Mathematica Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for users of Mathematica. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I just noticed another plot legend question today and while user solutions to this, in particular code by @Jens, are IMO better than the built in solutions, exact positioning often still requires some trial and error.

How can I easily position my legends by way of locators?

share|improve this question
You've probably seen it, but just in case someone else is interested: there is a movie I made to describe how legend positioning works without locators: have a look at this answer to the question Creating legends for plots with multiple lines? – Jens Jun 28 '12 at 0:03
Hi @Jens. I had seen that though had forgotten it. The reason I made this is to be able to locate the legends outside the plotted area. Unless I have misunderstood the movie, which I just had a look at, the method locates within the plotted area. Also I have found DrawingTools very "finicky" for selecting elements in a graphic and much prefer using locators. Finally this method makes it easy to retrieve the static code for repetitive positioning once you find something you like (InputForm[p2]). – Mike Honeychurch Jun 28 '12 at 0:51
yes, that's why I'm not posting an answer right now because this question explicitly asks for locators, and yours works great. I think I know how to fix my approach using DrawingTools to make it less finicky, and I already settled on a way to make the label movable outside the plot as well - see here. I bet a combination of these partial solutions would be great - and right when we have solved it all, Wolfram will release a new version that has perfect labeling (I wish). – Jens Jun 28 '12 at 1:39
@Jens The occasional difficulty I have when clicking in the graphics window is not specific to your code, it is whenever I use that interface. Occasionlly a cell suddenly turns into an input cell when I click on graphics as well. Consequently I tend to not use it. But a key thing is that using locators makes it very easy to extract the exact positioning so that you have stand alone code for later use. I'm not sure how big a priority having professional looking legends is so maybe there won't be any changes in V9. I'd be surprised if rolling your own wouldn't always be a better option actually. – Mike Honeychurch Jun 28 '12 at 2:21
up vote 10 down vote accepted

Given that plot legend question keep arising I thought I would share my approach to legend positioning. I want to be able to use the legend as a locator and move it to the exact position I want it.

pt = Scaled[{0.5, 0.5}];

(* image padding for the ListLinePlot *)
{{l, r}, {b, t}} = {{20, 100}, {100, 10}};
(* width and height of the ListLinePlot *)
{w, h} = {400, 300};

opts = {AspectRatio -> 0.2, ImageMargins -> 0, ImagePadding -> 0, 
   ImageSize -> 30};

(* toy legend *)
legend = Column[{
    Grid[{{Graphics[{AbsoluteThickness[5], Red, 
         Line[{{0, 0}, {1, 0}}]}, opts], Style["label1", 16]}}, 
     Alignment -> {Center, Center}, Spacings -> 0.5],
    Grid[{{Graphics[{AbsoluteThickness[5], Blue, 
         Line[{{0, 0}, {1, 0}}]}, opts], Style["label2", 16]}}, 
     Alignment -> {Center, Center}, Spacings -> 0.5]

p1 = Overlay[{
   ListLinePlot[{{3, 6, 7, 2}, {1, 2, 3, 4}},
    AspectRatio -> h/w,
    ImageSize -> {w + l + r, h + b + t},
    ImagePadding -> {{l, r}, {b, t}},
    PlotStyle -> {{AbsoluteThickness[5], Red}, {AbsoluteThickness[5], 

 (* an empty graphic surrounding the ListLinePlot -- control this surrounding size by
 adjusting the image padding variables*)  
   Graphics[{}, AspectRatio -> (h + b + t)/(w + l + r), 
    ImageSize -> {w + l + r, h + b + t}, ImagePadding -> 0, 
    Epilog -> {Dynamic[Locator[Dynamic[pt], legend]]}]
   }, All, 2]

The legend can be positioned where you like. In this case I've started with large padding on the right and bottom. For column legends you may want to position to the right. For row legends on top or to the bottom.


enter image description here

move the legend:

enter image description here

You can see it working dynamically here.

To remove the dynamics from this and keep a static image:

p2 = p1 /. Locator[x_, y_] :> Inset[y, x] /. Dynamic :> Identity

Inset plots within a plot can be handled in a similar way -- namely as locators, there is no need for the surrounding graphic and the overlay in that case.

share|improve this answer
+1 Great solution Mike Thanks! – R Hall Jul 4 '12 at 18:06
is there a way to use this method with GraphicsGrid ? – R Hall Jul 4 '12 at 18:41
@RHall Use PlotRegion e.g. GraphicsGrid[{{Graphics[Rectangle[]], Graphics[Disk[]]},{Graphics[Disk[]],Graphics[Rectangle[]]}}, AspectRatio -> h/w, ImageSize -> {w + l + r, h + b + t},PlotRegion -> {{0, 0.75}, {0.25, 1}}] – Mike Honeychurch Jul 4 '12 at 22:32
Excellent! Thanks very much Mike! – R Hall Jul 4 '12 at 23:35
Nice one +1 .... – Rojolalalalalalalalalalalalala Jul 21 '12 at 2:30

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.