Programs for visualization


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A common question is which tools can be used to visualize the output of models and data analysis software.

Plotting tools

  • matlab (proprietary software) produces figures of good quality in combination with the m_map toolbox.
  • octave: The scripting language is almost entirely compatible with matlab. In most cases, the code can run unchanged except for figures. But the downside is that the visualization of octave is quite simple compared to matlab. It is based on gnuplot and has thus the same limitations. Octave can be extended using packages available at In particular you can add NetCDF support (octcdf). Installing octave from source is not trivial for novices. But pre-compiled packages of octave are available for most platforms. I recommend you to use the version 3.0.0 or later.
  • python + matplotlib. It doesn't aim to be compatible with matlab, but its syntax is quite close. The quality of graphics is excellent. A large number of add-ons is also available. For interactive use, ipython is very useful.
  • gnuplot is free software and available on numerous platforms. It supports many output formats, among others eps and png. However, some user find the figures of gnuplot not very pretty. To my knowledge, it cannot read NetCDF files directly.
  • ferret can read NetCDF files and has good visualization capabilities. It may take some time to understand the ferret language.
  • ocean data view is a graphical program that allows to visualize variables in various ways. It is not a programming environment like the previous ones and it thus easier to use for new users. However, it can also be used in scripts. It is free to use for research and educational purposes.

Color palettes

Software like Matlab, Octove or Python already offer various color palettes. Here are some like to get more.

Drawing tools

  • GIMP stands for GNU Image Manipulation Program.

Create a rectangle with rounded corners: Make a rectangle selection with rounded corners Then use Select -> To Path . Then use Edit -> Stroke Selection and chose the thickness of the rectangle.

  • xfig is a drawing tool that enables the user to easily create simple vector figures with latex formulas and text.

Various output formats are available: eps, pdf, svg, and all the bitmap formats (png, tiff, jpg etc).

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