Asymptote files.

Asymptote is a programming language used to build vector graphics. An Asymptote file uses code to create technical images which you can then export to other formats, like EPS, PDF and more. Discover the history of the Asymptote file format and how it works.

Asymptote file

What you’ll learn.


  • What is an Asymptote file?
  • History of the Asymptote file
  • How to use an Asymptote file
  • Pros and cons of Asymptote files
  • How to open an Asymptote file
  • How to create and edit an Asymptote file
  • Asymptote files: frequently asked questions



What is an Asymptote file?

Asymptote files work differently than standard image file formats. As a vector graphic language, Asymptote files allow users to create graphics that are backed by a mathematical, co-ordinate-based framework.


Asymptote files work well for creating technical drawings, as well as mathematical diagrams and figures. Once an image has been created using its programming language, users can then export it to a more accessible file format, such as PostScript, EPS, PDF, SVG, WebGL or PRC.


Chances are you won’t come across Asymptote files very often, but when you do, they’ll use a .ASY extension.



History of the Asymptote file.

The Asymptote format was developed in 2004 by Andy Hammerlindl, John C. Bowman and Tom Prince. An earlier drawing programme called MetaPost helped inspire its creation.


Under the GNU Lesser General Public Licence plan, the software became free for anyone to use. Asymptote runs on Microsoft Windows, Unix and Mac OS platforms or you can access it on the web through an Internet browser.


Using LaTeX software, you can typeset labels and equations within an Asymptote file to create consistency in each document. Asymptote can generate two-dimensional vector graphics for formats such as PostScript and PDF. It’s also capable of embedding 3D WebGL graphics within HTML files.



How to use an Asymptote file?

Asymptote is a vector graphics language rather than a basic file format. You can use an Asymptote file to:


Create advanced technical drawings.

Asymptote files use code to draw mathematical charts, graphs and diagrams. You can even create basic illustrations — like the yin and yang symbol, for example — in a range of colours.


Generate 3D vector graphics.

The Asymptote format allows users to generate and embed 3D images. For example, you can embed HTML files within WebGL graphics — the same is true for PRC graphics within PDFs.


Discover more vector file types



Pros and cons of Asymptote files.

As with any file type, the Asymptote format has specific use cases that make it better for some situations than others. Here are some advantage and disadvantages to using Asymptote: 


Advantages of Asymptote files.

  • Asymptote lets users create highly accurate technical drawings supported by a co-ordinate-based framework, which makes it useful for mathematical and scientific images.
  • The programme is widely accessible to new users and even comes with a web browser application. It’s also free to use, with no subscription fees attached.
  • Users have a wide selection of file output options once they’ve drawn an image with the help of Asymptote code. Outputs include PostScript, PDF, SVG and WebGL files.


Disadvantages of Asymptote files.

  • Because they’re built using code and commands, some people may face a technical barrier to using Asymptote files. To work with them effectively, users may need to develop a specific skill set.
  • Opening and understanding the code contained in a raw Asymptote file may be a challenge if you’re not already familiar with this file type. This can potentially bar you from sharing your Asymptote files with others.
  • Mathematical equations and co-ordinates, rather than pixels, build the vector graphics in Asymptote files. That means they’re generally unsuitable for high-quality digital photos.



How to open an Asymptote file.

To open an Asymptote file, follow these steps:

  1. To open and work on a raw file, make sure to install Asymptote software on Microsoft Windows, macOS or Unix.
  2.  After installation, double-click on the file name to open it on your computer.
  3. Asymptote images exported to other file formats such as PDF may be easier to open. 
  4. Right-click on the file name and select Open With.
  5. Choose from the list of applications and programs that can open your file.



How to create and edit an Asymptote file.

Start building an Asymptote file with the following steps:


  1. Install Asymptote software on your computer or open the web browser application.

  2. Enter the coding and commands needed to create your technical vector graphic.
  3. Choose an output option (for example, PDF) and download your image.
  4. Depending on your output choice, you may be able to open the new file in image-editing software such as Adobe Photoshop.



Asymptote files: frequently asked questions.

What images can Asymptote help create?

The main use of the Asymptote format is for highly accurate mathematical diagrams, graphs and charts — unlike raster image files such as JPEGs and PNGs that are better for photographs. Because they support a range of colours, Asymptote files also work well for basic illustrations.


Is Asymptote easy to use?

It helps to have a little coding knowledge before using Asymptote. That’s because the Asymptote language creates vector images based on the coding and commands you enter. Once you learn the basics, navigating the web browser application is relatively straightforward and easy.


What’s the difference between an Asymptote file and a JPEG?

An Asymptote image is a vector graphic, while a JPEG is a raster file. The former is built from mathematical equations while the latter contains pixels. As a result, vector graphics are generally used for illustrations, logos and charts that need to be scaled to a variety of sizes, while raster files are generally better for photographs and web graphics.


Can an Asymptote image contain 3D shapes?

You can create both two-dimensional and 3D images in Asymptote as long as you have the right coding and commands. Knowledgeable users can draw complex graphs with multiple datasets.


Is there a fee to create graphics with Asymptote?

Asymptote software is free to download and use because it’s part of the GNU Lesser General Public Licence plan. It’s also easily accessible as a web browser application.

Learn more about similar file types to Asymptotes.

SVG file image

SVG files

A vector image format designed for 2D graphics.

STL file image

STL files

A popular option for 3D modelling and printing.

EPS file image

EPS files

A common output option for Asymptote files.

DWG file image

DWG files

Another way to store 2D and 3D design data.

Get Adobe Illustrator

Create beautiful vector art and illustrations.

7 days free, then A$31.35/mo. incl. GST.