Change Background Color of ggplot2 Plot in R (3 Examples)


In this article you’ll learn how to modify background colors of ggplot2 plots in the R programming language.

The article consists of this content:

Let’s get started!


Creation of Example Data

I’ll use the following example data frame for the examples of this R tutorial. Our data contains ten rows and two numeric columns with values ranging from 1 to 10:

data <- data.frame(x = 1:10,             # Create example data
                   y = 1:10)

Furthermore, we have to install and load the ggplot2 package to R:

install.packages("ggplot2")              # Install & load ggplot2

Now, we can draw a simple ggplot2 graph as follows:

ggp <- ggplot(data, aes(x, y)) +         # Create basic ggplot
ggp                                      # Draw plot in RStudio


Default Colors ggplot2 Package in R

Figure 1: Default Colors of ggplot2 Package.


Our example plot is shown in Figure 1. It’s a basic scatterplot with default specifications of the background colors.


Example 1: Changing Panel Background Color of ggplot2 Plot

The background of a ggplot2 graphic consists of different parts. In Example 1, you’ll learn how to use the theme function and the panel.background argument to change the panel background of a ggplot2 plot. Have a look at the following R code:

ggp +                                    # Change panel background
  theme(panel.background = element_rect(fill = "#1b98e0", color = "pink"))


Changing Background of Panel ggplot2 Plot

Figure 2: Different Colors of Panel Background.


Figure 2 shows the output of the previous R syntax. As you can see, the previously grey areas are now colored blue (i.e. hex color code #1b98e0) and the line around the panel background is pink.


Example 2: Changing Plot Background Color of ggplot2 Plot

Example 2 shows how to modify the plot background of a ggplot2 graph, i.e. the white area around the plot. Consider the R code below:

ggp +                                    # Change plot background
  theme(plot.background = element_rect(fill = "#1b98e0", color = "pink"))


Plot Background Colors ggplot2

Figure 3: Different Colors of Plot Background.


Figure 3 illustrates the output of our previous code. The panel is shown in the default grey/white grid and the background of the plot is shown in blue and pink.


Example 3: Changing Theme of ggplot2 Plot

As you have seen in Examples 1 and 2, you can manually replace the colors of the different parts of a ggplot. However, it is also possible to switch the entire ggplot2 theme. For instance, you may use the theme_bw instead of the default ggplot2 theme:

ggp +                                    # Change ggplot2 theme


ggplot2 theme_bw R

Figure 4: theme_bw of ggplot2 Package.


Figure 4 shows how our plot looks like when selecting theme_bw.

Note that the previous examples can be applied to any type of ggplot2 plot (i.e. bar charts, line plots, histograms, boxplots, and so on…).


Video, Further Resources & Summary

Some time ago I have published a video on my YouTube channel, which explains the R code of this tutorial. You can find the video below:



Furthermore, you may want to read some of the other tutorials of this website. Please find a selection of articles below.


In summary: In this R tutorial you learned how to improve background colors and grids made with the ggplot2 package. If you have additional questions, don’t hesitate to let me know in the comments section.


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