Create Maps and Visualize Data in 2D and 3D

Uses a combination of raytracing and multiple hill shading methods to produce 2D and 3D data visualizations and maps. Includes water detection and layering functions, programmable color palette generation, several built-in textures for hill shading, 2D and 3D plotting options, a built-in path tracer, 'Wavefront' OBJ file export, and the ability to save 3D visualizations to a 3D printable format.


rayshader is an open source package for producing hillshaded maps of elevation matrices with raytracing and spherical texture mapping.


# install.packages("devtools")


Rayshader has five functions related to hillshading:

  • ray_shade uses user specified light directions to calculate a global shadow map for an elevation matrix. By default, this also scales the light intensity at each point by the dot product of the mean ray direction and the surface normal (also implemented in function lamb_shade, this can be turned off by setting lambert=FALSE.
  • sphere_shade maps an RGB texture to a hillshade by spherical mapping. A texture can be generated with the create_texture function, or loaded from an image. sphere_shade also includes 7 built-in palettes: "imhof1","imhof2","imhof3",imhof4","desert","bw","unicorn".
  • create_texture programmatically creates texture maps given five colors: a highlight, a shadow, a left fill light, a right fill light, and a center color for flat areas. The user can also optionally specify the colors at the corners, but create_texture will interpolate those if they aren't given.
  • ambient_shade creates an ambient occlusion shadow layer, darkening areas that have less scattered light from the atmosphere. This results in valleys being darker than flat areas and ridges.
  • lamb_shade uses a single user specified light direction to calculate a local shadow map based on the dot product between the surface normal and the light direction for an elevation matrix.
  • add_shadow takes two of the shadow maps above and combines them, scaling the second one (or, if the second is an RGB array, the matrix) as specified by the user.

Rayshader also has two functions to detect and add water to maps:

  • detect_water uses a flood-fill algorithm to detect bodies of water of a user-specified minimum area.
  • add_water uses the output of detect_water to add a water color to the map. The user can input their own color, or pass the name of one of the pre-defined palettes from sphere_shade to get a matching hue.

And two functions to display and save your maps:

  • plot_map Plots the current map. Accepts either a matrix or an array.
  • save_png Saves the current map to disk with a user-specified filename.
  • plot_3d Creates a 3D map, given a texture and an elevation matrix. You can customize the appearance of the map, as well as add a user-defined water level.
  • save_3dprint Writes a stereolithography (STL) file of the current 3D map to create a 3D printable map. The user can specify the physical maximum width of the 3D print when calling the function.

All of these functions are designed to be used with the magrittr pipe %>%.


#Here, I load a map for the River Derwent in Tasmania with the raster package:
localtif = raster::raster("tasmania.tif")
#And convert it to a matrix:
elmat = matrix(raster::extract(localtif,raster::extent(localtif),buffer=1000),
#We use another one of rayshader's built-in textures:
elmat %>%
  sphere_shade(texture = "desert") %>%

#sphere_shade can shift the sun direction:
elmat %>%
  sphere_shade(sunangle = 45, texture = "desert") %>%

#detect_water and add_water adds a water layer to the map:
elmat %>%
  sphere_shade(texture = "desert") %>%
  add_water(detect_water(elmat), color="desert") %>%

#And we can add a raytraced layer from that sun direction as well:
elmat %>%
  sphere_shade(texture = "desert") %>%
  add_water(detect_water(elmat), color="desert") %>%
  add_shadow(ray_shade(elmat)) %>%

elmat %>%
  sphere_shade( texture = "desert") %>%
  add_water(detect_water(elmat), color="desert") %>%
  add_shadow(ray_shade(elmat)) %>%
  add_shadow(ambient_shade(elmat)) %>%

Rayshader also supports 3D mapping by passing a texture map (either external or one produced by rayshader) into the plot_3d function.

elmat %>%
  sphere_shade(texture = "desert") %>%
  add_water(detect_water(elmat), color="desert") %>%
  add_shadow(ray_shade(elmat)) %>%
  add_shadow(ambient_shade(elmat)) %>%

You can also easily add a water layer by setting water = TRUE (and setting waterdepth if the water level is not 0). You can customize the appearance and transparancy of the water layer via arguments to plot_3d. Here's an example using the built-in example bathymetric/topographic data of Monterey Bay, CA montereybay (zscale for a 1-to-1 ratio using montereybay would be 200, but in plot_3d is set to 50 to give a 4x exaggerated height in the z-direction) :

montereybay %>% 
    sphere_shade(texture = "imhof1") %>% 
    add_shadow(ray_shade(montereybay,zscale=200)) %>%
    add_shadow(ambient_shade(montereybay,zscale=200)) %>%
    plot_3d(montereybay, water=TRUE, zscale=50, theta=-45,
            waterdepth = 0, wateralpha = 0.6, watercolor = "#88DDFF",
            waterlinecolor = "white", waterlinealpha = 0.5)


rayshader 0.10.0:


  • Add render_camera() function


  • Fixed some documentation issues

rayshader 0.9.2:


  • Add additional arguments to windowsize in plot_3d() to specify location of viewport

rayshader 0.9.1:


  • Fix out-of-bounds memory issue with water layer generation

rayshader 0.9.0:


  • Added render_snapshot function capture and save images of the current rgl view to either file or the current device.
  • Added a pkgdown website for the package.
  • Added a file to track changes to the package.


  • Documentation updates and additions
  • Updated README

rayshader 0.8.1: 2018-12-20

  • na.rm=FALSE bug and add_overlay issue fixed
  • Fix add_overlay dimensions when no transparency layer present

rayshader 0.8.0: 2018-12-14


  • Updated plot_3d to draw NA entries in the elevation matrix as holes in the 3D model. This can be used to slice the model into any shape.
  • Updated plot_3d to include the new baseshape argument, which has several built-in shapes c("circle","hex") to overlay onto a matrix. This removes points in the elevation matrix outside the masked region.
  • Added lineantialias option to plot_3d to allow the user to turn on antialiasing for the lines in the plot.


  • Removed shadow_exist and remove_water options from save_3dprint to improve robustness. User now has to remove those 3D elements themselves when creating .stl file.
  • Fixed add_overlay when the input is a matrix
  • Updated documentation for plot_3d with examples.
  • Fixed reference to save_png in README

rayshader 0.7.0: 2018-11-21


  • Added render_label() function to add text labels to 3D plots.


  • Updated README
  • Fixed all progbar arguments to be either FALSE or interactive() by default

rayshader 0.6.4: 2018-11-08

  • Changed progress bar to appear only when the user is in an interactive session (thanks @hadley)
  • Fixed bug with water edges not following non-zero water depth
  • Cleaned up documentation

rayshader 0.6.3: 2018-10-27

  • Speed improvements for 3D rendering with plot_3d
  • Fixed small gaps and overlays in rendered water and edge lines in plot_3d

rayshader 0.6.2: 2018-10-25

  • Implemented binary search for intersection, massive speed increase for ray_shade()

rayshader 0.6.1: 2018-10-25

  • Moved Rcpp::checkUserInterrupt() to outer loop to speed up raytracing (thanks @brodieG)

rayshader 0.6.0: 2018-09-23


  • Added render_depth(), a post-processing effect to add depth of field to 3D maps.
  • Added render_water(), which either adds or replaces a water layer on the existing 3D map.
  • Added add_overlay(), which adds a transparent or semi-transparent overlay to the current hillshade.
  • Added attribute to montereybay to mark it as internal data (for better user messages)


  • Changed save_3dprint() to include the option to remove the shadow and water layers.

rayshader 0.5.4: 2018-09-20

  • Altered coordinates of plot_map to align with the center of the grid

rayshader 0.5.3: 2018-09-18

  • Fix for add_water hex color bug

rayshader 0.5.2: 2018-09-16

  • Fixed aspect ratio in plot_map()

rayshader 0.5.1: 2018-09-06


  • Fixed out-of-bounds bug in C++ normal vector generation
  • plot_map() no longer crashes R when "rotate" is a matrix rather than a single numeric value.
  • plot_3d() now displays warning if hillshade argument contains any values below 0 or more than 1.

rayshader 0.5.0: 2018-08-25


  • Added save_3dprint, a function that exports 3D maps to a stereolithography (STL) format for 3D printing.
  • Add hex logo to README


  • Fixed small overhand on 3D base.
  • Changed write_png to save_png
  • Corrected orientation of polygons in plot_3d

rayshader 0.4.7: 2018-08-24

CRAN fixes

  • Fixed lack of examples in some functions for CRAN and changed \dontrun{} calls to \donttest{}


  • Removed remove_edges option: the x/y dimensions of the outputs and inputs are now always consistent.

rayshader 0.4.6: 2018-08-20

  • make_shadow bugfix

rayshader 0.4.5: 2018-08-17


  • Implemented custom C++ version of akima::bilinear.grid to remove non-GPL software dependency
  • Add ability for add_water to work with matrices


  • Turn off examples for plot_3d
  • Fix issue with non-exporting internal Rcpp functions to foreach
  • Added description to ray

rayshader 0.4.4: 2018-08-16


  • Added shadow color option


  • Fixed background color to blend in with shadow
  • Fixed description of error in sphere_shade
  • Small updates to documentation

rayshader 0.4.3: 2018-08-09


  • Added default settings for zscale when montereybay dataset used and zscale is not passed in by user

rayshader 0.4.2: 2018-08-08


  • Added example dataset montereybay

rayshader 0.4.1: 2018-08-06

  • Update pipe import from magrittr

rayshader 0.4.0: 2018-08-06


  • Added plot_3d, a function to take hillshades/textures and visualize them with an elevation matrix in 3D. Includes water visualization and the ability to view the map as a solid object.
  • Added zscale argument to detect_water.


  • Changed default orientation to match the orientation of the matrix.
  • Changed detect_water and calculate_normals to not show a progress bar by default.
  • Changed ambient_shade to default to 1-45 degrees, instead of 0-45.
  • Changed write_png to stop when user doesn’t provide a filename.
  • Updated README

rayshader 0.3.1: 2018-06-30

  • ray_shade and ambient_shade - Added option to pass arguments to makeCluster function for parallel execution

rayshader 0.3.0: 2018-06-28


  • Added sphere_shade function to apply spherical texture maps to elevation matrices.
  • Added create_texture function to allow user to programmatically create texture maps by specifying colors.
  • Added ambient_shade function to calculate ambient occlusion shadow maps.
  • Added add_shadow function to add shadow to existing shadow matrices/texture arrays.
  • Added calculate_normal function to pre-calculate normal vectors of elevation matrix for faster spherical shading.
  • Added detect_water function to automatically detect bodies of water (of a specified size) on an elevation matrix.
  • Added write_png function to save hillshaded maps to file.
  • Added plot_map function to parse and plot resulting hillshaded maps.
  • Added the ability to add a mask to raytracing and ambient occlusion so only certain areas are raytraced.


  • Changed names of functions to be snake_case.
  • Various bugfixes

rayshader 0.2.1: 2018-05-20

  • Out of bounds memory bug fix

rayshader 0.2.0: 2018-05-19


  • Added Lambertian shading by default to the rayshade function.
  • Added standalone lambshade function.
  • Added progress bar support.
  • Added option to remove edges. Default TRUE.


  • Changed angles all to degrees instead of radians.
  • Removed verbose option.

rayshader 0.1.0: 2018-05-13

  • Initial commit. Basic functionality implemented and documentation written.

Reference manual

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