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I want to compare TikZ and Asymptote for their abilities in 2D & 3D functional plot and other general purpose, simple drawings.

What are the strong aspects of TikZ over Asymptote?

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4  
This does not seem to fit the Q&A format, at least as currently phrased. Could you give some more concrete areas to be addressed so that an objective answer is possible? –  Joseph Wright Dec 29 '11 at 16:14
2  
In particular, something which is about the relative strengths of packages without implying one is better than the other might be better. See for example how tex.stackexchange.com/questions/7742/… is written. –  Joseph Wright Dec 29 '11 at 16:24

5 Answers 5

up vote 51 down vote accepted

I've used both and I prefer TikZ.

  • TikZ and asymptote are equally powerful, but programming in asymptote is easier.
  • TikZ has styles which can be used to enforce a consistent look and feel. For example, you can define a style for help lines. In asymptote you don't have styles.
  • asymptote can only be used by writing an asymptote program, generating a picture, and including the picture. You cannot reference what's in the picture. With TikZ it's different. You can define a label in certain kinds of TikZ pictures and reference it in another TikZ picture. This allows you to draw lines from one specific part of a TikZ picture to another part of a TikZ picture or to specific positions of the page (centre, north, south west, ...). As another example, you can define the baseline of TikZ pictures so you can align them neatly.
  • To see the advantage of the previous point, consider the pgfkeys package, which provides some really useful tools for parsing key=value lists. Even if you don't want to draw anything, your LaTeX code can benefit from the package. Joseph Wright has made pgfkeys-style parsing available in class and packages with his pgfopts package. It's difficult to see how your LaTeX programming can benefit from the (external) asymptote program (except by allowing shell escapes, which is asking for troubles). Another interesting development is TikZ's object oriented programming, which I'd like to explore a bit further when I have more time. (In fact, exploring the TikZ/pgf manual properly is something on the top of my list....)
  • A TikZ picture sits in the same environment as the main LaTeX document, so any LaTeX command that's used in TikZ uses the same definitions as the main LaTeX document. With asymptote this is not the case and you have to do extra work to tell asymptote about the definitions of the LaTeX commands. This is really important to me because I frequently use the beamer package in different modes. Depending on the modes, different fonts are used in the output. With TikZ the font is picked up automatically. Letting asymptote do this requires extra work.
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4  
Equally powerful ?? I'm not sure. I like Tikz and I use only this package but Asymptote seems to be more powerful ( for example 3D) –  Alain Matthes Feb 10 '13 at 14:09
1  
@AlainMatthes I am speaking in terms of what they can do, not how they do it. For example, in this sense a Turing machine is equally powerful as the lambda calculus. TikZ can draw curves and a all that's needed for a 2D representation of a 3D picture are curves. In that sense, TikZ is equally powerful as any package/program that can draw 3D. –  Marc van Dongen Feb 10 '13 at 14:47
    
@AlainMatthes Further to my previous comment. I mentioned in my answer that Asymptote provides an easier programming environment. –  Marc van Dongen Feb 10 '13 at 16:54

TikZ always won for me, though it's great that there are alternative ways with Asymptote.

I would prefer

  • TikZ for drawing diagrams, graphs, trees, especially when the focus is on typesetting;
  • Asymptote only if heavy math or algorithms are required, which could be when plotting - even then I can use TikZ with Gnuplot.

Reasons:

  • TikZ works integrated with LaTeX, TeX and ConTeXt, you can use your macros in TikZ drawings and plots. In contrast, Asymptote doesn't have access to your (La)TeX macros.

  • TikZ is programmed in TeX. Extending it requires TeX programming, which is not easy to use as programming language. In contrast, Asymptote is written in C and provides a language similar to C, C++ and Java for programming it, which may make programming easier.

  • Asymptote provides many mathematical functions and numerical routines, and is in this regard in my opinion more powerful than TikZ with its floating point unit library.

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1  
Asymptote does have access to (La)TeX macros, when used as an inline environment inside (La)TeX document. –  g.kov Mar 16 '13 at 12:09
    
@g.kov you should add your asy answer here based on your experience in 2D and 3D example to help others as 3D is not covered. –  texenthusiast Apr 18 '13 at 5:13

By request, I'm turning my comment into an answer.

I very much like the tikz-3dplot package, which appends to tikz' 3D capabilities.

You should really go trough the manual to see what it's capable of, but here are some examples:

\documentclass{minimal}

\usepackage{tikz}
\usepackage{tikz-3dplot}

\newcommand{\ve}[1]{\ensuremath{\mathbf{#1}}}
\newcommand{\ud}[0]{\mathrm{d}}

\tikzset{
    vector/.style = {
        thick,
        > = stealth',
    },
    axis/.style = {
        very thin,
        > = stealth',
    },
}

\begin{document}

\tdplotsetmaincoords{60}{110} 
\begin{tikzpicture}[tdplot_main_coords,scale=0.8]

    % draw axes
    \draw[axis,->] (0,0,0) coordinate (O) -- (5,0,0) node[anchor=north east]{$x$}; 
    \draw[axis,->] (0,0,0) -- (0,4.95,0) node[right,anchor=west]{$y$}; 
    \draw[axis,->] (0,0,0) -- (0,0,4.95) node[anchor=south]{$z$};

    % draw 
    \draw[vector,->] (O) -- node[above left]{\ve{v}} (2,4,3) coordinate (V);
    \draw[vector,->] (O) -- node[below right]{$\ve{v}_x$}(2,0,0)node[left]{$2$};
    \draw[vector,->] (O) -- node[below]{$\ve{v}_y$}(0,4,0)node[below right]{$4$};
    \draw[vector,->] (O) -- node[left]{$\ve{v}_z$}(0,0,3)node[above left]{$3$};

    \draw[densely dotted] (0,4,0) -- (2,4,0) -- (2,0,0);
    \draw[densely dotted] (V) -- (0,4,3) -- (0,0,3) -- (2,0,3) -- (2,0,0);
    \draw[densely dotted] (2,0,3) -- (V) -- (2,4,0);
    \draw[densely dotted] (0,4,0) -- (0,4,3);

    \foreach \s in{1,2,3,4}{
        \draw[fill](\s,0,0)circle(0.5pt);
        \draw[fill](0,\s,0)circle(0.5pt);
        \draw[fill](0,0,\s)circle(0.5pt);
    }
\end{tikzpicture}
\bigskip

\tdplotsetmaincoords{70}{120}
\tdplotsetrotatedcoords{90}{90}{90}
\begin{tikzpicture}[tdplot_main_coords,scale=0.5]
    \draw (0,0,0) -- ++(0,-2.3,0) node[above left]{$-$};

    % draw a condensor plate
    \draw[fill=lightgray] (-1.5,0,-1.5)--(-1.5,0,1.5)--(1.5,0,1.5)--(1.5,0,-1.5)--cycle;
    \draw[fill=lightgray] (1.5,0,-1.5)--(1.5,-0.2,-1.5)--(1.5,-0.2,1.5)--(1.5,0,1.5)--cycle;
    \draw[fill=lightgray] (1.5,-0.2,1.5)--(-1.5,-0.2,1.5)--(-1.5,0,1.5)--(1.5,0,1.5)--cycle;

    \def\q{-2.3}

    % draw surface
    \draw (0,-0.5*\q,0) coordinate(R);
    \tdplotdrawarc[tdplot_rotated_coords,fill opacity=0.5,fill=lightgray!30,draw=black]{(R)}{3}{0}{360}{}{}
    \draw[tdplot_rotated_coords](R)++(-110:3) node[below left]{$S_2$};
    \draw[tdplot_rotated_coords](R)++(70:3) node[above right]{$C$};

    % draw second condensor plate
    \draw[fill=lightgray] (-1.5,0-\q,-1.5)--(-1.5,0-\q,1.5)--(1.5,0-\q,1.5)--(1.5,0-\q,-1.5)--cycle;
    \draw[fill=lightgray] (1.5,0-\q,-1.5)--(1.5,-0.2-\q,-1.5)--(1.5,-0.2-\q,1.5)--(1.5,0-\q,1.5)--cycle;
    \draw[fill=lightgray] (1.5,-0.2-\q,1.5)--(-1.5,-0.2-\q,1.5)--(-1.5,0-\q,1.5)--(1.5,0-\q,1.5)--cycle;
    \draw (0,-\q,0)--++(0,2,0)node[above right]{$+$};
\end{tikzpicture}%
\begin{tikzpicture}[tdplot_main_coords,scale=0.5]
    \tdplotsetrotatedcoords{90}{90}{90}%

    \draw (0,0,0)--++(0,-2.3,0)node[above left]{$-$};

    % draw condensore plate
    \draw[fill=lightgray] (-1.5,0,-1.5)--(-1.5,0,1.5)--(1.5,0,1.5)--(1.5,0,-1.5)--cycle;
    \draw[fill=lightgray] (1.5,0,-1.5)--(1.5,-0.2,-1.5)--(1.5,-0.2,1.5)--(1.5,0,1.5)--cycle;
    \draw[fill=lightgray] (1.5,-0.2,1.5)--(-1.5,-0.2,1.5)--(-1.5,0,1.5)--(1.5,0,1.5)--cycle;

    % draw surface
    \def\q{-2.3}
    \def\R{3}
    \draw (0,-0.5*\q,0) coordinate(R);
    \tdplotdrawarc[tdplot_rotated_coords,fill=lightgray,fill opacity=0.5,draw=black]{(R)}{\R}{0}{360}{}{}
    \draw[tdplot_rotated_coords](R)++(-110:\R) node[below left]{$S_1$};
    \draw[tdplot_rotated_coords](R)++(70:\R) node[above right]{$C$};
    \tdplotsetrotatedcoords{0}{70}{90}
    \draw[tdplot_rotated_coords](R)++(90:\R) coordinate (A) circle(0.5pt);
    \draw[tdplot_rotated_coords,fill opacity=0.5,fill=lightgray!30](A)arc(90:270:\R);
    \tdplotsetrotatedcoords{90}{90}{90}
    \tdplotdrawarc[tdplot_rotated_coords,fill=lightgray!10,draw=black]{(R)}{\R}{0}{360}{}{}
    \begin{scope}

    % draw condensor plate again, inside (clip outside)
    \clip[tdplot_rotated_coords] (R)++(0:\R) arc (0:360:\R);
    \draw[fill=lightgray] (-1.5,0,-1.5)--(-1.5,0,1.5)--(1.5,0,1.5)--(1.5,0,-1.5)--cycle;
    \draw[fill=lightgray] (1.5,0,-1.5)--(1.5,-0.2,-1.5)--(1.5,-0.2,1.5)--(1.5,0,1.5)--cycle;
    \draw[fill=lightgray] (1.5,-0.2,1.5)--(-1.5,-0.2,1.5)--(-1.5,0,1.5)--(1.5,0,1.5)--cycle;
    \end{scope}
    \draw[tdplot_rotated_coords] (R)++(0:\R) arc (0:360:\R);

    % draw second condensor plate
    \draw[fill=lightgray] (-1.5,0-\q,-1.5)--(-1.5,0-\q,1.5)--(1.5,0-\q,1.5)--(1.5,0-\q,-1.5)--cycle;
    \draw[fill=lightgray] (1.5,0-\q,-1.5)--(1.5,-0.2-\q,-1.5)--(1.5,-0.2-\q,1.5)--(1.5,0-\q,1.5)--cycle;
    \draw[fill=lightgray] (1.5,-0.2-\q,1.5)--(-1.5,-0.2-\q,1.5)--(-1.5,0-\q,1.5)--(1.5,0-\q,1.5)--cycle;
    \draw (0,-\q,0)--++(0,2,0)node[above right]{$+$};
\end{tikzpicture}
\bigskip

\tdplotsetmaincoords{90}{120} 
\tdplotsetrotatedcoords{90}{90}{0}
\begin{tikzpicture}[tdplot_main_coords,scale=1.6]
    % praw circular plate
    \tdplotdrawarc[tdplot_rotated_coords,fill=lightgray,draw=lightgray,line width=0pt]{(0,-0.5,0)}{1}{0}{360}{}{}
    \tdplotdrawarc[tdplot_rotated_coords,fill=lightgray]{(0,-0.5,0)}{1}{180}{360}{}{}
    \tdplotdrawarc[tdplot_rotated_coords,fill=lightgray]{(0,0,0)}{1}{0}{360}{}{}
    \draw[yshift=1cm](0,0)--(0.5,0);
    \draw[yshift=-1cm](0,0)--(0.5,0);

    \draw[help lines] (0,0,0)--(-9,0,0)node[right]{$s$};
    \draw[help lines] (-6,0,0)--(-6,0,1.5);
    \draw[fill](-6,0,0) circle (0.5pt) node[above,fill=white]{$P(a)$}node[below]{$q$};
    \draw[fill](-6,0,0) circle (0.5pt);

    % draw inner circle
    \tdplotdrawarc[tdplot_rotated_coords,help lines]{(0,0,0)}{0.6}{0}{360}{}{}
    \draw[tdplot_rotated_coords,<->](0,0,0)--node[below]{$r$}(0.05,-0.6);
    \draw[tdplot_rotated_coords,<->](0,0,0)--node[right]{$R$}(0.7,0.7);

    % dtheta angle
    \draw[tdplot_rotated_coords](-0.42,-0.42,0)--(-0.57,-0.57,0);
    \draw[tdplot_rotated_coords](-0.6,0,0)--(-0.8,0,0);
    \tdplotdrawarc[tdplot_rotated_coords]{(0,0,0)}{0.8}{180}{225}{}{}
    \tdplotdrawarc[tdplot_rotated_coords]{(0,0,0)}{0.6}{180}{225}{}{}

    \draw[tdplot_rotated_coords,help lines](0,0,0)--(-1.1,-1.1,0);
    \draw[tdplot_rotated_coords,help lines](0,0,0)--(-1.5,0,0);
    \tdplotdrawarc[tdplot_rotated_coords,<->]{(0,0,0)}{1.4}{180}{225}{above left}{$\ud\theta$}

    % annotate stuff
    \draw[tdplot_rotated_coords] (-0.65,-0.25,0) coordinate (X);
    \draw[vector,->] (X)--node[above]{$x$}(-6,0,0);
    \draw[<->] (0,0,1.2)--node[above]{$a$}(-6,0,1.2);
    \draw (-0.2,0,-1) node[right]{$S$};
    \draw[vector,->] (-6,0,0)--(-7,0,0)node[below]{$\ve{K}$};
    \draw[vector,->] (-6,0,0)--(-8,0,0)node[below]{$\ve{E}$};
    \tdplotsetrotatedcoords{0}{90}{90}
    \draw(-6,0,0) coordinate (Q);
    \tdplotdrawarc[tdplot_rotated_coords]{(Q)}{1.2}{170}{180}{left}{$\phi$}
\end{tikzpicture}

\end{document}

(note that the above code is just copy pasted code, sometimes from pretty old documents, so it may be that there is some inefficient code in there, from when I wasn't that good at TikZ yet). Compiling the above document gives you these figures: euclidian space condensator gauss law

You can do pretty much everything it TikZ although sometimes it gets pretty hairy to get there. I remember I once drew the Stern Gerlach experiment in 3D (strangely shaped magnets, and their field lines) but I lost the code to that. TeXample also has a 3D category, which holds numerous examples of 3D images that can be done in TikZ.

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Updates:

  • To my great surprise, Christian Feuersänger has managed to include Bezier surfaces in his wonderful pgfplots package; see his comment below. I still much prefer the Asymptote-style lighting, especially the specularity. But I do not know whether the dearth of similar examples using pgfplots is because it is not feasible, or simply a matter of taste.
  • Concerning documentation: I have been writing a tutorial for Asymptote that is modeled on the first TikZ tutorial (but not, I hope, to the point of plagiarism). The three-dimensional explanations are still at a very early stage, but I believe the chapter on two-dimensional drawing is complete enough to be usable, and much more user-friendly than the official Asympote manual. Feedback is appreciated.

I would like to add a few points that do not seem to have been brought up yet:

  • Documentation: The TikZ documentation is fabulous. The Asymptote documentation is okay, but could be significantly more user-friendly. And there are many aspects of Asymptote that are not documented except in the source code.
  • Modularity: It is much easier and more natural to define things with names like a, b, and f in Asymptote without fear that these will somehow interfere with something else. It's also easier to create an object and then use it in several different ways, although I imagine the TikZ situation here will improve once the object-oriented aspects are more fully integrated into the documentation.
  • Bezier surfaces: Using Asymptote, it is possible to draw a complicated 3D surface that appears perfectly smooth (no corners where grid lines meet). I can't imagine that any TeX-based drawing program will ever be able to imitate this feat, even calling gnuplot. Likewise, Asymptote can provide complex shading (with specularity, etc.) that is almost certainly beyond the scope of TikZ or any TeX-based system. See, for instance, the picture of the Klein bottle at the Asymptote gallery.
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pgfplots as tikz library supports complicated and smooth 3d surfaces in a very simple and elegant way by means of its surf and shader keys which do a very good job for standard visualizations, compare tex.stackexchange.com/questions/97502/…. For advanced stuff see tex.stackexchange.com/questions/99133/… –  Christian Feuersänger Sep 14 '13 at 14:41
    
Do Janet's students care about dashing patterns as Karl's students don't? –  Who is crazy first Nov 11 '13 at 17:49

I'm afraid I'm also partial to TikZ... :)

In addition to the arguments listed, I'd like to add one in favor of Asymptote, though: it has real 3D support, something TikZ lacks. (But will have one day, hopefully.)

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I like tikz-3dplot. It is a package that allows some pretty powerful 3d drawing in tikz. I've managed to do some awesome drawing using it. –  romeovs Jan 7 '12 at 13:46
    
@romeovs: Would you mind submitting the drawings you mentioned to TeXample.net? As Count Zero mentioned, 3D stuff is not TikZ' strongest point, so it would be good to see examples of what's possible nonetheless. –  Jake Feb 15 '12 at 9:11

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