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I am curious what sort of applications people use to make very nice diagrams that often appear in papers and books. I attached an example of the sort of diagram that I am interested in making, particularly the curved coordinate systems (I am typing up some notes on Differential Geometry). Metapost seems useful, but the only real way I can see to create the curved coordinate system is to manually draw in each line via coordinates... which seems unpleasant to say the least.

Thanks for your help!

Differential Geometry Diagram

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Well, there's Asymptote and TikZ... and then most good computing environments nowadays (Maple, Mathematica, MATLAB) are now able to generate graphics suitable for framing and hanging. – J. M. Aug 16 '11 at 5:12
...and if you need to go 3D, there's POV-Ray. I've seen people here do wonderful things with GeoGebra as well. – J. M. Aug 16 '11 at 5:15
Maybe email some authors asking what software was used? – anon Aug 16 '11 at 5:21
Getting the curved coordinate system directly with Asymptote or Mathematica may be harder than just porting over an image of a flat coordinate system into Photoshop and bending it there. – Alon Amit Aug 16 '11 at 5:44
This is a nice diagram. I think it could be reproduced with ipe. This is a nice easy to use program that has a number of advantages over something like xfig. One of the best features is the nice integration with LaTeX. It accepts LaTeX code. Another notable feature is that the cursor can "snap" to intersection points or vertices, or curves or chosen angles etc. The curved grid could be constructed by duplicating a couple of perpendicular spline curves and snapping the control point to an underlying grid. There may be a better way though. Cropping is easy too. – yasmar Aug 16 '11 at 12:24

Inkscape does wonders. Nowadays, you can even export directly to tikz code.

You should keep in mind that publication quality diagrams are made by publication quality illustrators, who are paid for by publication quality editorial houses...

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This probably should go as a comment, but I dont have enough points:

Similar questions at other Stack Exchange sites:

Note that it would seem that the exact image used in the question is featured in an answer on physics.SE.

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oh! how nice! Although it seems to be the dreaded metapost! :P – Benjamin Horowitz Aug 16 '11 at 20:12

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