrast, Pantone’s Color Systems define a large collection of proprietary colors, with specific data and formulations, communicated through our easy-to-use books and guides. Created specifically for a variety of popular design and communication uses, Pantone Colors are chosen for their market relevance, their reproducibility across platforms, and their usefulness in a wide range of design applications across industries the world over.Pantone has two Color Systems, the Pantone Matching System (PMS), used primarily in Graphic Design and Packaging, and the Fashion, Home + Interiors (FHI) System, used primarily in textiles, hard and soft home goods, metallics, pigments, and coatings. Most Pantone Colors can be used as standards to allow accurate color communication with people along every step of the creative and production process.
HOW DOES MUNSELL COLOR NOTATION WORK?
Every color can be represented using three distinct attributes: Hue (basic color), Value (lightness), and Chroma (color intensity). These numbers are written with the convention: HV/C. For example, a medium bright-red color might be written 5R 6/14, where 5R is the red Hue, 6 is its Value (on a scale of 0-10, where 0 is pure black and 10 is pure white) and 14 is the Chroma (where lower numbers are considered “weak” and higher numbers are “strong”, “vivid”, or “highly saturated”). When smaller distinctions are needed, decimals are used to further denote various attributes.
WHAT APPLICATIONS ARE MUNSELL PRODUCTS BEST KNOWN FOR AND WHAT ARE THEIR MOST POPULAR PRODUCTS?
Because Munsell Color Notation is a universal way to describe any visible color, Munsell products using the notation system have multiple uses. They are particularly common in specific Industrial, Scientific, and Governmental applications where they’ve been used historically. For industry, Munsell has electrical and cable wire color charts to ensure color coding is within strict tolerances. Munsell also provides charts for calibrating color-sensitive equipment and devices designed to measure color.For scientific, environmental, and archeological uses, Munsell has color charts to compare soil samples, plant tissue samples, rock samples, and even bead samples (to determine a bead’s likely place of origin). For governmental applications, Munsell has charts for USDA french fry color standards along with other food standards – even the approved colors of certain flags.Finally, for educational purposes, Munsell offers various color learning kits, models, and visual acuity tests to determine a person’s true color perception.
WHAT DOES THE FARNSWORTH MUNSELL HUE 100 TEST EVALUATE?
Even though Munsell charts are made for use in the field under tough conditions, that doesn’t mean they won’t fade and lose their accuracy over time. It’s also important to keep up with new governmental or industrial standards, as these can change over time as well. We recommend changing your Munsell governmental and industrial standard charts every two years, and other Munsell color references every two to four years. Always remember to store your color samples carefully in a cool, dark place.
HOW OFTEN SHOULD I CHANGE MY COLOR CHARTS AND BOOKS?
Even though Munsell charts are made for use in the field under tough conditions, that doesn’t mean they won’t fade and lose their accuracy over time. It’s also important to keep up with new governmental or industrial standards, as these can change over time as well. We recommend changing your Munsell governmental and industrial standard charts every two years, and other Munsell color references every two to four years. Always remember to store your color samples carefully in a cool, dark place.
HOW DO I FIND OUT ABOUT MUNSELL CUSTOM SOLUTIONS?
Munsell custom solutions are provided through the Pantone Color Institute (PCI) to help companies meet all their specialized color needs. We create custom colors for brands and products as unique as the brands and products themselves. We also set tolerances to define acceptable limits for color deviations during production and create durable color standards for use in harsher working environments. Our experts can further assist with standards for achieving special appearances including fluorescents, textures, pearlescents, and metallics.For more on Munsell Custom Consulting, provided through the Pantone Color Institute, click here