How to Change GGPlot Labels: Title, Axis and Legend

How to Change GGPlot Labels: Title, Axis and Legend


In this article, you will learn how to modify ggplot labels, including main title, subtitle, axis labels, caption, legend titles and tag.

  • Plot title and subtitle provides insights into the main findings
  • Caption are generally used to describe the data source
  • Tag can be used for differentiating between multiple plots.

Related Book

GGPlot2 Essentials for Great Data Visualization in R


Load required packages and set the theme function theme_classic() as the default theme:


Create a basic plot using the dataset ToothGrowth:

# Convert the variable dose from numeric to factor variable
ToothGrowth$dose <- as.factor(ToothGrowth$dose)

# Create a boxplot colored by dose group levels
bxp <- ggplot(ToothGrowth, aes(x = dose, y = len)) + 
  geom_boxplot(aes(color = dose)) +
  scale_color_manual(values = c("#00AFBB", "#E7B800", "#FC4E07"))

Key R functions

labs(..., title = waiver(), subtitle = waiver(), caption = waiver(),
  tag = waiver())



ggtitle(label, subtitle = waiver())
  • ...: A list of new name-value pairs. The name should be an aesthetic. For example p + labs(title = "Main title", x = "X axis label", y = "Y axis label") changes main title and axis labels.
  • title: plot main title.
  • subtitle: the text for the subtitle for the plot which will be displayed below the title.
  • caption: the text for the caption which will be displayed in the bottom-right of the plot by default.
  • tag: the text for the tag label which will be displayed at the top-left of the plot by default.
  • label: the title of the respective axis (for xlab() or ylab()) or of the plot (for ggtitle()).

Add titles and axis labels

In this section, we’ll use the function labs() to change the main title, the subtitle, the axis labels and captions.

It’s also possible to use the functions ggtitle(), xlab() and ylab() to modify the plot title, subtitle, x and y axis labels.

Add a title, subtitle, caption and change axis labels:

bxp <- bxp + labs(title = "Effect of Vitamin C on Tooth Growth",
              subtitle = "Plot of length by dose",
              caption = "Data source: ToothGrowth",
              x = "Dose (mg)", y = "Teeth length",
              tag = "A")

Modify legend titles

You can use labs() to changes the legend title for a given aesthetics (fill, color, size, shape, . . . ). For example:

  • Use p + labs(fill = "dose") for geom_boxplot(aes(fill = dose))
  • Use p + labs(color = "dose") for geom_boxplot(aes(color = dose))
  • and so on for linetype, shape, etc
bxp + labs(color = "Dose (mg)")

Split long titles

If the title is too long, you can split it into multiple lines using \n. In this case you can adjust the space between text lines by specifying the argument lineheight in the theme function element_text():

bxp + labs(title = "Effect of Vitamin C on Tooth Growth \n in Guinea Pigs")+
  theme(plot.title = element_text(lineheight = 0.9))

Version: Français

Comments ( 4 )

  • Selina

    How would I go about changing the size of the tag at the corner of the plot?

    • Hannah

      Inside theme() you can use plot.tag to change the font size etc, e.g. theme(plot.tag = element_text(size = 20, face = “bold”))

      • Kassambara

        Thank you for your input, highly appreciated!

  • Sara Lindsay

    Hi there, Very useful!
    I am wondering how to add legend as a label. For example, ‘Dose of 0.5, 1, 2’ are added in place of the y axis as tick marks.

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