Reinventing the color wheel – part 1

In New Matlab isoluminant colormap for azimuth data I showcased a Matlab colormap that I believe is perceptually superior to the conventional, HSV-based colormaps for azimuth data, in that it does not superimposes on the data the color artifacts that plague all rainbows. However, it still has a limitation, which is that the main colours do not correspond exactly to the four compass directions N, E, W, and S.

My intention with this series is to go back to square one, deconstruct the conventional colormaps for azimuth, and build a new one that has all the desired properties of both perceptual linearity, and correct location of the main colors. All reproducible in Python.

If we wanted to build from scratch a colormap for azimuth (or phase) data the main tasks would be to generate a sequence of distinguishable colours at opposite quadrants, or compass directions (like 0 and 180 degrees, or N and S), and to wrap around the sequence with the same colour at the two ends.

But to do that, we should avoid interpolating linearly between fully saturated hues in RGB or HSL space.

To illustrate why, it is useful to look at the figure below. On the left is a hue circle with primary, secondary, and tertiary colours in a counter-clockwise sequence: red, rose, magenta, violet, blue, azure, cyan, aquamarine, electric green, chartreuse, yellow, and orange. The colour chips are placed at evenly spaced angular distances according to their hue (in radians).

hue-wheel-compare

Left, primary, secondary, and tertiary colour chips arranged using hue for angular distance; right, the same colour chips arranged using intensity for angular distance.

This looks familiar and seems like a natural ordering of colors, so we may be tempted in building a colormap, to just take that sequence, wrap it around at the red (or the magenta) and linearly interpolate to 256 colours to get a continuous colormap [1], and use it for azimuth data, which is how usually the conventional azimuth colormaps are built.

On the right side in the figure the chips have been rearranged according to their intensity on a counter-clockwise sequence from 0 to 255 with 0 at three hours; so, for example blue, which is the darkest colour with an intensity of 29, is close to the beginning of the sequence, and yellow, the brightest with an intensity of 225, is close to the end. Notice that the chips are no longer equidistant.

The most striking is that the blue and the yellow chips are more separated than the other chips, and for this reason blue and yellow features seem to stand out a lot more in a map when using this color sequence, which can be both distracting and confusing. A good example is Figure 3 in New Matlab isoluminant colormap for azimuth data.

Also, yellow and red, being two chips apart in the left circle in the figure above, are used to colour azimuths 60 degrees apart, and so do cyan and green. However, if we look at the right circle, we realize that the yellow and red chips are much further apart than the cyan and green chips [2] in the perceptual dimension of intensity; therefore, features colored in yellow and red  could be perceived as much further apart (in azimuth) than cyan and green.

These differences may be subtle, but in my opinion they become important when dip azimuth is combined with other attributes, perhaps using a 3D colormap, and the resulting map is used for detailed structural interpretation. There is a really good example of this type of 3D colormap in Chopra and Marfurt (2007), where dip azimuth is rendered with hue modulation, dip magnitude with saturation modulation, and coherence with lightness modulation.

A code snippet with the main Python commands to generate the two polar scatterplots in the figure is listed, and explained below. The full code can be found in this Jupiter Notebook.

01 import matplotlib.colors as clr
02 keys=['red', '#FF007F', 'magenta', '#7F00FF', 'blue', '#0080FF','cyan', '#00FF80',
'#00FF00', '#7FFF00', 'yellow', '#FF7F00']
03 my_cmap = clr.ListedColormap(keys)
04 x = np.arange(12)
05 color = my_cmap(x)
06 n = 12
07 theta = 2*np.pi*(np.linspace(0,1,13)) 
08 r = np.ones(13)*2.5
09 area = 200*r**2 # size of color chips
10 c = plt.scatter(theta, r, c=color, s=area)
11 theta_i = 2*np.pi*(sorted_intensity/255.0)
12 colors = my_sorted_cmap(np.arange(12))
13 c = plt.scatter(theta_i, r, c=colors, s=area)

In line 01 we import the Colors module from the Matplotlib library, then line 02 creates the desired sequence of colours (red, rose, magenta, violet, blue, azure, cyan, aquamarine, electric green, chartreuse, yellow, and orange) using either the name or Hex code, and line 03 generates the colormap. Then we use lines 04 and 05 to assign colours to the chips in the first scatterplot (left), and lines 06, 07, and 09 to specify the number of chips, the angular distances between chips, and the area of the chips, respectively. Line 10 generates the plot. The modifications in lines 11-14 will result in the scatterplot on the right side in the figure (the sorted intensity is calculated in much the same way as in my Geophysical tutorial – How to evaluate and compare colormaps in Python).

 

[1] Or, perhaps, just create 12 discrete colour classes to group azimuth values in bins of pi/6 (30 degrees) each, and wrap around again at the magenta, to generate a discrete colormap.

[2] The green chip is almost completely covered by the orange chip.

One response to “Reinventing the color wheel – part 1

  1. Pingback: Reinventing the color wheel – part 2 | MyCarta·

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