Although backtesting is meant to be an automated process based on mathematical calculations, it is often the case that one wants to actually visualize what’s going on. Be it with an existing algorithm which has undergone a backtesting run or looking at what really indicators (built-in or custom) deliver with the data.

And because everything has a human being behind it, charting the data feeds, indicators, operations, evolution of cash and portfolio value can help the humans to better appreciate what’s going on, discard/modify/create ideas and whatever the human looking at the chart may do with the visual information.

That’s why backtrader, using the facilities provided by matplotlib, provides built-in charting facilities.

How to plot

Any backtesting run can be plotted with the invocation of a single method:


Of course this is usually the last command issued like in this simple code which uses one of the sample data from the backtrader sources.

from __future__ import (absolute_import, division, print_function,

import backtrader as bt

class St(bt.Strategy):
    def __init__(self):
        self.sma = bt.indicators.SimpleMovingAverage(

data = bt.feeds.BacktraderCSVData(dataname='../../datas/2005-2006-day-001.txt')

cerebro = bt.Cerebro()

And this yields the following chart.

The chart includes 3 Observers which in this case and given the lack of any trading are mostly pointless

  • A CashValue observer which as the name implies keeps track of the Cash and total portolio Value (including cash) during the life of the backtesting run

  • A Trade Observer which shows, at the end of a trade, the actual Profit and Loss

    A trade is defined as opening a position and taking the position back to 0 (directly or crossing over from long to short or short to long)

  • A BuySell observer which plots (on top of the prices) where buy and sell operations have taken place

These 3 Observers are automatically added by cerebro, and are controlled with the stdstats parameter (default: True). Do the following to disable them if you wish:

cerebro = bt.Cerebro(stdstats=False)

or later when running as in:

cerebro = bt.Cerebro()

Plotted Elements

Although the Observers have already been mentioned above in the introduction, they are not the only elements to get plotted. These 3 things get plotted:

  • Data Feeds added to Cerebro with adddata, replaydata and resampledata

  • Indicators declared at strategy level (or added to cerebro with addindicator which is purely meant for experimentation purposes and has the indicator added to a dummy strategy)

  • Observers added to cerebro with addobserver

    The Observers are lines objects which run in sync with the strategy and have access to the entire ecosystem, to be able to track things like Cash and Value

Plotting Options

Indicators and Observers have several options that control how they have to be plotted on the chart. There are 3 big groups:

  • Options affecting the plotting behavior of the entire object
  • Options affecting the plotting behavior of individual lines
  • Options affecting the SYSTEM wide plotting options

Object-wide plotting options

These are controlled by this data set in Indicators and Observers:

plotinfo = dict(plot=True,

Although plotinfo is shown as a dict during class definition, the metaclass machinery of backtrader turns that into an object which is inherited and can undergo even multiple inheritance. Than means:

  • If a subclass changes for example a value like subplot=True to subplot=False, subclasses further down the hierarchy will have the latter as the default value for subplot

There are 2 methods of giving value to these parameters. Let’s look at a SimpleMovingAverage instantiation for the 1st method:

sma = bt.indicators.SimpleMovingAverage(, period=15, plotname='mysma')

As can be inferred from the example, any **kwargs not consumed by the SimpleMovingAverage constructor will be parsed (if possible) as plotinfo values. The SimpleMovingAverage has a single parameter defined which is period. And this means that plotname will be matched against the parameter of the same name in plotinfo.

The 2nd method:

sma = bt.indicators.SimpleMovingAverage(, period=15)
sma.plotinfo.plotname = 'mysma'

The plotinfo object instantiated along the SimpleMovingAverage can be accessed and the parameters inside can also be accessed with the standard Python dot notation. Easy and possibly clearer than the syntax abve.

The meaning of the options

  • plot: whether the object has to be plotted

  • subplot: whether to plot along the data or in an independent subchart. Moving Averages are an example of plotting over the data. Stochastic and RSI are examples of things plotted in a subchart on a different scale.

  • plotname: name to use on the chart instead of the class name. As in the example above mysma instead of SimpleMovingAverage

  • plotskip (deprecated): and old alias of plot

  • plotabove: whether to plot above the data. Else plot below. This has only effect if subplot=True

  • plotlinelabels: whether to plot the names of the individudal lines along the data in the legend on the chart when subplot=False

    Example: The Bollinger Bands have 3 lines but the indicator is plotted on top of the data. It seems sensible to have the legend only display a single name like BollingerBands rather than having the name of the 3 individual lines displayed (mid, top, bot)

    A use case for this is the BuySell observer for which it makes sense to display the name of the 2 lines and its markers: Buy and Sell to make it clear for the end user what is what.

  • plotlinevalues: controls whether the legend for the lines in indicators and observers has the last plotted value. Can be controlled on a per-line basis with _plotvalue for each line

  • plotvaluetags: controls whether a value tag with the last value is plotted on the right hand side of the line. Can be controlled on a per-line basis with _plotvaluetag for each line

  • plotymargin: margin to add to the top and bottom of individual subcharts on the graph

    It is a percentage but 1 based. For example: 0.05 -> 5%

  • plothlines: an iterable containing values (within the scale) at which horizontal lines have to be plotted.

    This for example helps for the classical indicators with overbought, oversold areas like the RSI which usually has lines plotted at 70 and 30

  • plotyticks: an iterable containing values (within the scale) at which value ticks have to specifically be placed on the scale

    For example to force the scale to have a 50 to identify the mid point of the scale. Although this seems obvious, the indicators use an auto-scaling mechanism and the 50 may not be obviously be in the centre if an indicator with a 0-100 scale moves between 30-95 on a regular basis.

  • plotyhlines: an iterable containing values (within the scale) at which horizontal lines have to be plotted.

    This can take over both plothlines and plotyticks.

    If none of the above are defined, then where to place horizontal lines and ticks will be entirely controlled by this value

    If any of the above are defined they have precedence over the values present in this option

  • plotforce: sometimes and thus the complex process of matching data feeds to indicators and bla, bla, bla ... a custom indicator may fail to plot. This is a last resort mechanism to try to enforce plotting.

    Use it if all else fails

  • plotmaster: an Indicator/Observer has a master which is the data on which is working. In some cases plotting it with a different master may be wished needed.

    A use case is the PivotPoint indicator which is calculated on Monthly data but is meant for Daily data. It only makes sense to plot it on the daily data which is where the indicator makes sense.

  • plotylimited: currently only applies to data feeds. If True (default), other lines on the data plot don’t change the scale. Example: Bollinger Bands (top and bottom) may be far away from the actual absolute minimum/maximum of the data feed. With `plotlimited=True, those bands remain out of the chart, because the data controls the scaling. If set to False, the bands affects the y-scale and become visible on the chart

    A use case is the PivotPoint indicator which is calculated on Monthly data but is meant for Daily data. It only makes sense to plot it on the daily data which is where the indicator makes sense.

Line specific plotting options

Indicators/Observers have lines and how this lines are plotted can be influenced with the plotlines object. Most of options specified in plotlines are meant to be directly passed over to matplotlib when plotting. The documentation relies therefore on examples of things that have been done.

IMPORTANT: The options are specified on a per-line basis.

Some of the options are controlled directly by backtrader. These all start with an underscore (_):

  • _plotskip (boolean) which indicates that plotting of a specific line has to be skipped if set to True

  • _plotvalue (boolean) to control if the legend of this line will contain the last plotted value (default is True)

  • _plotvaluetag (boolean) to control if a righ hand side tag with the last value is plotted (default is True)

  • _name (string) which changes the plot name of a specific line

  • _skipnan (bool, default: False): to skip NaN values when plotting and allowing for example to draw a line between 2 distant points generated by an indicator, which has all intermediate values as NaN (default value for new created data points)

  • _samecolor (boolean) this forces the next line to have the same color as the previous one avoiding the matplotlib default mechanism of cycling trough a color map for each new plotted element

  • _method (string) which chooses the plotting method matplotlib will use for the element. If this is not specified, then the most basic plot method will be chosen.

    Example from MACDHisto. Here the histo line is plotted as a bar which is the industry de-facto standard. The following definition can be found in the definition of MACDHisto:

    lines = ('histo',)
    plotlines = dict(histo=dict(_method='bar', alpha=0.50, width=1.0))

    alpha and width are options for matplotlib

  • _fill_gt / _fill_lt

    Allow filling between the given line and:

    • Another line
    • A numeric value

    The arguments is an iterable of 2 elements in which:

    • The 1st argument is a string (name of reference line) or a numeric value

      The filling will be done in between the own values and the values of the line or the numeric value

    • The 2nd argument is either:

      • A string with a colour name (matplotlib compatible) or hex specification (see matloplit examples)


      • An iterable where the 1st element is the string/hex value for the colour and the second element is a numeric value specifying the alpha transparency (default: 0.20 controlled with fillalpha in a plotting scheme)


    # Fill for myline when above other_line with colour red
    plotlines = dict(
        myline=dict(_fill_gt('other_line', 'red'))
    # Fill for myline when above 50 with colour red
    plotlines = dict(
        myline=dict(_fill_gt(50, 'red))
    # Fill for myline when above other_line with colour red and 50%
    # transparency (1.0 means "no transparency")
    plotlines = dict(
        myline=dict(_fill_gt('other_line', ('red', 0.50)))

Passing options to a not yet known line

  • Ue the name _X where X stands for a digit in a zero-based index. This means that the options are for line X

A use case from OscillatorMixIn:

plotlines = dict(_0=dict(_name='osc'))

As the name implies, this is a mixin class intended to be used in multiple inheritance schemes (specifically on the right hand side). The mixin has no knowledge of the actual name of the 1st line (index is zero-based) from the other indicator that will be part of the multiple inheritance mix.

And that’s why the options are specified to be for: _0. After the subclassing has taken place the 1st line of the resulting class will have the name osc in plot.

Some plotlines examples

The BuySell observer has the following:

plotlines = dict(
    buy=dict(marker='^', markersize=8.0, color='lime', fillstyle='full'),
    sell=dict(marker='v', markersize=8.0, color='red', fillstyle='full')

The buy and sell lines have options which are passed directly to matplotlib to define marker, markersize, color and fillstyle. All these options are defined in matplotlib

The Trades observer has the following:

lines = ('pnlplus', 'pnlminus')

plotlines = dict(
                 marker='o', color='blue',
                 markersize=8.0, fillstyle='full'),
                  marker='o', color='red',
                  markersize=8.0, fillstyle='full')

Here the names of the lines have been redefined from for example pnlplus to Positive by using _name. The rest of the options are for matplotlib

The DrawDown observer:

lines = ('drawdown', 'maxdrawdown',)


plotlines = dict(maxdrawdown=dict(_plotskip='True',))

This one defines two lines to let the end users access not only the value of the current drawdown but also its maximum value (maxdrawdown). But the latter is not plotted due to _plotskip=True

The BollingerBands indicator:

plotlines = dict(

Here the mid line will have a dashed style and the top and bot lines will have the same color as the mid line.

The Stochastic (defined in _StochasticBase and inherited):

lines = ('percK', 'percD',)
plotlines = dict(percD=dict(_name='%D', ls='--'),

The slower line percD is plotted with a dashed style. And the names of the lines are changed to include fancy % signs (%K and %D) which cannot be used in name definitions in Python

Methods controlling plotting

When dealing with Indicators and Observers the following methods are supported to further control plotting:

  • _plotlabel(self)

    Which should return a list of things to conform the labels which will be placed in between parentheses after the name of the Indicators or Observer

    An example from the RSI indicator:

    def _plotlabel(self):
        plabels = [self.p.period]
        plabels += [self.p.movav] * self.p.notdefault('movav')
        return plabels

    As can be seen this method returns:

    • An int which indicates the period configured for the RSI and if the default moving average has been changed, the specific class

      In the background both will be converted to a string. In the case of the class an effort will be made to just print the name of the class rather than the complete combination.

  • _plotinit(self)

    Which is called at the beginning of plotting to do whatever specific initialization the indicator may need. Again, an example from RSI:

    def _plotinit(self):
        self.plotinfo.plotyhlines = [self.p.upperband, self.p.lowerband]

    Here the code assigns a value to plotyhlines to have horizontal lines (the hlines part) plotted at specific y values.

    The values of the parameters upperband and lowerband are used for this, which cannot be known in advance, because the parameters can be changed by the end user

System-wide plotting options

First the signature of plot within cerebro:

def plot(self, plotter=None, numfigs=1, iplot=True, **kwargs):

Which means:

  • plotter: an object/class containing as attributes the options controlling the system wide plotting

    If None is passed a default PlotScheme object (see below) will be instantiated

  • numfigs: in how many independent charts a plot has to be broken

    Sometimes a chart contains too many bars and will not be easily readable if packed in a single figure. This breaks it down in as many pieces as requested

  • iplot: automatically plot inline if running inside a Jupyter Notebook

  • **kwargs: the args will be used to change the values of the attributes of plotter or the default PlotScheme object created if no plotter is passed.


This object contains all the options that contol system-wide plotting. The options are documented in the code:

class PlotScheme(object):
    def __init__(self):
        # to have a tight packing on the chart wether only the x axis or also
        # the y axis have (see matplotlib)
        self.ytight = False

        # y-margin (top/bottom) for the subcharts. This will not overrule the
        # option plotinfo.plotymargin
        self.yadjust = 0.0
        # Each new line is in z-order below the previous one. change it False
        # to have lines paint above the previous line
        self.zdown = True
        # Rotation of the date labes on the x axis
        self.tickrotation = 15

        # How many "subparts" takes a major chart (datas) in the overall chart
        # This is proportional to the total number of subcharts
        self.rowsmajor = 5

        # How many "subparts" takes a minor chart (indicators/observers) in the
        # overall chart. This is proportional to the total number of subcharts
        # Together with rowsmajor, this defines a proportion ratio betwen data
        # charts and indicators/observers charts
        self.rowsminor = 1

        # Distance in between subcharts
        self.plotdist = 0.0

        # Have a grid in the background of all charts
        self.grid = True

        # Default plotstyle for the OHLC bars which (line -> line on close)
        # Other options: 'bar' and 'candle' = 'line'

        # Default color for the 'line on close' plot
        self.loc = 'black'
        # Default color for a bullish bar/candle (0.75 -> intensity of gray)
        self.barup = '0.75'
        # Default color for a bearish bar/candle
        self.bardown = 'red'
        # Level of transparency to apply to bars/cancles (NOT USED)
        self.bartrans = 1.0

        # Wether the candlesticks have to be filled or be transparent
        self.barupfill = True
        self.bardownfill = True

        # Wether the candlesticks have to be filled or be transparent
        self.fillalpha = 0.20

        # Wether to plot volume or not. Note: if the data in question has no
        # volume values, volume plotting will be skipped even if this is True
        self.volume = True

        # Wether to overlay the volume on the data or use a separate subchart
        self.voloverlay = True
        # Scaling of the volume to the data when plotting as overlay
        self.volscaling = 0.33
        # Pushing overlay volume up for better visibiliy. Experimentation
        # needed if the volume and data overlap too much
        self.volpushup = 0.00

        # Default colour for the volume of a bullish day
        self.volup = '#aaaaaa'  # 0.66 of gray
        # Default colour for the volume of a bearish day
        self.voldown = '#cc6073'  # (204, 96, 115)
        # Transparency to apply to the volume when overlaying
        self.voltrans = 0.50

        # Transparency for text labels (NOT USED CURRENTLY)
        self.subtxttrans = 0.66
        # Default font text size for labels on the chart
        self.subtxtsize = 9

        # Transparency for the legend (NOT USED CURRENTLY)
        self.legendtrans = 0.25
        # Wether indicators have a leged displaey in their charts
        self.legendind = True
        # Location of the legend for indicators (see matplotlib)
        self.legendindloc = 'upper left'

        # Plot the last value of a line after the Object name
        self.linevalues = True

        # Plot a tag at the end of each line with the last value
        self.valuetags = True

        # Default color for horizontal lines (see plotinfo.plothlines)
        self.hlinescolor = '0.66'  # shade of gray
        # Default style for horizontal lines
        self.hlinesstyle = '--'
        # Default width for horizontal lines
        self.hlineswidth = 1.0

        # Default color scheme: Tableau 10
        self.lcolors = tableau10

        # strftime Format string for the display of ticks on the x axis
        self.fmt_x_ticks = None

        # strftime Format string for the display of data points values
        self.fmt_x_data = None

Colors in PlotScheme

The PlotScheme class defines a method which can be overriden in subclasses which returns the next color to be used:

def color(self, idx)

Where idx is the current index to the line being plotted on a individual subchart. The MACD for example plots 3 lines and hence the idx variable will only have the following values: 0, 1 and 2. The next chart (maybe another indicator) will star the count again at 0.

The default color scheme used in backtrader uses (as seen above) is the Tableau 10 Color Palette with the index modified to be:

tab10_index = [3, 0, 2, 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9]

By overriding the color method or passing a lcolors variable to plot (or in a subclass of PlotScheme) the colouring can be completely changed.

The source code contains also the defintions for the Tableau 10 Light and the Tableau 20 color palettes.