The new default colormap for matplotlib is called “viridis” and it’s great!

It’s probably not news to anyone in data visualization that the most-used “jet” colormap (sic) (sometimes referred to as “rainbow”) is a bad choice for many reasons.

  • Doesn’t work when printed black & white
  • Doesn’t work well for colourblind people
  • Not linear in colour space, so it’s hard to estimate numerical values from the resulting image

The Matlab team recently developed a new colormap called “parula” but amazingly because Matlab is commercially-licensed software no-one else is allowed to use it!
The guys at Matplotlib have therefore developed their own version, based on the principles of colour theory (covered in my own BSc lecture courses on Visualization 🙂 ) that is actually an improvement on parula. The new Matplotlib default colormap is named “viridis” and you can learn all about it in the following lecture from the SciPy 2015 conference (YouTube ):

Viridis will be the new default colour map from Matplotlib 2.0 onwards, but users of v1.5.1 can also choose to use it using the cmap=plt.cm.viridis command.
I don’t know about you, but I like it a lot and will start using it immediately!