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Create high-quality charts from the command line
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asmuth Merge pull request #266 from bisen2/master
recommend using 1/2 of cpus rather than all when building
Latest commit 8a987d1 Sep 10, 2019


clip (the command line illustration processor) is an open-source command line program and software library for creating charts and other data-driven illustrations.

In essence, clip consists of a library of composable graphical 'elements'. This element library includes high-level building blocks for creating common chart types as well as lower-level drawing primitives such as markers, arrows and lines. Users create custom illustrations by combining and styling these elements.

When called from the command line, clip reads input data in text and CSV format and produces the output chart as a SVG or PNG file. Additionaly, clip is available as the libclip software library which can be embedded into any application that supports a C FFI.

Getting Started · Examples · Documentation


Being a highly visual tool, clip is best explained by example. So here is how to draw a simple line chart using clip:

$ clip --in example_chart.clp --out example_chart.svg

Output File (example_chart.svg): A simple scatterplot

Input File (example_chart.clp):

  axes (bottom left)
  axis-y-label-format (scientific)
  axis-x-label-format (datetime "%H:%M:%S")
  axis-x-label-placement (linear-align 1800)
  lines (
    data-x (csv "tests/testdata/measurement.csv" time)
    data-y (csv "tests/testdata/measurement.csv" value1)
    color #06c))

Note that this example is only intended to give you an idea of what the syntax looks like and to get you started quickly; for an in-depth description of all parameters, please refer to the documentation.

More examples can be found on the examples page.

If you have any questions please don't hesitate to reach out via GitHub issues.


You can find the full documentation at

Example Gallery

A list of examples can be found on the Examples page.


To build clip, you need an up-to-date C++ compiler, cmake, fmtlib, libharfbuzz, libfreetype and cairo. Run:

$ cmake .
$ make -j $(($(nproc)/2)) # for linux users, or
$ make -j $(($(sysctl -n hw.ncpu)/2)) # for mac users 

To install the clip binary into your system, run make install:

$ make install

To run the test suite, run make test:

$ make test

For detailed installation instructions, have a look at the Installation page.


  • The structure of the plot elements is based on ideas from The Grammar of Graphics and the ggplot2 library.

  • A number of concepts in clip are heavily guided by the CSS specification

  • Text rendering is based on the libre freetype and harfbuzz stack.

  • Some naming choices are definitely inspired by Eddie Kohler's click software defined networking library


I'm getting build errors when compiling the code

clip is writte in C++17 and needs a reasonably modern C++ compiler and standard library. In most cases where the code doesn't build it's due to some problem with the local build environment. We always appreciate bug reports so that we can improve our build system on GitHub Issues.

The test suite fails on my machine because text placement is slightly offset

The test suite requires that you have the original Microsoft Arial TTF files installed on your machine. To verify that this is the case, run fc-match 'Arial,Helvetica,Helvetica Neue:style=Regular,Roman' and check that it returns the correct 'arial.ttf' file.

What happened to the project name?

The project was started in 2011 and was initially called "FnordMetric". The first version from 8 years ago also included facilities for storing and transforming data in addition to the charting code. Over time, the data processing parts were removed, leaving only the plotting code. However, as a consequence, most of the search queries for the project name would return outdated information, resulting in a generally confusing and stale-feeling situation. The best solution seemed to be to rename the project and so, after going a few other candidates (about which people complained), we finally settled on 'clip', since it was short, pronounceable, easy to remember and unencumbered.


clip -- The command line illustration processor

Copyright (c) 2018, Paul Asmuth, Laura Schlimmer
All rights reserved.

Licensed under the Apache License, Version 2.0 (the "License");
you may not use this file except in compliance with the License.

Unless required by applicable law or agreed to in writing, software
distributed under the License is distributed on an "AS IS" BASIS,
See the License for the specific language governing permissions and
limitations under the License.
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