Ribbon diagrams, also known as Richardson diagrams, are 3D schematic representations of protein structure and are one of the most common methods of protein depiction used today. The ribbon shows the overall path and organization of the protein backbone in 3D, and serves as a visual framework on which to hang details of the full atomic structure, such as the balls for the oxygen atoms bound to the active site of myoglobin in the adjacent image. Ribbon diagrams are generated by interpolating a smooth curve through the polypeptide backbone. α-helices are shown as coiled ribbons or thick tubes, β-strands as arrows, and non-repetitive coils or loops as lines or thin tubes. The direction of the polypeptide chain is shown locally by the arrows, and may be indicated overall by a colour ramp along the length of the ribbon.
Ribbon diagrams are simple yet powerful, expressing the visual basics of a molecular structure (twist, fold and unfold). This method has successfully portrayed the overall organization of protein structures, reflecting their three-dimensional nature and allowing better understanding of these complex objects both by expert structural biologists and by other scientists, students, and the general public.