# How to draw an Euler angle rotation sequence with TikZ?

For some lecture notes I want to illustrate successive unit axis rotations using Euler angles. I am quite happy with what I came up with so far: However, I am failing at drawing the angles in between the successive roations. For example, I would like to have theta_1 between x_I and x' etc. Like so: where the lines should (ideally...) be arcs, and be labelled.

I achieve the last one of the pictures above with the following code using the tikz-3dplot package.

\begin{tikzpicture}[scale=2.5,tdplot_main_coords]

% Set origin of main (body) coordinate system
\coordinate (O) at (0,0,0);

% Draw main coordinate system
\draw[red, ,->] (0,0,0) -- (1,0,0) node[anchor=north east]{$x_{\mathcal{I}}$};
\draw[red, ,->] (0,0,0) -- (0,1,0) node[anchor=north west]{$y_{\mathcal{I}}$};
\draw[red, ,->] (0,0,0) -- (0,0,1) node[anchor=south]{$z_{\mathcal{I}}$};

% Intermediate frame 1
\tdplotsetrotatedcoords{\zRot}{0}{0}
\draw[tdplot_rotated_coords,->, blue] (0,0,0) -- (1,0,0) node[anchor=north east]{$x'$};
\draw[tdplot_rotated_coords,->, blue] (0,0,0) -- (0,1,0) node[anchor=west]{$y'$};
\draw[tdplot_rotated_coords,->, blue] (0,0,0) -- (0,0,1) node[anchor=west]{$z'$};

% Intermediate frame 2
\tdplotsetrotatedcoords{\zRot}{\yRot}{0}
\draw[,tdplot_rotated_coords,->, green] (0,0,0) -- (1,0,0) node[anchor=
north]{};
\draw[,tdplot_rotated_coords,->, green] (0,0,0) -- (0,1,0)
node[anchor=west]{$y''$};
\draw[,tdplot_rotated_coords,->, green] (0,0,0) -- (0,0,1)
node[anchor=south]{$z''$};

% Rotate to final frame
\tdplotsetrotatedcoords{\zRot}{\yRot}{\xRot}
\draw[thick,tdplot_rotated_coords,->, cyan] (0,0,0) -- (1,0,0)
node[anchor=west]{$x_{\mathcal{B}}$, \textcolor{green}{$x''$}};
\draw[thick,tdplot_rotated_coords,->, cyan] (0,0,0) -- (0,1,0) node[anchor=west]{$y_{\mathcal{B}}$};
\draw[thick,tdplot_rotated_coords,->, cyan] (0,0,0) -- (0,0,1) node[anchor=south]{$z_{\mathcal{B}}$};

\end{tikzpicture}


The full code is pasted here, not to crowd this up too much:
http://pastebin.com/pYW6iyEP

Long story short: How can I draw arcs in between the individual coordinate systems?

You can solve your problem using \tdplotdrawarc[coordinates_frame,->,colo]{origin}{radius}{start angle}{end angle}{node info}{label}
Before using that you might have to rotate the theta-plane using \tdplotsetrotatedthetaplanecoords{angle}. I find it kind of unintuitive to use/ difficult to imagine how the angles should be. Therefore, it might really help to first draw a complete circle using \tdplotdrawarc[coordinates_frame,->,colo]{origin}{radius}{0}{360}{node info}{label} and adapting the angle in \tdplotsetrotatedthetaplanecoords{angel} until the circle is in the correct plane.

A solution to your third picture would be:

\begin{tikzpicture}[scale=2.5,tdplot_main_coords]

% Set origin of main (body) coordinate system
\coordinate (O) at (0,0,0);

% Draw main coordinate system
\draw[red, ,->] (0,0,0) -- (1,0,0) node[anchor=north east]{$x_{\mathcal{I}}$};
\draw[red, ,->] (0,0,0) -- (0,1,0) node[anchor=north west]{$y_{\mathcal{I}}$};
\draw[red, ,->] (0,0,0) -- (0,0,1) node[anchor=south]{$z_{\mathcal{I}}$};

% Intermediate frame 1
\tdplotsetrotatedcoords{\zRot}{0}{0}
\draw[tdplot_rotated_coords,->, blue] (0,0,0) -- (1,0,0) node[anchor=north east]{$x'$};
\draw[tdplot_rotated_coords,->, blue] (0,0,0) -- (0,1,0) node[anchor=west]{$y'$};
\draw[tdplot_rotated_coords,->, blue] (0,0,0) -- (0,0,1) node[anchor=west]{$z'$};

\tdplotsetrotatedthetaplanecoords{90}
%draw theta arc and label
%\tdplotdrawarc[tdplot_rotated_coords,->,color=blue]{(0,0,0)}{0.5}{0}{350}{anchor=south west,color=gray}{$\alpha$}
\tdplotdrawarc[tdplot_rotated_coords,->,color=gray]{(0,0,0)}{0.5}{80}{90}{anchor=south west,color=gray}{$\alpha$}
\tdplotdrawarc[tdplot_rotated_coords,->,color=gray]{(0,0,0)}{0.5}{170}{180}{anchor=south west,color=gray,  yshift = -15 pt}{$\alpha$}

%% Intermediate frame 2
\tdplotsetrotatedcoords{\zRot}{\yRot}{0}
\draw[,tdplot_rotated_coords,->, green] (0,0,0) -- (1,0,0) node[anchor=
north]{};
\draw[,tdplot_rotated_coords,->, green] (0,0,0) -- (0,1,0)
node[anchor=west]{$y''$};
\draw[,tdplot_rotated_coords,->, green] (0,0,0) -- (0,0,1)
node[anchor=south]{$z''$};
\tdplotsetrotatedthetaplanecoords{60}
%draw theta arc and label
%\tdplotdrawarc[tdplot_rotated_coords,->,color=green]{(0,0,0)}{0.5}{0}{350}{anchor=north,color=gray}{$\beta$}
\tdplotdrawarc[tdplot_rotated_coords,->,color=gray]{(0,0,0)}{0.5}{80}{90}{anchor=north,color=gray}{$\beta$}
\tdplotdrawarc[tdplot_rotated_coords,->,color=gray]{(0,0,0)}{0.5}{310}{320}{anchor=south west,color=gray}{$\beta$}
%
% Rotate to final frame
\tdplotsetrotatedcoords{\zRot}{\yRot}{\xRot}
\draw[thick,tdplot_rotated_coords,->, cyan] (0,0,0) -- (1,0,0)
node[anchor=west]{$x_{\mathcal{B}}$, \textcolor{green}{$x''$}};
\draw[thick,tdplot_rotated_coords,->, cyan] (0,0,0) -- (0,1,0) node[anchor=west]{$y_{\mathcal{B}}$};
\draw[thick,tdplot_rotated_coords,->, cyan] (0,0,0) -- (0,0,1) node[anchor=south]{$z_{\mathcal{B}}$};

\tdplotsetrotatedthetaplanecoords{30}
%draw theta arc and label
%\tdplotdrawarc[tdplot_rotated_coords,->,color=cyan]{(0,0,0)}{0.5}{0}{350}{anchor=north,color=gray}{$\gamma$}
\tdplotdrawarc[tdplot_rotated_coords,->,color=gray]{(0,0,0)}{0.5}{215}{225}{anchor=north,color=gray, yshift = 15pt}{$\gamma$}
\tdplotdrawarc[tdplot_rotated_coords,->,color=gray]{(0,0,0)}{0.5}{328}{338}{anchor=south west,color=gray}{$\gamma$}

\end{tikzpicture} I got stucked with the same problem and Zwähnia's solution is great and works perfectly in the case you works with Euler angle but couldn't help me with Tait-Bryan angle. There is kind of a bug and I couldn't track it down yet, so there is a workaround.

The problem I had comes from the fact you redefined the \tdplotcalctransformrotmain command (and so did I). This makes in some point tikz-3dplot go crazy. As you can see in the first graph, using tikz-3dplot implementation of the rotation, the circle are drawn in the z_B - x_B plane (the blue circle), y_B - z_B (the red circle) and x_B - y_B (the black circle) whereas in the Tait-Bryan case the red and the black circle are in the same plane The codes are similar though...

\documentclass{standalone}
\usepackage{tikz}
\usepackage{tikz-3dplot}
\usepackage{pgfplots}
% Workaround for making use of externalization possible
% -> remove hardcoded pdflatex and replace by lualatex
\usepgfplotslibrary{external}

% Redefine rotation sequence for tikz3d-plot to z-y-x
\newcommand{\tdseteulerxyz}{
\renewcommand{\tdplotcalctransformrotmain}{%
%perform some trig for the Euler transformation
\tdplotsinandcos{\sinalpha}{\cosalpha}{\tdplotalpha}
\tdplotsinandcos{\sinbeta}{\cosbeta}{\tdplotbeta}
\tdplotsinandcos{\singamma}{\cosgamma}{\tdplotgamma}
%
\tdplotmult{\sasb}{\sinalpha}{\sinbeta}
\tdplotmult{\sasg}{\sinalpha}{\singamma}
\tdplotmult{\sasbsg}{\sasb}{\singamma}
%
\tdplotmult{\sacb}{\sinalpha}{\cosbeta}
\tdplotmult{\sacg}{\sinalpha}{\cosgamma}
\tdplotmult{\sasbcg}{\sasb}{\cosgamma}
%
\tdplotmult{\casb}{\cosalpha}{\sinbeta}
\tdplotmult{\cacb}{\cosalpha}{\cosbeta}
\tdplotmult{\cacg}{\cosalpha}{\cosgamma}
\tdplotmult{\casg}{\cosalpha}{\singamma}
%
\tdplotmult{\cbsg}{\cosbeta}{\singamma}
\tdplotmult{\cbcg}{\cosbeta}{\cosgamma}
%
\tdplotmult{\casbsg}{\casb}{\singamma}
\tdplotmult{\casbcg}{\casb}{\cosgamma}
%
%determine rotation matrix elements for Euler transformation
\pgfmathsetmacro{\raaeul}{\cacb}
\pgfmathsetmacro{\rabeul}{\casbsg - \sacg}
\pgfmathsetmacro{\raceul}{\sasg + \casbcg}
\pgfmathsetmacro{\rbaeul}{\sacb}
\pgfmathsetmacro{\rbbeul}{\sasbsg + \cacg}
\pgfmathsetmacro{\rbceul}{\sasbcg - \casg}
\pgfmathsetmacro{\rcaeul}{-\sinbeta}
\pgfmathsetmacro{\rcbeul}{\cbsg}
\pgfmathsetmacro{\rcceul}{\cbcg}
}
}

% Set the plot display orientation
% Syntax: \tdplotsetdisplay{\theta_d}{\phi_d}
\tdplotsetmaincoords{60}{140}

\pgfmathsetmacro{\zRot}{10}
\pgfmathsetmacro{\yRot}{10}
\pgfmathsetmacro{\xRot}{10}
%%%%%%%%% Using standard euler angles implemented in default tikz-3dplot implementation
\begin{document}
%%%%%%%%%%%%% Z-Y-Z
\begin{tikzpicture}[scale=2.5,tdplot_main_coords]

% Set origin of main (body) coordinate system
\coordinate (O) at (0,0,0);

% Draw main coordinate system
\draw[red, ,->] (0,0,0) -- (1,0,0) node[anchor=north east]{$x_{\mathcal{I}}$};
\draw[red, ,->] (0,0,0) -- (0,1,0) node[anchor=north west]{$y_{\mathcal{I}}$};
\draw[red, ,->] (0,0,0) -- (0,0,1) node[anchor=south]{$z_{\mathcal{I}}$};

% Rotate to final frame
\tdplotsetrotatedcoords{\zRot}{\yRot}{\xRot}
\draw[thick,tdplot_rotated_coords,->, cyan] (0,0,0) -- (1,0,0) node[anchor=west]{$x_{\mathcal{B}}$};
\draw[thick,tdplot_rotated_coords,->, cyan] (0,0,0) -- (0,1,0) node[anchor=west]{$y_{\mathcal{B}}$};
\draw[thick,tdplot_rotated_coords,->, cyan] (0,0,0) -- (0,0,1) node[anchor=south]{$z_{\mathcal{B}}$};

%Draws circle representing the rotated planes. Each of these should be "pointed" by two arrows.
\tdplotdrawarc[dashed,tdplot_rotated_coords,->,color=black]{(0,0,0)}{1}{0}{350}{anchor=south west,color=black}{$x-y$}
\tdplotsetrotatedthetaplanecoords{0}
\tdplotdrawarc[dashed,tdplot_rotated_coords,->,color=blue]{(0,0,0)}{1}{0}{350}{anchor=south west,color=blue}{$x-z$}
\tdplotsetrotatedthetaplanecoords{90}
\tdplotdrawarc[dashed,tdplot_rotated_coords,->,color=red]{(0,0,0)}{1}{0}{350}{anchor=south west,color=red}{$y-z$}
\end{tikzpicture}

%%%%%% Change the rotation matrix in order to use Tait-Bryan angles
\tdseteulerxyz
%%%%%%%%%%%%% Z-Y-X
\begin{tikzpicture}[scale=2.5,tdplot_main_coords]

% Set origin of main (body) coordinate system
\coordinate (O) at (0,0,0);

% Draw main coordinate system
\draw[red, ,->] (0,0,0) -- (1,0,0) node[anchor=north east]{$x_{\mathcal{I}}$};
\draw[red, ,->] (0,0,0) -- (0,1,0) node[anchor=north west]{$y_{\mathcal{I}}$};
\draw[red, ,->] (0,0,0) -- (0,0,1) node[anchor=south]{$z_{\mathcal{I}}$};

% Rotate to final frame
\tdplotsetrotatedcoords{\zRot}{\yRot}{\xRot}
\draw[thick,tdplot_rotated_coords,->, cyan] (0,0,0) -- (1,0,0) node[anchor=west]{$x_{\mathcal{B}}$};
\draw[thick,tdplot_rotated_coords,->, cyan] (0,0,0) -- (0,1,0) node[anchor=west]{$y_{\mathcal{B}}$};
\draw[thick,tdplot_rotated_coords,->, cyan] (0,0,0) -- (0,0,1) node[anchor=south]{$z_{\mathcal{B}}$};

%Draws circle representing the rotated planes. Each of these should be "pointed" by two arrows.
\tdplotdrawarc[dashed,tdplot_rotated_coords,->,color=black]{(0,0,0)}{1}{0}{350}{anchor=south west,color=black}{$x-y$}
\tdplotsetrotatedthetaplanecoords{0}
\tdplotdrawarc[dashed,tdplot_rotated_coords,->,color=blue]{(0,0,0)}{1}{0}{350}{anchor=south west,color=blue}{$x-z$}
\tdplotsetrotatedthetaplanecoords{90}
\tdplotdrawarc[dashed,tdplot_rotated_coords,->,color=red]{(0,0,0)}{1}{0}{350}{anchor=south west,color=red}{$y-z$}
\end{tikzpicture}
\end{document}


I wanted to preserve the use of the angle macros \xRot, \yRot and \zRot which is not possible anymore if you set up the tdplotsetrotatedthetaplanecoords as does Zwähnia. My solution consists in turning the coords backwards to find easily the good theta plane.

\documentclass{standalone}
\usepackage{tikz}
\usepackage{tikz-3dplot}
\usepackage{pgfplots}
% Workaround for making use of externalization possible
% -> remove hardcoded pdflatex and replace by lualatex
\usepgfplotslibrary{external}

% Redefine rotation sequence for tikz3d-plot to z-y-x
\newcommand{\tdseteulerxyz}{
\renewcommand{\tdplotcalctransformrotmain}{%
%perform some trig for the Euler transformation
\tdplotsinandcos{\sinalpha}{\cosalpha}{\tdplotalpha}
\tdplotsinandcos{\sinbeta}{\cosbeta}{\tdplotbeta}
\tdplotsinandcos{\singamma}{\cosgamma}{\tdplotgamma}
%
\tdplotmult{\sasb}{\sinalpha}{\sinbeta}
\tdplotmult{\sasg}{\sinalpha}{\singamma}
\tdplotmult{\sasbsg}{\sasb}{\singamma}
%
\tdplotmult{\sacb}{\sinalpha}{\cosbeta}
\tdplotmult{\sacg}{\sinalpha}{\cosgamma}
\tdplotmult{\sasbcg}{\sasb}{\cosgamma}
%
\tdplotmult{\casb}{\cosalpha}{\sinbeta}
\tdplotmult{\cacb}{\cosalpha}{\cosbeta}
\tdplotmult{\cacg}{\cosalpha}{\cosgamma}
\tdplotmult{\casg}{\cosalpha}{\singamma}
%
\tdplotmult{\cbsg}{\cosbeta}{\singamma}
\tdplotmult{\cbcg}{\cosbeta}{\cosgamma}
%
\tdplotmult{\casbsg}{\casb}{\singamma}
\tdplotmult{\casbcg}{\casb}{\cosgamma}
%
%determine rotation matrix elements for Euler transformation
\pgfmathsetmacro{\raaeul}{\cacb}
\pgfmathsetmacro{\rabeul}{\casbsg - \sacg}
\pgfmathsetmacro{\raceul}{\sasg + \casbcg}
\pgfmathsetmacro{\rbaeul}{\sacb}
\pgfmathsetmacro{\rbbeul}{\sasbsg + \cacg}
\pgfmathsetmacro{\rbceul}{\sasbcg - \casg}
\pgfmathsetmacro{\rcaeul}{-\sinbeta}
\pgfmathsetmacro{\rcbeul}{\cbsg}
\pgfmathsetmacro{\rcceul}{\cbcg}
}
}

% Set the plot display orientation
% Syntax: \tdplotsetdisplay{\theta_d}{\phi_d}
\tdplotsetmaincoords{60}{140}

\pgfmathsetmacro{\zRot}{10}
\pgfmathsetmacro{\yRot}{10}
\pgfmathsetmacro{\xRot}{10}
%%%%%%%%% Using standard euler angles implemented in default tikz-3dplot implementation
\begin{document}
%%%%%% Change the rotation matrix in order to use Tait-Bryan angles
\tdseteulerxyz
%%%%%%%%%%%%% Z-Y-X
\begin{tikzpicture}[scale=2.5,tdplot_main_coords]

% Set origin of main (body) coordinate system
\coordinate (O) at (0,0,0);

% Draw main coordinate system
\draw[red, ,->] (0,0,0) -- (1,0,0) node[anchor=north east]{$x_{\mathcal{I}}$};
\draw[red, ,->] (0,0,0) -- (0,1,0) node[anchor=north west]{$y_{\mathcal{I}}$};
\draw[red, ,->] (0,0,0) -- (0,0,1) node[anchor=south]{$z_{\mathcal{I}}$};

% Rotate to final frame
\tdplotsetrotatedcoords{\zRot}{\yRot}{\xRot}
\draw[thick,tdplot_rotated_coords,->, cyan] (0,0,0) -- (1,0,0) node[anchor=west]{$x_{\mathcal{B}}$};
\draw[thick,tdplot_rotated_coords,->, cyan] (0,0,0) -- (0,1,0) node[anchor=west]{$y_{\mathcal{B}}$};
\draw[thick,tdplot_rotated_coords,->, cyan] (0,0,0) -- (0,0,1) node[anchor=south]{$z_{\mathcal{B}}$};

%Draws circle representing the rotated planes. Each of these should be "pointed" by two arrows.
%\tdplotdrawarc[dashed,tdplot_rotated_coords,->,color=black]{(0,0,0)}{1}{0}{350}{anchor=south west,color=black}{$x-y$}
\tdplotsetrotatedthetaplanecoords{0}
\tdplotdrawarc[dashed,tdplot_rotated_coords,->,color=blue]{(0,0,0)}{1}{0}{350}{anchor=south west,color=blue}{$x-z$}
\tdplotsetrotatedthetaplanecoords{90}
\tdplotdrawarc[dashed,tdplot_rotated_coords,->,color=black]{(0,0,0)}{1}{0}{350}{anchor=south west,color=black}{$y-z$}

% Instead, rotates in the opposite direction
\tdplotsetrotatedcoords{\zRot+90}{\yRot}{\xRot}
%Draw the last circle in the right plane
\tdplotsetrotatedthetaplanecoords{0}
\tdplotdrawarc[dashed,tdplot_rotated_coords,->,color=red]{(0,0,0)}{1}{0}{350}{anchor=south west,color=red}{$x-z$}

\end{tikzpicture}
\end{document}


It's not really pretty but it has the advantage of staying with the use of the angle macros and allows to draw the sequence as I wanted it (I finish my last tikzpicture and I update my answer with it).

Hope this helps.

Cheers.

• Could you explain how you constructed those circles or ellipses in 3D instead of a 2D plane? I have been looking for an answer to that here – dustin Jul 16 '13 at 13:59
• I used the dedicated package tikz-3dplot. Nevertheless I don't know how to draw 3D ellipses using this package, only 3d circles which appears as ellipses. – Vser Jul 16 '13 at 14:33
• Unfortunately my "solution" in the previous post isn't really working ; I didn't tested it carefully enough. As soon as I get a solution I'll update the answer. – Vser Jul 16 '13 at 16:09
• If you need the transposed matix, you can modify the example: % Redefine rotation sequence for tikz3d-plot to x-y-z \newcommand{\tdseteulerzyx}{ ... %determine rotation matrix elements for Euler transformation \pgfmathsetmacro{\raaeul}{\cacb} \pgfmathsetmacro{\rabeul}{\sacb} \pgfmathsetmacro{\raceul}{-\sinbeta} \pgfmathsetmacro{\rbaeul}{\casbsg - \sacg} \pgfmathsetmacro{\rbbeul}{\sasbsg + \cacg} \pgfmathsetmacro{\rbceul}{\cbsg} \pgfmathsetmacro{\rcaeul}{\sasg + \casbcg} \pgfmathsetmacro{\rcbeul}{\sasbcg - \casg} \pgfmathsetmacro{\rcceul}{\cbcg} } } – Konne Jan 4 '15 at 14:27
• @Konne Sorry, this post is like a year old and I can't remember what I was doing then :) I even totally forgot I swore to edit my post when solved... Thanks to reminding me this answer, maybe I'll try to update it ! But anyway, I don't think it was about transposing ;) – Vser Jan 5 '15 at 15:24

Here is a different proposal based on two other parametrizations -- Euler z-x-z and Cardan x-y-z. The full code can be found here on Pastebin.

The general idea is as follows:

% Define new arc command
% Syntax: [draw options] (center) (initial angle:final angle:radius)
% https://tex.stackexchange.com/a/66220
\def\centerarc[#1](#2)(#3:#4:#5){%
\draw [#1] ($(#2)+({#5*cos(#3)}, {#5*sin(#3)})$) arc (#3:#4:#5)%
}

\centerarc[tdplot_rotated_coords, canvas is yx plane at z=0.7, arrows = {latex}-{}](0, 0)(230 : 570 : 0.15)%
node[anchor = north west, xshift = +2mm, yshift = -3mm, inner sep = \TikzInnerSep]%
{1. $\psi$};


Results:

• Welcome to TeX.SX! Please post your minmale working answer directly. The link doesn't work in some time. – Bobyandbob Sep 23 '17 at 11:32