5 Best Ways to Customize Python xticks in Subplots

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πŸ’‘ Problem Formulation: When creating subplots in Matplotlib with Python, developers often need precise control over the x-axis tick marks. The goal is to format these xticks for better visualization and clarity. For instance, if the current subplot xticks are cluttered or not aligned with the desired data points, the output needs to be modified to represent points like days of the week or specific time intervals.

Method 1: Use set_xticks() and set_xticklabels()

This method involves setting the ticks and their corresponding labels on the x-axis for each subplot individually. The set_xticks() method is used to define the tick locations, and set_xticklabels() method is used to set custom text for the ticks.

Here’s an example:

import matplotlib.pyplot as plt

fig, ax = plt.subplots(2, 1)
ax[0].plot(range(10), range(10))
ax[0].set_xticks([2, 5, 7])
ax[0].set_xticklabels(['Two', 'Five', 'Seven'])

ax[1].plot(range(10), [i**2 for i in range(10)])
ax[1].set_xticks([1, 4, 6, 9])
ax[1].set_xticklabels(['One', 'Four', 'Six', 'Nine'])


The output shows two subplots with the xticks set at specified positions [2, 5, 7] and [1, 4, 6, 9] with custom labels.

This snippet creates a figure with two subplots arranged vertically. In the first subplot, xticks are placed at positions 2, 5, and 7 with labels ‘Two’, ‘Five’, and ‘Seven’. The second subplot has xticks at positions 1, 4, 6, and 9 with labels ‘One’, ‘Four’, ‘Six’, and ‘Nine’. This method provides flexibility for setting both positions and labels specifically suited for each subplot.

Method 2: Using xticks() from Matplotlib.pyplot

The xticks() function from the Matplotlib.pyplot module allows you to get or set the x-limits of the current tick locations and labels. It is useful when working with Pyplot’s state-based interface.

Here’s an example:

import matplotlib.pyplot as plt

fig, (ax1, ax2) = plt.subplots(2)
plt.xticks([0, 1, 2], ['Start', 'Middle', 'End'])

plt.xticks([0, 50, 100], ['Minimum', 'Average', 'Maximum'])


The output shows two subplots with custom xticks and labels: [‘Start’, ‘Middle’, ‘End’] for the first, and [‘Minimum’, ‘Average’, ‘Maximum’] for the second.

In this code, we create two subplots and use plt.sca() to set the current axis to either ax1 or ax2 before calling plt.xticks() to set the tick positions and labels. This method uses the state-based approach of Matplotlib and keeps code compact for simple adjustments to xticks.

Method 3: Adjusting xticks for All Subplots Globally

This method involves configuring the xticks globally by using the Matplotlib tick_params() function, which can be used to make bulk changes to the ticks of each subplot.

Here’s an example:

import matplotlib.pyplot as plt

fig, axs = plt.subplots(2, 2)
for ax in axs.flatten():
    ax.tick_params(axis='x', rotation=45)


The output displays four subplots with their xtick labels rotated at a 45-degree angle for improved readability.

The example demonstrates iterating over all subplots in a 2×2 grid and using tick_params() to rotate the xtick labels. This approach effectively applies changes to all subplots within a figure, ensuring consistent formatting.

Method 4: Shared x-Axis Ticks in Subplots

When subplots share a common x-axis, it might be beneficial to synchronize the xticks across these subplots. Matplotlib enables shared axes through the sharex parameter during subplot creation.

Here’s an example:

import matplotlib.pyplot as plt

fig, axs = plt.subplots(2, 1, sharex=True)
axs[0].plot(range(10), [i for i in range(10)])
axs[1].plot(range(10), [i**2 for i in range(10)])

plt.xticks([0, 3, 6, 9], ['Zero', 'Three', 'Six', 'Nine'])

The output exhibits two vertically stacked subplots with a shared x-axis, displaying identical tick placement and labels across both subplots.

This code snippet creates two subplots with a shared x-axis, which ensures that the xticks are synchronized. By changing xticks using plt.xticks() outside the individual axes context, these changes are reflected in all subplots sharing the same x-axis.

Bonus One-Liner Method 5: Inline xticks Adjustment with List Comprehension

For quick adjustments, you can modify the xticks of all subplots in a one-liner using list comprehension. This is handy for simple changes that should apply to all subplots identically.

Here’s an example:

import matplotlib.pyplot as plt

fig, axs = plt.subplots(2, 2)
[ax.set_xticks([1, 2, 3]) for ax in axs.flatten()]

The resulting output is a 2×2 grid of subplots with xticks set at positions 1, 2, and 3 across all subplots.

This compact example demonstrates the power of list comprehension to set the xticks for each subplot in a figure. Each axis in the flattened subplot grid has its xticks set to the specified positions in a concise, readable manner.


  • Method 1: Use of set_xticks() and set_xticklabels(). Strengths: High level of control for individual subplots. Weaknesses: Requires more code when dealing with many subplots.
  • Method 2: Using xticks() from Matplotlib.pyplot. Strengths: State-based and easy for simple adjustments. Weaknesses: Less object-oriented, which can be a disadvantage for complex figures.
  • Method 3: Adjusting xticks for All Subplots Globally. Strengths: Consistent formatting across multiple subplots. Weaknesses: Less granular control for individual subplot customization.
  • Method 4: Shared x-Axis Ticks in Subplots. Strengths: Synchronized x-axis ticks across shared subplots enhance comparison. Weaknesses: Inflexible if different tick arrangements are needed per subplot.
  • Bonus Method 5: Inline Adjustment with List Comprehension. Strengths: Concise code for uniform changes. Weaknesses: Limited to identical adjustments for all subplots.