The Generic Mapping Tools (GMT) software is ubiquitous in the Earth and ocean sciences. As a cross‐platform tool producing high‐quality maps and figures, it is used by tens of thousands of scientists around the world. The basic syntax of GMT scripts has evolved very slowly since the 1990s, despite the fact that GMT is generally perceived to have a steep learning curve with many pitfalls for beginners and experienced users alike. Reducing these pitfalls means changing the interface, which would break compatibility with thousands of existing scripts. With the latest GMT version 6, we solve this conundrum by introducing a new “modern mode” to complement the interface used in previous versions, which GMT 6 now calls “classic mode.” GMT 6 defaults to classic mode and thus is a recommended upgrade for all GMT 5 users. Nonetheless, new users should take advantage of modern mode to make shorter scripts, quickly access commonly used global data sets, and take full advantage of the new tools to draw subplots, place insets, and create animations.