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How to move the legend in matplotlib

Understanding Legends in Matplotlib

When you're working with plots, a legend can be a crucial element to help explain the data being visualized. In Matplotlib, which is a plotting library for Python, legends are used to describe each element of the graph. Think of a legend as a guide or a map key; it tells you what each color, line type, or marker represents in your chart.

Adding a Legend to Your Plot

Before we dive into moving legends, let's first ensure we know how to create one. Here's a simple example of how to add a legend to a plot:

import matplotlib.pyplot as plt

# Plotting two lines
plt.plot([1, 2, 3], [2, 4, 1], label='Line 1')
plt.plot([1, 2, 3], [1, 3, 2], label='Line 2')

# Adding a legend

# Display the plot

In this code, label='Line 1' and label='Line 2' are used to define the labels for the two lines we've plotted. The plt.legend() function is then called to display the legend.

The Default Position of the Legend

By default, Matplotlib tries to place the legend in a position that doesn't overlap with the data. This is like trying to park a car in an empty spot where it won't block traffic. However, sometimes the default position isn't ideal, and you might need to move the legend to a better location.

Moving the Legend Around

There are several ways to move the legend around. You can use predefined string arguments such as 'upper right', 'lower left', etc., or you can specify the exact location using coordinates.

Using Predefined Locations

Matplotlib allows you to use some predefined locations to place your legend. Here's how you can do it:

# Adding a legend with a predefined location
plt.legend(loc='upper left')

The loc parameter can take the following string arguments:

  • 'best'
  • 'upper right'
  • 'upper left'
  • 'lower left'
  • 'lower right'
  • 'right'
  • 'center left'
  • 'center right'
  • 'lower center'
  • 'upper center'
  • 'center'

Using Coordinates

For more control, you can specify the exact location of the legend in the figure's coordinate space. This is like using GPS coordinates to pinpoint a location. Here's an example:

# Adding a legend with custom coordinates
plt.legend(loc=(0.5, 0.5)) # (0.5, 0.5) is the center of the plot

The coordinates are given as a tuple (x, y), where 0, 0 is the bottom left of the plot, and 1, 1 is the top right.

Adjusting the Legend's Appearance

Sometimes, even after placing the legend in the right spot, it might be covering some data. Matplotlib allows you to make the legend semi-transparent, change its size, and even add a border to make it stand out.

Making the Legend Transparent

You can make the legend slightly transparent using the alpha parameter so that the data behind it is still visible. This is like adding a see-through glass panel in front of something.

# Making the legend transparent
plt.legend(loc='best', framealpha=0.5) # 0 is fully transparent, 1 is fully opaque

Changing the Size of the Legend

If the legend is too big or too small, you can adjust its size by changing the font size. This is similar to adjusting the font size in a word document.

# Changing the size of the legend's font
plt.legend(loc='best', fontsize='small') # Other options include 'large', 'medium', 'x-large', etc.

Adding a Border to the Legend

A border can help the legend stand out from the plot. You can add and customize the border using the edgecolor parameter.

# Adding a border with a specific color to the legend
plt.legend(loc='best', edgecolor='blue') # You can use any Matplotlib color here

Dealing with Overlapping Plots

Sometimes, no matter where you place the legend, it seems to overlap with the data. In such cases, you can adjust the plot itself to make room for the legend.

Resizing the Plot

You can resize the plot to create more space for the legend. This is like moving the walls of a room to make more space for furniture.

# Resizing the plot
plt.figure(figsize=(10, 5)) # Width, Height in inches
# ... your plotting code ...

Adjusting the Plot's Layout

Matplotlib provides a handy tight_layout() function that automatically adjusts the size and position of the plot's elements to prevent overlapping.

# Automatically adjust the layout
# ... your plotting code ...


Manipulating the legend in Matplotlib is like finding the perfect spot for a piece of furniture in a room. It's about balancing aesthetics with functionality, ensuring that the legend helps rather than hinders the understanding of the plot. By using predefined locations, custom coordinates, and adjusting the legend's appearance and the plot's layout, you can ensure that your legend is both informative and unobtrusive.

In the end, the legend is a storyteller, and like any good storyteller, it should enhance the narrative without becoming the story itself. With the tools and techniques discussed here, you're now equipped to make sure the legends in your plots serve their purpose well, guiding your audience through the data with clarity and style. Happy plotting, and may your graphs always be as clear as a starry night sky!