The plotting capabilities of MATLAB leave much to be desired. Right now the python matplotlib library has my attention, but I wanted to ask those of you on Graphic Design if you had any other suggestions for data visualization tools before deciding to dive deep into the world of SciPy/Numpy/matplotlib.

Most desired features: --Vector output --Graphics produced programmatically, not using a GUI

Bonus points for anything that handles Ternary plots out-of-the-box.


4 Answers 4


Try R -- it is a full array programming language for doing data science, with a powerful plotting capabilities. It easily exports to PDF and SVG (among other formats) and those files import nice and are made in way they can be reasonably edited. Also there are usually numerous options to control the plot.

And there is a package called ade4 which does ternary plots like this:

enter image description here


Free scientific plotting softwares I used: Command-line packages--> Matplolib (Python module) GUI interface software--> Veusz (Python-based as well), Sci-Davis

Personal remarks: -Matplotlib is good when plotting large amount of data (say, million) -Others are suitable for most plotting purposes. -All of them are updated very often. -Veusz is more freestyle; Sci-Davis has a interface quite similar to the commercial program like Sigmaplot, etc.


there's a pretty old command line tool called gnuplot, check that one out.

  • Welcome to GD. Can you please add more information about this tool and why it should be checked out?
    – Farray
    Commented Jan 16, 2012 at 15:03
  • gnuplot has been around for a long time, but it is quite well maintained. My anecdotal experience suggests that it is very commonly used in the scientific community. Commented Jan 17, 2012 at 14:47

I agree that R and gnuplot are good tools. If you are looking only for programatic interface to svg output, they are likely some of the better choices (along with matplotlib). Depending on your source data and desired final format, however, I would suggest looking into:

  • xfig - usually operated with a GUI, but you can write the files directly
  • inkscape - also usually operated with GUI, but provides many program interfaces
  • sagemath - one of my favorites for analytic data, but requires nix-like environment (uses Matplotlib as output)
  • pgfplots - oriented more for the graphic designer than the mathematician but it does give a lot of power to a LaTeX writer

All of these programs work together in various ways but all of them are as large and intimidating as scipy/matplotlib.

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