Color Theory 101

Thinking about incorporating colors or even trying to talk about colors can be scary! Thankfully, even just having a basic understanding of color structure can go a long way to build confidence.  

The current color theory that is most widely used, including by Pantone, is the Munsell Color System. It is a 3-D system beloved precisely because it is built on intuitive concepts of Hue, Value and Chroma and is relatively easy to reproduce exactly in a physical space. 


Hue refers to 2 things.

First, It is the our usual understanding color as the general color term such as red or orange. Many specific variations can and will be described as red, which means that those color variations fall in the red color family. The interactions between these color families can be used to reliably make certain color families resulting in primary, secondary and tertiary colors.

Second, it refers to the sliding scale of warm to cool with neutral in the middle. Warm color means that the color is yellow-based and conversely, cool color mean that it is blue-based. Complete neutral color are very uncommon. Most colors will either lean warm or cool to create warm-neutral or cool-neutral.

The second image shows cools colors on the top row and warm colors on the bottom row.


Value or lightness refers to if a color is light or dark. Easiest way to think of this is think, “Is this color close to white or black?” On a similar note, just simply add white to lighten a color or add black to darken a color.

If you find yourself having a hard time “seeing” value changes, simply turn the image Black&White. All the colors morph to give you value only.


Chroma or saturation refers to if a color is bright and vivid or dull and soft.

It can be easily confused with Value but pay attention! Chroma shouldn’t affect black-to-white scale! ⚠️

When you turn differing chroma colors to Black&White, it stays uniform gray.

It’s easiest to think of high chroma as a new, fresh rug and low chroma as a rug that has a lot of dust built up and sorely needs a good vacuuming. 😉

Personal Color Season

An understanding of these three dimensions of colors will help you immensely in understanding Personal Color Seasons as each season is defined precisely by these three building blocks. 

By Michelle Boni
Written on September 2, 2020
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Orlando, FL

Moon Over Star is a personal color analysis studio dedicated to your self-image journey. Michelle MacIsaac offers color analysis services in Orlando and to clients worldwide, so you can finally show up to life and achieve your aspirations with confidence and joy.

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