Beautiful boxplots in pgfplots


Recently, I wanted to create boxplots from a data file for a paper I was writing using pgfplots. Turns out that’s more difficult than expected, especially since the (otherwise very useful) documentation is a bit meager in this point.

To save others the hassle, here’s the result of my efforts (link to PDF version):

Some “features” of this plot that took me a while to set up correctly:

  • Box design with fill color and black border
  • Nice color scheme (based on ColorBrewer)
  • Clean plot without any unnecessary clutter
  • Getting pgfplots to work with data in row format (instead of column format, as expected by the boxplot function)

This is the code I used to generate the figure (link to code file:

% Nice color sets, see see	
% initialize Set1-4 from colorbrewer (we're comparing 4 classes),
\pgfplotsset{compat = 1.15, cycle list/Set1-8} 
% Tikz is loaded automatically by pgfplots
\usetikzlibrary{pgfplots.statistics, pgfplots.colorbrewer} 
% provides \pgfplotstabletranspose

22, 26, 30, 17, 45
10, 15, 13, 12, 17
12, 30, 6,  57, 10
33, 38, 36, 25, 24

	\pgfplotstableread[col sep=comma]{data.csv}\csvdata
	% Boxplot groups columns, but we want rows
		boxplot/draw direction = y,
		x axis line style = {opacity=0},
		axis x line* = bottom,
		axis y line = left,
		enlarge y limits,
		xtick = {1, 2, 3, 4},
		xticklabel style = {align=center, font=\small, rotate=60},
		xticklabels = {Apples, Oranges, Bananas, Melons},
		xtick style = {draw=none}, % Hide tick line
		ylabel = {Juiciness},
		ytick = {20, 40}
		\foreach \n in {1,...,4} {
			\addplot+[boxplot, fill, draw=black] table[y index=\n] {\datatransposed};

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