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plt.contour levels parameter don't work as intended if receive a single int #11913

eisterman opened this Issue Aug 22, 2018 · 5 comments


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eisterman commented Aug 22, 2018

Bug report

Bug summary

The official documentation ( says that the parameter levels of the pyplot.contour function is an integer will be calculated and shown a number of contours equal to the number passed as a parameter.
The reality of the facts, however, is that the outline associated with the past value is plotted.

Code for reproduction

I used the contour demo example from adding the levels parameter as int.

import matplotlib
import numpy as np
import as cm
import matplotlib.pyplot as plt

delta = 0.025
x = np.arange(-3.0, 3.0, delta)
y = np.arange(-2.0, 2.0, delta)
X, Y = np.meshgrid(x, y)
Z1 = np.exp(-X**2 - Y**2)
Z2 = np.exp(-(X - 1)**2 - (Y - 1)**2)
# the original demo had 2 here, but so most of the values would have been less than 5
Z = (Z1 - Z2) * 6

plt.contour(X, Y, Z, levels=5)

Actual outcome


Expected outcome

According to official documentation I should expect 5 outlines and not the boundary associated with the value 5.

The expected output was obtained by modifying the penultimate line in:

plt.contour(X, Y, Z, levels=np.linspace(np.min(Z),np.max(Z),7))

Matplotlib version

  • Operating system: Arch Linux
  • Matplotlib version: 2.2.3
  • Matplotlib backend (print(matplotlib.get_backend())): Qt5Agg
  • Python version: 3.7.0
  • Other libraries: numpy

All libraries have been installed via the official ArchLinux repository


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jklymak commented Aug 22, 2018

Yeah, this is a bit funky. It works fine if you do: plt.contour(X, Y, Z, 5). So if you specify levels as a kwarg, it assumes you have entered the actual levels you want contoured. Its debatable if this is desirable or not - I'd vote for it being undesirable, and levels=5 should behave as you expected it should (i.e. the same as if 5 was passed in as a positional argument), but maybe the original authors had a reason for this behaviour.

I would say that levels=[5] should only make one contour.

@jklymak jklymak added this to the v3.1 milestone Aug 22, 2018


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jklymak commented Aug 22, 2018

Milestoning 3.1, since this behaviour has been present since at least 2.0.2


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tacaswell commented Aug 22, 2018

I think @efiring changed some of this for 3.0 already.


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jklymak commented Aug 22, 2018

Well, yes. Its worse (?) on master:

Traceback (most recent call last):
  File "", line 15, in <module>
    plt.contour(X, Y, Z, levels=5)
  File "/Users/jklymak/matplotlib/lib/matplotlib/", line 2544, in contour
    __ret = gca().contour(*args, data=data, **kwargs)
  File "/Users/jklymak/matplotlib/lib/matplotlib/", line 1763, in inner
    return func(ax, *args, **kwargs)
  File "/Users/jklymak/matplotlib/lib/matplotlib/axes/", line 6209, in contour
    contours = mcontour.QuadContourSet(self, *args, **kwargs)
  File "/Users/jklymak/matplotlib/lib/matplotlib/", line 887, in __init__
    kwargs = self._process_args(*args, **kwargs)
  File "/Users/jklymak/matplotlib/lib/matplotlib/", line 1499, in _process_args
    x, y, z = self._contour_args(args, kwargs)
  File "/Users/jklymak/matplotlib/lib/matplotlib/", line 1569, in _contour_args
    self._contour_level_args(z, args)
  File "/Users/jklymak/matplotlib/lib/matplotlib/", line 1255, in _contour_level_args
    if len(self.levels) > 1 and np.min(np.diff(self.levels)) <= 0.0:
TypeError: len() of unsized object

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efiring commented Aug 22, 2018

I see where the problem is.

@efiring efiring self-assigned this Aug 22, 2018

efiring added a commit to efiring/matplotlib that referenced this issue Aug 23, 2018

@QuLogic QuLogic modified the milestones: v3.1, v3.0 Aug 23, 2018

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