A heat map (or heatmap) is a graphical representation of data where the individual values contained in a matrix are represented as colors. "Heat map" is a newer term but shading matrices have existed for over a century.
Heat maps originated in 2D displays of the values in a data matrix. Larger values were represented by small dark gray or black squares (pixels) and smaller values by lighter squares. Loua (1873) used a shading matrix to visualize social statistics across the districts of Paris. Sneath (1957) displayed the results of a cluster analysis by permuting the rows and the columns of a matrix to place similar values near each other according to the clustering. Jacques Bertin used a similar representation to display data that conformed to a Guttman scale. The idea for joining cluster trees to the rows and columns of the data matrix originated with Robert Ling in 1973. Ling used overstruck printer characters to represent different shades of gray, one character-width per pixel. Leland Wilkinson developed the first computer program in 1994 (SYSTAT) to produce cluster heat maps with high-resolution color graphics. The Eisen et al. display shown in the figure is a replication of the earlier SYSTAT design.
Software designer Cormac Kinney trademarked the term 'heat map' in 1991 to describe a 2D display depicting financial market information. The company that acquired Kinney's invention in 2003 unintentionally allowed the trademark to lapse.
There are different kinds of heat maps:
There are many different color schemes that can be used to illustrate the heat map, with perceptual advantages and disadvantages for each. Rainbow color maps are often used, as humans can perceive more shades of color than they can of gray, and this would purportedly increase the amount of detail perceivable in the image. However, this is discouraged by many in the scientific community, for the following reasons:
Choropleth maps are sometimes incorrectly referred to as heat maps. A choropleth map features different shading or patterns within geographic boundaries to show the proportion of a variable of interest, whereas the coloration a heat map (in a map context) does not correspond to geographic boundaries.
Several heat map software implementations are freely available:
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Lake effect snow - weather radar information is usually shown using a heat map.
Example showing the relationships between a heat map, surface plot, and contour lines of the same data
Combination of surface plot and heat map, where the surface height represents the amplitude of the function, and the color represents the phase angle.
Score of each contiguous region of a dartboard (not to scale)
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