At the heart of the NBS/ISCC system is a standardized set of color terms. The color space is sliced into fifteen hues such as "yellow", "greenish yellow", "yellowish green", and so forth. Within each slice, degrees of saturation and brightness are specified by modifiers such as "vivid", "dark", and "pale".
For example, here is the complete set of modifiers for the hue "purple". The color terms in this hue are "vivid purple", "dark purple", "light purplish gray", and so forth.
light -ish gray
pale, light grayish
dark -ish gray
The reference colors of the standardized language are called centroid colors. Because of non-linearities in our visual apparatus and irregularities in our natural-language system of color names, not every hue has the full complement of modifiers. There are in fact only 267 centroid colors. That is a good practical number, small enough to be easily learned but large enough to make the distinctions needed for many applications.
Armed with the standardized language of color, the researchers at the National Bureau of Standards reviewed a number of color atlases and mapped their names onto the centroids. The result is a fascinating dictionary of color terms.
Ever wondered exactly what color London Fog was? Celestial yellow? Rembrandt's Madder? Ever needed a poetic name for a particular color? The dictionary of color terms is the place to go.
Each of the letters in the table below will bring up the list of color terms that start with it. Each such term is followed by the numbers of the centroid colors that have been assigned to it by one color atlas or another. Each number is linked to the full name and definition of the centroid.
I find color calibration on computers to be quite problematic - I follow the formulas, but
the results never look right. My Macintosh program
displays the entire set of centroid colors as faithfully as I know how - I
translated the Munsell values to CIE XYZ values and then to
QuickDraw RGB values.
Mundie, David A. The NBS/ISCC Color System / David A. Mundie Pittsburgh, PA : Polymath Systems 1995 535.6 dc-20 [MARC]