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I've recently started my personal wiki to organize my notes and thoughts. I use the wiki program instiki which I believe is the same as the n-lab uses. Instiki can upload svg's. I want to be able to create nice looking pictures of some (not to complicated) geometric objects, e.g. knots, pair of pants, etc. My question is twofold.

  1. Do people draw these things using svg format? For example people who do diagram algebra, do you use svg format?

  2. If so, what are some good free/open source programs for creating these pictures?

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Just to confirm: nlab does use Instiki. As well as uploading SVGs you can embed them in pages, and in mathematics. – Loop Space Oct 30 '09 at 9:22
up vote 21 down vote accepted

I am a huge fan of the open source program Inkscape. I mostly use it to produce pictures for my papers in the eps format, but its native format is svg.

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I'd second that. It uses splines and bezier curves to make really nice lines and curves; it's easy to create under and over-crossings, and you can even import LaTex into it for labeling things. – David Jordan Oct 29 '09 at 17:12
Thanks! I've looked at some of the pictures in your papers, and they look great. Exactly what I need. Do you know of any good tutorial, preferably aimed at mathematicians or "technical" people? – Grétar Amazeen Oct 29 '09 at 17:23
Alas, I don't know of any tutorials. The best way to learn how to use a program like this is to play around with it! Maybe pick some diagrams you like and try to copy them... – Andy Putman Oct 29 '09 at 17:43
Yeah thats the best way. Thanks. – Grétar Amazeen Oct 29 '09 at 18:06
With the aid of a plugin (I forget the name or website, sorry!), Inkscape can also export to tikz format so you can use your diagrams in your papers as well. – Loop Space Oct 29 '09 at 18:50

GeoGebra has .SVG export, and is fantastically useful for certain types of diagrams - not so much knots and pairs of pants, but more like graphs of functions, geometric shapes etc. Granted, its real strength is in interactive demos (like this one), but sometimes it's useful just to generate static images.

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i wrote small script to paint math functions in SVG, please feel free to use it

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Its been a couple of years since I used SVG. At the time I looked at sample SVG files to see how to code basic stuff, and hand coded with some parts generated by small ad hoc programs. The images were geometric diagrams. My concern at the time was that many people use Internet Explorer as a browser, and it does NOT support SVG. The plugin, by Adobe, that allows IE to read SVG is probably not installed on many computers. And Adobe has now dropped all support of that plugin. To me, this meant, that to make the stuff generally viewable I needed to convert the SVG to fixed size bitmap, e.g. png files. That seemed to defeat the whole purpose of SVG, which for me was to allow users to zoom in on fine details of a figure without loosing resolution. [Sorry that doesn't really answer your question, but it seemed important to mention my concerns with SVG. If the situation is now different, I would be interested to know that.]

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Well I'm using it for a personal wiki which I view in firefox or safari so that isn't a problem for me. I understand your concern, but in my opinion people should actively use things that IE doesn't support, given that these things are good. This will either force them to adapt or lose market share, the latter being a good thing for humanity ;) – Grétar Amazeen Oct 29 '09 at 19:27

I use SVG frequently for mathematical diagrams in Wikipedia (gallery) — for the illustrations my own papers I usually use pdf. In both cases I generally use Adobe Illustrator. It's not cheap and it's not easy to learn, but it's quite powerful.

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Agreed, but the PDF files it writes are extremely bloated with stuff that only it underdstands. – Brendan McKay Oct 29 '12 at 22:51

I use lineform to draw all of my figures. It's like an intuitive scaled down version of Illustrator that doesn't cost a fortune (though it does cost $80). You can export to svg, png, pdf, ps, et cetera.

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Sage, which is free and open source, is able to output svg files, but the result is sometimes not really nice.

I do not know whether Maple or Mathematica (which are not free) can do this.

I am also using the basic editor xfig to create simple svg files, but inkscape is more powerful.

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Mathematica 8.0 (and possibly earlier versions) can export static svg graphics. – Kevin O'Bryant Dec 10 '10 at 13:32

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