Creating composite figures with ggplot2 for reproducible research

March 10, 2015
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(This article was first published on bioCS, and kindly contributed to R-bloggers)

So far, I have been preparing composite figures by plotting the data using ggplot2, and then putting the panels together in OmniGraffle or Adobe Illustrator. Of course, every time the data is updated, I would need to go back to the vector editing program. After moving my manuscript from Word to knitr, I figured I should also try to cut out the image editing step.

ggplot2 does not make it easy to put different panels together in a seamless fashion and without any margins. However, by piecing together different StackOverflow answers, I found a way to extract different parts of the figures, and glue them back together with the gtable package. I can now produce a plot like this without a trip to Illustrator!

The solution is still a bit fragile, as the different dimensions of the PNG image and the rows and columns need to be adjusted manually to make it look right. Here is a minimal working example (with some superfluous steps, I’m sure):

The output of the Gist should produce this image:

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