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[LEARN] Choropleth vs. Bubble Map Charts—Which Works Best For Your Data?

Renée Meloche
Renée Meloche
  • Updated

Venngage offers two types of charts for representing data related to geographic location and population statistics: choropleth map charts and bubble map charts.

But how can you determine which chart will let readers and stakeholders visualize your data most effectively? 

Let us show you!

Pssst 🤫

For a quick overview of how
to add and use map charts in 
your designs, check out our
VIDEO Quick Start Guide.

Choropleth map chart

Choropleth maps use color to indicate higher and lower values across a regional map.

Viewers can easily identify areas with the highest data rate and lowest data rate are, without having to refer to a table of values.

Here's a choropleth chart we made in the Venngage Editor, showing the distribution of a fictional survey reporting on the number of people per province who love to eat ice cream: 

A choropleth map of Canada titled 'Ice Cream Lovers by Canadian Province'. The names of the provinces appear over each one in white text outlined in black, and the provinces themselves are colored different shades in a gradient from dark to light pink. The darkest colored provinces have icons of ice cream cones and sundaes on them. The background is a light to dark blue gradient.

The map, colored with a pink gradient, represents 10,000 people across Canada self-reported that they love ice cream.

By percentage:

  • 29% live in Ontario

  • 25% in British Columbia

  • 23% live in Quebec

and the remaining 23% are distributed across the other provinces.

Without showing exact percentages, the choropleth map clearly indicates:

  • the highest concentration of people who like ice cream in the darkest color provinces

  • the lowest concentration of people who like ice cream in the lightest color provinces

When to use a choropleth map chart

Playing around with how you want to visualize your data sets and swapping chart types to see what works best is always your best strategy. But when it comes to picking the best chart for you data, choropleth maps will certainly provide an extra edge when representing:

  • population data (e.g., density, average age)

  • political sentiment (e.g., party support, voter turnout)

  • development indicators (e.g., food access by household, wealth distribution)

  • public health concerns (e.g., risk factors, birth weight, health outcomes)

  • weather indicators (e.g., rainfall distribution, soil condition)

  • horticulture and agriculture (e.g., crop yields, forest cover, plant biodiversity)

  • technology (e.g., social media use, cell phone adoption)

Bubble map charts

Bubble maps (sometimes called "proportional symbol maps") use circles of varying diameters across a map to represent the distribution and measure of variables.

Bubble maps are helpful for differentiating increments in data sets that are spread across many geographical regions large or small by highlighting specific "hot spots" or relevant parts of the map.

We took the same stats from the choropleth map above and put it into a bubble chart:

A bubble map version of the 'Ice Cream Lovers by Canadian Province' represented in the choropleth map above. The names of the provinces appear over each one in white text outlined in black, and the provinces themselves are all the same shade of light pink. Each province has a dark pink circle on it of various sizes, representing the amount of ice cream lovers in each province. The provinces with the largest circles have icons of ice cream sundaes and cones over them. The background is a light to dark blue gradient.

It doesn't have quite the same effect, does it? That's because the bubble chart is less ideal for visualizing a smaller data set with minor variations spread out across a large region.

Here's what happened when we made up a bigger data set distributed across a smaller geographical area:  

A bubble map of Ontario titled 'Ice Cream Lovers in Ontario'. The names of the regions appear over each one in white text outlined in black. There is a white line indicating the region covered by the largest bubble (Niagara), with an ice cream sundae icon next to it. The province is light pink and regions are overlayed with dark pink bubbles of varying sizes. The background is a light to dark blue gradient.

This bubble map chart represents fictional survey respondents who live in the province of Ontario and said they love ice cream.

In this chart, the overlapping bubbles create a "hot spot" that makes it easier to see the part of the province where the highest concentration of ice cream lovers live—in this case, the southwest region of Ontario (makes sense—it gets pretty hot down there)!

When to use a bubble map chart

Bubble maps are useful for representing many of the same categories as choropleth maps, but with an emphasis on:

  • Displaying data sets with multiple inputs

  • Showcasing trends and patterns in data sets across geographical areas

  • Representing growth in data sets across regions, over a period of time

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