[OS X TeX] Re: Drawing diagrams: what's better?

John B. Thoo jthoo at yccd.edu
Mon Jun 14 19:02:21 EDT 2010

On May 17, 2010, at 10:02 AM, John B. Thoo (that's me!) wrote:

> Hi, everyone.  I hope this isn't a FAQ: Is it better to draw  
> diagrams using something like PSTricks or Tikz, or something like  
> xfig or Inkscape?  What are the pros and cons?  TIA.

First, I'm sorry that I didn't thank everyone who replied and didn't  
post a summary more promptly.  So, thanks to Alan Munn, David Watson,  
Peter Dyballa, Adam Fern, Adam Goldstein, Tim Brophy, Luís Vitório  
Cargnini, Josep Font, Joseph Slater, and Robert Morelli.  (Please  
excuse me if I've left off anyone.)  And here is a summary.

For coded graphics, the following were suggested:

(a) PSTricks: If you want to use pdflatex, then the following packages  
are helpful.


(b) TikZ
(c) Asymptote
(d) Metapost

For standalone drawing programs, the following were suggested:

(a) Inkscape <http://www.inkscape.org/> (as a free replacement for  

     can export svg, eps, ps, and pdf (depending on your Mac OS X  
version).  David W warned, "I save my work as eps files (beware that  
Inkscape doesn't output a proper bounding box!) which I convert to pdf  
with epstopdf."

(b) xfig <http://xfig.org/>
     jfig <http://tams-www.informatik.uni-hamburg.de/applets/jfig/>:

     Adam G informs, "So far as I know xfig is pretty much dead."  Joe  
S seems to confirm this, saying "jfig is a continued development of  
xfig, but with reduced export options."

(c) GeoGebra <http://www.geogebra.org/cms/>:

     which Tim B tells "can produce beautiful art work and has an  
option to translate it into Tikz."

(d) Ipe <http://ipe7.sourceforge.net/>:

     Joseph S comments that "You can get GUI drawing and embed latex  
directly," and adds, "It seems to be neglected on the mac, but is  
still nice."

Peter D voiced his preference for "'internal' graphics, i.e., PSTricks  
or Tikz. They don't fill up your disk with a dozen of different file  
types and resolutions and size adaptations to space in your document."

On which "internal" graphics to use, Alan M says, "As a user of both  
PSTricks and TikZ, for most things they are equivalent; if I were  
starting from scratch, I would recommend going with TikZ, since it  
works seamlessly with pdflatex and xelatex, whereas pstricks needs to  
be compiled with latex - dvips- ps2pdf (not
entirely accurate, but close enough)."  He goes on to say, "TikZ is  
also somewhat better documented, (although the documentation is not  
always the easiest to understand).  But the documentation for pstricks  
has improved dramatically recently....  PStricks has superior  
mathematical capabilities since TikZ relies on TeX's math."  Finally,  
"For plotting real data, though, output from e.g. R would make more  
sense.  (There's even a TikZ output device being developed for R,  
which would be another reason to use TikZ if you are independently  
using R.)"

In the last vein, David W says, "I've used gnuplot, Mathematica and R  
for plotting mathematical/statistical data - again, using the epstopdf  
route - and these programs have native "latex" output modes, should  
you want to try that."

What I have done: I have used xfig.  I decided that I wanted to code  
my diagrams, so I experimented with PSTricks and was becoming a little  
comfortable with it.  One reason I posted my question is that I was  
having trouble drawing overlapping Venn diagrams in PSTricks.  Now I'm  
trying TikZ, which is a little different from PSTricks, but I found an  
example on the web on drawing Venn diagrams.  I'd like to stay with  
coding my (simple) diagrams if possible.  I haven't tried Asymptote  
and I'm afraid of Metapost.

Thanks again to everyone for his help.

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