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  What software programs are used to draw physics diagrams, and what are their relative merits?

+ 21 like - 0 dislike
10512 views

Undoubtedly, people use a variety of programs to draw diagrams for physics, but I am not familiar with many of them. I usually hand-draw things in GIMP which is powerful in some regards, but it is time consuming to do things like draw circles or arrows because I make them from more primitive tools. It is also difficult to be precise.

I know some people use LaTeX, but I am not quite sure how versatile or easy it is. The only other tools I know are Microsoft Paint and the tools built into Microsoft Office.

So, which tools are commonly used by physicists? What are their good and bad points (features, ease of use, portability, etc.)?

I am looking for a tool with high flexibility and minimal learning curve/development time. While I would like to hand-draw and drag-and-drop pre-made shapes, I also want to specify the exact locations of curves and shapes with equations when I need better precision. Moreover, minimal programming functionality would be nice additional feature (i.e. the ability to run through a loop that draws a series of lines with a varying parameter).

Please recommend few pieces of softwares if they are good for different situations.


This post imported from StackExchange Physics at 2014-04-03 11:47 (UCT), posted by SE-user Mark Eichenlaub

asked Nov 9, 2010 in Resources and References by Mark Eichenlaub (100 points) [ revision history ]
recategorized Apr 24, 2014 by dimension10
What kind of diagrams are we talking about here? I think the question may be too broad as it is (it'd be like asking "what software programs are used to create desktop wallpaper?").

This post imported from StackExchange Physics at 2014-04-03 11:47 (UCT), posted by SE-user David Z
The kind I currently draw with a pencil and paper. Blocks with springs on them. Free body diagrams. Pulleys, ropes, buckets, roller coasters, monkeys and bananas, guns that shoot horizontally. Ray diagrams, trajectories, geometric diagrams, spacetime diagrams. I would use Mathematica for things like plotting functions or drawing vector fields.

This post imported from StackExchange Physics at 2014-04-03 11:47 (UCT), posted by SE-user Mark Eichenlaub
Then that's a question about general drawing tools, not about physics. It'd be a better fit on Super User, I think. (I thought you might be asking about e.g. software to draw Feynman diagrams or stuff like that.)

This post imported from StackExchange Physics at 2014-04-03 11:47 (UCT), posted by SE-user David Z
I specifically want the opinion of people who draw the same sorts of diagrams I do, so I figured physics was a good place to ask.

This post imported from StackExchange Physics at 2014-04-03 11:47 (UCT), posted by SE-user Mark Eichenlaub
Might be a good community wiki, since there's no well-defined correct answer?

This post imported from StackExchange Physics at 2014-04-03 11:47 (UCT), posted by SE-user ptomato
Related question on SO: stackoverflow.com/questions/4005042/…

This post imported from StackExchange Physics at 2014-04-03 11:47 (UCT), posted by SE-user nibot

The program Tikz is a pretty good candidate.

This post imported from StackExchange Physics at 2014-04-03 11:47 (UCT), posted by SE-user Sanath Devalapurkar

20 Answers

+ 4 like - 0 dislike

For primitive drawings, I am a big fan of XFig. The UI is a little clunky, but it can save to dozens of graphics formats and creates figures that are downright trivial to include in a LaTeX document. The biggest thing for me is that the file format is text-based, so it is completely possible to script more complicated drawings.

This post imported from StackExchange Physics at 2014-04-03 11:47 (UCT), posted by SE-user Tristan
answered Nov 10, 2010 by Tristan (0 points) [ no revision ]
+ 4 like - 0 dislike

I too use Mathematica for figures and found it wasn't a great leap from there to using it for drawings. You can draw 2D or 3D primitives pretty easily:

Rectangle[{xmin, ymin}, {xmax, ymax}]

and, like python/matplotlib, being able to parameterise everything allows you to redraw an image for multiple scenarios (or Animate or Manipulate it).

For me the most useful feature is that you can define things in terms of the maths. The MetaPost example mentioned by Marek, in which two curves can be defined and the intersection computed by the drawing package, is handled inherently by Mathematica.

This post imported from StackExchange Physics at 2014-04-03 11:47 (UCT), posted by SE-user xenoclast
answered Jun 17, 2013 by xenoclast (0 points) [ no revision ]
+ 3 like - 0 dislike
  1. Software for drawing geometry diagrams
  2. Sometimes I use SAGE.
This post imported from StackExchange Physics at 2014-04-03 11:47 (UCT), posted by SE-user Pratik Deoghare
answered Nov 9, 2010 by Pratik Deoghare (30 points) [ no revision ]
Thanks. Do you have any opinions beyond what's said in that thread?

This post imported from StackExchange Physics at 2014-04-03 11:47 (UCT), posted by SE-user Mark Eichenlaub
No. Nothing beyond whats said! I use mspaint :)

This post imported from StackExchange Physics at 2014-04-03 11:47 (UCT), posted by SE-user Pratik Deoghare
+ 3 like - 0 dislike

I use TKPAINT which still works very well.

http://www.netanya.ac.il/~samy/tkpaint.html

First, one has to download ActiveTcl for Windows or its Tcl counterparts for Linux or whatever you use. It can draw filled or empty disks, ellipses, squares, rectangles, splines, rotate them, quickly copy them, move them, texts with many fonts, colors, grid, and it may be exported as EPS - encapsulated postscript as well - which is a standard way to embed similar diagrams in TeX papers on the arXiv and beyond.

I've used it in many papers when I was writing them.

Cheers LM

This post imported from StackExchange Physics at 2014-04-03 11:47 (UCT), posted by SE-user Luboš Motl
answered Jan 17, 2011 by Luboš Motl (10,268 points) [ no revision ]
+ 3 like - 0 dislike

Try ConceptDraw Pro for 2D diagrams. This is what I did recently for optics:

Ray Tracing for Convex Lens

Here you can find samples for science and education illustrations.

This post imported from StackExchange Physics at 2014-04-03 11:47 (UCT), posted by SE-user Anastasia Krylova
answered Nov 27, 2012 by Anastasia Krylova (0 points) [ no revision ]
+ 3 like - 0 dislike

I thought a lot about this question since I graduated and began teaching. I think Adobe Illustrator is the best vector image software. It doesn't require any code to draw images; you only have to learn to use some "important" tools. I'm in no way a graphic designer or a professional in Illustrator and I drew this:



image

Moreover,

  1. you can always find tutorials about drawing anything with Illustrator
  2. You can export images from Matlab or Autocad to Illustrator (.ai or .eps)
This post imported from StackExchange Physics at 2014-04-03 11:47 (UCT), posted by SE-user metacompactness
answered Jul 7, 2013 by metacompactness (0 points) [ no revision ]
Perhaps you should also say a word about the principal drawback of adobe illustrator : it's price ! It's for professionals, not to make simple schemes.

This post imported from StackExchange Physics at 2014-04-03 11:47 (UCT), posted by SE-user FraSchelle
+ 2 like - 0 dislike

To start with, for scientific drawing usually vector graphics is more suitable - scalable, convenient to modify and produce less bulky files.

For simple general-purpose graphics I use OpenOffice.org Draw (I prefer it to Incscape).

For abstract diagrams there is yEd - Graph Editor.

Both are free, for Win/Linux/MacOSX, easy to learn and can export to vector graphics and pdf.

This post imported from StackExchange Physics at 2014-04-03 11:47 (UCT), posted by SE-user Piotr Migdal
answered Nov 9, 2010 by Piotr Migdal (1,260 points) [ no revision ]
+ 2 like - 0 dislike

For electric circuits, CircuitLab is a nice online editor and simulator. There are some restrictions to what you can do without an account or with a free account - I can't remember the details - but you can use print-screen to get nice pictures out of it. I like it because it is really at the level of simplicity I need: if I'm explaining a basic electric-circuits question, I do not want to spend more than two minutes drawing, say, five resistors in some parallel/series configuration. CircuitLab gets the job done.

For a tour, see their YouTube video Getting Started with CircuitLab.


Edit: If you want a png output to include in a post on this site, you can go over to Electrical Engineering, which has a built-in implementation in the post editor and simply bring back the image link. Thanks to Chris White for the tip!

This post imported from StackExchange Physics at 2014-04-03 11:47 (UCT), posted by SE-user Emilio Pisanty
answered Dec 8, 2013 by Emilio Pisanty (520 points) [ no revision ]
+ 2 like - 0 dislike

You can also use PLotly, a collaborative, web-based graphing platform with APIs in Python, R, MATLAB, Julia, and Perl. You you can find the code to make these examples in their documentation.

here.

This post imported from StackExchange Physics at 2014-04-03 11:47 (UCT), posted by SE-user Waffle's Crazy Peanut
answered Dec 19, 2013 by Waffle's Crazy Peanut (0 points) [ no revision ]
Originally suggested by Matthew Sundquist

This post imported from StackExchange Physics at 2014-04-03 11:47 (UCT), posted by SE-user Waffle's Crazy Peanut
+ 1 like - 0 dislike

There is an add-in for Microsoft Word called Science Teacher's Helper. http://www.helpscience.com

SmartDraw is also an excellent program for creating diagrams. http://www.smartdraw.com

This post imported from StackExchange Physics at 2014-04-03 11:47 (UCT), posted by SE-user Karen Denning
answered Jun 30, 2013 by Karen Denning (0 points) [ no revision ]

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