How to visualise two-dimensional scientific data-points in a chart… in grayscale?

I am not sure whether this is the correct site for this question. The model comes from Physics, the data comes from computational physics, the plot is made with LaTeX but my question is about the presentation and layout of it all.

You can click on all images to get a vector PDF.

I have data points that depend on two parameters, so I have made a 3D plot with them:

I think that this gives a good impression that the data falls off for small “a” and that there is a bump for moderate size “sigma”. However, you cannot really read any numbers off this. I need that, though.

So I put all the data into a two dimensional plot, encoding the “sigma” with a color. Since the data points overlap, I find it helpful to connect them with lines like so:

To me, the above version is the most readable version of them all. The connecting lines between the points are not really justifiable from a scientific perspective, since I cannot assume that they describe the Physics there well. The only things that can have some meanings are the interpolated lines that I have dotted in the above version.

It would be more scientific to have it like this, without connecting line segments:

Even with the color, it is harder to follow the points of each color. The first version shows me right away that the points drop down for small “a”. With the second one, it can be seen, but only if you look at it closely.

Maybe I can use dotted line to help the eye of the reader, but not implying anything, like so:

Also, I would like to avoid using color. This will be printed a couple of times and color pages are tenfold in price compared to grayscale pages. I have tried to split up the data in the middle, such that they do not intersect any more. This is the second half of the data, the small “sigma” ones. I added the unscientific line segments and have the legend ordered from top to bottom:

I think this is readable, except for the connecting line segments. Splitting up the data in multiple plots makes each plot easier to read, but it is harder to compare the data.

Without the line segments, I need different markers for each data set to keep them apart. This yields cluttered plots right away, so I made the less important data sets a little lighter.

This has no line segments and does not use color, but I do not think that it is easy to see what is going on.

What could I do to get the data shown in a readable way?


When working with items which all must be 100% and the same color I look at the things which make the items distinctive:

  • size (including widths of strokes)
  • style (dashes, dots, etc)
  • fill (hollow, solid, patterns)
  • shape

Then it’s a matter of how I can adjust these four settings to create enough distinction between items so they are visibly different.

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The varying of dashes on the paths will do well to create distinction between those items. It could probably be refined a bit more than it it above. However, that seems like a fruitful path to take for those items.

The indicators are still unclear. I played with using some filled and some hollow but nothing was allowing for clear distinction between the square, diamond, and triangle. They are all too similar in shape. So…. I eliminated some shapes in favor of varying fills.

enter image description here

I removed the triangles because they were the most confusing shape and easily misread. Replaced them with a filled circle. I also altered the diamonds so they are filled rather than hollow.

I end up with 4 distinctive shapes:
– hollow square
– hollow circle
– filled diamond
– filled circle

There’s still a bit of confusion between the diamond and filled circle.. So, I start thinking of what shape would work and be less like the others. Hexagon – too similar to circle, Triangle – as stated, too similar to square and at a small size, not clearly distinctive from circle. A star perhaps? Yes, but perhaps too decorative.

Eventually I settled on the most minimal route, a filled square.

enter image description here

So, I end up with 4 distinctive shapes which are clearly identifiable and 4 distinctive paths which are clearly separate.

The varying plots of the other image is a challenge. Altering the path dashes would still separate them from each other well. However, the overlapping of the plots may present an issue. It would be difficult to plot multiple paths on the same point and not have them look like one path, especially without color. In this case, if possible, I may explore tints as well as dashes. Making each plot a percentage of black. Therefore when they overlap, the black becomes solid where dashes overlap. This may allow some visual distinction for the overlapping plats. To be honest, I would need to explore this further (if tinting is an option) before I’d know for certain.

Source : Link , Question Author : Martin Ueding , Answer Author : Scott

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