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I am looking for software that can aid me in drawing knots and links. There are of course (examples) knotplotters all over the web, but they can only draw specific knots.

What I am looking for is the software that for example Selman Akbulut used to draw the pictures in his topology presentations (see for example http://www.math.msu.edu/~akbulut/vita/lec.html). It looks like he is using something (else than obviously a huge amount of caffeine) to draw freehand...

Alas, there is no email address on his homepage so I can ask him personally.

I looked into packages which can draw knots and links directly into LaTeX, but they all seem to be too cumbersome when you draw really complicated links.

Edit: Seems that Akbulut is just using a drawing aid. Probably one of those described in the answers below. Further, he seemed to be somewhat cross with the nomenclature (Kirby diagrams), since he developed something similar one year before Kirby's paper in 1977. So maybe we have to use a more careful phrase. Obviously, I didn't know of some friction going on there, I just think it is a nice way to represent 4-dimensional handlebodies, no matter what you call it...

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See Drawing knots using computers for a tutorial and Knot Software for a list of programs (some links are broken but Google can help). KnotPlot seems very nice if you want to get fancy.

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If you are into LaTeX, you can use this package to actually get fast results using the powerful TikZ/PGF packages. Or pst-knot package with PSTricks.

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The standard first answer to questions like this is Inkscape. (There are many other similar vector drawing programs, but for the given feature set, the price of $0 is hard to beat.) I took a quick look at the presentations you linked to, and I didn't see anything there that one couldn't draw fairly easily in Inkscape after a bit of practice.

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After a tremendous amount of experimentation with various software I wasn't really happy with, I settled on Xara. It's not free, but it saves me so much time and effort that it's worth every penny I paid. And of course you can draw many other things besides knots. I'm happy with the results.

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  • $\begingroup$ You might want to carefully read the license for Xara. I rejected the software when I found terms that amounted to "you cannot use this software on a computer than can be used remotely". Since that's all of them now, it was impossible to comply with the license. $\endgroup$ Oct 23 '16 at 23:59
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If I recall Selman uses Adobe Illustrator.

Also, you know his email address since you know that is website is math.msu.edu/~akbulut

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