Color Order Systems are Like. . .

Navigating color displays in a paint store, paint fandecks and color order systems is like just about everything in life – you have to learn how to use them.


Many people start the color scheming process with unrealistic expectations.  Expectations that a flair for color will kick in making it a quick task.  Expectations that the paint store staff will have magic wands or at least offer color guidance.  Expectations that the store’s color tools in the form of displays, fandecks and the like will be easy to just pick up and use as if they were toys instead of the tools that they are.  Expectations that past experience with color in genres like fine arts or design have prepared you to jump right in and know the color order systems that industries of all kinds, not just paint, rely on for production.

Walking into a paint store and innately, intuitively knowing what to do and how to find the color(s) you’re looking for is a ludicrous expectation. I equate it to knowing your way around a car.

When I got my first car, day one, my Dad taught me the basics including how to change a tire. I knew absolutely nothing about cars – how would I, why would I? Someone had to teach me about my new car and show me how to do basic stuff. His best tips: a) have the right tools plus a plastic container with lid for the lug nuts. (Fishing for lug nuts that rolled off into the grass makes an already bad situation worse.) b) Always loosen lug nuts before jacking up the car because you’ll never get them loose suspended in the air.

changing a tire

Managing color systems, paint store color displays, fandecks – color tools in general – is the same. It’s not child’s play. You have to have the right tools and someone with wisdom and knowledge show you how they work.

The right tools, like color system notations including LRV, and the right know-how makes all the difference in the world.  So, I’m going to teach you just one core basic of color order systems right now. This is a Munsell color notation 10B 3/6.  You can see the swatch and the color plotted below.


Notations from color order systems have nothing to do with mixing colors. Notations should not be confused with formulas. Nor should notations be confused with cataloged ink systems like Pantone. Many don’t realize that Pantone is just a coded catalog of ink colors.

That’s what notations are not. Here’s what they are. Color order system notations, like this example from Munsell, are a qualified standard used to communicate color.  Notations are like a bio for each color.  Read the notation and you know the color.

color notation-bios

Related Blog Posts:

  1. Bringing Perspective to Undertones
  2. Learn How to Use a Paint Color Order System Now
  3. How To Master Overtones
  4. Etymology of the Term Overtone
  5. Color Overtones Review

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