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how to change order of legends?

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Mr M.
Mr M. on 23 Sep 2015
I dont want to change the order of my plots, but I want to change the order in the legend list. How to do?

Accepted Answer

Afiq Azaibi
Afiq Azaibi on 29 Feb 2024
Edited: Afiq Azaibi on 1 Mar 2024
Three ways to change the order of items in the legend
I'll review two ways to flexibly set the legend's order and one way to reverse the legend order.
Flexibly set the legend order:
Let's take this simple example:
figure;
ax = gca;
hold(ax, 'on')
p1 = plot(1:10, LineWidth=5, DisplayName='p1');
p2 = plot(10:-1:1, LineWidth=5, DisplayName='p2');
p3 = plot(ones(10,1)*5, LineWidth=5, DisplayName='p3');
1) The first way is to specify the order the object handles in the legend command. If we wanted p2 on top, p3 in the middle, and p1 on the bottom, we would call this:
legend([p2, p3, p1])
2) The second way you can do this is by updating the child order of the axes. By default, the legend will order the objects in the same order of creation. This is the reverse order of the axes’ Children property since the oldest object gets placed at the bottom:
ax.Children = [p1; p3; p2];
legend;
Note: Updating the order of the Children property will impact the stacking order of the objects in the axes. While you can achieve the same resulting legend as in the first approach, it will alter the appearance in the axes.
Reverse the legend order:
3) Starting in 23b, a new Direction property was added to legend. This property inverts the order of the legend entries. By default, the value of this property is 'normal'.
hold(ax, 'off')
p = plot([1:10; 2:11; 3:12; 4:13]', LineWidth=3);
l = legend;
l.Direction = 'reverse';
Some objects like a stacked bar and area have an inherent order. The legend will set Direction to 'reverse' automatically:
bar(magic(5), 'stacked');
legend;
area(magic(5));
legend;
You can revert back to the previous behavior by specifying the legend's direction to be 'normal'
legend(Direction='normal');

More Answers (10)

David
David on 10 Jan 2018
Edited: David on 10 Jan 2018
I think Mr. M means the following: In the figure GUI, after one has worked hard to generate a nice figure by combining the outputs of various scripts via copy + paste, how can one change the order of the legend?
In earlier versions of MATLAB, one could achieve this by cutting and repasting traces. They would then reappear at the bottom of the legend. So you would take the trace you want to be second, cut and paste it, then do the same for the third, all the way to the Nth, and then the legend would have the desired order. Now it is no longer possible to do this. The figure somehow remembers the position of the trace before it was cut.
But there is a WORK-AROUND! Simply cut the trace, paste it in onto a different axis of a different figure, then cut that trace and paste it back onto the original figure. This stymies matlab's attempt to remember the order of the trace and puts it onto the bottom of the legend.
  6 Comments
fariborz eshraghi
fariborz eshraghi on 5 Dec 2021
That's a wonderful help, thanks.

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Steven Lord
Steven Lord on 22 Feb 2021
You can specify the handles in a particular order when you create the legend.
% Sample data
x = 0:360;
y1 = sind(x);
y2 = cosd(x);
y3 = tand(x);
% Set up axes
axis([0 360 -1 1])
hold on
% Create plots
h = gobjects(3, 1);
h(1) = plot(x, y1, 'DisplayName', 'sine');
h(2) = plot(x, y2, 'DisplayName', 'cosine');
h(3) = plot(x, y3, 'DisplayName', 'tangent');
% Create legend -- cosine first then sine and finally tangent
legend(h([2 1 3]))

Rick
Rick on 24 Mar 2018
use this code to swap the order of two plots:
plots=get(gca, 'Children');
legend(plots(2, 1), {'Second line', 'First line'});
  5 Comments
Walter Roberson
Walter Roberson on 28 Sep 2023
It is not clear what plots is in your code? You are using it as if it is a function or a multidimensional array.
Smart
Smart on 29 Sep 2023
Edited: Smart on 29 Sep 2023
@Walter Roberson Thanks for the catch. I've updated my comment with a line to define plots as it was used above (and fixed the same typo that Rick had)

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Ed Rawi
Ed Rawi on 22 Oct 2018
Edited: Ed Rawi on 23 Oct 2018
a = linspace(1,10,10);
b1 = sin(a);
Plot1 = plot(a,b1);
hold on
b2 = cos(a);
Plot2 = plot(a,b2);
hold off
legend([plot2 plot1],{Second,First})
  2 Comments
Jim Bosley
Jim Bosley on 19 Aug 2019
Last line needs plot handles capitalized, as they were defined.
a = linspace(1,10,10);
b1 = sin(a);
Plot1 = plot(a,b1);
hold on
b2 = cos(a);
Plot2 = plot(a,b2);
hold off
legend([Plot2 Plot1],{Second,First})
MCH
MCH on 16 Dec 2020
@Ed: This solution works great

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Liwei Wang
Liwei Wang on 25 Jan 2019
Cut+paste is a good idea. But sometimes it won't work because the plots are pretty close to each other. An alternative approach is to change the order of the plots by code:
answered by the cyclist.
Here is the copy of the code:
figure
scatter(rand(150,1),rand(150,1))
hold on
fill([0.2 0.5 0.5 0.2],[0.2 0.2 0.5 0.5],'r')
hg = line([0 0.6],[0.6 0]);
set(hg,'LineWidth',12,'Color','g')
h = get(gca,'Children');
set(gca,'Children',[h(3) h(2) h(1)])
Refresh legend then you will see the change.

Kris Govertsen
Kris Govertsen on 15 Jan 2021
This is how I was able to change the order of the legend on a figure with multiple subplots of area plots:
Before:
I want the order of the legend to follow the order of the colors in the area plot
% a is my figure
% If I type
If I type the following into the command window: a.Children... it returns:
% a.Children
%
% ans =
%
% 5×1 graphics array:
%
% Legend (Grid, VRFB error, VRFB Power, VRFB Energy, LIB error, LIB Power, LIB Energy, Solar, Tidal)
% Axes (Tidal RES)
% Axes (Solar PV RES)
% Axes (VRFB Cost)
% Axes (LIB Cost)
So a.Children(1) is my legend!
% Re-order Legend
lbl = a.Children(1).String; % Retrieve legend labels
numlbl = length(lbl); % Determine number of lables
order = sort(1:1:numlbl,'descend'); % Create array of label numbers in descending order
newlbl = lbl(order); % Create new labels in descending order
legend(findobj(a.Children(2),'Type','area'),newlbl) % Set the legend to follow the new labels
hope this helps!
  2 Comments
Jan Heinsoth
Jan Heinsoth on 22 Feb 2021
Nice, someone wanted to do the same as me. Thanks
LIU
LIU on 22 Mar 2022
Hi, I have a silimar problem, and guess your method could be useful for me. But I don't know how to apply your code suited to my case. Would you please kindly have a look at my problem and give me a hand? Thank you very much.
The link is :

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FM
FM on 22 May 2018
There is a good solution in the `Update` section of this post on Stack Overflow: http://stackoverflow.com/a/39104494/3230708

George
George on 23 Sep 2015
Is this something you are after, the question is not clear
x=magic(2);
plot(x(:,1));
hold
plot(x(:,2),'r');
legend('Data1','Data2');
%blue = Data1
%red=Data2
to change that simple reverse the string order
legend('Data2','Data1');

Kris Govertsen
Kris Govertsen on 15 Jan 2021
This is how I was able to change the order of the legend on a figure with multiple subplots of area plots:
Before:
I want the order of the legend to follow the order of the colors in the area plot
% a is my figure
% If I type
If I type the following into the command window: a.Children... it returns:
% a.Children
%
% ans =
%
% 5×1 graphics array:
%
% Legend (Grid, VRFB error, VRFB Power, VRFB Energy, LIB error, LIB Power, LIB Energy, Solar, Tidal)
% Axes (Tidal RES)
% Axes (Solar PV RES)
% Axes (VRFB Cost)
% Axes (LIB Cost)
So a.Children(1) is my legend!
% Re-order Legend
lbl = a.Children(1).String; % Retrieve legend labels
numlbl = length(lbl); % Determine number of lables
order = sort(1:1:numlbl,'descend'); % Create array of label numbers in descending order
newlbl = lbl(order); % Create new labels in descending order
legend(findobj(a.Children(2),'Type','area'),newlbl) % Set the legend to follow the new labels
hope this helps!

Sandeep A S V
Sandeep A S V on 7 Jan 2022
Edited: Sandeep A S V on 7 Jan 2022
There is a simple solution using the property inspector GUI.
1.Go to Edit menu on the figure window
2. Select 'current object properties'
3. Select one of the plots in your figure
4. Change the property 'SeriesIndex' in COLOR AND STYLING tab.
  1 Comment
Muhammad Tauha Ali
Muhammad Tauha Ali on 7 Apr 2024
In 2022b, order can be interactively changed by moving the object order through mouse and updating the series index. The legend will need to be regenerated after the changes though.

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