On Fri, Sep 23, 2011 at 1:27 AM, Nathaniel Smith <njs@pobox.com> wrote:
On Thu, Sep 22, 2011 at 7:00 PM, Benjamin Root <ben.root@ou.edu> wrote:
> On Thursday, September 22, 2011, Tony Yu <tsyu80@gmail.com> wrote:
>> On Thu, Sep 22, 2011 at 5:16 PM, Nathaniel Smith <njs@pobox.com> wrote:
>>> I looked at the paper, and the goal was specifically to produce a good
>>> "default" colormap - not necessarily the best for any situation, but good
>>> overall and certainly better than the rainbow ('jet') colormap in most
>>> cases. (I agree with the author that jet is pretty terrible and tends to
>>> distort data.)
>>> Should we switch to this as the default matplotlib colormap? I think it
>>> would be a clear improvement.
>> I have absolutely no clout here, but I'd definitely be in favor of
>> changing the default colormap away from "jet".
>> Personally, I'd prefer a two-tone colormap as the default (two-distinct
>> tones at the limits with a gradient in-between---dubbed "sequential" in the
>> paper) instead of a three-tone colormap (three-distinct tones---dubbed
>> "diverging" in the paper). (I think this is a more common use case, and I
>> think using a "diverging" colormap effectively requires setting vmin/vmax.)
>> But really, (almost) anything is better than "jet".

For those following along, the article is here:
The discussion about whether to use a "sequential" or "diverging" map
is in section 3.

I had the same gut reaction as you, but found the paper fairly
convincing. I'm used to diverging maps that really highlight the
center point, like matplotlib's RdBu colormap, and use them all the
time for data where the zero point really matters (and set vmin/vmax
appropriately, like you say). But this colormap is actually really
different from the ones I'm used to, because it's really designed
*not* to highlight the center point as being special. The clearest
example of this is Figure 8 in the paper -- the image on the left is
the one that you'd get from something like RdBu, and the one on the
right is what this colormap produces. And, like he says, it gives you
better detail than a sequential map could.

I actually *wouldn't* want to use this for images that I currently use
RdBu for. But I'm picky -- the map he suggests would still make a heck
of a better colormap for those images than jet does, and Rdbu *really*
isn't appropriate for general use.

On Thu, Sep 22, 2011 at 7:00 PM, Benjamin Root <ben.root@ou.edu> wrote:
> Anyway, this is certainly is worthy of debate, but it certainly won't happen
> for this release.  We should be cutting RC tomorrow.
> After the release, I encourage you guys to make your cases.  Show us plots
> that have been in "jet" and show them as better in another colormap.

Figure 16 in that paper (page 17) is a good start. In the examples
given, for both of the top two jet actively distorts the features of
the data. In row 1, it makes it look like the bars taper off as you
move towards the top of the image, which they don't (compare to the
greyscale image for reference). In row 2, it makes it look like the
"circles" vary in size across the image (which, again, they don't). In
the bottom two images, jet introduces apparent asymmetries that aren't
there: in row 3, you have these 5 apparent stripes of unequal width,
and the yellow is narrower than the cyan. In row 4, well, it's just
obviously terribly misleading. (This isn't surprising, since 'jet'
sweeps through the frequencies of visible light; the big band of
yellow in simulated deuteranope vision corresponds to where they're
missing one of the spectral sensors that most of us have.)

If you want more examples though I can certainly pull some out of my thesis :-).

> As a bit of a challenge to you all, I am not color-blind, but I do wear
> tinted glasses that make it difficult to tell the difference between darker
> blues and black, and sometimes greens and blues are hard to distinguish.
>  Furthermore, as a radar meteorologist, I am very accustomed to the
> colormaps commonly used for radar reflectivies (and is similar to "jet").

No colormap is going to be perfect for everyone, and maybe someone
else will pop up with a pointer to a map that's even better supported
than this one. I just think that jet has sufficiently manifest flaws
that it would be a great favor to science if we could switch to
*something* better as our default.

-- Nathaniel

Continuing with Nathaniel's arguments, I think the article [1] you posted to the user list [2] recently makes a pretty good argument against using jet. (Although this isn't really the main point of the article.)

Basically, it suggests that the jet colormap leads to bands of data (i.e. "incorrectly gives the impression that there are just a few values in the data"). This reduces visual contrast of data within those bands and inflates the contrast of data in adjacent bands.

[1] https://www.research.ibm.com/people/l/lloydt/color/color.HTM
[2] http://old.nabble.com/Visualizing-data-for-scientists-and-engineers-td32852270.html

As a personal pet peeve, it's just not an intuitive color sequence to me. Sure, I know that the colors in "jet" more-or-less match the color wheel, but I have to stop and think about the fact that yellow is larger than green, for example. Plus it's not at all intuitive that green is halfway in between blue and red (which are the extremes of the colormap).

I'm curious if there are any arguments for using jet/rainbow. I guess inertia/familiarity would be one. (But even though people are familiar with it, I doubt most would even know that green is midway between blue and red.) I guess it also magnifies the intensity range (since it uses 5-ish distinct colors instead of 2 or 3), but I doubt the noticeable range is that different than the coolwarm colormap, for example.


P.S. Below is some simple code (mostly ripped from a gallery example) to compare colormaps. It's pretty easy to the banding effect in the jet plot.

mport numpy as np
import matplotlib.pyplot as plt


for cmap in (plt.cm.jet, plt.cm.coolwarm, plt.cm.BuPu, plt.cm.OrRd, plt.cm.gray):
    plt.imshow(Z, cmap=cmap)