Chroma – Explained in Plain English with Case Studies

Munsell 3 dimensional color space


The definition of Chroma can get kinda complicated. Especially when it involves differentiating Chroma from Saturation. Because they are different – altho both terms speak to a scale of vivid color to true neutral.

You can only determine Chroma by comparing a color to a neutral color that has the same value and other colors. In other words, Chroma needs friends and family in order to have meaning.

See the pink arrow under the word “Chroma” in the graphic that runs along a string of blue squares?

Now, at the beginning of the pink arrow do you see the gray chip that’s on the value pole in the middle?

To determine the Chroma for all the blue squares in that string, you have to compare them to that neutral gray chip on the value pole.

You do that for each row of colors – you compare each color to the neutral on the Value pole that they line up with -AND- the colors are ordered in perceptually uniform steps. There is no limit on how high Chroma can go. Here’s a graphic that illustrates what I’m talking about.

Definition of Chroma

Which means most of the time you are comparing a color to a neutral gray to determine its Chroma.

However, if you’re up at the lighter end of the Value pole where it starts to turn white, then you are comparing colors to neutral whites to determine Chroma.

As “colors” get less chromatic, they get closer to a true neutral gray.

As “colors of white” get less chromatic, they get closer to a true neutral white.


In this case study, you will want to focus on two parts of the Colorographies:

1. Hue
2. Chroma

When we look at Hue, we can see that all three colors belong to the Purple-Blue (PB) hue family.

When we study their Chroma, we can see that Hale Navy has the lowest Chroma value, 1.51.

Naval has a Chroma of 2.

Admiral Blue has the most Chroma of the three coming in at 4.26.

Chroma Hale Navy Case Study
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The Chroma scale draws a picture of Chroma for you so the differences are easy to see at-a-glance and understand quickly.


What the numbers indicate and what the scale illustrates is how strong and colorful these purple-blues are -or- how weak and closer to a true neutral gray they are.

Again referencing the Colorographies, you can see that Hale Navy is the weakest, it’s closer to a true neutral gray of the same intensity.

Admiral is the strongest and most colorful. It’s farther away from 0 true neutral gray.

Naval is in the middle in terms of strong or weak compared to the other two.

Just by glancing at the Chroma number and Chroma scale you can determine if a color is strong, colorful, clean, clear, vivid -or- weak, near neutral, dirty, muddy, or dull.

Ready for another case study? Let’s use a range of whites this time.


Extra White Snowfall Moderne Chroma Case Study

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Let’s compare Chroma values for these three colors.

You can see that small increments in Chromaticity can make a big difference.

All three of these whites belong to the same hue family, they’re organized in the Munsell Color System in the same hue family neighborhood.

They’re similar in Value; except Snowfall White is a lighter, brighter color by just a little bit.

Again, small incremental differences can mean a lot.


Wondering how this applies to specifying paint colors?

Well, there’s a lot you can do with it but let’s talk about one example.

Let’s say we’re looking for a wall color and a white to go with it for the trim, doors, cabinets.

I have a rule-of-thumb for Chroma. I like to see a difference of about 0.20 (ish) between white trim color and the wall color.

Let me explain.

If you want the white trim color to look white, bright, crisp and clean, then you always want your trim color to have LESS Chroma than the wall color – by about 0.20 (ish).

Or we can look at it the other way.

Your wall color needs to have MORE Chroma than the trim.

If you follow that rule of thumb, then your white trim color won’t end up looking dingy next to the wall color.

Have you figured out why it works that way?

It’s because the trim color with LESS Chroma is closer to a true neutral white than the wall color.

The wall color has more Chroma or colorfulness and the white trim color is literally more neutral; which means it’s going to look crisper and cleaner.

So in the case of these three colors, Extra White is a better choice for the trim with Moderne Gray walls because it meets my Chroma difference rule of thumb.

However, Snowfall *could* also work even though it doesn’t quite meet my 0.20 rule of thumb; it would be worth taking a look at in the space to see what it looks like.

Snowfall would be a good option for the ceiling if you didn’t want to use Moderne Gray on the ceiling too.

Extra White trim, Moderne Gray walls and a Snowfall ceiling is what I’d recommend first.


Are you familiar with LRV, Light Reflectance Value? (LRV scales are included in Colorographies too)

If you are, then this Chroma scale that we’re discussing should remind you of LRV.

Because fundamentally they both work the same way.

LRV for Paint Colors Scale Light Reflectance Value

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Just like LRV, Chroma is an attribute of color that we can measure and illustrate on a scale.

Difference is the LRV scale tells you how much light a color reflects and conversely absorbs and the Chroma scale tells you how strong, colorful and clean -or- weak, neutral and muddied a color looks.

It’s that simple, Chroma tells you how strong and colorful -or- weak and muddied a color will look.

Munsell Chroma Steps
 Wave PURITY determines Chroma | Click/Tap to View Larger Image

You don’t have to shuffle samples or chips to see which color is stronger/cleaner or weaker/muddier.

You don’t have to guess or struggle or worry that your “eye for color” isn’t skilled enough.

You can just reference the Chroma value on the Colorography.

Want to know the best part?

As you get more experience working with Chroma values, you organically develop more skill recognizing Chroma differences.

It becomes a reflex.

Consider it on-the-job training for your eyeballs.

Pretty freaking cool isn’t it!?

Where to Find Chroma for Paint Colors?

Because understanding Chroma for paint colors is so powerful, I made it easy to find in The Paint Color DNA Table.

Paint Color DNA Table

It has Chroma values for all major brands including brands that are typically hard to find any information about like Farrow & Ball and Magnolia Home.

It’s a free resource and, frankly, the very best color tool you can find.

It’s the best because you can use the filters at the top of the table to search, sort and save paint colors by Chroma — as well as hue angle, hue family, value and LRV.

Paint manufacturers do not provide hue, value, chroma notations for their paint colors. The Land of Color is the only resource for this information and this kind of color tool.

That’s one of the reasons I also created The Colorography Lab. You can find Chroma values for the most popular colors from all major brands in the Colorographies posted there too. Click to check it out.

But there’s more! In The Four Pillars of Color course I teach you everything you need to know about how to get Chroma values for anything you want – paint, finishes, exterior materials, etc.

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