5 min read

ggplot2 - Axis and Plot Labels

Introduction

This is the fifth tutorial in the series Elegant Data Visualization with ggplot2. In the previous tutorial, we learnt about aesthetics. In this tutorial, we will learn to:

  • add title and subtitle to the plot
  • modify axis labels
  • modify axis range
  • remove axis
  • format axis


Basic Plot

Let us start with a simple scatter plot. We will continue to use the mtcars data set and examine the relationship between displacement and miles per gallon using geom_point().

ggplot(mtcars) +
  geom_point(aes(disp, mpg))


Title & Subtitle

There are two ways to add title to a plot:

  • ggtitle()
  • labs()


ggtitle()

Let us explore the ggtitle() function first. It takes two arguments:

  • label: title of the plot
  • subtitle: subtitle of the plot


Title & Subtitle

ggplot(mtcars) +
  geom_point(aes(disp, mpg)) +
  ggtitle(label = 'Displacement vs Mileage', subtitle = 'disp vs mpg')


Axis Labels

You can add labels to the axis using:

  • xlab()
  • ylab()
  • labs()


Axis Labels

ggplot(mtcars) +
  geom_point(aes(disp, mpg)) +
  xlab('Displacement') + ylab('Miles Per Gallon')


Labs

The labs() function can be used to add the following to a plot:

  • title
  • subtitle
  • X axis label
  • Y axis label


Labs

ggplot(mtcars) +
  geom_point(aes(disp, mpg)) +
  labs(title = 'Displacement vs Mileage', subtitle = 'disp vs mpg', 
    x = 'Displacement', y = 'Miles Per Gallon')


Axis Range

In certain scenarios, you may want to modify the range of the axis. In ggplot2, we can achieve this using:

  • xlim()
  • ylim()
  • expand_limits()


Axis Range

  • xlim() and ylim() take a numeric vector of length 2 as input
  • expand_limits() takes two numeric vectors (each of length 2), one for each axis
  • in all of the above functions, the first element represents the lower limit and the second element represents the upper limit


X Axis

In the below example, we limit the range of the X axis between 0 and 600 using xlim.

ggplot(mtcars) +
  geom_point(aes(disp, mpg)) +
  xlim(c(0, 600))


Y Axis

Let us limit the range of the Y axis between 0 and 40.

ggplot(mtcars) +
  geom_point(aes(disp, mpg)) +
  ylim(c(0, 40))


Expand Limits

Let us use expand_limits() to limit the range of both the X and Y axis. The first input is the range for the X axis and the second input for the Y axis. In both the cases, we use a numeric vector of length 2 to specify the lower and upper limit.

ggplot(mtcars) +
  geom_point(aes(disp, mpg)) +
  expand_limits(x = c(0, 600), y = c(0, 40))


Remove Axis Labels

If you want to remove the axis labels all together, use the theme() function. It allows us to modify every aspect of the theme of the plot. Within theme(), set the following to element_blank().

  • axis.title.x
  • axis.title.y


Remove Axis Labels using theme()

element_blank() will remove the title of the X and Y axis.

ggplot(mtcars) +
  geom_point(aes(disp, mpg)) +
  theme(axis.title.x = element_blank(), axis.title.y = element_blank())


Format Title & Axis Labels

To format the title or the axis labels, we have to modify the theme of the plot using the theme() function. We can modify:

  • color
  • font family
  • font face
  • font size
  • horizontal alignment
  • and angle

In addition to theme(), we will also use element_text(). It should be used whenever you want to modify the appearance of any text element of your plot.


Color

In the below example, we use the color argument within element_text() to modify the color of the title of the plot to 'blue'.

ggplot(mtcars) +
  geom_point(aes(disp, mpg)) + ggtitle('Diaplacement vs Mileage') +
  theme(plot.title = element_text(color = 'blue'))


Font Family

Let us change the font family of the plot title to 'Arial' by using the family argument.

ggplot(mtcars) +
  geom_point(aes(disp, mpg)) + ggtitle('Diaplacement vs Mileage') +
  theme(plot.title = element_text(family = 'Arial'))


Font Face

The font face can be any of the following:

  • plain
  • bold
  • italic
  • bold.italic


Font Face

The face argument can be used to modify the font face of the title of the plot.

ggplot(mtcars) +
  geom_point(aes(disp, mpg)) + ggtitle('Diaplacement vs Mileage') +
  theme(plot.title = element_text(face = 'bold'))


Font Size

The size of the title of the plot can be modified using the size argument.

ggplot(mtcars) +
  geom_point(aes(disp, mpg)) + ggtitle('Diaplacement vs Mileage') +
  theme(plot.title = element_text(size = 8))


Horizontal Alignment

To modify the horizontal alignment of the title, use the hjust argument. It can take values between 0 and 1. If the value is closer to 0, the text will be left-aligned and viceversa.

ggplot(mtcars) +
  geom_point(aes(disp, mpg)) + ggtitle('Diaplacement vs Mileage') +
  theme(plot.title = element_text(hjust = 0.3))


Putting it all together…

Title

ggplot(mtcars) +
  geom_point(aes(disp, mpg)) + ggtitle('Diaplacement vs Mileage') +
  theme(plot.title = element_text(color = 'blue', family = 'Arial',
    face = 'bold', size = 12, hjust = 0.5))


X axis label

ggplot(mtcars) +
  geom_point(aes(disp, mpg)) + xlab('Diaplacement') +
  theme(axis.title.x = element_text(color = 'blue', family = 'Arial',
    face = 'bold', size = 8, hjust = 0.5, angle = 15))


Y axis label

ggplot(mtcars) +
  geom_point(aes(disp, mpg)) + ylab('Miles Per Gallon') +
  theme(axis.title.y = element_text(color = 'blue', family = 'Arial',
    face = 'italic', size = 8, vjust = 0.3, angle = 90))


Summary

In this tutorial, we learnt to:

  • add title and subtitle to the plot
  • modify axis labels
  • modify axis range
  • remove axis
  • format axis


Up Next..

In the next tutorial, we will learn to add text annotations to plots.