# A Comparison Of Top Latex Graphics Packages For 2023

LaTeX provides built-in functionality for incorporating graphics and images into documents. However, to produce more advanced charts, plots, diagrams, and other graphical elements, it is necessary to utilize specialized graphics packages. Several excellent packages are available that extend LaTeX's graphical capabilities in different ways. This article explores the top options for enhancing graphics in LaTeX documents as of 2023.

## Core Graphics Capabilities

The LaTeX kernel includes rudimentary graphics and image inclusion using paths and filenames to external image files. The graphicx package builds on this providing commands to scale and rotate external raster image files. LaTeX's native graphics capabilities allow basic integration of images and production of simple plots and charts via external TeX packages.

## Top Packages for Enhanced Graphics

To move beyond LaTeX's basic building blocks for graphics inclusion and production, third-party macro packages offer extensive tools for drawing, graphics manipulations, diagrams, charts, graphs, and technical illustrations. The most prominent and widely used are:

- TikZ and PGF - A very robust, full-featured drawing system with graphing and diagramming capabilities.
- PSTricks - Library for PostScript illustrations and effects directly embedded in LaTeX files.
- LaTeX Picture Environment - Allowsbasic drawings consisting of lines, curves, shapes using LaTeX coding.

## TikZ and PGF

TikZ and PGF are actually separate packages, but are used together seamlessly: TikZ is a frontend providing easy syntax and operations, PGF is the backend that actually handles the graphic functions and output. Some key features that make TikZ/PGF extremely versatile include:

### Syntax and Ease of Use

Straightforward declarative graphic commands allow users to describe drawings rather than programming them procedurally. Graphical elements are placed in intuitive coordinate systems and sized relative to each other. Parameters adjust styles, colors, positioning, rotations, scaling, and other properties.

### Graphic Elements, Nodes and Shapes

In addition to straight lines and basic shapes, TikZ offers specialized elements like nodes with text and custom shapes that speed construction of diagrams. Decorations, shadings, hatching, nodes along paths, and shapes around nodes further extend fundamental objects.

### Coordinate System and Transformations

TikZ offers Cartesian, polar, path-based coordinate specification. Built-in mechanisms transform graphic elements: shifting locations, rotating, resizing, mirroring, scaling along different axes. This simplifies alignment tasks and complex illustrations.

### Styles, Arrows, and Text

Format graphic parameters are centralized as reusable styles for consistency. Extensive arrow tips depict connections and trajectories. Text integrates seamlessly with illustrations, inheriting style attributes to match graphical contexts.

### Diagrams, Flowcharts, Mindmaps

In addition to free-form drawing, TiKZ contains tools specialized for common illustrations: diagrams networks and plots, flowcharts showing processes and logic, mindmaps radiating ideas and concepts. Predefined styles, symbols and nodes support these effectively.

### Graphs, Plots, Charts

Building on the PGF math engine, TikZ produces standard data visualizations: function graphs, Cartesian plots, bar charts, pie charts, histograms, heatmaps, and more. Datapoint sets drive automated plotting with extensive customization options.

## PSTricks

The venerable PSTricks system remains a extremely capable, full-featured option for graphics generation despite its age. Its PostScript underpinnings make it best suited for PS and PDF output. Noteworthy aspects include:

### PostScript Graphics in LaTeX

PSTricks leverages PostScript programming within LaTeX documents for illustrations. This avoids external files and offers tight integration between graphics and text. Code describing images resides directly alongside the content.

### Lines, Curves, Geometric Shapes

Like TikZ, PSTricks draws lines, polygons, curves like Bezier plots, circles, ellipses, etc. Boxes, frames, cylindrical and spherical shapes provide building blocks for detailed technical illustrations.

### Fills, Colors, Rotations

Regions and shapes fill with colors, gradients and patterns. PSTricks applies rotations, scaling, skewing, perspective and affine transforms to all graphical elements, enabling sophisticated visuals.

### Trees, Graphs, 3D

Specialized functions generate hierarchical tree structures, family trees, timelines and force-directed graphs. 3D capabilities render cubes, spheres, surfaces with lighting and viewpoint adjustments.

### Complex Graphics and Effects

The full programmability of PostScript underlying PSTricks enables complex illustrations, calligraphic effects, dynamically generated or manipulated images pushing boundaries beyond standard LaTeX documents.

## LaTeX Picture Environment

At its core, LaTeX possesses basic capabilities to describe vector line graphics using code embedded directly in documents. While limited compared to dedicated graphics packages, the Minimal, rudimentary drawing functions are useful for simple cases:

### Basic Shapes: Lines, Circles, Polygons

The picture environment in LaTeX allows straight line segments, circular arcs, rectangles and polygon shapes using just LaTeX language without additional macro packages.

### Positioning and Alignments

Graphical elements position precisely relative to document text and page dimensions. place, raise and rotate operations overlay components with alignments.

### Text Integration

Text intermingles naturally with pictures, allowing annotations, labels, arrows, legends and other textual components as part of an illustration.

### Examples and Use Cases

For small inline graphics like icons, diagrams accompanying explanations or visualizing concepts directly in textual sections, the native picture mechanism avoids adding dependencies merely for simple cases.

## Additional Notable Packages

Beyond the most common and generalized graphics packages highlighted so far, LaTeX offers domain-specific tools for certain illustration requirements:

### Xy-pic

Specialized package for intricate diagrams and networks: graphs, choreography notation, logic circuits, chemical molecules, intricate relationships between networked concepts.

### MetaPost

Produces vector graphics via an extensible programming language, with strengths for precise technical illustrations used in LaTeX documents.

### Asymptote

Language and package focused on 3D visualization, sculpted solids and surfaces, with applications for scientific research across multiple disciplines.

## Conclusion

## Recommendations Based on Graphic Needs

The LaTeX system affords tremendous capabilities for incorporating high-quality graphics in documents, far exceeding typical office software suites. For maximal power and flexibility at the cost of some complexity, TikZ offers extremely versatile tools for illustrations, diagrams, charts and plots integrated seamlessly with text content. PSTricks facilitates intricate graphics leveraging the PostScript language. For quick simple cases like icons and basic shapes as part of explanations, LaTeX's built-in picture environment avoids overkill from full-featured packages. Specific disciplines like graph theory, logic, chemistry and physics may leverage special-purpose packages but the average user enjoys tremendous graphical abilities using TikZ.

## Integration and Combinations of Packages

A final advantage of the LaTeX graphics ecosystem bears noting: the various macro packages integrate well with each other. TikZ utilizes lower-level PGF constructs, both build on LaTeX's foundations. Pictures may combine with charts may link to diagrams within a single illustration. Achieving this interoperability between components requires planning and foresight but affords tremendous expressiveness to meet specialized graphical demands.