Given a timeline chart with hundreds of items...should I have hundreds of different color for each category/item along?

What is a good strategy for creating colour palettes for charts when there are a large number of items/categories?

Here is an example...but will have more devices on the chart (hundreds) The 5 lines on the chart = 5 different devices enter image description here

  • Can you provide an example or a screenshot that will help people answering the question to address the design issues within the context of your charting requirements? – Michael Lai Aug 19 '18 at 9:40

In timeline graphs, it is quite common to use only one color as generic and then have different colors for important events or common types of occurrences. For example:

enter image description here

The one above uses the same colors for all the elements.

Now these:

enter image description here enter image description here enter image description here enter image description here

You can see that each one of them uses different colors depending on specific recurring conditions (time lapses, type of work or event, shared attributes and so on).

Just in case, keep in mind that I am mixing both the timeline and the Gannt charts for example purposes, and because many people consider them to be the same (and you can use any of them according to your needs) , but they are not the same.

Final note

If you have hundreds of items, the timeline or Gannt may not be the best option, unless ...

  1. you can divide by hierarchies or taxonomies or ...
  2. this is for graphic (printed) versions or...
  3. the data elements are distributed mainly on the *X* axis


OK, based on the new information, there is no possible way to add hundreds of devices, each one with its own line, each line with its own color. The purpose of Data Visualization is to ease the visualization of data, and in your case, using a line chart would make it impossible. If you have hundreds of colors, most people with "normal" vision will actually recognize no more than 15-20, let alone people with color blindness. If you add hundreds of lines, no matter if you make them all different color or the same. Nobody will be able to follow a single line.

Since you dind't provide much information, I don't know if it's possible, but try to create groups or categories of no more than 10 devices, then use different colors for all of them. But your best choice would be to create an option to filter and select device/s to be added to a graph. That way, users will visualize only what they need and what to see, nothing else. Again, I have no idea if this is possible in your scenario, but its' worth the try

  • Actually, it's a line chart...it has hundreds of devices, we are trying to allow users to monitor device signal over time (in realtime) – JKdesign Aug 17 '18 at 19:09
  • Do you have a mockup of this? I really don’t understand what kind of data are you trying to visualize and if this is. Aline chart what elements do you want to be of different color. Some wimple drawing will do it – Devin Aug 19 '18 at 16:15
  • Yes, I saw it, was just adding an edition to the answer at the same time :) – Devin Aug 20 '18 at 20:59
  • thanks for the answer, if this kind of line chart is not suitable for the case, do you have any other suggestion? different type of chart? The purpose of this chart was for users to point out the device that's dropping the signal in real time and it also has the ability the set the time on the chart to look for historical data. – JKdesign Aug 20 '18 at 21:17

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.