Gnuplotting

Create scientific plots using gnuplot

October 27th, 2010 | 5 Comments

If we have more than one graph that should be displayed in a figure, the multiplot command is the one to use in Gnuplot. But as we will see this is not a trivial task.
Let us consider we have four different functions that should be presented in the same figure as shown in Fig. 1.

nice multiplot

Fig. 1 A multiplot with reduced axes labeling and nicely arranged graphs (code to produce this figure)

The functions are given by:

# Functions (1/0 means not defined)
a = 0.9
f(x) = abs(x)<2*pi ? a*sin(x)           : 1/0
g(x) = abs(x)<2*pi ? a*sin(x+pi/2)      : 1/0
h(x) = abs(x)<2*pi ? a*sin(x+pi)        : 1/0
k(x) = abs(x)<2*pi ? a*sin(x+3.0/2*pi)  : 1/0

For an explanation of the used syntax to declare the functions have a look at the Defining piecewise functions article.

In a first attempt we just use the multiplot command:

### Start multiplot (2x2 layout)
set multiplot layout 2,2 rowsfirst
# --- GRAPH a
set label 1 'a' at graph 0.92,0.9 font ',8'
plot f(x) with lines ls 1
# --- GRAPH b
set label 1 'b' at graph 0.92,0.9 font ',8'
plot g(x) with lines ls 1
# --- GRAPH c
set label 1 'c' at graph 0.92,0.9 font ',8'
plot h(x) with lines ls 1
# --- GRAPH d
set label 1 'd' at graph 0.92,0.9 font ',8'
plot k(x) with lines ls 1
unset multiplot
### End multiplot

We also added a label to every graph in order to identify them easily in the figure. Note that we overwrite the label 1 for every graph. If we don’t do that, then on the last graph all four labels will be present. Using this simple approach we will get Fig. 2. As you can see this is not an ideal case to use the space in the figure. The xtics and the ytics are just the same in every graph and are not needed to be displayed on every graph.

simple multiplot

Fig. 2 A straightforward use of the multiplot command to plot four different functions (code to produce this figure)

But before we fix this we will introduce the use of macros in order to shorten the code a lot. As you can see in the code block above, the set label command contains the same position for every graph. We can shorten this by:

set macros
# Placement of the a,b,c,d labels in the graphs
POS = "at graph 0.92,0.9 font ',8'"
[...]
set label 1 'a' @POS
plot f(x) with lines ls 1

and so on for the other graphs.

But the macros are not only useful for the different labels, but also for the other settings of the multiplot.
First we want to remove the x/y-tics and labels, where they are not necessary. Here it is the same as with the label settings. Every graph uses the settings from the graph before, if we didn’t change these settings. In order to remove the xtics at a given graph we have to tell this explicitly. Therefore we define macros for the two cases label+tics vs. nolabel+notics:

# x- and ytics for each row resp. column
NOXTICS = "set xtics ('' -2*pi,'' -pi,'' 0,'' pi,'' 2*pi); \
          unset xlabel"
XTICS = "set xtics ('-2π' -2*pi,'-π' -pi,'0' 0,'π' pi,'2π' 2*pi);\
          set xlabel 'x'"
NOYTICS = "set format y ''; unset ylabel"
YTICS = "set format y '%.0f'; set ylabel 'y'"

These will then be used in the plotting section:

# --- GRAPH a
@NOXTICS; @YTICS
[...]
# --- GRAPH b
@NOXTICS; @NOYTICS
[...]
# --- GRAPH c
@XTICS; @YTICS
[...]
# --- GRAPH d
@XTICS; @NOYTICS

Applying the axes settings will result in Fig. 3.

multiplot

Fig. 3 A multiplot with reduced axes labeling (code to produce this figure)

Now the label etc. on the axes are done in a nice way, but the sizes and the spaces between the individual graphs are very bad. This comes from the fact that Gnuplot calculates the size of a graph depending on the presence of tics and labels. In order to have graphs with the same size and align them without spaces between them we have to set the margins of the individual graphs manually.

# Margins for each row resp. column
TMARGIN = "set tmargin at screen 0.90; set bmargin at screen 0.55"
BMARGIN = "set tmargin at screen 0.55; set bmargin at screen 0.20"
LMARGIN = "set lmargin at screen 0.15; set rmargin at screen 0.55"
RMARGIN = "set lmargin at screen 0.55; set rmargin at screen 0.95"

The trick is that we use the at screen command to arrange the margins absolutely in the figure. As you can see the bottom margin of the two figures in the top is placed at 0.55, the same value the top margin of the two lower graphs start.
These margins are then added in the same way to the multiplot command as the label settings and we get:

# --- GRAPH a
@TMARGIN; @LMARGIN
[...]
# --- GRAPH b
@TMARGIN; @RMARGIN
[...]
# --- GRAPH c
@BMARGIN; @LMARGIN
[...]
# --- GRAPH d
@BMARGIN; @RMARGIN

Having done all this we will finally get our desired figure which is shown in Fig. 1.

5 Comments

  1. PAYang says:

    Cool. I search this type layout for 3 days. :)

  2. PAYang says:

    The macros can not deal with the label with “{/Symbol l}”, because the it use the “. Is there any way to deal with this thing? Thx.

  3. PAYang says:

    The problem mention before can use variable to avoid it.
    xlabel_var = “{/Symbol l}”
    # x- and ytics for each row resp. column
    ….
    XTICS = “set xtics (‘-2?’ -2*pi,’-?’ -pi,’0′ 0,’?’ pi,’2?’ 2*pi);\
    set xlabel xlabel_var”
    ….

  4. Satyabrata says:

    how to plot 6 figures (3×2) of the same size (square) ? I have plotted using the logic above but the figures are coming rectangular but I need the figures to be square. I have tried to use set size 1.0, 1.5; but it is not working.

  5. hagen says:

    It depends on your overall size of the image and on the settings of the margins. For example, if you set the overall size to a square and use the same margins for left/right and bottom/top you get what you are looking for.

    set terminal wxt size 350,350 enhanced font 'Verdana,10' persist
    TMARGIN = "set tmargin at screen 0.95; set bmargin at screen 0.55"
    BMARGIN = "set tmargin at screen 0.55; set bmargin at screen 0.15"
    LMARGIN = "set lmargin at screen 0.15; set rmargin at screen 0.55"
    RMARGIN = "set lmargin at screen 0.55; set rmargin at screen 0.95"
    
    nice multiplot

    Fig. 4 A multiplot with reduced axes labeling and nicely arranged square graphs (code to produce this figure)

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