The ISCC-NBS Colour System

by Paul Centore

(launched May 5, 2016)



ISCC-NBS Level 3 Name sRGB ISCC-NBS Level 3 Name sRGB ISCC-NBS Level 3 Name sRGB ISCC-NBS Level 3 Name sRGB
 Vivid pink  253, 121, 146  68   Strong orange yellow  240, 161, 33  135   Light yellowish green  156, 198, 156  202   Very pale purplish blue  197, 201, 240 
 Strong pink  244, 143, 160  69   Deep orange yellow  208, 133, 17  136   Moderate yellowish green  102, 144, 105  203   Pale purplish blue  142, 146, 183 
 Deep pink  230, 105, 128  70   Light orange yellow  252, 194, 124  137   Dark yellowish green  47, 93, 58  204   Grayish purplish blue  73, 77, 113 
 Light pink  248, 195, 206  71   Moderate orange yellow  231, 167, 93  138   Very dark yellowish green  16, 54, 26  205   Vivid violet  121, 49, 211 
 Moderate pink  226, 163, 174  72   Dark orange yellow  195, 134, 57  139   Vivid green  35, 234, 165  206   Brilliant violet  152, 127, 220 
 Dark pink  197, 128, 138  73   Pale orange yellow  238, 198, 166  140   Brilliant green  73, 208, 163  207   Strong violet  97, 65, 156 
 Pale pink  239, 209, 220  74   Strong yellowish brown  158, 103, 29  141   Strong green  21, 138, 102  208   Deep violet  60, 22, 104 
 Grayish pink  203, 173, 183  75   Deep yellowish brown  103, 63, 11  142   Deep green  NaN, NaN, NaN  209   Very light violet  201, 186, 248 
 Pinkish white  239, 221, 229  76   Light yellowish brown  196, 154, 116  143   Very light green  166, 226, 202  210   Light violet  155, 140, 202 
10   Pinkish gray  199, 182, 189  77   Moderate yellowish brown  136, 102, 72  144   Light green  111, 172, 149  211   Moderate violet  92, 73, 133 
11   Vivid red  213, 28, 60  78   Dark yellowish brown  80, 52, 26  145   Moderate green  51, 119, 98  212   Dark violet  52, 37, 77 
12   Strong red  191, 52, 75  79   Light grayish yellowish brown  180, 155, 141  146   Dark green  22, 78, 61  213   Very pale violet  208, 198, 239 
13   Deep red  135, 18, 45  80   Grayish yellowish brown  126, 105, 93  147   Very dark green  12, 46, 36  214   Pale violet  154, 144, 181 
14   Very deep red  92, 6, 37  81   Dark grayish yellowish brown  77, 61, 51  148   Very pale green  199, 217, 214  215   Grayish violet  88, 78, 114 
15   Moderate red  177, 73, 85  82   Vivid yellow  241, 191, 21  149   Pale green  148, 166, 163  216   Vivid purple  185, 53, 213 
16   Dark red  116, 36, 52  83   Brilliant yellow  247, 206, 80  150   Grayish green  97, 113, 110  217   Brilliant purple  206, 140, 227 
17   Very dark red  72, 17, 39  84   Strong yellow  217, 174, 47  151   Dark grayish green  57, 71, 70  218   Strong purple  147, 82, 168 
18   Light grayish red  180, 136, 141  85   Deep yellow  184, 143, 22  152   Blackish green  31, 42, 42  219   Deep purple  101, 34, 119 
19   Grayish red  152, 93, 98  86   Light yellow  244, 210, 132  153   Greenish white  224, 226, 229  220   Very deep purple  70, 10, 85 
20   Dark grayish red  83, 56, 62  87   Moderate yellow  210, 175, 99  154   Light greenish gray  186, 190, 193  221   Very light purple  228, 185, 243 
21   Blackish red  51, 33, 39  88   Dark yellow  176, 143, 66  155   Greenish gray  132, 136, 136  222   Light purple  188, 147, 204 
22   Reddish gray  146, 129, 134  89   Pale yellow  239, 215, 178  156   Dark greenish gray  84, 88, 88  223   Moderate purple  135, 94, 150 
23   Dark reddish gray  93, 78, 83  90   Grayish yellow  200, 177, 139  157   Greenish black  33, 38, 38  224   Dark purple  86, 55, 98 
24   Reddish black  48, 38, 43  91   Dark grayish yellow  169, 144, 102  158   Vivid bluish green  19, 252, 213  225   Very dark purple  55, 27, 65 
25   Vivid yellowish pink  253, 126, 93  92   Yellowish white  238, 223, 218  159   Brilliant bluish green  53, 215, 206  226   Very pale purple  224, 203, 235 
26   Strong yellowish pink  245, 144, 128  93   Yellowish gray  198, 185, 177  160   Strong bluish green  13, 143, 130  227   Pale purple  173, 151, 179 
27   Deep yellowish pink  239, 99, 102  94   Light olive brown  153, 119, 54  161   Deep bluish green  NaN, NaN, NaN  228   Grayish purple  123, 102, 126 
28   Light yellowish pink  248, 196, 182  95   Moderate olive brown  112, 84, 32  162   Very light bluish green  152, 225, 224  229   Dark grayish purple  81, 63, 81 
29   Moderate yellowish pink  226, 166, 152  96   Dark olive brown  63, 44, 16  163   Light bluish green  95, 171, 171  230   Blackish purple  47, 34, 49 
30   Dark yellowish pink  201, 128, 126  97   Vivid greenish yellow  235, 221, 33  164   Moderate bluish green  41, 122, 123  231   Purplish white  235, 223, 239 
31   Pale yellowish pink  241, 211, 209  98   Brilliant greenish yellow  233, 220, 85  165   Dark bluish green  21, 75, 77  232   Light purplish gray  195, 183, 198 
32   Grayish yellowish pink  203, 172, 172  99   Strong greenish yellow  196, 184, 39  166   Very dark bluish green  10, 45, 46  233   Purplish gray  143, 132, 144 
33   Brownish pink  203, 175, 167  100   Deep greenish yellow  162, 152, 18  167   Vivid greenish blue  NaN, NaN, NaN  234   Dark purplish gray  92, 82, 94 
34   Vivid reddish orange  232, 59, 27  101   Light greenish yellow  233, 221, 138  168   Brilliant greenish blue  45, 188, 226  235   Purplish black  43, 38, 48 
35   Strong reddish orange  219, 93, 59  102   Moderate greenish yellow  192, 181, 94  169   Strong greenish blue  19, 133, 175  236   Vivid reddish purple  212, 41, 185 
36   Deep reddish orange  175, 51, 24  103   Dark greenish yellow  158, 149, 60  170   Deep greenish blue  NaN, NaN, NaN  237   Strong reddish purple  167, 73, 148 
37   Moderate reddish orange  205, 105, 82  104   Pale greenish yellow  230, 220, 171  171   Very light greenish blue  148, 214, 239  238   Deep reddish purple  118, 26, 106 
38   Dark reddish orange  162, 64, 43  105   Grayish greenish yellow  190, 181, 132  172   Light greenish blue  101, 168, 195  239   Very deep reddish purple  79, 9, 74 
39   Grayish reddish orange  185, 117, 101  106   Light olive  139, 125, 46  173   Moderate greenish blue  42, 118, 145  240   Light reddish purple  189, 128, 174 
40   Strong reddish brown  139, 28, 14  107   Moderate olive  100, 89, 26  174   Dark greenish blue  19, 74, 96  241   Moderate reddish purple  150, 88, 136 
41   Deep reddish brown  97, 15, 18  108   Dark olive  53, 46, 10  175   Very dark greenish blue  11, 44, 59  242   Dark reddish purple  95, 52, 88 
42   Light reddish brown  172, 122, 115  109   Light grayish olive  142, 133, 111  176   Vivid blue  27, 92, 215  243   Very dark reddish purple  63, 24, 60 
43   Moderate reddish brown  125, 66, 59  110   Grayish olive  93, 85, 63  177   Brilliant blue  65, 157, 237  244   Pale reddish purple  173, 137, 165 
44   Dark reddish brown  70, 29, 30  111   Dark grayish olive  53, 48, 28  178   Strong blue  39, 108, 189  245   Grayish reddish purple  134, 98, 126 
45   Light grayish reddish brown  158, 127, 122  112   Light olive gray  143, 135, 127  179   Deep blue  17, 48, 116  246   Brilliant purplish pink  252, 161, 231 
46   Grayish reddish brown  108, 77, 75  113   Olive gray  88, 81, 74  180   Very light blue  153, 198, 249  247   Strong purplish pink  244, 131, 205 
47   Dark grayish reddish brown  67, 41, 42  114   Olive black  35, 33, 28  181   Light blue  115, 164, 220  248   Deep purplish pink  223, 106, 172 
48   Vivid orange  247, 118, 11  115   Vivid yellow green  167, 220, 38  182   Moderate blue  52, 104, 158  249   Light purplish pink  245, 178, 219 
49   Brilliant orange  NaN, NaN, NaN  116   Brilliant yellow green  195, 223, 105  183   Dark blue  23, 52, 89  250   Moderate purplish pink  222, 152, 191 
50   Strong orange  234, 129, 39  117   Strong yellow green  130, 161, 43  184   Very pale blue  194, 210, 236  251   Dark purplish pink  198, 125, 157 
51   Deep orange  194, 96, 18  118   Deep yellow green  72, 108, 14  185   Pale blue  145, 162, 187  252   Pale purplish pink  235, 200, 223 
52   Light orange  251, 175, 130  119   Light yellow green  206, 219, 159  186   Grayish blue  84, 104, 127  253   Grayish purplish pink  199, 163, 185 
53   Moderate orange  222, 141, 92  120   Moderate yellow green  139, 154, 95  187   Dark grayish blue  50, 63, 78  254   Vivid purplish red  221, 35, 136 
54   Brownish orange  178, 102, 51  121   Pale yellow green  215, 215, 193  188   Blackish blue  30, 37, 49  255   Strong purplish red  184, 55, 115 
55   Strong brown  138, 68, 22  122   Grayish yellow green  151, 154, 133  189   Bluish white  225, 225, 241  256   Deep purplish red  136, 16, 85 
56   Deep brown  87, 26, 7  123   Strong olive green  44, 85, 6  190   Light bluish gray  183, 184, 198  257   Very deep purplish red  84, 6, 60 
57   Light brown  173, 124, 99  124   Deep olive green  NaN, NaN, NaN  191   Bluish gray  131, 135, 147  258   Moderate purplish red  171, 75, 116 
58   Moderate brown  114, 74, 56  125   Moderate olive green  73, 91, 34  192   Dark bluish gray  80, 84, 95  259   Dark purplish red  110, 41, 76 
59   Dark brown  68, 33, 18  126   Dark olive green  32, 52, 11  193   Bluish black  36, 39, 46  260   Very dark purplish red  67, 20, 50 
60   Light grayish brown  153, 127, 117  127   Grayish olive green  84, 89, 71  194   Vivid purplish blue  68, 54, 209  261   Light grayish purplish red  178, 135, 155 
61   Grayish brown  103, 79, 72  128   Dark grayish olive green  47, 51, 38  195   Brilliant purplish blue  128, 136, 226  262   Grayish purplish red  148, 92, 115 
62   Dark grayish brown  62, 44, 40  129   Vivid yellowish green  63, 215, 64  196   Strong purplish blue  83, 89, 181  263   White  231, 225, 233 
63   Light brownish gray  146, 130, 129  130   Brilliant yellowish green  135, 217, 137  197   Deep purplish blue  42, 40, 111  264   Light gray  189, 183, 191 
64   Brownish gray  96, 82, 81  131   Strong yellowish green  57, 150, 74  198   Very light purplish blue  183, 192, 248  265   Medium gray  138, 132, 137 
65   Brownish black  43, 33, 30  132   Deep yellowish green  23, 106, 30  199   Light purplish blue  137, 145, 203  266   Dark gray  88, 84, 88 
66   Vivid orange yellow  NaN, NaN, NaN  133   Very deep yellowish green  5, 66, 8  200   Moderate purplish blue  77, 78, 135  267   Black  43, 41, 43 
67   Brilliant orange yellow  255, 190, 80  134   Very light yellowish green  197, 237, 196  201   Dark purplish blue  34, 34, 72 


In 1955, the Inter-Society Color Council and the National Bureau of Standards (NBS, now NIST) jointly developed the ISCC-NBS colour system. The system was designed to describe colours in non-technical, everyday terms that anybody could understand. Rather than specifying an exact colour, many common colour descriptions, such as pale blue, could apply to a variety of easily distinguishable colours. The ISCC-NBS system formally defines such descriptions, calling them names, designators, or categories. Each name consists of a common term like orange, brown, or gray, preceded by one or more modifiers such as pale, greenish, or very deep. One example is the name very dark reddish purple. In the ISCC-NBS system, the set of all the colours that a category could refer to is called a block, and is defined as a subset of the Munsell System.

Some names, like light purplish pink, refer to a narrow range of colours, while other names, like red, refer to a very broad range. The ISCC-NBS system recognizes this common usage by distinguishing three levels of precision. Each level consists of a list of colour names, or colour categories, each of which refers to a specific block. As the level of precision increases, the blocks get smaller. Level 1 is the simplest and most approximate level. It contains the following 13 names:

  1. Pink
  2. Red
  3. Orange
  4. Brown
  5. Yellow
  6. Olive
  7. Yellow green
  8. Green
  9. Blue
  10. Purple
  11. White
  12. Gray
  13. Black

Each of these 13 categories covers a plethora of colours; for instance, an apple and a cardinal would both be described as red at Level 1, even though their reds are distinct. Level 2 contains 29 names, allowing finer descriptions than Level 1:

  1. Pink
  2. Red
  3. Yellowish pink
  4. Reddish orange
  5. Reddish brown
  6. Orange
  7. Brown
  8. Orange yellow
  9. Yellowish brown      
  10. Yellow
  1. Olive brown
  2. Greenish yellow      
  3. Olive
  4. Yellow green
  5. Olive green
  6. Yellowish green
  7. Green
  8. Bluish green
  9. Greenish blue
  10. Blue
  1. Purplish blue
  2. Violet
  3. Purple
  4. Reddish purple
  5. Purplish pink
  6. Purplish red
  7. White
  8. Gray
  9. Black
Level 3 is the finest level of the ISCC-NBS system, and contains 267 names. Each Level 3 category is formed by subdividing a Level 2 category, using modifiers such as ``light'' or ``grayish.'' For instance, Level 2 Pink is subdivided into ten Level 3 categories: Vivid pink, Strong pink, Deep pink, Light pink, Moderate pink, Dark pink, Pale pink, Grayish pink, Pinkish white, and Pinkish gray.

The three ISCC-NBS levels refer to the precision of a colour description. A colour can be described at all three levels simultaneously, depending on the degree of accuracy required. For instance, the artist's pigment burnt sienna would be described at Level 3 as moderate reddish brown, but at Level 2 it would be described as reddish brown, and at Level 1 just as brown. The Level 1 category of brown contains many browns that are definitely not burnt sienna, such as tans, or yellow ochers. The Level 2 category of reddish brown is a subset of Level 1 brown, and contains no tans or yellow ochers. The Level 3 category of moderate reddish brown is even more descriptive, indicating that a red component is noticeable but not very strong. Artists and designers move naturally between the levels, sometimes lumping burnt sienna with browns in general (Level 1), and other times focusing not just on its brownness, but also on its reddish shade (Level 2 or 3).

Applications require a convenient way of visualizing the ISCC-NBS system. Each category refers to a subset of the Munsell System, and covers some range of hues, values, and chromas. Representing the entire category would require a three-dimensional block of colours. A simpler representation, however, that is helpful for practical purposes, just uses a colour near the center of that block, to stand in for the entire block. Such central colours have been found in terms of Munsell coordinates.

While Munsell coordinates work well for printed applications, representative colours are also needed for digital applications, such as displaying colours on a computer monitor. The standard red-green-blue (sRGB) system defines the colours that are produced by specifying a monitor's output in terms of red, green and blue values. The sRGB standard is widely recognized, though not often adhered to. True sRGB compliance would require both that a monitor's phosphors meet the standard, and that the monitor has been colour-calibrated. In addition, the ambient lighting in which the monitor is viewed should be controlled. The table at the top of the page shows sRGB representatives for the Level 3 ISCC-NBS categories, under the assumption that a monitor is viewed in indirect daylight. Seven of the 267 categories are outside the sRGB gamut, so they cannot be displayed on a monitor; they are indicated by NaN (not a number). Details of the sRGB calculations can be found in the paper sRGB Centroids for the ISCC-NBS Colour System; a downloadable text file listing the sRGBs is also available.



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A Munsell-Accurate Value Scale
Colour Analysis of Pastels
The ISCC-NBS Colour System