Shift legend into empty facets of a faceted plot in ggplot2

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Consider the following plot:

library(ggplot2)  p <- ggplot(diamonds,              aes(x = carat, fill = cut)) +   geom_density(position = "stack") +   facet_wrap(~ color) 

Shift legend into empty facets of a faceted plot in ggplot2

The facet_wrap function wraps a sequence of faceted panels into a roughly rectangular display of nrow rows and ncol columns. However, depending on the data, the actual number of panels is often a few panels short of nrow * ncol, which leaves a chunk of wasted space in the plot.

If the plot includes legend(s), the situation is exacerbated, because now we have even more wasted space due to the legend, whether it's on the right (default legend position), or one of the other three directions.

To save space, I would like to shift the legend(s) into the space created by unfilled facets.

The following works as a space-saving measure, but the legend is anchored to a corner of the plot area, with potentially a lot of space left on one side, creating an imbalanced look:

p +   theme(legend.position = c(1, 0),         legend.justification = c(1, 0)) 

Shift legend into empty facets of a faceted plot in ggplot2

Shifting a legend towards the centre of the blank space area by manually adjusting the legend.position / legend.justification values is a matter of trial and error, and difficult to scale if one has many faceted plots to work on.

In summary, I want a method that:

  1. Shift the legend(s) of a faceted plot into the space created due to empty facets;
  2. Results in a reasonably nice-looking plot;
  3. Is easily automated to handle many plots.

This is a recurring use case for me, and I've decided to post it along with my working solution here in case anyone else finds it useful. I haven't seen this scenario asked / answered elsewhere on SO. If anyone has, please leave a comment & I'll be happy to answer there instead or have this marked as a duplicate, as the case may be.


The following is my solution. It's an extension to an answer I wrote for a previous question about utilising the space from empty facet panels, but I think it's sufficiently different to warrant its own space.

Essentially, I wrote a function that takes a ggplot object / grob object converted by ggplotGrob(), convert it to grob if it isn't one, and digs into the underlying grobs to move the legend grob into the cells that correspond to the empty space.


library(gtable) library(cowplot)  shift_legend <- function(p){    # check if p is a valid object   if(!"gtable" %in% class(p)){     if("ggplot" %in% class(p)){       gp <- ggplotGrob(p) # convert to grob     } else {       message("This is neither a ggplot object nor a grob generated from ggplotGrob. Returning original plot.")       return(p)     }   } else {     gp <- p   }    # check for unfilled facet panels   facet.panels <- grep("^panel", gp[["layout"]][["name"]])   empty.facet.panels <- sapply(facet.panels, function(i) "zeroGrob" %in% class(gp[["grobs"]][[i]]))   empty.facet.panels <- facet.panels[empty.facet.panels]   if(length(empty.facet.panels) == 0){     message("There are no unfilled facet panels to shift legend into. Returning original plot.")     return(p)   }    # establish extent of unfilled facet panels (including any axis cells in between)   empty.facet.panels <- gp[["layout"]][empty.facet.panels, ]   empty.facet.panels <- list(min(empty.facet.panels[["t"]]), min(empty.facet.panels[["l"]]),                              max(empty.facet.panels[["b"]]), max(empty.facet.panels[["r"]]))   names(empty.facet.panels) <- c("t", "l", "b", "r")    # extract legend & copy over to location of unfilled facet panels   guide.grob <- which(gp[["layout"]][["name"]] == "guide-box")   if(length(guide.grob) == 0){     message("There is no legend present. Returning original plot.")     return(p)   }   gp <- gtable_add_grob(x = gp,                         grobs = gp[["grobs"]][[guide.grob]],                         t = empty.facet.panels[["t"]],                         l = empty.facet.panels[["l"]],                         b = empty.facet.panels[["b"]],                         r = empty.facet.panels[["r"]],                         name = "new-guide-box")    # squash the original guide box's row / column (whichever applicable)   # & empty its cell   guide.grob <- gp[["layout"]][guide.grob, ]   if(guide.grob[["l"]] == guide.grob[["r"]]){     gp <- gtable_squash_cols(gp, cols = guide.grob[["l"]])   }   if(guide.grob[["t"]] == guide.grob[["b"]]){     gp <- gtable_squash_rows(gp, rows = guide.grob[["t"]])   }   gp <- gtable_remove_grobs(gp, "guide-box")    return(gp) } 


library(grid)  grid.draw(shift_legend(p)) 

Shift legend into empty facets of a faceted plot in ggplot2

Nicer looking result if we take advantage of the empty space's direction to arrange the legend horizontally: <- p +   guides(fill = guide_legend(title.position = "top",                              label.position = "bottom",                              nrow = 1)) +   theme(legend.direction = "horizontal") grid.draw(shift_legend( 

Shift legend into empty facets of a faceted plot in ggplot2

Some other examples:

# example 1: 1 empty panel, 1 vertical legend p1 <- ggplot(economics_long,               aes(date, value, color = variable)) +   geom_line() +   facet_wrap(~ variable,               scales = "free_y", nrow = 2,               strip.position = "bottom") +   theme(strip.background = element_blank(),          strip.placement = "outside") grid.draw(shift_legend(p1))  # example 2: 2 empty panels (vertically aligned) & 2 vertical legends side by side p2 <- ggplot(mpg,              aes(x = displ, y = hwy, color = fl, shape = factor(cyl))) +   geom_point(size = 3) +   facet_wrap(~ class, dir = "v") +   theme( = "horizontal") grid.draw(shift_legend(p2))  # example 3: facets in polar coordinates p3 <- ggplot(mtcars,               aes(x = factor(1), fill = factor(cyl))) +   geom_bar(width = 1, position = "fill") +    facet_wrap(~ gear, nrow = 2) +   coord_polar(theta = "y") +   theme_void() grid.draw(shift_legend(p3)) 

Shift legend into empty facets of a faceted plot in ggplot2


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