Quantitative and qualitative comparison of 2d and 3d projection techniques for high-dimensional data

Zonglin Tian, Xiaorui Zhai, Gijs van Steenpaal, Lingyun Yu, Evanthia Dimara, Mateus Espadoto, Alexandru Telea*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Projections are well-known techniques that help the visual exploration of high-dimensional data by creating depictions thereof in a low-dimensional space. While projections that target the 2D space have been studied in detail both quantitatively and qualitatively, 3D projections are far less well understood, with authors arguing both for and against the added-value of a third visual dimension. We fill this gap by first presenting a quantitative study that compares 2D and 3D projections along a rich selection of datasets, projection techniques, and quality metrics. To refine these insights, we conduct a qualitative study that compares the preference of users in exploring high-dimensional data using 2D vs. 3D projections, both without and with visual explanations. Our quantitative and qualitative findings indicate that, in general, 3D projections bring only limited added-value atop of the one provided by their 2D counterparts. However, certain 3D projection techniques can show more structure than their 2D counterparts, and can stimulate users to further exploration. All our datasets, source code, and measurements are made public for ease of replication and extension.

Original languageEnglish
Article number239
JournalInformation (Switzerland)
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2021


  • Dimensionality reduction
  • Projection explaining
  • Projection quality evaluation


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