Considering Best Practices in Color Palettes for Molecular Visualizations


Biomedical illustration and visualization techniques provide a window into complex molecular worlds that are difficult to capture through experimental means alone. Biomedical illustrators frequently employ color to help tell a molecular story, e.g., to identify key molecules in a signaling pathway. Currently, color use for molecules is largely arbitrary and often chosen based on the client, cultural factors, or personal taste. The study of molecular dynamics is relatively young, and some stakeholders argue that color use guidelines would throttle the growth of the field. Instead, content authors have ample creative freedom to choose an aesthetic that, e.g., supports the story they want to tell. However, such creative freedom comes at a price. The color design process is challenging, particularly for those without a background in color theory. The result is a semantically inconsistent color space that reduces the interpretability and effectiveness of molecular visualizations as a whole. Our contribution in this paper is threefold. We first discuss some of the factors that contribute to this array of color palettes. Second, we provide a brief sampling of color palettes used in both industry and research sectors. Lastly, we suggest considerations for developing best practices around color palettes applied to molecular visualization.

Journal of Integrative Bioinformatics