How can I draw on an axis from pgfplots? I already found out, that I somehow have to use axis cs: in front of the coordinates (what does cs mean?), but the following example does not draw the ellipse:

    \draw (axis cs:0,0) ellipse (1cm,1cm);

What am I doing wrong? What's the general way of drawing on an axis plot?

  • 4
    Your example works for me with supplied limits (xmin, etc.) and \pgfplotsset{compat=1.7} (the manual (section 4.16 “Custom Annotations”) demands for > 1.5.1). cs stands for coordinate system. By the way, the (old) syntax for the ellipse is (1cm and 1cm), although I recommend [x radius=1cm, y radius=1cm]. Mar 27, 2013 at 18:58
  • 2
    @Qrrbrbirlbel Your comment is the best answer that I am aware of. You should probably turn it into an answer Mar 27, 2013 at 19:08
  • @ChristianFeuersänger I have answered. Hopefully you can agree with everything that is said. I don’t often find my self using the pgfplots package, so I rather leave a comment or a suggestion (or wait for the author’s approval ;)). Mar 28, 2013 at 17:43
  • Side note, in newer versions/compatibility mode you can drop the axis cs tikz pgf - Make "axis cs" the default coordinate system in a PGFPlots plot - TeX - LaTeX Stack Exchange
    – user202729
    Jul 2, 2022 at 13:26

1 Answer 1


Let’s break it down:

The “older syntax” for the ellipse path operator is ellipse (<x radius> and <y radius>).

But, there is a newer and better syntax. I agree here with the manual:

Note: There also exists an older syntax for circles [and ellipses], where the radius of the circle is given in parentheses right after the circle command as in circle (1pt). Although this syntax is a bit more succinct, it is harder to understand for readers of the code and the use of parentheses for something other than a coordinate is ill-chosen.

  — PGF manual, section 14.7 “The circle and Ellipse Operations”, p. 148

The following syntax is much more readable:

\draw (axis cs:0,0) ellipse [x radius=1cm, y radius=1cm];

and you could also add scale and rotate options or can use them in the every circle style or …

But still, no output of an ellipse. :(

Reading section 4.16 “Custom Annotations”, pp. 263ff of the pgfplots manual we can find a few examples using the ellipse path operator, where axes limits are always given. These are needed if the axis environment does not contain one single plot.

So, this works:

  \addplot {x^2 - x + 4};
  \draw (axis cs:0,0) ellipse [x radius=1cm, y radius=1cm];

This does not:

  \draw (axis cs:0,0) ellipse [x radius=1cm, y radius=1cm];

But this:

  \draw (axis cs:0,0) ellipse [x radius=1cm, y radius=1cm];

You can also use radii given in pgfplots direction vectors, these automatically use the axis direction cs (cs stands for Coordinate System, which itself has a big chapter in the PGF manual). To do this you will need to set at least compat=1.5.1.

Simply omit the dimension units and pgfplots automatically assumes the axis direction cs:

\draw (axis cs:0,0) ellipse [x radius=2,  y radius=.5];


%    \addplot {x^2 - x +4};
    \draw (axis cs:0,0) ellipse [x radius=1cm, y radius=1cm];
    \draw (axis cs:0,0) ellipse [x radius=2,  y radius=.5];


enter image description here

  • 1
    The answer is good. In addition, there is one further useful option: if you omit the unit cm, pgfplots will assume that the radii are expressed in axis units (requires compat=1.7 - or was it 1.6?) . Apr 1, 2013 at 10:13
  • @ChristianFeuersänger I thought I have described this with the latter paragraph, maybe it was easily skipped. I have added a few words and separated the paragraph a little bit more. According to the manual (p. 266 in the 1.7-260-ge1fb941 revision), it requires 1.5.1`. Apr 1, 2013 at 15:30
  • Oh. Sorry about that and thanks for the clarification! Apr 1, 2013 at 15:49

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