A Munsell-Accurate Value Scale

(last updated December 24, 2016)

Artists and designers can use this value scale:

Value Scale

available on Amazon, to assess how light or dark a colour is, or to mix colours of a desired value. The scale can be laid directly over a printout or painting:

Value Scale over Portrait

When a colour has the same value as a particular square, then the visual difference between the square and the colour, seen through the hole in that square, will be minimal; the eye might sense the colour change as a "vibration." If the colour has a different value, then it will appear noticeably lighter or darker. The red in the cheek at value N5.0, for example, has value nearly N5.0, and almost seems to disappear when viewed through the hole in the N5.0 square. The shadow colour in the neck, on the other hand, is definitely darker than the surrounding square of value N7.5.

Mixing a colour of the correct value can be tricky, especially because values are judged in terms of surrounding values. In a typical case, an artist might start a portrait on a blank white canvas. The value of Caucasion skin is about N7.0, so it should be painted at about this value when seen in light. The correct colour will appear too dark against a white canvas (whose value is probably about N9.8), but will appear correct when the rest of the canvas is painted. In this case, an artist can use the value scale to mix a flesh tone of value N7.0, rather than try to judge the value against a white background. Similarly, a moderately dark shadow tone for skin might have value N4.0, while a very dark tone might have value N2.0. Colours of these values can be pre-mixed with the value scale.

The following figure shows how to find the value of a paint mixture:

Finding the Value of a Colour

A fleck of paint, in this case a cadmium red, can be applied directly to the value scale, which is laminated. When the paint is applied to a square of the same value, in this case N4.5, it will appear to vibrate, or to produce a minimum of contrast. Once the value has been determined, the paint can be wiped off with a rag:

Wiping off the Value Scale

This value scale is available on Amazon, for less than $10. It should be a handy tool for any artist's studio or designer's workshop.

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