Present for CS563 on 3/31/99
Tom Germano

  1. Introduction
  2. Background Information
  3. Components of Graph Drawing Algorithms
    1. Drawing Conventions
    2. Aesthetics
    3. Drawing Constraints
  4. Graph Drawing Paradigms
    1. Topology-Shape-Metrics
    2. Hierarchical
    3. Augmentation
    4. Force-Directed
    5. Divide and Conquer
  5. References
    1. Papers
    2. Books


Most of the following information, paper references, and a number of the examples were taken from the book Graph Drawing: Algorithms for the Visualization of Graphs. It is an excellent book on graph drawing with a wealth of information on the subject.

The problem that graph drawing tries to tackle is how to represent a set of edges and vertices in such a way that it will convey the most meaning. There are many ways to draw a single graph and each graph will draw to attention different connections and relations between vertices. For example, the following two pictures are the same graphs but show different properties of the graph:

Looking at the graph on the right, it is very hard to see that vertex 4 has so many connections and it is hard to tell that vertex 3 and 7 only have one vertex separating them and are therefor relatively close.

As you can see, even though they are mathematically the same exact graph, the drawings of the two convey different information. The goal of graph drawing is to try to draw graphs in such a way that they convey the most information possible.

Background Information

A graph consists of two components: vertices and edges. Vertices are simply labels such as numbers and edges are the connections between the vertices. An example of a graph would be:


which can be represented visually with the following picture:

Each of the numbered points are the vertices and the black lines connecting them are edges.

Edges can also have direction which creates a directed graph, or di-graph. Some graphs also have graphs inside them called sub-graphs.

A bend is where a straight line changes direction and a jordan curve is a line that does not cross over itself, the edge connecting 5 and 6 is a jordan curve.

A planar graph drawing is a drawing in which none of the lines. The drawing on the left is a planar drawing, the drawing on the right is not.

Components to Graph Drawing

Drawing Conventions

Drawing conventions are restraints placed on drawing algorithms when creating the final drawing. For example one constraint does not allow bends in the final drawing while another allows bends, but only at right angles.

The polyline drawing means that the final drawing can have as many bends in the edges as desired.

A straight-line drawing has only straight lines in it, so there are no bends.
An orthogonal drawing has its bends only at right angles and lines up the vertices such as in the following drawing:
For directed graphs, there are the conventions of upward and downward drawing. This convention requires vertices with edges coming in be either all above or all below the connecting vertex. This drawing is an example of an upward drawing.

What is it that makes a good graph ‘good’? How is it possible that one graph can be objectively better than another graph? The attributes that define a good graph are called aesthetics and were determined through statistical analysis in [BFN85], [PCJ96], and [STT81]. The qualities which they determined define a good graph are as follows:

As you can see from the list above, some aesthetics conflict with one another. One aesthetic calls for of minimizing the sum of the edge lengths and another calls for minimizing the number of bends. These two aesthetics conflict with one another because in some cases it would be best to include bends in order to have a smaller edge length sum.

Drawing Constraints

Drawing constraints are constraints placed on the drawing algorithm in order to create the final drawing. There are two purposes to applying constraints when drawing a graph. The first advantage is that this gives the user the ability to pre-arrange certain shapes and allows more control the outcome of the drawing. Also, graph drawing can be a very computationally expensive operation. Applying constraints can greatly speed up the process. The constraints that can be placed on a graph drawing algorithm are as follows:

Graph Drawing Paradigms

As you can imagine, there is no one way to draw a graph, and there is no one algorithm that with draw the best graph every single time. Therefor there are a number of paradigms for graph drawing where there are basic steps on how to draw a graph. Each of these steps are then replaced with particular algorithms that stress different aesthetics or have other desirable features such as speed.

Topology – Shape – Metrics

This graph drawing approach is a three tiered refinement of the initial graph. The resulting drawings of this approach are orthogonal which are often used for electrical engineering schematics along with other practical applications. This approach also stresses the minimization of crossings in the drawing because the first step in the procedure is planarization.

The three forms that a raph can take in this approach are topology, shape, and metric. Two graphs share the same topology if one can be made into the other using deformation while not disturbing the order of the vertices and edges. If two graph drawings share the same shape, then one can be made into the other by changing the lengths of the edges, but not the angles formed by the edges. The last refinement of the approach is a metric where two graphs share the same metric if one graph can be made into the other by using only translation and rotation.

The general procedure for the Topology – Shape – Metrics approach is that the graph first goes through the process of planarization. In this step, the graph is converted from its mathematical representation (in this case V={1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6} and E={(1,4), (1,5), (1,6), (2,4), (2,5), (2,6), (3,4), (3,5), (3,6)} ) into a 2d drawing where the number of crossings are kept to a minimum. The process of planarization has been studied very carefully and Battista et al. refer the reader to [CNS79, JLM97, JM96, JTS86, Kan92b, NT84]. If there are any crossings in the planarized graph, they are replaced with dummy vertices. The output of this process is the first form, a topology.

Once the graph has been planarized, the graph is then orthogonalized. In this step the bends are made to go at right angles and the vertices are aligned. The result of this step is a shape.

The final step of this approach is called compaction. In this process, the dummy vertices are removed and the graph is made to take up a minimum amount of area. After this step, the final graph is a metric.

Di Battista, G. , Eades, P., Tamassia, R., Tollis, I., Graph Drawing: Algorithms for the Visualization of Graphs, Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, 1999, p. 21

The above picture is an example of the three steps in the topology – shape – metrics paradigm. The first step is planarization and a crossing is replaced with a dummy vertex. From this step, the graph is made into an orthogonal drawing and then compacted into its final drawing.


The hierarchical approach is a way of making hierarchies from directed graphs. Hierarchies have numerous uses to them including class diagrams, and PERT charts.

The first step in the hierarchical approach is called layer assignment. In this step, the vertices are assigned layers which begin at the top and go down for a downward graph. Each vertex is assigned a layer Ln, such that if there is an edge from u to v, u and u’s layer is Li and v’s layer is Lj, then i<j. If there is a gap in between layers, such as when there is an edge from L1 to L3, a dummy vertex is placed at L2.

Following the layer assignment, the graph drawing goes through a process called crossing reduction. Here, the amount of times that edge cross over is reduced to create a more aesthetically pleasing drawing.

The final step is called x-coordinate assignment. In this stage, all the points are assigned a position, the dummy vertices are removed, and the edges are all drawn. In this stage many different aesthetics can be stressed such as minimizing bends or minimizing area.

Di Battista, G. , Eades, P., Tamassia, R., Tollis, I., Graph Drawing: Algorithms for the Visualization of Graphs, Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, 1999, p. 23

The above figure is an example of the hierarchical paradigm in process. The layers are assigned and dummy vertices inserted. Next the number of times that lines cross are reduced and then the final drawing is made without the dummy vertices.


The visibility approach to graph drawing is an all-round general purpose polyline drawing technique. As in the topology – shape – metrics approach, the first step in the visibility paradigm is planarization. Again, having this process as the first step places a high priority on the reduction of crossings.

The visibility step in this paradigm is hard to explain without looking at the figure below. Basically, each vertex is changed into a horizontal bar including the dummy vertex. All the edges are then replaced with vertical bars connecting the horizontal bars.

A final drawing is then produced once the replacement step has been completed. In this step, the horizontal bars are replaced with single points and the edges are drawn so that they closely follow the vertical bars.

Di Battista, G. , Eades, P., Tamassia, R., Tollis, I., Graph Drawing: Algorithms for the Visualization of Graphs, Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, 1999, p. 26

As mentioned above, because planarization is the first step in this paradigm, the minimizing of crosses takes a high priority. The aesthetic of minimizing the area is stressed in the visibility stage and in the final step a number of different aesthetics can be stressed depending on the user’s preference.


The augmentation approach is similar to the visibility approach in that it is a general purpose graph drawing paradigm and its first step is planarization.

The second step is called the augmentation step. In this process, dummy edges are drawn in order to obtain a graph in which all the faces have three side (maximal planar.) In the example below you can see that in the first drawing, the face of {3,5,2,4} has four sides to it. Once the augmentation step is complete, a dummy edge {3,2} is drawn making two 3-sided faces, {3,5,2} and {3,2,4}.

In the triangulation step, the final graph is drawn by using geometric properties of the triangles formed in the previous step. The dummy vertices and edges are also removed in this step.

Di Battista, G. , Eades, P., Tamassia, R., Tollis, I., Graph Drawing: Algorithms for the Visualization of Graphs, Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, 1999, p.28

Again this paradigm stresses minimizing crossing, but in addition to this aesthetic it also attempts to minimize bends because of the straight-line approach to the triangulation. Had the above example been a planar graph, the final drawing would have been straight line meaning no bends at all.

Force – Directed

Force – directed graphs are popular because they are very easy to understand and easy to code. In this paradigm, the graph is represented as a system of forces and the final graph produced is graph with the small energy configuration. There are two basic components to a force-directed graph:

Di Battista, G. , Eades, P., Tamassia, R., Tollis, I., Graph Drawing: Algorithms for the Visualization of Graphs, Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, 1999, p. 303

The above figure is a three step process of what happens in a force-directed drawing procedure and the force model here are springs. The first frame is not at a very low energy because in the second frame the drawing is more settled. In the final frame, the graph drawing for the force model is shown.

Drawings produced with this paradigm are often very symmetrical. An added advantage to the force – directed paradigm is that if you want a particular vertex to be far from another particular vertex, all you need to do is increase the force on the edge connecting them and the two will stay away from each other.

Divide and Conquer

This approach is basically what the names says, the graph is divided into smaller subgraphs which are then easily drawn. Then the graphs are all combined to form the final drawing. There are many different techniques to the divide and conquer method where different aesthetics can be stressed.



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