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3D Programming for Ordinary Mortals


VPython makes it easy to create navigable 3D displays and animations, even for those with limited programming experience. Because it is based on Python, it also has much to offer for experienced programmers and researchers.

For a quick introduction, see these YouTube videos:

3D Objects

Variable Assignment

Beginning Loops

Loops and Animation

Scale Factors

Debugging Syntax Errors

Lists, Part 1

Lists, Part 2

How to get started using VPython

New to Python and/or VPython?  GlowScript VPython is a good place to start:

·         Go to glowscript.org and create an account.   

o   You should see the sentence “You are signed in as <yourusername> and your programs are here." Click on "here”.

o   Click on “Create New Program”.  Name it “box”.  Below the line
Glowscript 2.4 VPython
type this:

·         Then click on “Run this program”.  You will see a white box on a black background.

o   Use the right button (or CTRL-drag left button) of the mouse to rotate the camera to view the scene from different angles.

o   To zoom in and out use two buttons, or ALT/OPTION-drag, or the mouse scrollwheel. Touch screen:  swipe or two-finger rotate; pinch/extend to zoom.

o   Click on Help to see what graphical objects are available.

Experienced Python / VPython user?  Jupyter VPython uses the popular IPython/Jupyter professional programming environment:

·         Install the Continuum Anaconda (or Enthought Canopy) Python distribution.  We recommend choosing Anaconda with Python 3.4 or later, especially if you already have “Classic” VPython / Python 2.7 installed on your machine (Canopy uses Python 2.7).  If you are an expert Python user, you can install the IPython and Jupyter modules in your current Python installation; see jupyter.org.


·         In a Power Shell or Command Prompt (Windows) or Terminal (Mac / Linux) run this command, which will install Jupyter VPython for Python 2.7, 3.4, 3.5, or 3.6:
pip install vpython

There will be frequent updates to this module. You can get the latest version this way:
pip install vpython --upgrade

Create a Jupyter notebook: There are two ways to start a Jupyter notebook. In a terminal, execute "jupyter notebook". Or (depending on what operating system you're using), doubleclick the icon "Jupyter Notebook" that is shown as one of the Anaconda-related tools. At the right there is a pulldown menu to create a New notebook, and if you choose "VPython" you will get the following imports (you can change the notebook type
through the menu Kernel > Change kernel):
from __future__ import division, print_function
from math import *


·         Write a test program: This short program will display a white box on a black background:
from vpython import *

Running a VPython program: Click in the first cell (containing the vpython import statement), then click the run icon, the one that is a rightward-facing triangle touching a vertical line. Currently, to re-run a VPython program you need to click the circular arrow icon to "restart the kernel" and then click the red-highlighted button, then click in the first cell, then click the run icon. It is intended to make this much simpler in the future by customizing the Jupyter notebook.


·         Rotating and zooming the camera is the same as for GlowScript VPython; see above.


·         Documentation: See the GlowScript VPython Help for documentation. The only GlowScript feature not yet implemented is keyboard interactions, pending an understanding of the relationship to keyboard inputs being processed by the Jupyter notebook.

·         Demo programs: Here is a zip file with a set of demo programs that now include the use of the same controls that are available in GlowScript VPython (button, radio button, checkbox, slider, and menu).

·         Run demo programs remotely: There is a Binder package of some demo programs, which lets you run Jupyter VPython programs even on computers or mobile devices that do not have Python installed. Here is an explanation of the Binder mechanism. Because the Binder servers are shared among a large number of people, performance can vary a great deal from day to day and from hour to hour.

·         Using conda to install VPython: Matt Craig provides an alternative way to install on Anaconda. For users who DO NOT have the Classic VPython Anaconda package installed: "conda install -c vpython vpython". To upgrade to a later version, execute "conda update -c vpython vpython".

·         Those who DO have Classic VPython installed and want to keep it should instead create a new environment in which to try the new VPython: "conda create -c vpython -n vpython_jup_env vpython python". After creating the new environment you will need to activate it to try out the new VPython.

How GlowScript VPython and Jupyter VPython differ from Classic VPython

·         Vectors must be represented as vector(x,y,z) or vec(x,y,z), not as (x,y,z).

·         The name display has been changed to canvas (for technical reasons).

·         The name gdisplay has been changed to graph.

·         curve objects and points objects have a new set of methods.

In the VPython Help at glowscript.org is a conversion program to convert from Classic to GlowScript syntax; It does an imperfect but useful job of dealing with the main differences.

To Download Classic VPython:

·         Click the appropriate Download option on this page, and follow the instructions.  Rotating and zooming the camera is the same as for GlowScript VPython except that neither touch nor the mouse scrollwheel are supported.

·         Classic VPython will remain available, but will not henceforth be updated.

More information about VPython and future developments

·         Here is a description of the plan for future development of VPython.



Descriptions of the Classic VPython options available at the top of the left margin:

Documentation: Overview, tutorials, and detailed documentation

Download: Free downloads for Windows, Macintosh, and Linux

What's new in VPython 6: New mouse/keyboard handling; native buttons, sliders, etc.

Change log: History of changes

User forum. (Until Feb. 2013, there was a mailing list whose archives may be found at https://sourceforge.net/mailarchive/forum.php?forum_name=visualpython-users. Please do not write to that list; instead post on the User forum.)

Contributed programs: Interesting and useful programs contributed by users

For developers: For those interested in contributing to further development of Python

Python web site: The Python programming language, on which VPython is based


Using tools at trinket.io it is easy to add both editing and execution of GlowScript VPython to your own web pages. Rhett Allain in his physics blog for Wired magazine has shown examples of this.

Jay Wang has posted a gallery of photos and movies of a variety of interesting VPython programs.

A podcast interview with Ruth Chabay and Bruce Sherwood about the history of VPython.

A poster on the relationship between GlowScript VPython and Jupyter VPython

VIDLE: alternative to IDLE which fixes some significant problems

Matter & Interactions: Introductory physics using VPython

Some advanced-level textbooks in which VPython is used:

Computational Physics:Problem Solving with Python, Rubin H. Landau, Manuel J. Páez, Cristian Bordeianu (2015)

Computational Physics with Python Mark Newman (2012)

An Introduction to Statistical Mechanics and Thermodynamics Robert H. Swendsen (2012)

Equilibrium Statistical Physics With Computer Simulations in Python Leonard M. Sander (2013)

Soil Physics with Python: Transport in the Soil-Plant-Atmosphere System
Marco Bittelli, Gaylon S. Campbell, and Fausto Tomei (2015)

Computational Modeling and Visualization of Physical Systems with Python Jay Wang (2016)

Write to if you don't find what you need, or to tell us how you are using VPython.

Romanian translation of this page provided by Jessica Parker

Estonian translation of this page by Sonja Kulmala

Indonesian translation of this page by Jordan Silaen

Russian translation of this page by Akhmetov Rauan

German translation of this page by André Lungstraß

Spanish translation of this page

Chinese tranlation by 殷文锋

Polish translation by Milana Sharapovan of an earlier version of this page

Development of VPython was supported in part by the National Science Foundation