Color Maps: Why They’re Necessary & How Colors are Chosen

Arquivo em: Map Printing / August 31, 2017

While the varying tones of black and white maps can provide a good deal of information to users, this doesn’t compare to the wealth of detail and definition color maps can provide. Giving map makers design flexibility beyond compare, color maps can make essential information pop, or allow for the inclusion of far more data than their gray-scale counterparts – provided the right color selection.

Your Color Choice Significantly Impacts the Story You’re Trying to Tell with Map Data

More than simply picking your favorite hues, your color selection can make your map instantly understandable – or frustratingly difficult to decipher. It is important for the uninitiated not to get carried away with color. Rainbow or spectral color schemes, for instance, while bold and colorful, are extremely overwhelming for the eye. Not convinced?

We found this map in a quick online image search. Using a base map from Daniel Dalet, the overuse of color here make the content extraordinarily difficult to take-in. Your eyes dart in every direction, overwhelmed by the overuse of color. The mapmaker also included no legend or title to the data represented (perhaps native language or culture?), adding to its confounding design.


“Body” of Evidence

In using such rainbow color schemes in the organ mapping used by physicians to interpret heart scanning images, a recent study found doctors made worse decisions when studying heart mapping utilizing spectral or rainbow color schemes, as compared to standard sequential – decisions that could seriously impact patient health. The point: Don’t get too carried away with color. Choosing an intuitive color scheme that is easy for the eye to interpret is essential to the usefulness of your map.


Finding the Right Color Scheme

Now that you’re not chasing rainbows, how should you go about selecting color? These decisions are typically data driven:

  • Standard Colors
    Standard colors are ideal for many maps. Consider a map of your state – are rivers red or blue? Is land green or purple? Easier for the eyes to interpret, these colors make sense for what they’re representing in most cases, in others, they are industry standards.

  • Sequential Colors
    When you’re illustrating quantitative data and want to illustrate an overall focus versus a particular range, sequential color schemes are ideal. Using various degrees of saturation, this method typically accents higher densities in darker shades, and lower densities in paler options. (Presented in this way, data is much easier to identify than determining how much more purple stands for versus orange, for instance.)

  • Divergent Colors
    Use of divergent colors is a good solution when highlighting opposing data or illustrating outliers above and below average values.
  • Qualitative Schemes
    With qualitative data (ethnicity, religion), picking a series of unrelated colors works best. With careful selection, you can make particular aspects stand out against others.

Try Before You Buy

For many, even narrowing down color schemes still leaves a mind-numbing array of color choices. To ensure the right look for your map, many online tools exist, such as Color Brewer. Using these handy tools can help you preview schemes before you begin the painstaking process of adding them to your map – only to find out they don’t work as expected and damage your intended visual.

WYSIWYG Worries?

No matter your color selection, at MapPrinter, we have the tools, technology, and experience to ensure not only ‘What You See is What You Get,’ but also to ensure what you want is what you get, and this begins with digital file creation. Whether you are a seasoned map printing veteran, or new to the map printing arena, contact us before the onset of your next map printing journey – and let us help guide your project from color selection to printing perfection with the help of MapPrinter today.