CRAN Task View: Graphic Displays & Dynamic Graphics & Graphic Devices & Visualization

Maintainer:Nicholas Lewin-Koh
Contact:nikko at

R is rich with facilities for creating and developing interesting graphics. Base R contains functionality for many plot types including coplots, mosaic plots, biplots, and the list goes on. There are devices such as postscript, png, jpeg and pdf for outputting graphics as well as device drivers for all platforms running R. lattice and grid are supplied with R's recommended packages and are included in every binary distribution. lattice is an R implementation of William Cleveland's trellis graphics, while grid defines a much more flexible graphics environment than the base R graphics.

R's base graphics are implemented in the same way as in the S3 system developed by Becker, Chambers, and Wilks. There is a static device, which is treated as a static canvas and objects are drawn on the device through R plotting commands. The device has a set of global parameters such as margins and layouts which can be manipulated by the user using par() commands. The R graphics engine does not maintain a user visible graphics list, and there is no system of double buffering, so objects cannot be easily edited without redrawing a whole plot. This situation may change in R 2.7.x, where developers are working on double buffering for R devices. Even so, the base R graphics can produce many plots with extremely fine graphics in many specialized instances.

One can quickly run into trouble with R's base graphic system if one wants to design complex layouts where scaling is maintained properly on resizing, nested graphs are desired or more interactivity is needed. grid was designed by Paul Murrell to overcome some of these limitations and as a result packages like lattice, ggplot2, vcd or hexbin use grid for the underlying primitives. When using plots designed with grid one needs to keep in mind that grid is based on a system of viewports and graphic objects. To add objects one needs to use grid commands, e.g., grid.polygon() rather than polygon(). Also grid maintains a stack of viewports from the device and one needs to make sure the desired viewport is at the top of the stack. There is a great deal of explanatory documentation included with grid as vignettes.

The graphics packages in R can be organized roughly into the following topics, which range from the more user oriented at the top to the more developer oriented at the bottom. The categories are not mutually exclusive but are for the convenience of presentation:

CRAN packages:

Related links: