A choropleth map of northern England with bespoke colour theme.

Heat maps, or hot-cold maps in the context of geographic data are technically called choropleth maps. They provide a way of visualising density or total value of points in an area. Although more of a visual aid than an in-depth way of interrogating data, it is a great way of getting an overview of complex data at a local, regional or national level. They are particularly useful when trying to summarise numerical data over a large area or where a point-set map would be overwhelmed by the sheer number of points.

Examples of different colour scales used on heat maps.

Above: Three ways of demonstrating the same data using different colour scales from traditional hot-cold on the left, red-amber-green in the centre, and branded market data on the right.


The colour gradient in a heat map is used to represent the density or value of the subject within an area. The colours used are traditionally related to hot/cold, hence the term heat map. A traditional heat map will go from a cold blue up to a vibrant orange or red. Alternatively a red-amber-green (RAG) scale adds an easy to interpret value judgement to your results. However, we can produce heat maps in any colour range to suit you. We find that most clients prefer to base a customer density heat map on their own brand colours. Of course you could just choose a colour gradient that you think looks good – something that a traditional RAG or blue to red scale rarely does. A well-styled heat map can make your data not only easy to understand at a glance, but also visually stunning in its own right and look great on your office wall.

What are heat maps used for?


The ability of heat maps to easily display area averages, household density and trends, allow local authorities, Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) and Police forces to allocate their resources most effectively across the community. A particular challenge for the public sector is bringing together the more commonly used postcode area data with the administrative geography areas used to identify local authority areas. Fortunately our GIS solutions work with both types of geography.

What are the business applications of heat maps?


The applications of heat maps in a business context are varied. A new business might use heat maps and demographic data to identify hot spots of potential customers for their product and map the density of competitors in an area. Established organisations use heat maps in a similar way to review their existing store networks, identify areas of opportunity and gaps in their network for new stores.

Sales forces can use heat maps in a similar way. With a sales team in particular, customer density, total spend or demographic group can be an important factors in defining sales territories, especially if you are moderating distance of travel against customer density or value in an area.

Finally, density and value maps can be valuable in siting distribution and delivery hubs, establishing cost bandings and delivery territories.

Heat mapping as part of a multi-layer data analysis


A choropleth map is likely to be the first step in a complete geographical analysis; an at-a-glance snap shot that points to areas in need of more detailed investigation. This is where a GIS can prove invaluable by creating multi-layer maps.

Multiple heat map overlays applied to an area can start to build up an in-depth picture of opportunities and challenges in that location, for example;

  • existing customer density
  • average customer spend in an area
  • census data showing disposition towards a certain lifestyle choice
  • living costs and food survey results to show what those people spend their money on

Combine this with point set maps to show locations of existing stores, competitors, distributors and isochrone or radii showing distances from a store or agent and you can start to build up real insight to help guide your decision making.

Example: Choosing a location for a new cycle store

An example of heat and point set maps used in site selection.

  1. Plot existing competitor locations onto a suitably scaled map.
  2. Lifestyle or behaviour data is overlaid as a choropleth or heat map, in this case census data showing the percentage of those who commute to work by bike.
  3. Consumer spend data is then added as another layer. In this case Living Costs and Food Survey (LCF) data showing spend on sports and outdoor pursuits.

This gives a basic geographical analysis for selecting a new business location, but there is no limit to the amount of data you could chart to guide your decision.

How can I make a heat map?

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Data mapping & presentation

If you want to quickly create heat maps simply from spreadsheet data, we recommend that you look at MapVision, our intuitive web-based mapping system. It requires no training, has no software to install, and offers a free 7 day trial with no obligation or payment details required. Being web-based Mapvision allows you to instantly share your maps with anyone, either a specific person for online collaboration, or as an open project that anyone with the link can view.

Find out more about MapVision…

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Full GIS mapping and data interrogation

For the most in-depth geographical analysis, we recommend Prospex our desktop Geographical Information System (GIS). Prospex allows you to cross-reference your data with geodemographic profiles and manage sales and delivery territories with ease. Prospex can handle projects of any size and is recommended for larger organisations with national datasets. If you aren’t sure which mapping solution is right for you, we’ve created a handy table to show how Prospex compares to MapVision, or get in touch and we’ll help you to find the most suitable solution.

Find out more about Prospex…

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Bespoke, outsourced heat mapping

If you’d rather not learn a new mapping system, need a one-off job, or you are after something completely bespoke, then our mapping consultancy can help you with fixed-cost one-off projects. From a head-office map of your branches to an in-depth geographical analysis of your new business location, we can help.

Find out more about our bespoke mapping services…