I want to make a heat map of an Earth-like planet for a poster just like the one on the picture below. (The map doesn't need to follow Earth's geography, spaces for land and ocean can be randomised). I tried using Photoshop to render clouds and create random shapes from there, then stacking layers on top with smaller shapes and different colours for each thermal threshold. But the colours did not blend in well with each other and it looked like a topography map rather than a heat map. Is there any way this can be done easily in Illustrator (Photoshop is also welcome but I only understand the basics).

Thank you very much to anyone who could kindly help.

enter image description here

  • 1
    Not really a project for Illustrator, at least not an easy one. You'd need to use various gradient meshes to get the blends. Very detailed and meticulous work. Nothing which would be "quick and easy" or really automated in any way.
    – Scott
    Commented Aug 10, 2021 at 20:26
  • I posted a basic answer, but if your approach is doing fine, except for the blending of the gradients, clarify your question to be specific to that subject and post an example of your results.
    – Rafael
    Commented Aug 10, 2021 at 23:04

2 Answers 2


Illustrator isn't the right kind of sofware for something like this. The example image is clearly raster, not vector, and it's not really random either. There are some quite distinct structures.

Anyway, it's possible to create something similar using Photoshop and one of those cloud pictures in the link from Rafael's answer. Obviously not a real heat map, but a pseudo heat map effect.

Basic set up is to have a white to transparent gradient layer above the cloud layer, an Invert adjustment layer above that, a Gradient Map adjustment layer above that with a gradient that goes from blue, to green, to red to yellow, and then a Vibrance adjustment layer above that, to tweak the colours a bit.

For example:

enter image description here

Then you can select all the layers except the background and do 3D > New Mesh from Layer > Mesh Presets > Sphere

Et voilà! You have a 3D sphere with a pseudo-heat map.

enter image description here

  • That looks perfect. Thank you!
    – Lumelib
    Commented Aug 12, 2021 at 14:51
  • 1
    Just check the order of the colors in the gradient. From green to red you need to pass through yellow, and then yellow again as the hottest temperature. It looks nice but not "correct" :)
    – Rafael
    Commented Aug 13, 2021 at 16:19
  • @Rafael yeah I could have paid more attention to that. LOL.
    – Billy Kerr
    Commented Aug 13, 2021 at 18:06

That is not a project for Illustrator. It is a project for 2 types of software.

A 3D modeling and rendering software. To give you the spherical deformation. (This could be done in Ps, but I would not use it)

And the cloud-based heat map could be done in a node-based noise texturing software.

Here is a quick search so you see what are those. https://www.google.com/search?client=firefox-b-d&q=node+based+cloud+texture+blender

Blender has those kinds of nodes. You probably can start there.

But Imho, that is not an easy task starting from scratch. Here are some clouds that can be used as a reference and used on a 3D sphere as a texture.


The texture itself needs to have a specific deformation in the projection to fit into the sphere.

Here are some explanations about those projections. https://www.otake.com.mx/Apuntes/Imagen/EnviromentMaps/

  • Thank you very much for the detailed answer and references. I will research these options and get to it. The cloud textures look amazing.
    – Lumelib
    Commented Aug 11, 2021 at 10:22

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