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Last update:
15/11/2006

HYPSOMETRIC COLORS

Hypsometric maps represent the elevation of the terrain with colors. The area between two neighboring contour lines receives one specific tint.

Hypsometric colors are most common in topographic maps at small scales, either applied as continuous gradients or intervals. The succession of colors occurs according to different rules.

Hypsometric map of France

"Carte physique et géographique de la France" by R. Leuzinger, 1:2 mio, 1880. Click on the map for an enlarged interactive view.

Hypsometric colors for map of France

The cartographer has to choose the number of different color classes, their limiting contour lines and the colors.

Generally, relatively light colors are preferable and the basic principle "higher is brighter" is advice worth heeding. Nevertheless, good alternative color schemes exist that employ different rules.

Hypsometric classification and colors used by R. Leuzinger for his "Carte physique et géographique de la France".

Hypsoemtric map with bathymetry

Digital elevation models make it easy for cartographers to automatically generate hypsometrically colored maps. Different software packages allow for the selection of an arbitrary number of classes and colors.

Hypsometrically colored relief shading of Kos - Nisyros - Tylos. Derived from a DEM. © Geowarn.

In the following example, elevation is well accentuated by hypsometric colors. However, the colors do not consider the dry vegetation of Egypt. See "Natural" colors for an example of the same area with colors closer to nature.

Swiss World Atlas (Egypt) by H. Leubner

"Delta du Nil et Can. de Suez" (section). Special print without text. Relief by Hermann Leubner from © Schweizer Weltatlas, p. 100, 1981.

Colors
Hypsometric
Thematic
Natural
Yellow Tone
From Gray Relief
Artistic