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What is a subplots in matplotlib?

Educative Answers Team

The matplotlib.pyplot.subplots method provides a way to plot multiple plots on a single figure. Given the number of rows and columns, it returns a tuple (fig, ax), giving a single figure fig with an array of axes ax.

svg viewer
4 subplots in a single figure

Function signature

Here is the function for matplotlib.pyplot.subplots:

matplotlib.pyplot.subplots(nrows=1, 
                           ncols=1, 
                           sharex=False, 
                           sharey=False, 
                           squeeze=True, 
                           subplot_kw=None, 
                           gridspec_kw=None, 
                           **fig_kw)

Parameters

Given below is the detail of each parameter to the matplotlib.pyplot.subplots method:

  • nrows, ncols: Number of rows and columns of the subplot grid. Both of these are optional with a default value of 1.
  • sharex, sharey: Specifies sharing of properties between axes. Possible values are none, all, row, col or a boolean with a default value of False.
  • squeeze: Boolean value specifying whether to squeeze out extra dimension from the returned axes array ax. The default value is False.
  • subplot_kw: Dict of keywords to be passed to the add_subplot call to add keywords to each subplot. The default value is None.
  • gridspec_kw: Dict of grid specifications passed to GridSpec constructor to place grids on each subplot. The default value is None.
  • **fig_kw: Any additional keyword arguments to be passed to pyplot.figure call. The default value is None.

Return

Here is an explanation of the tuple returned by the function:

  • fig: The matplotlib.pyplot.figure object to be used as a container for all the subplots.
  • ax: A single object of the axes.Axes object if there is only one plot, or an array of axes.Axes objects if there are multiple plots, as specified by the nrows and ncols.

Example

Here is an example on how to use the matplotlib.pyplot.subplots method:

  • Line 1-2: Import matplotlib.pyplot for plotting and numpy for generating data to plot.
  • Line 4: Generate a figure with 2 rows and 2 columns of subplots.
  • Line 5: Generate some data using numpy.
  • Line 7-10: Index the ax array to plot different subplots on the figure fig.
  • Line 11: Output the figure.
import matplotlib.pyplot as plt
import numpy as np

fig, ax = plt.subplots(2, 2)
x = np.linspace(0, 8, 1000)

ax[0, 0].plot(x, np.sin(x), 'g') #row=0, col=0
ax[1, 0].plot(x, np.tan(x), 'k') #row=1, col=0
ax[0, 1].plot(range(100), 'b') #row=0, col=1
ax[1, 1].plot(x, np.cos(x), 'r') #row=1, col=1
fig.show()

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