Re: CNS colors

David Perrell (
Tue, 06 Feb 1996 13:51:05 -0800

At 11:48 AM 2/2/96 +0100, Hakon Lie wrote:
>Chris Lilley has brought to attention a color naming scheme that fits
>neatly into CSS. CNS is described in [1]. The basic components of CNS
> hues: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, brown, white, gray, black
> saturation: grayish, moderate, strong, vivid (vivid is default)
> lightness: very dark, dark, medium, light, very light (medium is default)

Hello. I'm a graphic designer of 23 years and a programmer of 12, and I think CNS is a bad idea.

Obviously CNS (which I'd never heard of before) is a subset of the HSB (hue-saturation-brightness) color model, widely used and intuitive. HSB is typically represented as a color wheel, with hue corresponding to the angular position on the wheel (w/red @ 0) and saturation corresponding to distance from the center. The center represents brightness, and can vary from black to white. Most image-editing programs allow picking colors from a graphical representation of the HSB model.

Most HTML markup will soon be performed within an editing program, where instant visual feedback of color choices will be the norm. Being forced to choose from an arbitrary set of 627 colors is an unnecessary constraint. The Pantone matching system includes over 800 spot color inks, the TOYO system (also based on HSB) over 1000, yet I have occasionally had to specify custom ink formulations to produce a non-standard color. How would I do this with the CNS system? For CMYK printing, millions of color mixtures can be specified, and millions of distinct colors can be produced on a good monitor.

Not all cultures put the same stress on the same colors as we do, and "blue" may not mean the same thing to two different people. To base a color model on the basic set of crayons used by euro-cultured children seems short-sighted. I strongly believe we need a numerical color representation, and we should stick with color models currently in use, particulary RGB and HSB and possibly LAB (a CIE-standard color model based on human perception of color and widely used in the broadcast industry) and CMYK (standard for the print industry).

If the CNS scheme is specified, it should be as an optional subset to a complete numerical representation of HSB.

David Perrell

[1] T Berk, L Brownston, A Kaufman: A New Color-Naming System for
Graphis Languages, IEE CG&A, May 1982

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