Gradient Perception in Color-Coded Scalar Fields

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Description: Color mapping is a commonly used technique for visualizing scalar fields. While there exists advice for choosing effective colormaps, it is unclear if current guidelines apply equally across task types. We study the perception of gradients and evaluate the effectiveness of three colormaps at depicting gradient magnitudes. In a crowd- sourced experiment, we determine the just-noticeable differences (JNDs) at which participants can reliably compare and judge variations in gradient between two scalar fields. We find that participants exhibited lower JNDs with a diverging (cool-warm) or a spectral (rainbow) scheme, as compared with a monotonic-luminance colormap (viridis). The results support a hypothesis that apparent discontinuities in the color ramp may help viewers discern subtle structural differences in gradient. We discuss these findings and highlight future research directions for colormap evaluation.

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