I'm in the early phase of creating a Mathematica function (or package) that exports graphics such that they can be used with $\LaTeX$'s PSfrag.

The goal

Ideally, the function should take a graphic created in Mathematica, replace all text elements with labels and export the labeled graphic along with a text file containg the corresponding \psfrag commands. It should be possible to do all the layouting in Mathematica, preserving as much of the style, font size/weight/color and positioning of the text in the graphic. The only things that should be affected are the font family (so that everything appears in $\LaTeX$ font) and the typesetting of mathematical expressions.

Problem 1: Placing text in EPS

Consider a plot that somewhere has the number 10000 as a tick (or frame tick). If you export this plot to EPS, and then import it again, the resulting Mathematica Graphics object features two text elements 10 and 000. This makes replacing single numbers with PSfrag quite a lot harder than one would think. Is there a way to force Mathematica to insert 10 000 as a single text element?

Problem 2: Extracting frame ticks

As a first try, I tried extracting all Ticks or FrameTicksfrom a graphic using AbsoluteOptions. This works nicely for many cases, but I encountered some strange behavior.

Consider the two plots

frPlot1 = Plot[x^2, {x, 0, 1000}, Frame -> True, FrameTicks -> True];
frPlot2 = Plot[x^2, {x, 0, 1000}, Frame -> True, FrameTicks -> All];

Their output looks just as one would expect from reading the documentation of FrameTicks:

True    tick marks placed automatically on bottom and left edges
All     tick marks placed automatically on all edges

Determining the ticks for frPlot1 using AbsoluteOptions[frPlot1, FrameTicks] works just fine. But trying the same with frPlot2 results in an error:

Ticks::ticks: All is not a valid tick specification.

How can Allnot be a valid specification when the documentation states that it is?

Future Problems

Depending on the answers to the two questions above, there will probably arise some new questions. I will keep this post updated. I can also post the code of my first try with automatizing the tick extraction, if that is wanted.

  • $\begingroup$ Just in case: I've tried extracting the frame ticks with setting All with FullGraphics and it generates the same error message. $\endgroup$
    – einbandi
    Commented Nov 21, 2012 at 22:35
  • $\begingroup$ The docs about the error message states that Ticks::ticks: message is generated when the value of the Ticks option is not None, Automatic, or a list describing the position, labels, and style for tick marks on each axis. $\endgroup$
    – s.s.o
    Commented Nov 25, 2012 at 0:25
  • $\begingroup$ I still find it strange though, that while ticks are shown in the resulting plot, the don't seem to be extractable with AbsoluteOptions[..., FrameTicks]. $\endgroup$
    – einbandi
    Commented Nov 25, 2012 at 0:50

2 Answers 2


Let me try to give you some hints.

Problem 1.

When you look at a specific tick in a Graphics it usually looks similar to the following

{200., 200., {0.00625, 0.}, {GrayLevel[0.], AbsoluteThickness[0.25]}}

it means, at position 200 draw the number 200. The next list is the specification of the tick-length and then follows a list of graphic-directives to use. I assume if you convert the label into another form, like a string, you may have more luck with your approach. Let's try something

transformTick[{pos_, label_, length_List, spec_List}] :=
 {pos, ToString[label, TraditionalForm], length, spec}

p1 = Plot[x^2, {x, 0, 1000}, Frame -> True]
p2 = Show[p1, FrameTicks ->
  Map[transformTick, FrameTicks /. AbsoluteOptions[p, FrameTicks], {2}]]

Mathematica graphics Mathematica graphics

It seems the Ticks are a bit smaller and the dot after the number does not appear in the original but otherwise it looks OK for me. If you now compare

ImportString[ExportString[#, "EPS"], "EPS"] & /@ {p1, p2}

it seems (at least on my machine) that the numbers are tight together in the second case. Even if this simple idea does not work, you now know how you can transform the Ticks into another form.

Problem 2.

Maybe I can help you with a workaround. It seems to me that when you use All as value to FrameTicks you just get the same ticks on the other side. Other differences are really small.

p1 = Plot[x^2, {x, 0, 1000}, Frame -> True]
p2 = Plot[x^2, {x, 0, 1000}, Frame -> True, FrameTicks -> All]

Mathematica graphics Mathematica graphics

Now you say, you need to extract the Ticks for the All setting but I don't understand why. Let's look again on my first code-block with the tick. Note, that it does not contain a position! It does only contain an x-value where the tick is, the y-value is calculated automatically. Therefore, the tick-specification for the same tick on the top does look exactly the same.

Well, if this were true, than the only thing necessary to clone FrameTicks->All is to use the default setting and copy ticks for the first axis to the third and the ticks for the second axis to the fourth axis? Right!

Show[p1, FrameTicks -> (#[[{1, 2, 1, 2}]] &[FrameTicks /. AbsoluteOptions[p]])]

Mathematica graphics

And it's getting even better: If you study the help-page of FrameTicks carefully, you find this example

Plot[Cos[x], {x, 0, 10}, Frame -> True, 
 FrameTicks -> {{0, {Pi, Pi, {.4, 0}, Directive[Blue, Thick]}, 2 Pi, 
    3 Pi}, None}, FrameStyle -> Directive[Gray, Dashed], 
 FrameTicksStyle -> Directive[Orange, 12]]

Mathematica graphics

which suggests, that for setting ticks on top and bottom equally, you just have to supply only 1 list. This can be generalized to when you give 2 lists and not {} explicitly for the 3rd and 4th list, you get ticks everywhere.

Et voila:

Show[p1, FrameTicks -> Take[FrameTicks /. AbsoluteOptions[p], 2]]

works as expected.

Conclusion here is, that you have all information about the ticks even if you don't use FrameTicks->All. If I'm right, and you needed the ticks only to adjust the label, than you can check the setting of FrameTicks with Options[gr,FrameTicks] and if it is set to All, you can build your own version with

Show[gr, FrameTicks -> Automatic]

and extracting and transforming the ticks of this.

Mathematica Graphics and PSFrag

Since we cleared in chat that the overall goal is to replace FrameTicks in an EPS graphics with the appropriate or custom LaTeX code I want to give an implementation which might be of use. The approach will work as follows:

  • I extract the FrameTicks from a given Mathematica Graphics.
  • I will create a labels for each tick which will be a string-replacements that appears in the eps file and can be found easily by PSFrag.
  • Therefore, the label must be unique and
  • should have about the same width as the original tick

Labels will consist of a unique id and, if necessary a padding with "x" to make it as large as the original tick. The calculation of the width will work as follows: (1) we estimate the width of an "x" and (2) create a Rasterized version of the tick to give its ImageDimensions in means of x-widths.

xwidth[] := xwidth[] = First[ImageDimensions[
      Rasterize@StringJoin@ConstantArray["x", 10]]]/10.;

SetAttributes[expressionWidth, {HoldFirst}];
expressionWidth[expr_] := With[ {
 x = xwidth[], 
 exprwidth = First[ImageDimensions[Rasterize[HoldForm[expr]]]]},

Creating a new label is then (1) asking a global counter for a new id and create the label-string which is about the same width as the original tick. Minimum tick-width is 2 here

$label = 10;
getLabel[] := $label++;
SetAttributes[createLabel, {HoldFirst}];
createLabel[tick_] := 
 Module[{size = Max[2, expressionWidth[tick]], label},
  label = Which[size > 2,
    StringJoin[ConstantArray["x", size - 2]] <> 

The transformation of the Graphics itself is simple. I use a transformTick function which creates a new encoded tick and Sows the LaTeX code for PSFrag. In createPSFragGraphics I replace every FrameTick with the encoded ones and collect the LaTeX-snips with Reap

SetAttributes[transformTick, {HoldFirst}];
transformTick[t : {_, "", _List, _List}] := t;
transformTick[{pos_, tick_, length_List, spec_List}] :=

 With[{label = createLabel[tick]},
  Sow["\\psfrag{" <> label <> "}{$" <> 
    ToString[TeXForm[ToString[tick, TraditionalForm]]] <> "$}"];
  {pos, label, length, spec}

createPSFragGraphics[gr_] := Reap[Show[#, FrameTicks -> 
  Map[transformTick, FrameTicks /. AbsoluteOptions[#, FrameTicks], {2}]] &@gr];

Final note, since you may have seen all the HoldFirst attributes. I want to prevent ticks like those

Mathematica graphics

from evaluation into 3000000. It would give a wrong width otherwise.

Testing the label-encoding

gr = Plot[x^2, {x, 0, 1000}, Frame -> True];
{grenc, labels} = 
  createPSFragGraphics[Plot[x^2, {x, 0, 1000}, Frame -> True]];

In grenc you find the encoded Graphics you want to export to EPS. In comparison with the original one, you see that label-lengths almost match with the tick-width

Mathematica graphics

Furthermore, you get the LaTeX code required for PSFrag in labels

\psfrag{xxxx21}{$1.\times 10^6$}

Final note

I had to learn the hard way that Linux seems to export every string or number as a separate letter in an EPS file. This makes is completely unusable for PSFrag since this relies on the fact that the labels in EPS files are given as single show command. If you never looked at postscript-code, then the documentation to PSFrac explains this quite nice.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks! Your solution works perfectly to get rid of the seperator in expressions like 10 000. More complicated ticks like 1. x 10^6 still show up as several text elements in the EPS though. Your answer to the second question is very helpful, too. I'll just wait one or two more days to see if someone alse comes up with something. If not, I'll accept your answer. ;-) $\endgroup$
    – einbandi
    Commented Nov 25, 2012 at 14:18
  • $\begingroup$ @einbandi, Thanks. Can you explain further, what exactly you try to do with the labels in the EPS? Why do they need to stick together? Maybe we find another way. $\endgroup$
    – halirutan
    Commented Nov 25, 2012 at 14:24
  • $\begingroup$ They don't need to stick together by all means, it would just make things easier. I don't know if you're familiar with LaTeX's PSfrag package. It replaces certain expressions in EPS files with nicely formatted LaTeX font. If your EPS contains the number 100, for example, you'd write \psfrag{100}[][]{100} in your LaTeX document to replace it. In order to replace something like 1 x 10^6 in an EPS, it'd probably be a good idea to first replace that expression in Mma by something that PSfrag can handle easily. $\endgroup$
    – einbandi
    Commented Nov 25, 2012 at 14:33
  • $\begingroup$ For example, replace it with t1 and then write something like \psfrag{t1}[][]{$1 \times 10^6$}. So extracting the ticks is really the more important task. I figure something like this would work: 1) Find out what ticks show up in the plot. 2) Replace complicated ticks with short, easy-to-handle labels. 3) Export the editted plot along with a list of the ticks and the corresponding replacements. $\endgroup$
    – einbandi
    Commented Nov 25, 2012 at 14:37
  • $\begingroup$ @einbandi Yes, I know PSfrag, I just wanted to make sure, I'm understanding your idea. I have don't know how you managed it, but I cannot get Mathematica to export a joined string into an eps. It always ends in single letters. This here Export["string.eps", "hallo"] ends in this eps-file. Can you tell my, how you export your eps-files from Mathematica so the labels stick together, because I think I have a really nice solution then. $\endgroup$
    – halirutan
    Commented Nov 25, 2012 at 23:34

One partial solution to the problem of extracting ticks (without fixing the FrameTicks->All issue) might be the following function:

ReplaceTicks[filename_String, gr_] := Module[{
   oldticks = AbsoluteOptions[gr, Ticks],
   labels = "t" <> # & /@ CharacterRange["a", "z"],
   text, newticks},
  text = Cases[
    Flatten[(Ticks /. oldticks), 1], {a_, b_, c_, d_} /; b != "" :> b];
  labels = labels[[;; Length@text]];
  newticks = oldticks /.
    {a_, b_, c_, d_} /; MemberQ[text, b] :> {a, 
      labels[[Position[text, b][[1, 1]]]], c, d};
  Export[filename <> ".txt", 
    "\\psfrag{" <> #1 <> "}[][]{" <> ToString@TeXForm@#2 <> "}" &,
    {labels, text}], "List"];
  Export[filename <> ".eps", Show[gr, newticks]]

It's still a bit messy and does not account for any positioning whatsoever. But I guess it might be a good starting point for further developement.

It would also be nice to create the labels/tags dynamically, depending on the number of different ticks appearing in the graphic. In the future, ticks on the left and bottom should be replaced with different tags (even if they are the same) to ensure proper positioning options for the PSfrag commands.

  • $\begingroup$ I've just been supplied with a solution that obsoletes most of what is stated here. I'll leave this answere here for reference, though. $\endgroup$
    – einbandi
    Commented Nov 26, 2012 at 0:29

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