I have an interactive map with a very large amount of different points. Depending on user selection, various points are shown or not-shown.

These points are divided into several categories, each with potentially 20-30 sub-categories.

My current idea is to create a general hierarchy like the following:

Cat 1 => blues
Cat 2 => greens
Cat 3 => reds
Cat 4 => browns

Each of these color groups would be divided into colors based on some criteria in each category.

I'm not concerned with color blindness issues (too many colors needed to worry about this - plus, there is a popup attached to each point giving far more detail). I'm not even really concerned too much with differentiation beyond the 4 categories, but I did think it might look better if there was some differentiation.

I've looked at Colorbrewer, but they don't have recommendations for this amount of colors.

So my question is what you all do for color symbology in situations like this? What are (if any) best practices when you have to deal with a lot of different colors?

1 Answer 1


When you have that many colors (80 to 120 if I understand correctly), you simply can't have a clear representation, as color gradients are not easily differenciable. I'd recommend using different symbology, (not only dots) to limit the amount of colors needed, then try to work out easily distinguishable colors for each symbol, allowing you to reuse them.

e.g : 4 symbols for the categories and 20 to 30 colors for each sub-category (which is more manageable in terms of color finding).

  • That is the logical thing to do. But if you couldn't vary the symbols, how would you choose the colors?
    – Josh
    Sep 27, 2013 at 12:47
  • Well as I said you simply can't have a clear representation, but to answer your comment I would have a general color for each category (light blue-green, red-orange-yellow, dark blue-purple, and grey-black for example) that would really separate each category so that we could notice from which one the dot comes from. Then you'd have to find a gradient in these categories, but the problem is you can't have 30 shades of grey (haha ?) for the last category in a manner that would make the shades distinguishable... So I still recommend using symbols.
    – Saryk
    Sep 27, 2013 at 13:53
  • Thanks. I ended up just not worrying about sub-categories.
    – Josh
    Oct 22, 2014 at 20:33

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