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Special Topics: Label Bars

Labelbars are annotations that are created automatically when you create a filled contour or vector plot (not to be confused with legends which are associated with XY plots).

There are many resources that customize label bars. This page will demonstrate only those we think will be commonly used. You can peruse the list of label bar resources for other options.

You can create your own labelbar using functions like gsn_create_labelbar and gsn_labelbar_ndc. The gsn_add_annotation function allows you to attach a labelbar created with gsn_create_labelbar to a plot (see example 11 below).

lb_1.ncl: Demonstrates a default color bar. The default position is horizontal.

For the gsn_csm graphical interfaces, setting cnFillOn = True, automatically creates a color bar.

lbLabelBarOn = False, Will turn off the label bar.

lb_2.ncl: Vertical label bar and explicit labels.

lbOrientation = "vertical", Moves the label bar to the right side vertical.

You can specify your own labels by setting lbLabelStrings equal to an array of strings. Here we chose other numbers, but the string could have any value.

lb_3.ncl: Large angled labels plus adding a title.

lbLabelAngleF, Controls the angle of the labels while lbLabelFontHeightF, Controls the size of the labels.

A title can be added to the label bar by setting lbTitleOn equal to True, and providing a string using lbTitleString. The default position of the title is on top of the label bar. Example 4 demonstrates how to move the label bar title. The size of the label bar title can be changed with lbTitleFontHeightF.

In this example, we needed to move the entire label bar down b/c the oversized labels ran into the plot. pmLabelBarOrthogonalPosF adjust the label bar position perpendicular to the main plot axis. Note that this is a pm or plot manager resource.

lb_4.ncl: Title on the side, labels in the center.

lbTitlePosition = "Right", Moves the title from its default top position to the right. Other options include bottom and left. If the title position is top or bottom, the default orientation of the title string is across. It is down if the title position is left or right. Here we override this default by changing the title orientation to across using lbTitleDirection.

The default position of the labels for the gsn_csm interfaces is lbLabelAlignment = "InteriorEdges". We have changed this to the center using lbLabelAlignment = "BoxCenters".

The default label position is bottom, but this can be changed using lbLabelPosition.

The labels were made bolder by changing the font using lbLabelFont.

lb_5.ncl: How to create a label bar from scratch.

As we indicated in the first example, the gsn_csm graphical interfaces automatically create a label bar if color is turned on. If you use the generic graphical interfaces then you may need to create a label bar from scratch.

To turn on and modify a label bar, you must first set lbAutoManage = False, and pmLabelBarDisplayMode = "Always".

The default orientation of the label bar in NCL is Vertical, and the default side is Right. We change these with lbOrientation and pmLabelBarSide respectively.

The default label bar width and height is shorter and taller than our aesthetic preference. Additionally, the default label font height is huge, and a box is draw around the label bar. We have modified these features using pmLabelBarWidthF, pmLabelBarHeightF, lbLabelFontHeightF, and lbPerimOn.

The number of labels on the label bar can be adjusted by setting lbLabelStride to some integer value. You can also use lbLabelAutoStride which automatically determines if there is a label overlap and adjusts the stride accordingly (as of V6.1.0, this resource will be True by default).

lb_6.ncl: Reverses the colormap.

The three resources (available since NCL version 4.2.0.a020) needed to reverse a colormap are: gsnSpreadColors= True
gsnSpreadColorStart= -1, starts the colormap at the last color. gsnSpreadColorEnd = 2, Begins the colormap at the beginning of the colormap.

lb_7.ncl: Changes the format of the label bar labels so that they are all the same. The default is not pretty when there is a different number of decimal places.

sprintf is the function we can use to reformat the labels. Unfortunately, this has to be done after the plot is drawn because there is no way to do it a priori.

lb_8.ncl: Automatically choose best label bar stride.

lbLabelAutoStride will automatically determine the best stride for a label bar if it senses an overlap (as of V6.1.0, this resource will be True by default).

lb_9.ncl: Demonstrates how to create your own label bar outside of a plot template call.

gsn_labelbar_ndc is the function that will draw your own label bar. You can use any of the resources demonstrated on this page to adjust the style of the label bar.

The first frame draws solid-filled labelbars. The second frame draws pattern-filled labelbars by setting lbMonoFillPattern to False and setting lbFillPatterns to an array of fill patterns. The width of the pattern lines are increased by setting lbFillLineThicknessF = 2.0. The third frame increases the density of the fill pattern with lbFillScaleF = 0.5.

Note that gsnSpreadColors does not work on this label bar. See script for discussion and solution.

lb_10.ncl: Demonstrates how to add end labels to a label bar.

The old method (before V5.0.0) was to set cnLabelBarEndLabelsOn to True. This has been deprecated, and you should now set cnLabelBarEndStyle to "IncludeMinMaxLabels". This will turn on labels at the ends of a label bar, using the min and max values of your data.

lb_11.ncl: Demonstrates how to attach a labelbar to a plot.

gsn_create_labelbar is similar to gsn_labelbar_ndc except it returns an id that allows you to attach the labelbar to the plot using gsn_add_annotation.

The second frame shows how if you resize the plot, the labelbar automatically gets resized.

lb_12.ncl: Demonstrates various ways to control the end boxes of a labelbar.

A new contour resource called cnLabelBarEndStyle was added in V5.0.0. You can set this resource to one of three values to control how the end labelbar boxes are handled:

  • "IncludeOuterBoxes" (frame 1, the default) - the first and last labels, representing the minimum and maximum contour levels, are aligned with the interior boundaries of the outer boxes.
  • "IncludeMinMaxLabels" (frame 2) - the outer edges of the labelbar boxes are labeled with the min/max of the data.
  • "ExcludeOuterBoxes" (frame 3) - the two outermost boxes are removed.
lb_13.ncl: Demonstrates how to finely control a labelbar with regard to size and position.

This detailed discussion is from a posting from Dave Brown, who also provided the script:

By default, with lbAutoManage set to True, the LabelBar code makes sure that all elements of the LabelBar fit inside the width and height specified using vpWidthF and vpHeightF. This requires that the LabelBar controls the font height of the labels. However, depending on other constraints, this often leads to text that is too small. To achieve control of the font height, you need to turn lbAutoManage off. Once the user controls the font height, the LabelBar can no longer ensure that everything will fit inside the specified width and height, but it still tries to if it can.

A significant resource is lbBoxMinorExtentF. This specifies the proportion of the space in the direction perpendicular to the labelbar orientation that is occupied by the labelbar. By default it is 0.33, or 1/3 of the width specified by vpWidthF in the case of a vertically oriented labelbar.

The total width is accounted for by five elements:

  1. the left margin
  2. the labelbar (box) width
  3. the label offset (which specifies a space between the labelbar and the labels)
  4. the width of the longest text string
  5. the right margin

If all of these together amount to less than the width specified by vpWidthF, then the labelbar and the text are centered within the available width. This is what leads to the variable distance from the specified position of the top left corner of the labelbar.

To ensure that the top-left corner of the labelbar falls on the specified point, set the resources as follows:

lbJustification = "topleft"
lbLeftMarginF = 0.0

lbTopMarginF = 0.0 ; eliminate any margin at
                   ; the top and left of the labelbar

lbBoxMinorExtentF = 1.0 ; this makes the labelbar 
                        ; width equal to the full amount of vpWidthF.

As a side effect, this results in the labels being drawn entirely outside the labelbar viewport vpWidthF = .03 ; reduced from 0.1 to maintain approximately the labelbar width of the original plot. lbLabelOffsetF = .5 ; this specifies the offset between the labelbar and the labels as a fraction of lbLabelOffsetF (for a vertically oriented labelbar). Since lbLabelOffsetF has become smaller, this value needs to be increased to maintain approximately the original distance between the labelbar and the labels.

rose_5.ncl: Add a color label to indicate wind s peeds. (Thanks to Zhiyong Wu, Sun Yat-sen University Guangzhou, China for contributing the label bar code.)
lb_14.ncl: Demonstrates the various ways you can change the labels on a labelbar, using three different modes for lbLabelAlignment: "InteriorEdges" (the default), "BoxCenters", and "ExternalEdges".

If you use "BoxCenters" or "ExternalEdges", you have to provide the extra labels via lbLabelStrings.

lb_15.ncl: Demonstrates how to reverse a labelbar associated with a contour plot. This method should also work for a vector plot.

You need to do this after the plot is created, because there's no resource that reverses the labelbar for you. The pmAnnoViews resource is retrieved after the plot is created, to find the labelbar associated with the plot. "getvalues" is used to retrieve the values for lbFillColors and lbLabelStrings, and then "setvalues" is used to reset these resources to their reversed values.

lb_16.ncl / lb_16_old.ncl: Demonstrates how to create a labelbar with triangular ends instead of rectangular ends.

The lb_16_old.ncl script shows the old way of doing this, before NCL V6.4.0 was released. In NCL V6.4.0, a new resource called lbBoxEndCapStyle was added that takes one of four values: "RectangleEnds" (the default), "TriangleLowEnd", "TriangleHighEnd", "TriangleBothEnds".

The image with with four labelbars was created using the new resource, while the image with the two labelbars was created using the old method.

For the older method, you have to draw the triangles by hand. The important thing here is you have to set lbBoxMinorExtentF to 1.0, so that you are assured that the vpWidthF and vpHeightF resources apply to just the boxes, and not the whole labelbar including the labels. This enables us to retrieve the exact locations of the end labelbar boxes, and replace them with filled triangles.

lb_17.ncl / lb_17_old.ncl: This example shows how to draw a labelbar with triangular ends, using a new resource added in NCL V6.4.0 called lbBoxEndCapStyle.

The lb_17_old.ncl script shows how to do this before the new resource was introduced. This method is very tedious as you have to recreate the labelbar from scratch so you can determine where the ends boxes are. You cannot panel these plots, because the triangles will disappear. You may need to modify some of the labelbar resources and/or variables in the "labelbar_w_tri_ends" procedure in order to better control the position of the labelbar, its labels, and anything else that may not be positioned correctly.

lb_18.ncl: This example shows how to draw a labelbar with a box around the outer edges only. Set lbBoxSeparatorLinesOn to False to turn off the interior box lines of a labelbar.
lb_19.ncl: This example shows how to completely reconstruct a labelbar from scratch given a contour plot. The labelbar should appear in the exact same place as if it had been drawn with the plot.

The three frames show 1) the contour plot with the labelbar, 2) the contour plot without the labelbar, 3) the reconstructed labelbar.

lb_20.ncl: This example shows how to draw several labelbars on a page, with each box containing a label.

The lithologic color map came from http://mrdata.usgs.gov/catalog/lithclass-color.php, which shows which colors to use for which rock type. The color map was provided as an ASCII file, which was read in using asciiread and str_split to parse each line.

unique_8.ncl: This script creates a contour plot of sea surface temperature and overlays a storm track for Hurricane Katrina. It was contributed by Kimberly Trent (a 2006 SOARS student of NCAR/UCAR), with help from Adam Phillips and Mary Haley, also of NCAR.

The track data came from NHC reports from the document "Tropical Cyclone Report Hurricane Katrina" (Richard D. Knabb, Jamie R. Rhome, and Daniel P. Brown). The SST field was obtained from NCEP.

The storm track is done using filled and hollow circles, and polylines. The circles are created using the NhlNewMarker function. A legend is created using calls to gsn_text and gsn_polymarker.

lb_21.ncl: This example shows how to move a vertical labelbar to the left side of the plot.

Set pmLabelBarOrthogonalPosF to a value of -1.0 to move the labelbar to the left side of the plot, and then use slightly smaller values than this (-1.25) to move it just outside the plot.

lbLabelPosition is set to "left" to move the labelbar labels to the left side of the labelbar.

lb_22.ncl: This example shows how to apply different opacities to a bar plot and a custom labelbar.

The first frame is the plot without any opacity. The second frame has the opacities applied to both the filled bars and labelbar, using an RGBA array of colors with the opacity index (index 3) set to a range of opacities.

The third frame uses a resource introduced in NCL V6.4.0, lbFillOpacityF, that allows you to set a single opacity value for a labelbar. This resource is primarily meant to be used when creating a custom labelbar, and not with a labelbar associated with a filled contour or vector plot. As of NCL V6.4.0, any opacity applied to a contour or vector plot via resources like cnFillOpacityF or vcGlyphOpacityF will have the same opacity applied to the labelbar.

gpm_1.ncl: This example shows how to customize a labelbar to have triangular ends and/or labels on the end boxes.

In NCL Version 6.4.0, a new labelbar resource called lbBoxEndCapStyle was added that allows you to force one or both of the end labelbar boxes to be drawn as triangles. The second two plots of this example show two ways of using this resource to customize the labelbar.

A 'trick' was used in the third plot to add a minimum label to the labelbar, first by setting res@cnLabelBarEndStyle to "IncludeMinMaxLabels". But, since we don't actually want to see the maximum value on the labelbar, we customized the labels ourselves, by creating an array of strings with the rightmost string set to an empty string.

corel_3.ncl: This example shows how to remove the end boxes of a labelbar, by setting res@cnLabelBarEndStyle to "ExcludeOuterBoxes".

This can be useful when you know there are no values that go beyond the high and low values of the contour levels, which are set to -1 and 1 in this example.