Easy way to make great-looking charts and graphs?
December 13, 2007 2:28 PM   Subscribe

Elegant and simple way to create nice-looking graphs/charts from raw data?

My graphic designer needs to design a lot of charts and graphs (bar, line, pie, etc.) for our monthly magazine. Currently, he's doing it manually in inDesign, using the drawing tools. Which takes forever. But that's the way he needs to do it in order to make them aesthetically pleasing.

Or is it? Is there a (preferably free) tool that will take simple sets of data and spit out colorful, nice-looking, elegant charts/graphs? (Excel's built-in charting feature, for instance, produces things that are too cartoony - we want something high on the aesthetic meter.)

Here's the rub: it's for a print publication, so it has to be able to save at 300 dpi. Does any such thing exist?
posted by jbickers to Computers & Internet (10 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Google Chart API seems to fit the bill.
posted by nitsuj at 2:42 PM on December 13, 2007

I've always used scientific plotting software like SigmaPlot or Origin. Not so cheap, but produces very nice graphs. I've found the best way to get really good looking graphs is to take the output of one of these programs and then edit the vector art in Illustrator or similar to get all the linewidths and everything looking just the way you want.
posted by pombe at 2:43 PM on December 13, 2007

Well, for one thing, you can produce a chart in Excel, and copy/paste it into Illustrator, where you can tweak it to your heart's desire. You can do a lot of customizing in Excel to tone down the cartooniness. Or you can create the chart in Illustrator directly.

Presumably, if you've got InDesign, you've got Illustrator.
posted by adamrice at 2:51 PM on December 13, 2007

If he has the entire Adobe CreativeSuite that InDesign is a part of, Illustrator has charting tools built in. That will get him a good chunk of the way there since he'll have vector art that he can prettify to his heart's content.

Another option if he's a Mac guy is to use the iWork suite, which will produce much nicer looking art than Excel will.
posted by bcwinters at 2:51 PM on December 13, 2007

R can generate very high quality figures.
R is free.
R can output vector pdf.

Getting it to do so will require some work and tweaking. But, once you have it configured to produce a pie chart that you like, you can just reuse the same code. If you wanted, you could probably just define a new object.

R is not especially friendly, and is unkind to newbies.

R is command-line driven with a zillion different options and switches, and might seriously annoy someone who is expecting point-and-clickness.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:43 PM on December 13, 2007

Seconding scientific software, at least for good-looking graphs. I use Origin, but there are a few out there. They aren't generally free though. The benefit is that with a little work graphs come out looking like Science! (clean, clear, and a little sexy), whereas Excel graphs generally look like just a bunch of data (muddled, bloated, and somehow draining all the sex appeal from your hot data). Pie charts and the like will require something else though.
posted by ssg at 3:44 PM on December 13, 2007

for those of you who are all "how do i google 'R'?", check this out: www.r-project.org. Looks very cool -- thanks for mentioning, ROU_X.
posted by fishfucker at 4:07 PM on December 13, 2007 [2 favorites]

As mentioned previously, Illustrator does have some simple but effective charting capabilities. I really think that is your best bet.

Another good option is Keynote from Apple's iWork suite (Numbers may also have the same capabilites, I haven't checked that out). Sometimes I use Keynote to generate graphs and then import them into Illustrator for some further tweaking, but Keynote alone can quickly create very attractive results.

I think the hardcore scientific graphing software is both too expensive and overkill for what it sounds like is called for here. But, I use DeltaGraph for advanced charts and graphs.
posted by daser at 4:51 PM on December 13, 2007

Since he's a Mac user, new Numbers program in iWork is definitely the way to go. The same way Keynote slides look so much prettier than ones from PowerPoint, Numbers trumps Excel in sexy-graphiness.

(What do you mean he's not a Mac user? You said designer.)
posted by rokusan at 8:42 PM on December 13, 2007

Have you tried Excel 2007? The charts and graphs in that version are easier to make, nicer looking by default, and far more tweakable than in previous versions

Google Docs spreadsheet module can do charts now. And, when you export your file, they tuns into PNGs, which you could modify with your graphics program.
posted by wheat at 6:21 AM on December 14, 2007

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