Four gahnite single crystals with variable colors from pale blue to green have been studied by a multi-analytical approach with the aim to evaluate existing assignments of optical absorption bands. Combined information from electron microprobe analyses, Mössbauer spectroscopy, IR-spectroscopy, single-crystal X-ray structure refinements, and optical absorption spectroscopy confirms the conclusions of earlier studies that the absorption bands recorded in the visible spectral region up to ~540 nm (above ~18 500 cm−1) are related to electronic d-d transitions in tetrahedrally coordinated Fe2+. It also demonstrates that a set of absorption bands between ~550–625 nm (~16 000–18 200 cm−1) are caused by spin-allowed and spin-forbidden d-d transitions in tetrahedrally coordinated Co2+. Two absorption bands at higher wavelengths (~680 and ~800 nm, i.e., ~14 700 and ~12 500 cm−1) are assigned to electronic transitions in exchange coupled VIFe3+-IVFe2+ pairs and a band at ~950 nm (~10 500 cm−1) is assigned to a spin-allowed electronic transition in VIFe2+. Low-Fe gahnite crystals owe their blue color to traces of cobalt at concentration levels in the order of 200 ppm and less, while the green color of gahnite crystals with higher Fe-contents is due to a combination of electronic ligand-metal transitions causing strong UV-absorption and electronic transitions in exchange coupled Fe2+-Fe3+ cation pairs that absorb in the red region of the visible spectrum. A detailed characterization of samples that includes cation site occupancy and iron valency data is demonstrated to be crucial for interpreting optical absorption spectra. Also electronic transitions in trace element chromophores below the detection limit of electron microprobe may participate to light absorption. All this information contribute to the comprehension of the causes of crystal color of minerals, gemstones, and ceramic pigments.