cairocffi’s API is made of a number of wrapper classes that provide a more Pythonic interface for various cairo objects. Functions that take a pointer as their first argument become methods, error statuses become exceptions, and reference counting is hidden away.

In order to use other C libraries that use integrate with cairo, or if cairocffi’s API is not sufficient (Consider making a pull request!) you can access cairo’s lower level C pointers and API through CFFI.

Module-level objects


A cffi.FFI instance with all of the cairo C API declared.


The libcairo library, pre-loaded with ffi.dlopen(). All cairo functions are accessible as attributes of this object:

import cairocffi
from cairocffi import cairo as cairo_c, SURFACE_TYPE_XLIB

if cairo_c.cairo_surface_get_type(surface._pointer) == SURFACE_TYPE_XLIB:

See the cairo manual for details.

Reference counting in cairo

Most cairo objects are reference-counted, and freed when the count reaches zero. cairocffi’s Python wrapper will automatically decrease the reference count when they are garbage-collected. Therefore, care must be taken when creating a wrapper as to the reference count should be increased (for existing cairo objects) or not (for cairo objects that were just created with a refcount of 1.)


static Surface._from_pointer(pointer, incref)

Wrap an existing cairo_surface_t * cdata pointer.

Parameters:incref (bool) – Whether increase the reference count now.
Returns:A new instance of Surface or one of its sub-classes, depending on the surface’s type.
static Pattern._from_pointer(pointer, incref)

Wrap an existing cairo_pattern_t * cdata pointer.

Parameters:incref (bool) – Whether increase the reference count now.
Returns:A new instance of Pattern or one of its sub-classes, depending on the pattern’s type.
static FontFace._from_pointer(pointer, incref)

Wrap an existing cairo_font_face_t * cdata pointer.

Parameters:incref (bool) – Whether increase the reference count now.
Returns:A new instance of FontFace or one of its sub-classes, depending on the face’s type.
static ScaledFont._from_pointer(pointer, incref)

Wrap an existing cairo_scaled_font_t * cdata pointer.

Parameters:incref (bool) – Whether increase the reference count now.
Returns:A new ScaledFont instance.
classmethod Context._from_pointer(pointer, incref)

Wrap an existing cairo_t * cdata pointer.

Parameters:incref (bool) – Whether increase the reference count now.
Returns:A new Context instance.

The underlying cairo_surface_t * cdata pointer.


The underlying cairo_pattern_t * cdata pointer.


The underlying cairo_font_face_t * cdata pointer.


The underlying cairo_scaled_font_t * cdata pointer.


The underlying cairo_scaled_font_t * cdata pointer.


The underlying cairo_matrix_t * cdata pointer.


The underlying cairo_t * cdata pointer.

Converting pycairo wrappers to cairocffi

Some libraries such as PyGTK or PyGObject provide a pycairo Context object for you to draw on. It is possible to extract the underlying cairo_t * pointer and create a cairocffi wrapper for the same cairo context.

The follwing function does that with unsafe pointer manipulation. It only works on CPython.

# coding: utf-8

import cairo  # pycairo
import cairocffi

def _UNSAFE_pycairo_context_to_cairocffi(pycairo_context):
    # Sanity check. Continuing with another type would probably segfault.
    if not isinstance(pycairo_context, cairo.Context):
        raise TypeError('Expected a cairo.Context, got %r' % pycairo_context)

    # On CPython, id() gives the memory address of a Python object.
    # pycairo implements Context as a C struct:
    #     typedef struct {
    #         PyObject_HEAD
    #         cairo_t *ctx;
    #         PyObject *base;
    #     } PycairoContext;
    # Still on CPython, object.__basicsize__ is the size of PyObject_HEAD,
    # ie. the offset to the ctx field.
    # ffi.cast() converts the integer address to a cairo_t** pointer.
    # [0] dereferences that pointer, ie. read the ctx field.
    # The result is a cairo_t* pointer that cairocffi can use.
    return cairocffi.Context._from_pointer(
        cairocffi.ffi.cast('cairo_t **',
                           id(pycairo_context) + object.__basicsize__)[0],

Converting other types of objects like surfaces is very similar, but left as an exercise to the reader.

Converting cairocffi wrappers to pycairo

The reverse conversion is also possible. Here we use ctypes rather than CFFI because Python’s C API is sensitive to the GIL.

# coding: utf-8

import ctypes
import cairo  # pycairo
import cairocffi

pycairo = ctypes.PyDLL(cairo._cairo.__file__)
pycairo.PycairoContext_FromContext.restype = ctypes.c_void_p
pycairo.PycairoContext_FromContext.argtypes = 3 * [ctypes.c_void_p]
ctypes.pythonapi.PyList_Append.argtypes = 2 * [ctypes.c_void_p]

def _UNSAFE_cairocffi_context_to_pycairo(cairocffi_context):
    # Sanity check. Continuing with another type would probably segfault.
    if not isinstance(cairocffi_context, cairocffi.Context):
        raise TypeError('Expected a cairocffi.Context, got %r'
                        % cairocffi_context)

    # Create a reference for PycairoContext_FromContext to take ownership of.
    # Casting the pointer to uintptr_t (the integer type as wide as a pointer)
    # gets the context’s integer address.
    # On CPython id(cairo.Context) gives the address to the Context type,
    # as expected by PycairoContext_FromContext.
    address = pycairo.PycairoContext_FromContext(
        int(cairocffi.ffi.cast('uintptr_t', cairocffi_context._pointer)),
    assert address
    # This trick uses Python’s C API
    # to get a reference to a Python object from its address.
    temp_list = []
    assert ctypes.pythonapi.PyList_Append(id(temp_list), address) == 0
    return temp_list[0]

Example: using Pango through CFFI with cairocffi

The program below shows a fairly standard usage of CFFI to access Pango’s C API. The Context._pointer pointer can be used directly as an argument to CFFI functions that expect cairo_t *. The C definitions are copied from Pango’s and GLib’s documentation.

Using CFFI for accessing Pango (rather than the traditional bindings in PyGTK or PyGObject with introspection) is not only easiest for using together with cairocffi, but also means that all of Pango’s API is within reach, whereas bindings often only expose the high level API.

# coding: utf-8
import cairocffi
import cffi

ffi = cffi.FFI()
    /* GLib */
    typedef void* gpointer;
    void g_object_unref (gpointer object);

    /* Pango and PangoCairo */
    typedef ... PangoLayout;
    typedef enum {
    } PangoAlignment;
    int pango_units_from_double (double d);
    PangoLayout * pango_cairo_create_layout (cairo_t *cr);
    void pango_cairo_show_layout (cairo_t *cr, PangoLayout *layout);
    void pango_layout_set_width (PangoLayout *layout, int width);
    void pango_layout_set_alignment (
        PangoLayout *layout, PangoAlignment alignment);
    void pango_layout_set_markup (
        PangoLayout *layout, const char *text, int length);
gobject = ffi.dlopen('gobject-2.0')
pango = ffi.dlopen('pango-1.0')
pangocairo = ffi.dlopen('pangocairo-1.0')

gobject_ref = lambda pointer: ffi.gc(pointer, gobject.g_object_unref)
units_from_double = pango.pango_units_from_double

def write_example_pdf(target):
    pt_per_mm = 72 / 25.4
    width, height = 210 * pt_per_mm, 297 * pt_per_mm  # A4 portrait
    surface = cairocffi.PDFSurface(target, width, height)
    context = cairocffi.Context(surface)
    context.translate(0, 300)

    layout = gobject_ref(
    pango.pango_layout_set_width(layout, units_from_double(width))
    pango.pango_layout_set_alignment(layout, pango.PANGO_ALIGN_CENTER)
    markup = u'<span font="italic 30">Hi from Παν語!</span>'
    markup ='char[]', markup.encode('utf8'))
    pango.pango_layout_set_markup(layout, markup, -1)
    pangocairo.pango_cairo_show_layout(context._pointer, layout)

if __name__ == '__main__':