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Open Access Why We Use Bad Color Maps and What You Can Do About It

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We know the rainbow color map is terrible, and it is emphatically reviled by the visualization community, yet its use continues to persist. Why do we continue to use a this perceptual encoding with so many known flaws? Instead of focusing on why we should not use rainbow colors, this position statement explores the rational for why we do pick these colors despite their flaws. Often the decision is influenced by a lack of knowledge, but even experts that know better sometimes choose poorly. A larger issue is the expedience that we have inadvertently made the rainbow color map become. Knowing why the rainbow color map is used will help us move away from it. Education is good, but clearly not sufficient. We gain traction by making sensible color alternatives more convenient. It is not feasible to force a color map on users. Our goal is to supplant the rainbow color map as a common standard, and we will find that even those wedded to it will migrate away.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 14 February 2016

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  • For more than 30 years, the Electronic Imaging Symposium has been serving those in the broad community - from academia and industry - who work on imaging science and digital technologies. The breadth of the Symposium covers the entire imaging science ecosystem, from capture (sensors, camera) through image processing (image quality, color and appearance) to how we and our surrogate machines see and interpret images. Applications covered include augmented reality, autonomous vehicles, machine vision, data analysis, digital and mobile photography, security, virtual reality, and human vision. IS&T began sole sponsorship of the meeting in 2016. All papers presented at EIs 20+ conferences are open access.

    Please note: For purposes of its Digital Library content, IS&T defines Open Access as papers that will be downloadable in their entirety for free in perpetuity. Copyright restrictions on papers vary; see individual paper for details.

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