I was reading a paper or Computed Tomography, and I found these two nice diagrams:

enter image description here enter image description here

And I was wondering, what tool was used to make them. I've worked with Tikz for example, but I believe it would be time consuming to write all that code for these graphs. In addition, I've looked at Inkscape and Gimp, but I don't see how they can be used for these type of diagrams. Finally, I looked at Metapost and that seems like the best candidate. What do you guys think? Is there a nice GUI for drawing these kind of technical plots (2D,3D) with labels and latex fonts? Or should I just stick with coding it up in Metapost or Tikz?


  • 4
    From the images alone, we are not going to be able to say what was used to produce them. They certainly look well within the capabilities of TikZ or PSTricks.
    – Joseph Wright
    Commented Jan 26, 2013 at 20:11
  • I know what you mean, but I was wondering if you've seen similar stuff or if you know of some GUI that could do it. My issue with Tikz is the 2D-ness. I would have to do the perspectives myself instead of being able to draw lines directly in 3D or being able to snap them.
    – Damian
    Commented Jan 26, 2013 at 20:13
  • 1
    Looks like Ipe.
    – percusse
    Commented Jan 26, 2013 at 21:00
  • 1
    I'm learning Ipe right now. I'll try that out. Thanks!
    – Damian
    Commented Jan 26, 2013 at 21:41
  • 1
    Considering the font, I vote for M$ W@&d
    – yo'
    Commented Jan 26, 2013 at 23:42

2 Answers 2


That doesn't look like it was created with a 3D-aware drawing tool - the sheets look like they were meant to be sections from a cylinder that didn't quite come out right, and it has that freehand look about it. I guess it wasn't created using Word's Drawing Tool: building up pictures by joining together curves is brutal in that environment, but Visio would be a good bet.

If you want a Tex-aware GUI drawing tool, people speak highly of Inkscape, which is a serious 2D drafting tool with support for ensuring lines are in proportion, to help avoid the freehand look. Inkscape supports export to embedded PS/ PDF, as well as to Xfig, allowing you to use the Xfig export function. Additionally, it supports export to SVG, which is used by the inkscape2tikz program. I can't say more, since I haven't seriously used Inkscape.

Xfig gives you less sophisticated drawing support, but better integration with Tex: it allows limited export to both the Latex picture environment and full export to Metapost. It is pleasant enough to use, but the results do look hand drawn.

Or finally, the figures do not look so difficult to draw algorithmically either using Metapost or Tikz. Metapost is very nice for computing complex figures using line intersections, which would be useful for the example diagrams.

  • I'd like to weigh in my voice of discord for Inkscape being good; the SVG it generates can be cut down to, like, 80% in size vs making it manually. Ridiculously high decimal precision is one reason, and the whole idea of keeping the material for GUI right there in the file itself is another.
    – morbusg
    Commented Jan 30, 2013 at 12:05
  • @morbusg Same comments can be made about (La)TeX and PS or PDF. Do you make your PDF or PS manually? Commented Jan 30, 2013 at 12:51
  • @Paul: I don't think you can say the same with the same reasoning; for instance, what Indesign and such have is a internal representation of the graphic which is then casted as SVG; the resulting SVG does not carry the information about itself's "parsing" on that program. Or did you mean the precision? If that's the case, then for the majority of images produced, that amount of precision is unnecessary and should default to something lower. (In my opinion, of course).
    – morbusg
    Commented Jan 30, 2013 at 13:09
  • @morbusg I agree with you about specific data that inkscape stores in SVG. Fortunately, inkscape can save "SVG simple" files (SVG without specific data of inkscape). But precision is essential if you want to zoom... Commented Jan 30, 2013 at 13:52
  • @morbusg - As I say, I don't use Inkscape myself, but it is the one free vector drawing utility with what it calls object snapping (or what Illustrator/ Indesign call dynamic guides or OmniGraffle calls smart guides), which are often essential to getting good layout in a reasonable length of time. This kind of tool support is more valuable, I think, than cleanliness of the SVG files it generates. My guess about the "junk" in the output file is that it is there so that Inkscape can reconstruct what the user is doing from the object file; this is pretty common. Commented Jan 30, 2013 at 15:42

For years, under linux, the answer to that question has been Xfig. However, the interface of Xfig is a bit cumbersome (especially the use of the three buttons is necessary most of the time) if you want a GUI. On other platforms, use of any vector drawing program should be enough.

There are many defects in the original image. See for example the voxel box in pseudo 3d, the "rows" arrow and the \phi and \theta angles.

As Joseph wrote, Tikz or PSTricks seems a good candidate for this; this is not a GUI (Xfig can export to either of these if I recall correctly).

  • Xfig exports to Postscript, which is not as useful a format at Pstricks, which it does not support AFAIK: Pstricks figures can usually be compiled with Pdftex. Xfig does export to Fig and Metapost. You can convert Fig to Tikz, though the results are not perfectly clean; see tex.stackexchange.com/questions/46080/… Commented Jan 30, 2013 at 9:11
  • I have not used Xfig in a while (becoming more a tikz person myself), but I see in 2010: "New PSTricks driver from Gene Ressler (see man fig2dev for info)". The export may not be perfect. That said, I also agree that this figure could perfectly be done (right) algorithmically, i.e. directly in tikz, pstricks or Metapost. Commented Jan 31, 2013 at 5:47

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