Maps and colours have a close connection. Drawn or printed in black on white, subsequently added colours enhance maps with additional information. Colours were not just there to improve maps aesthetically, but they regulated how they were read and thus reinforced their meanings, significances and ideas. Colour is an important key to a more precise understanding of the map’s purposes and uses; moreover, colours are also an important aspect of a map’s materiality. The material scientific analysis makes it possible to find out more about the making of colours and the process of colouring maps. By skillfully deploying colours, map colourists were able to create mimetic representations of nature or codify information in an abstract form. The use of colours involved many considerations as to the materials. ‘Reading’ colours in this way gives a glimpse into the social lives of mapmakers as well as map users and reveals the complexity of the historical and social context in which maps were produced and how the maps were actually made. Within the scope of the three-year joint research project Coloured Maps (2018–2021), we undertook an in-depth and systematic study of hand-drawn and hand-coloured maps from East Asia in the Museum am Rothenbaum (MARKK) in Hamburg and produced between the seventeenth and twentieth centuries. With a multi-perspective approach and transdisciplinary methods (humanities and the sciences), we were able to pool and compare the research results from different fields of research on Asian maps. The aim of this publication is to provide a first general overview of the subject of colours on maps in East Asia in the period from the seventeenth to the early twentieth century and to stimulate further research on the topic.