I am looking for program/package recommendations for drawing graphs. I know similar questions have been asked before, but I have some pretty specific needs because of the project I'll be working on.

I am about to start a project where I'll be creating educational materials for high school math---Trigonometry to start with. There will be a lot of educational materials: I'll be creating full courses, putting them together using Beamer. Basically, this is the beginning of a multi-year project. As part of that project, I will be creating thousands of graphs.

I'm willing to learn a new program or LaTeX package(s) to make these graphs: upfront time investment is sensible given the number of graphs I'll be producing. It's just important that learning a new program improves later turnaround-time, quality, and the range of graphs I can produce.

As of right now, I'm pretty well-versed in GLE. It's not very well-known, but it's basically a command-line program (although I use a GUI version [QGLE]) that interprets documents written in the GLE language. If you don't know GLE, it's similar to gnuplot: runs outside of TeX, has its own scripting language, results exportable to many formats.

I currently have no experience with TeX packages that do graphing. I'm willing to learn one if it looks like it would help me, but I'm worried about significant increases to my compiling time. I know there are ways to compartmentalize documents, and that TikZ (for example) can "cache" graphs to speed up subsequent compiling, but I worry about the effort involved ultimately making it slower compared to a stand-alone graphics program.

To help identify the best match for what I'm working on, here's the feature list I'm looking for, along with some explanations on why specific features are needed.


  • Free and runs on Macs: No budget, work done on 2014 MacbookPro.
  • Graphs 2-d functions well: High school math, so this is most important.
  • Able to create template so all graphs have same "feel": It should be possible to create some sort of very easy to re-use template (starting document, code snippet, etc.) that will allow me to keep formatting options consistent.
  • When working from template, quick turn-around time: It's important that such a template allow a fast turn-around once put together. If I know the view window and the function definition, it should be as simple as typing them in the appropriate spots and telling it to compile.
  • Low load on Beamer typesetting: I'll have long Beamer documents already, so if I'm using a TeX package to create the graphs, it's important that compiling times don't balloon.
  • Can graph polar: I'll need to make polar graphs, and they're very hard to cheat using 2-d functions.
  • Color fills


  • Multi-platform, open source
  • Good/extensive documentation
  • Sensible to learn
  • Can annotate using LaTeX
  • Can graph parametric
  • Can graph implicit equations (x^2 + y^2 = 1, etc.)
  • Can graph in 3-d


  • Easy learning curve: As I said at the top, I'm willing to put a few whole days into learning whatever I wind up using. If it's a great program, it will be worth the upfront effort.
  • Data plotting / Statistics work: I have no plans to produce any content on statistics in the foreseeable future, so that feature, while nice, is unneeded.

Here's the current list of candidates. I have them in the order I'm likely to use them. Like I said before, I already know GLE (and it does a decent job!), so that's why it's at the top. But if I'm going to jump ship to a different program, I need to do that now, before I get underway with the project. Still, if there is a significantly better program to use than GLE, I'm happy to make the switch.

Candidates (in order of current preference)

Summary: What is the best program for creating large quantities (1000+) of graphs? The graphs will be used in Beamer documents and compiling times are an area of possible concern. I'm willing to put in significant time learning, but it is very important that I can create an efficient workflow in the long-term.

  • 1
    Welcome to TeX-sx! I think you mean plots, not graphs :-) (To a mathematician, a graph is to do with topology.) If you are happy with GLE is there a reason to want to change? Packages such as pgfplots let you do all of the settings 'inside' a document but I'm not clear if that is the issue here. Certainly anything working at the TeX side will be slower than simply including a graphic.
    – Joseph Wright
    Feb 13, 2015 at 20:31
  • 1
    You can add MetaPost to the list. I learnt it with this impressive and very well-made tutorial: staff.fnwi.uva.nl/a.j.p.heck/Courses/mptut.pdf Here is a link to the main manual: tug.org/docs/metapost/mpman.pdf Feb 13, 2015 at 20:36
  • 1
    One possible issue with a non-TeX graphics program is that fonts in the figure may differ from those in the document. This was actually what motivated me to learn TikZ & friends. As far as consistent formatting goes, I'd suggest defining your own document class (based on standalone perhaps) and use that to produce figures. Then simply use \includegraphics in your Beamer file wherever those figures are needed.
    – Herr K.
    Feb 13, 2015 at 20:55
  • I'd stick with a solution that requires no mouse-interaction. Do you know how many different kinds of plots you are going to require? I suggest you to think about the variety of graphs you will need and then to check the individual packages on how well they perform. Maybe you will even need more than one... Feb 13, 2015 at 21:09
  • One advantage of PsTricks is that its syntax is LaTeX-like – actually it's a LaTeX interface to PostScript. It is highly customisable and well documented, with examples and nowadays can be compiled with pdflatex thanks to the pdf option. It can plot parametric plots, polarplots (with radian unit if you wish) and implicit plots. You should in particular take a look at the pst-plot, pst-func and pstricks-add packages. There also exist geometric packages, pst-eucl for plane geometry and pst-poly for regular polygons.
    – Bernard
    Feb 13, 2015 at 21:11

1 Answer 1



  • Free and runs on Macs: All
  • Graphs 2-d functions well: All
  • Able to create template so all graphs have same "feel": All
  • When working from template, quick turn-around time: All
  • Low load on Beamer typesetting: Impossible. More plots more compilation time. You have to bite the bullet. But it's not as dramatic as you are scared of.
  • Can graph polar: Pgfplots, PSTricks, gnuplot (off the shelf) the rest as far as I know no.
  • Color fills: ??


  • Multi-platform, open source : All
  • Good/extensive documentation : TikZ/pgfplots. There is no competition on this.
  • Sensible to learn : ??
  • Can annotate using LaTeX : All with a TeX frontend
  • Can graph parametric : Except Ipe (some limited stuff with an Ipelet) and Geogebra (I think)
  • Can graph implicit equations (x^2 + y^2 = 1, etc.): Hopeless. TeX is not CAS and shouldn't be.
  • Can graph in 3-d: pgfplots/TikZ can't handle as good as PSTricks/Asymptote
  • 3
    Asy or Metapost would be low load on Beamer, as you have to create the plots first, and you don't have to recompile them each time you change the Beamer - but the trade off is more complex workflow. Asy and MP also can do polar plots easily enough.
    – Thruston
    Feb 14, 2015 at 0:10
  • @Thruston Handling 1K metapost files is a major issue. And does MP has readily available polar axes etc. or you mean only the function itself?
    – percusse
    Feb 14, 2015 at 0:11
  • 1
    1000 diagrams in any system is a major issue! But you don't have to have single files per diagram... There are polar plot examples for MP here on TexSE (but no it's not exactly out of the box).
    – Thruston
    Feb 14, 2015 at 0:15
  • 4
    @percusse Asymptote can deal with implicit equations. See p.32 and 75 of Charles Staat's tutorial: math.uchicago.edu/~cstaats/Charles_Staats_III/… MetaPost is able to do this as well (e.g. in the m3d package and also in the LaTeX interface mfpic) but sadly it's not fully developed yet. An example here with the mfpicpackage: tex.stackexchange.com/a/224883/25768. mfpic can be added to the list by the way, its main weakness being the triple compilation it needs. ctan.org/pkg/mfpic Feb 14, 2015 at 6:04
  • 2
    @percusse You're right, they don't solve implicit equations algebraically, but they do plot them (each in their own fashion), and that's what was required. Feb 14, 2015 at 10:07

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .