R for Reproducible Scientific Analysis

Creating Publication-Quality Graphics 01


Teaching: TBD min
Exercises: TBD min
  • How can I create publication-quality graphics in R?

  • To be able to use base plot to generate publication quality graphics.

Plotting our data is one of the best ways to quickly explore it and the various relationships between variables.

There are three main plotting systems in R, the base plotting system, the lattice package, and the ggplot2 package.

Today we’ll be learning about the base package, which implements commonly used plotting tasks without the need for additional packages. Base plotting is very stable, and allows highly customized plotting, but elaborate figures often require elaborate code.

Creating a graph

In R, graphs are typically created interactively. We will use the mtcars data, which are included in R as an example data.frame. The data set comprises fuel consumption and 10 aspects of automobile design and performance for 32 automobiles. More details about it can be found in the corresponding help file (?mtcars).

#creating a scatterplot
plot(mtcars$wt, mtcars$mpg) 
title("Regression of MPG on Weight")

plot of chunk example-graph The plot( ) function plots weight vs. miles per gallon into RStudio “Plots” pane. If you are using the R GUI, or R from the command line, a plot window is opened. The next line of code adds a regression line to this graph. We will learn more about the lm() function, when we get to the statistics portion of this class. The final line adds a title.

Saving graphs

Saving Graphs You can save the graph in a variety of formats from the RStudio plots pane by using the “Export” button. You can also save the graph programmatically using one of several graphics device functions.

Function Output
pdf(“mygraph.pdf”) pdf file
win.metafile(“mygraph.wmf”) windows metafile
png(“mygraph.png”) png file
jpeg(“mygraph.jpg”) jpeg file
bmp(“mygraph.bmp”) bmp file
postscript(“mygraph.ps”) postscript file

When saving to file using the above functions, you call the device function to specify the output, then execute your plotting commands, and finally close the target fiel with the command dev.off()

#specify target file and format
#make the graph
plot(mtcars$wt, mtcars$mpg) 
title("Regression of MPG on Weight")
#now close the graphics device and the target file

You can control the dimensions of the output with additional arguments described in ?pdf, e.g. height and width.

Simple Scatterplot

There are many ways to create a scatterplot in R. The basic function is plot(x, y), where x and y are numeric vectors denoting the (x,y) points to plot. # Simple Scatterplot

plot(mtcars$wt, mtcars$mpg, main="Scatterplot Example", 
  	xlab="Car Weight ", ylab="Miles Per Gallon ", pch=19)

plot of chunk scatter_plot_w_customisation

Now we used additional arguments to specify the title (main) and axis labels (xlab,xlim) in the plotting call.

Creating a new graph by issuing a high level plotting command (plot, hist, boxplot, etc.) will typically overwrite a previous graph. To add points or lines to an existing graph use functions like points(), lines() or abline().

Add lines

plot(mtcars$wt, mtcars$mpg, main="Scatterplot Example", 
  	xlab="Car Weight ", ylab="Miles Per Gallon ", pch=19)
abline(h=20, col="red") # horizontal line at mpg=20
abline(v=4, col="green") # vertical line at wt=4
abline(a=0,b=10, lty=2) # line with the equation y = a + b * x

plot of chunk plot_add_points

Customizing plotting symbols and colors

Above we used arguments like pch=19, lty=2 and col="red", which changed the appearance of certain plot elements.

Base R offers a variety of plotting symbols, each identified with a numeric code to the pch (“plotting character”) argument. THe same applies to line types (via lty). R provides 6 line types, and colors.

We can make a handy chart using the plotting functions different symbols

plot(1:25,rep(1,25), pch=1:25, col="black", bg="red")
text(x=1:25,y=0.95, labels=1:25) #note that the labels are automatically transformed to character
#we can also use arbitrary characters as plotting symbol
points(1:8, rep(0.8,8), pch=c(".", "+", "O", "a", "b", "A", "B", "%"))
text(1:8, rep(0.75,8), labels=c(".", "+", "O", "a", "b", "A", "B", "%"))
#lastly we can add different line types in the top
abline(h=1.4,lty=1, col=1)
abline(h=1.35,lty=2, col=2)
abline(h=1.3,lty=3, col=3)
abline(h=1.25,lty=4, col=4)
abline(h=1.2,lty=5, col=4)
abline(h=1.15,lty=6, col=5)

plot of chunk pch_chart

There are numeric codes for 10 colors, but colors can also be specified by name. The possible names can be displayed with the colors() function. More about color specification can be found in the guide by Earl Glynn: http://research.stowers-institute.org/efg/R/Color/Chart/index.htm

Customizing plotting ranges

The plotting range of a single panel can be controlled using the xlim and ylim arguments. By default R will use the ranges of the variables you plot, plus a small buffer on the edges. both arguments take a 2 element numeric vector of the form c(lower_limit,upper_limit).


plot of chunk plot_limits


plot of chunk plot_limits


You can create histograms with the function hist(x) where x is a numeric vector of values to be plotted. The option freq=FALSE plots probability densities instead of frequencies. The option breaks= controls the number of bins.

# Simple Histogram

plot of chunk histogram

# Colored Histogram with Different Number of Bins
hist(mtcars$mpg, breaks=12, col="red")

plot of chunk custom_histogram


Boxplots can be created for individual variables or for variables by group. The format is boxplot(x, data=), where x is a formula and data= denotes the data frame providing the data. An example of a formula is y~group where a separate boxplot for numeric variable y is generated for each value of group. Add varwidth=TRUE to make boxplot widths proportional to the square root of the samples sizes. Add horizontal=TRUE to reverse the axis orientation.

# simple boxplot

plot of chunk boxplots

# Boxplot of MPG by Car Cylinders 
boxplot(mpg~cyl,data=mtcars, main="Car Milage Data", 
  	xlab="Number of Cylinders", ylab="Miles Per Gallon")

plot of chunk boxplots

A good resource for basic plots can be found on the Quick-R Graphs pages: http://www.statmethods.net/graphs/index.html

Multipanel figures

Many, many customisations can be achieved with the par function. Most notably it is possible to arrange multiple plots on a grid using the mfrow or mfcol argument in par Both arguments take a numeric vector of the form c(nr, nc). Subsequent figures will be drawn in an nr-by-nc array on the device by columns (mfcol), or rows (mfrow), respectively.

# simple boxplot
# Boxplot of MPG by Car Cylinders 
boxplot(mpg~cyl,data=mtcars, main="Car Milage Data", 
  	xlab="Number of Cylinders", ylab="Miles Per Gallon")

plot of chunk panels

Changes to par usually persist until you clear the plotting device with the broom icon, or with dev.off()

Key Points