Mac friendly computer software to draw math pictures.
July 17, 2012 2:46 PM   Subscribe

Anyone know of a Mac friendly computer program that makes it easy to draw geometric figures? Preferably free, but I'm willing to pay if its not too much and if its worth it.

I'm a math tutor and I've written several geometry worksheets to help my students practice. Right now, my worksheets have hand drawn pictures, but I'd really like to draw the pictures on my computer so its easier to edit worksheets.

I've tried using Word, and that has been fine for number line problems, but its very difficult to draw more complicated pictures, especially if they need to be labeled. I've also tried EazyDraw - again, fine for simple pictures, but very tedious for anything more complicated.

Several years ago I used a program called Geometer's Sketchpad which was fantastic, but it was expensive and I don't have it any more.

Ideally, what I'd like to have is a program where I can move shapes and labels independently of one another, without having to worry that when I move one item all the others will get messed up! Maybe a program that allows layers?

I have a MacBook Pro with OS X 10.7.4. Any help is appreciated!
posted by junipero to Computers & Internet (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Inkscape. The trick is to group things together and then move them around.

FWIW, it's much easier to draw figures (for me anyway) with a mouse than with the touchpad.
posted by hoyland at 2:51 PM on July 17, 2012

Inkscape. (on preview, what hoyland said.)
posted by xyzzy at 2:53 PM on July 17, 2012

Keynote also works surprisingly well!
posted by gregglind at 2:55 PM on July 17, 2012

At $100 OmniGraffle is not particularly cheap, but it is a very popular solution to a similar set of requirements for engineers who favor Macs.
posted by RichardP at 3:13 PM on July 17, 2012

Xfig is great, powerful, and really flexible. It's not the most user friendly program and I think fink is the only way to install it.

So, if Inkscape works well for you, you probably don't need to bother with xfig.
posted by Betelgeuse at 3:17 PM on July 17, 2012

OmniGraffle is a bit more expensive than Inkscape, but is much easier to use. I use Inkscape on a near-daily basis for editing SVG files, but would not recommend it unless one is willing to commit some time to learning its quirks.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:24 PM on July 17, 2012

I teach math, too, and I've used Appleworks's draw feature for years to make all kinds of figures for my worksheets, and I haven't found much it can't handle with a few minutes' worth of work. It's an old program which I don't think is being updated or sold anymore by Apple, but you find it on eBay for under $25. It allows you to draw things using layers, to group elements and move them around, to scale things, and so on.
posted by alphanerd at 3:24 PM on July 17, 2012

AppleWorks, while handy, is really ancient and won't run on Intel Macs with 10.7 or higher -- it was never updated from PPC to Intel. You can do much better for $25.
posted by xil at 3:44 PM on July 17, 2012

LibreOffice Draw is decent. Does the basics (text, shapes, fill, grouping, alignment, etc.) okay and is free. I use it to draw a lot of labeled circles and squares with lines and arrows connecting things.

OmniGraffle is awesome, but pricey (for the longest time this one single program was the reason I wanted a Mac).

Adobe Illustrator is also good but probably overkill for your needs.
posted by doowod at 3:51 PM on July 17, 2012

Maybe a bit too simplistic, but Google Docs has a drawing app which I've used to produce a few diagrams.

The online Aviary suite also has a vector editor called Raven.
posted by Magnakai at 4:35 PM on July 17, 2012

If you can afford OmniGraffle, you can afford Geometer's Sketchpad. I'm a big fan of Sketchpad, although it's got some weird quirks that I wish they'd fix (like it copies the background! Ugh!).

You might be able to use GeoGebra in place of Sketchpad, and it's free. I don't find GeoGebra very intuitive, but I don't have an incentive to learn it, either.

Do you use LaTeX? If you don't, and you plan on making writing much math, you might consider learning. If you do (or if you want to learn), you can make some really really nice drawings with TiKz, where you're writing LaTeX-like code directly in the TeX document. There are examples in the TiKz manual where he is reproducing diagrams associated with various of Euclid's propositions, and they are just spectacular. And you can label/annotate with as much LaTeXy goodness as you want. The learning curve us fairly horrific, though.
posted by leahwrenn at 5:02 PM on July 17, 2012

You could try Sketch. I'm not going to recommend it but some people love it. I found it too simple. I wanted something more along the CorelDRAW line but it's more of a nice app for creating shiny buttons. But if you needs are pretty simple it might do.
posted by chairface at 5:49 PM on July 17, 2012

You probably already have access to powerpoint. It'll do all of that easily.
posted by clone boulevard at 7:08 PM on July 17, 2012

Best answer: I'm sort of tempted to change my answer to TikZ. I do use TikZ rather than Inkscape, but it can be time-consuming, though it'll look better in the end. There are plenty of things I can do in TikZ that Inkscape probably can do, but I haven't figure it out. (Arbitrarily long curly braces at an angle, for example.) I went for Inkscape in my original answer because, if you don't use LaTeX, you maybe just want to bash out some figures and be done with it, rather than revamp your entire worksheet repertoire (and make them awesome and LaTeX-ed). I'd dispute the horrific-ness of the learning curve. The manual has some very detailed examples and between that and TeXample, it's not bad.

As far as I can tell, Inkscape and Xfig are about on par capability-wise, but Inkscape is less fiddly. Inkscape has a 'render as LaTeX' plugin that trounces Xfig's LaTeX capabilities, but it doesn't work on the Mac (or at least it didn't the last time I checked on the issue). Those two things seem to be why Inkscape gained so much ground on Xfig. (Plus it now appears to have a Windows version and Mac installation is much easier than Xfig's.)

That said, maybe I should try and sell you on LaTeX. You could go all out and make Sage plot things and then use Sagetex to get the plots into your worksheets (see PDF of examples). Because that's not overkill at all. (On the other hand... how are you plotting functions at the moment?)
posted by hoyland at 7:22 PM on July 17, 2012

GeoGebra is what you want. It's Java based and has earned many awards for the needs that you have right now. My geometry professor from undergrad was a big fan and I can certainly sympathize. There's a web applet on their site you can play with, too. Check it out!
posted by oceanjesse at 11:02 PM on July 17, 2012

I had to use the Geometer's Sketchpad for a math class, it was supposed to come with the book I bought. However, I bought the book used and the license was previously activated so I had to pay another $15 for the software. If you really like it (I don't know why, but whatever), you can get it from for $10 (plus $5 handling, I'm not sure what handling they do, it's a download).
posted by Brian Puccio at 7:48 PM on July 18, 2012

Response by poster: I've been using Inkscape for the past couple of days and have found that it suits my needs pretty well. It has been fairly easy to learn, so I think that will work for now. I will definitely look into some of these other programs in the future, especially if I find I run into limitations with Inkscape.

I've used GeoGebra before, actually, and I had forgotten about that program. Might try that one, too.

posted by junipero at 3:49 PM on July 20, 2012

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