Spectral Schemes: Controversial Color Use on Maps

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Cartographers have long discouraged the use of spectral, or rainbow, color schemes on thematic maps of quantitative geographic data, though such color use is common in GIS and scientific visualization. Recent research, however, has shown that spectral schemes are preferred and are interpreted accurately when used as multi-hue renditions of diverging schemes. Both spectral and diverging schemes can emphasize a critical point within a data range with light colors and emphasize both high and low extremes of the data with dark colors. Although spectral schemes include multiple saturated hues, they can be designed to accommodate map reading by people with red-green impaired color vision by skipping over the yellow-greens in the spectral sequence. Cartographers should encourage use of spectral color schemes for depicting diverging quantitative data, rather than insisting that these schemes should not be used.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)203-220
Number of pages18
JournalCartography and Geographic Information Science
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 1997

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Management of Technology and Innovation


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