Simplify production of publication-quality figures based on matplotlib.

matplotlib is a powerful package for plotting in python. It allows detailed control over every possible aspect of a plot. However, a lot of the provided functionality is cumbersome to use and impossible to remember. For specific use cases, however, a lot of this can be hidden in dedicated functions. The plottools package does this for scientific publications by adding a number of functions to matplotlib and Figure classes.

The second design goal of the plottools package is separation of content and design. We know this from LaTeX documents. A good LaTeX document contains only the text and the logical structure. The actual layout (fonts, format of the sections, etc.) can then be entirely controlled by the header without touching the text. Equivalently, python scripts generating various figures should only provide the data and necessary annotation like axes labels. The design should be controllable by a single central function or module that is used by all the scripts generating the figures. matplotlib's rcParams are a big step in this direction but do not completely reach this goal. The plottools package expands on this, by providing additional rcParams, and by introducing the concept of plot styles.


The following modules are provided by the plottools package.

See API documentation of the modules for more infos.

Enhanced matplotlib functionality

Most modules patch the matplotlib and Axes classes to provide new functionality or some specialized interface:

The patching is done by each module's install_<module>() function. This function is called automatically upon importing the module. While some modules simply add a few new member functions (e.g. insets) others modify existing functions (e.g. figure). An uninstall_<module>() function is provided to undo the patching.

You usually do not need to care about the install/uninstall functions. Simply import the module of interest and you are all set.

Colors and styles

These two modules do not patch matplotlib, but provide functions aiding the separation of content and design:

Helper modules

These modules are used internally by other modules of the plottools package:

  • latex: translate LaTeX texts.
  • rcsetup: additional validators for matplotlib.rcsetup.
  • version: version of plottools and other packages.

Importing plottools modules

Each module can be imported separately. No other functionality of the plottools is then installed or executed. The only exception are the plottools and params modules that import all the other modules. For example, if you are only interested in the functions the ticks module provides, then you can do

import matplotlib.pyplot as plt
import plottools.ticks
# installs set_xticks_delta() (and other functions) on matplotlib Axes class

fig, ax = plt.subplots()

For importing all plottools modules, simply import the module


import plottools.plottools as pt 

This also imports all the functions of the modules such they can be used directly in the pt namespace. For example:

light_blue = pt.lighter(pt.color_palettes['muted']['blue'], 0.4)

A special module is

  • params: functions setting default rcParams settings for all modules.

which also imports and installs all other modules via the plottools module. This module provides a few functions (e.g. paper_style()) that set some default rcParams and add a number of plotting styles to a namespace.

These functions can be used like this:

from plottools.params import paper_style

class s: pass   # namespace for plotting styles
paper_style(s)  # install all plottool functions in matplotlib and populate s with plotting styles
fig, ax = plt.subplots(cmsize=(12, 8))  # new subplots() argument `cmsize`
ax.plot(x, y, **s.lsB1)                 # plotting style
ax.set_xticks_delta(0.5)      # new function for setting spacing of tick marks
fig.savefig()                 # use name of script as name for figure file

Usually you will not import the params module, but rahter copy one of its functions and adapt them to your own needs.

Setting rcParams

Most modules have a <module>_params() function for setting rc parameters to default values. In many cases these functions are just an alternative way to set matplotlib's rcParams. Many plottools modules define additional rcParams, that also can be set by these functions.

The following modules just provide such a function as an alternative interface for setting matplotlib's rcParams:

  • axes: setting axes appearance.
  • grid: setting grid appearance.

Usually, the <module>_params() have many arguments that by default are set to None. Only the arguments that you provide and differ from None are actually set, the other ones stay untouched. For example:

from plottools.text import text_params

# set the default font size and family:
text_params(font_size=12.0, font_family='sans-serif')
# turn on LaTex mode:

This is equivalent to

import matplotlib as mpl

mpl.rcParams['font.size'] = 12
mpl.rcParams[''] = 'sans-serif'
mpl.rcParams['text.usetex'] = True


For a demonstration of the functionality of all modules run


For demos of the individual modules in plottools/, run, for example,

python -m src.plottools.spines


Bug reporting

The plottools are still in a conceptual phase, interfaces might change without notice and tests on various python and matplotlib versions are not done yet. So getting an error is not unlikely.

Providing a pull request that fixes the error or provides new functionality is, of course, most appreciated.

You can also open an issue, describing the error. Before doing so, check whether you get the error when you run the demo of the respective module. E.g.

python -m src.plottools.figures

Mention the outcome in the issue.

In any case, run

python -m src.plottools.version

and paste the output (python, numpy, pandas, matplotlib and plottools versions) into the issue.


The full documentation is provided on