The ColorBrewer color tables were designed to provide better color tables than the standard rainbow-type color tables (the rainbow color table is not a very good general color table because, as Tufte points out, “the mind’s eye does not readily give an order to ROYGBIV”). There is a nice Flash interface on the web to explore them. But what if you want to use them in IDL?

ColorBrewer color tables in XLOADCT

Here are the color tables in a .tbl file, usable with the FILE keyword in LOADCT or XLOADCT. For example:

IDL> loadct, 2, file='brewer.tbl'
% LOADCT: Loading table BrBG (Diverging)

There are three types of color tables in the file: sequential, diverging, and qualitative. The qualitative tables are for labeling items and have around ten colors instead of the full complement of 256 colors.

Colors from by Cynthia A. Brewer, Geography, Pennsylvania State University. If you use the color tables in your work, she would like a citation (see 5. on this page).

UPDATE: I updated the color tables to fix problems with the qualitative color tables and added new routines to access the color tables.