Munsell v. The Color Orange

Munsell’s Color Order System. from color blog.  accessed 3-22-2013

Munsell’s Color Order System. from color blog. accessed 3-22-2013

First developed at the turn of the 20th century, Munsell color tools are used for producing physical color standards across a wide range of industries and disciplines to communicate color easily and accurately.  Often Preservationist and Conservators use the Munsell Color System when attempting to document historic finish colors.  These scientifically accurate color chips can used to obtain chemically specific color reproductions when compared with micrographs of paint layers cross-section.  Even having used this system for years I had been oblivious that the electromagnetic spectrum color “Orange” is identified as “YR” or “Yellow Red” as a pigment in the Munsell color chart until I read this article on the Munsell Color Blog.  According to the post, after the system was established this debate created hue and cry with some scholars. :)  The Munsell color blog has lots of great posts that are worth checking out.

Categories: Asides, Historic Preservation

5 replies

    • According to the Munsell blog post, Henry T. Bailey claimed Munsell was manipulating the hue circle to achieve balance by eliminating the color orange. Munsell proved his theory showing that it is the character of the measured pigments and the way our eyes perceive color that have determined the balance. Bailey conceded, but agreed to disagree with Munsell on psychological grounds.

      This determined balance standard is why Munsell colors are great for identifying a color match.


  1. In preservation it is important to correctly match the Munsell colors to formulas in a paint store. Sherwin Williams, for example, and most paint contractors don’t know anything about Munsell. There is some trial and error matching the Munsell chip to the dried, formulated paint at the store.

    Pics of paint and paint analysis at Lakeport:


    • Thank you for sharing the paint analysis from Lakeport Plantation. This is a good example matching the color chips to Munsell colors for achieving a color match for new paint.

      I am always amazed when professionals have not heard of or have difficulty using the Munsell Color System, since it has been used across many disciplines and industries for decades. Its understandable that a paint supplier would refrain from informing their employees of Munsell as they have their own paint samples they want to push. Munsell is a great way to provide suppliers a color sample and allow any manufacture equal opportunity to provide the coating.

      Great report, thanks for sharing!


      • Our historic paint consultant always warns me that a paint store formula may not be consistent from year to year as the store tweaks their own base formulas. But once you get a formula, save it as a place to start for a close match to the Munsell chip. And it’s a good idea to talk to someone who knows historic paint.


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