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Munsell humor

Thursday: February 7, 2013

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A friend passed this on to me:

Fifty shades of brown!

In archaeology, the Munsell Soil Color Book is used to determine the color of soils (among other things). This helps establish where features are present, in a way that can be written of so that readers familiar with the system can visualize what was observed at a site. Ergo, it is a systematic way of recording soil color – much better than simply saying “reddish brown” for instance. One person’s reddish brown may be another’s brownish red. Or red. Or brown. Or even yellow. (I have a color blind friend and these conversations are always fun.) Munsell turns the world of colors into choices such as 10YR5/3. While that may be like a foreign language to you, it simply means brown. This particular example has a hue 10, value 5, and chroma 3. You can read more about the system at the USDA National Resources Conservation Services page.

Albert Munsell, its developer, was a revolutionary for his time in regards to color classification. Pretty cool, in my opinion. My personal take on the Munsell color system, however, is two fold. First, I fully stand behind a way to standardize the recording of color. Second, I think that my detail-oriented vision makes it near impossible to ever feel truly confident that I am selecting the right color. Usually a few hue/value/chromas fall into the same color category so this is not an issue; but even so, I like to be confident of my choices. It is my main frustration with rock and mineral identification – the colors always throw me.

Delving into this topic a little, I came across this test from X-Rite to evaluate how well you see color. I scored an 8 (zero is optimal). I actually expected a perfect score; I shall blame my monitor.

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