Martin Krzywinski / Genome Sciences Center / Martin Krzywinski / Genome Sciences Center / - contact me Martin Krzywinski / Genome Sciences Center / on Twitter Martin Krzywinski / Genome Sciences Center / - Lumondo Photography Martin Krzywinski / Genome Sciences Center / - Pi Art Martin Krzywinski / Genome Sciences Center / - Hilbertonians - Creatures on the Hilbert Curve
This love loves love. It's a strange love, strange love.Liz Fraserfind a way to lovemore quotes

luminance: fun

In Silico Flurries: Computing a world of snow. Scientific American. 23 December 2017

visualization + design

Brewer Palettes

Brewer Palettes at a Glance

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski
All the Brewer palettes: qualitative, sequential and diverging. For each palette (e.g. spectral) the source colors are shown as well as all its n-color subsets. (zoom)

Presentation About Color and Brewer Palettes

If you're new to Brewer palettes, or color, catch up with this presentation. Color palettes matter - Brewer palettes and perceptual uniformity - Martin Krzywinski


I maintain a comprehensive database of named colors (3,116 colors), compiled from a variety of color name lists.

Visualization and Perception

Why Should Engineers and Scientists Be Worried About Color? by Bernice E. Rogowitz and Lloyd A. Treinish (IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center, Yorktown Heights, NY).

Perception in Visualization by Christopher G. Healey (Department of Computer Science, North Carolina State University)

LAB and LCH gradient picker

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski
Interactively create LAB and LCH color gradients interpolated across any number of colors.

Lch and Lab colour and gradient picker is a great tool by David Johnstone. It's a great way to generate color ramps—go ahead, go crazy!—and compare how the ramps look in different color spaces. Shame on you, HSV!

PaletteView — create continuous Brewer palettes

PaletteView is an exceptional tool by Magnaview to create continuous Brewer palettes. This tool is described in [1] and operationalizes Cyntha Brewer's color selection method into an algorithm that selects customizable color palettes from LCH space.

[1] Wijffelaars M, Vliegen R, Van Wijk JJ et al. 2008 Generating Color Palettes using Intuitive Parameters Computer Graphics Forum 27:743-750.

Brewer Palette Adobe Swatch Files

You can import Brewer palettes into Adobe applications such as Illustrator, Photoshop and InDesign using either the .ase or .ai swatch files.


Brewer palette ase swatch file for Adobe Illustrator Brewer palette ai swatch file for Adobe Illustrator Brewer palette pdf color file Brewer palette txt color file


In Illustrator, load the swatches from the swatch window menu. The swatch window can be accessed using Window > Swatches.

Select Open swatch library

then choose Other library...

and load either the .ase or .ai file — both contain the same content.

Brewer palettes are color combinations selected for their special properties for use in data visualization and information design.

The challenge

Selecting effective colors for bar plots, pie charts, and heat maps is made more difficult by the fact that the way we select color in software does not reflect how we perceive the color.

There are many examples of poor color combinations in published figures. For example, if categories are encoded with a combination of bright and dark colors, the bright colors will dominate the reader's attention. On the other hand, if two colors appear similar, the reader will instinctively perceive them as belonging to a group and infer that the underlying variables are related.

Colors with poor contrast (colors with similar perceived brightness) or simultaneous contrast (pure colors) also interfere with interpreting figures.

Selecting Colors in RGB and HSV

Most people select colors using RGB sliders, which is just about the worst way to pick a color! Consider the fact that when we look at a color, we cannot easily decompose it into its red, green and blue components. This limits usefulness of RGB for color selection.

HSV is a better color space, which defines a color based on hue, saturation and value. These are three properties that we intuitively assess when we see a color. We think of a "dark rich blue" and "light faded red", making HSV a reasonably useful model for color selection. Unfortunately, HSV has a nagging problem — although it is based on intuitive parameters, it is not perceptually uniform.

Perceptual Uniformity

A color space that is perceptually uniform defines colors based on how we perceive them. Distances between colors in the space are proportional to their perceived difference.

Above, we saw that HSV was not perceptually uniform. Moving the hue slider by 60 can have a small or large effect on a color, depending on where the slider is positioned.

Consider the following example. You have a chart that uses two colors, and orange and green. Both were chosen with S=V=100%. You now need to select a second color for each that is brighter. You cannot directly use HSV because both orange and green colors are already at full value. How do you intuitively increase brightness?

The reason why you cannot in do this in HSV is because V does not directly correspond to the color's perceived brightness. You are stuck fiddling with the saturation and value to try to select a brighter pairing.

What would be useful here is a color space which uses the intuitive parameters of HSV, but is perceptually based. In other words, instead of value, the space would define a color based on its perceived brightness. Luckily, this space exists — LCH, which defines color based on its luminance (perceived brightness), chroma (purity) and hue. Unfortunately, design and presentation software do not have LCH sliders and we cannot easily take advantage of this color space.

This is where the Brewer palettes come in.

Brewer Palettes

Brewer palettes were selected for their perceptual properties. These palettes were created by Cynthia Brewer for the purpose in cartography, but have found use in other fields.

Types of Brewer Palettes

There are three types of Brewer palettes

  • qualitative — colors do not have a perceived order
  • sequential — colors have a perceived order and perceived difference between successive colors is uniform
  • diverging — two back-to-back sequential palettes starting from a common color

Swatches of Brewer Palettes

I have prepared Brewer palette swatches in .ase or .ai format. For programming, use the plain-text version.

The image below (zoom) shows all the Brewer palettes.

Brewer palette colors - all swatches

Uses of Brewer Palettes

Qualitative palettes are excellent for bar plots and pie charts, where colors correspond to categories.

Grayscale Brewer palettes are available and are perfect for achieving good tone separation in black-and-white figures.

Sequential and diverging palettes are useful for heatmaps.

Brewer Palettes and Color Blindness

Some Brewer palettes are safe for color blindness — the pink-yellow-green (piyg) is one. For others, see colorbrewer.

I have designed 15-color palettes for color blindess for each of the three common types of color blindness.


news + thoughts

Predicting with confidence and tolerance

Wed 07-11-2018
I abhor averages. I like the individual case. —J.D. Brandeis.

We focus on the important distinction between confidence intervals, typically used to express uncertainty of a sampling statistic such as the mean and, prediction and tolerance intervals, used to make statements about the next value to be drawn from the population.

Confidence intervals provide coverage of a single point—the population mean—with the assurance that the probability of non-coverage is some acceptable value (e.g. 0.05). On the other hand, prediction and tolerance intervals both give information about typical values from the population and the percentage of the population expected to be in the interval. For example, a tolerance interval can be configured to tell us what fraction of sampled values (e.g. 95%) will fall into an interval some fraction of the time (e.g. 95%).

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski
Nature Methods Points of Significance column: Predicting with confidence and tolerance. (read)

Altman, N. & Krzywinski, M. (2018) Points of significance: Predicting with confidence and tolerance Nature Methods 15:843–844.

Background reading

Krzywinski, M. & Altman, N. (2013) Points of significance: Importance of being uncertain. Nature Methods 10:809–810.

4-day Circos course

Wed 31-10-2018

A 4-day introductory course on genome data parsing and visualization using Circos. Prepared for the Bioinformatics and Genome Analysis course in Institut Pasteur Tunis, Tunis, Tunisia.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski
Composite of the kinds of images you will learn to make in this course.

Oryza longistaminata genome cake

Mon 24-09-2018

Data visualization should be informative and, where possible, tasty.

Stefan Reuscher from Bioscience and Biotechnology Center at Nagoya University celebrates a publication with a Circos cake.

The cake shows an overview of a de-novo assembled genome of a wild rice species Oryza longistaminata.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski
Circos cake celebrating Reuscher et al. 2018 publication of the Oryza longistaminata genome.

Optimal experimental design

Tue 31-07-2018
Customize the experiment for the setting instead of adjusting the setting to fit a classical design.

The presence of constraints in experiments, such as sample size restrictions, awkward blocking or disallowed treatment combinations may make using classical designs very difficult or impossible.

Optimal design is a powerful, general purpose alternative for high quality, statistically grounded designs under nonstandard conditions.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski
Nature Methods Points of Significance column: Optimal experimental design. (read)

We discuss two types of optimal designs (D-optimal and I-optimal) and show how it can be applied to a scenario with sample size and blocking constraints.

Smucker, B., Krzywinski, M. & Altman, N. (2018) Points of significance: Optimal experimental design Nature Methods 15:599–600.

Background reading

Krzywinski, M., Altman, N. (2014) Points of significance: Two factor designs. Nature Methods 11:1187–1188.

Krzywinski, M. & Altman, N. (2014) Points of significance: Analysis of variance (ANOVA) and blocking. Nature Methods 11:699–700.

Krzywinski, M. & Altman, N. (2014) Points of significance: Designing comparative experiments. Nature Methods 11:597–598.