Background: Two-dimensional data colourings are an effective medium by which to represent three-dimensional data in two dimensions. Such "color-grid" representations have found increasing use in the biological sciences (e.g. microarray 'heat maps' and bioactivity data) as they are particularly suited to complex data sets and offer an alternative to the graphical representations included in traditional statistical software packages. The effectiveness of color-grids lies in their graphical design, which introduces a standard for customizable data representation. Currently, software applications capable of generating limited color-grid representations can be found only in advanced statistical packages or custom programs (e.g. micro-array analysis tools), often associated with steep learning curves and requiring expert knowledge.
Results: Here we describe JColorGrid, a Java library and platform independent application that renders color-grid graphics from data. The software can be used as a Java library, as a command-line application, and as a color-grid parameter interface and graphical viewer application. Data, titles, and data labels are input as tab-delimited text files or Microsoft Excel spreadsheets and the color-grid settings are specified through the graphical interface or a text configuration file. JColorGrid allows both user graphical data exploration as well as a means of automatically rendering color-grids from data as part of research pipelines.
Conclusion: The program has been tested on Windows, Mac, and Linux operating systems, and the binary executables and source files are available for download at http://jcolorgrid.ucsf.edu.