The simplest phase diagrams are pressure-temperature diagrams of a single simple substance, such as water. The axes correspond to the pressure and temperature. The phase diagram shows, in pressure-temperature space, the lines of equilibrium or phase boundaries between the three phases of solid, liquid, and gas.
The markings on the phase diagram show the points where the free energy is non-analytic. The open spaces, where the free energy is analytic, correspond to the phases. The phases are separated by lines of non-analyticity, where phase transitions occur, which are called phase boundaries.
In the diagram on the left, the phase boundary between liquid and gas does not continue indefinitely. Instead, it terminates at a point on the phase diagram called the critical point. This reflects the fact that, at extremely high temperatures and pressures, the liquid and gaseous phases become indistinguishable, in what is known as a supercritical fluid. In water, the critical point occurs at around and .
The existence of the liquid-gas critical point reveals a slight ambiguity in the above definitions. When going from the liquid to the gaseous phase, one usually crosses the phase boundary, but it is possible to choose a path that never crosses the boundary by going to the right of the critical point. Thus, the liquid and gaseous phases can blend continuously into each other. However, the solid-liquid phase boundary can only end in a critical point this way if the solid and liquid phases have the same symmetry group.
Noteworthy is that the solid-liquid phase boundary in the phase diagram of most substances has a positive slope. This is due to the solid phase having a higher density than the liquid, so that increasing the pressure increases the melting point; the temperature at which a substance melts. In some parts of the phase diagram for water the solid-liquid phase boundary has a negative slope (especially the portion corresponding to standard pressure). This reflects the fact that ice has a lower density than water, which is an unusual property for a material.
In a two-dimensional graph, two of the thermodynamic quantities may be shown on the horizontal and vertical axes. Additional thermodymic quantities may each be illustrated in increments as a series of lines - curved, straight, or a combination of curved and straight. Each of these iso-lines represents the thermodynamic quantity at a certain constant value.
One type of phase diagram plots temperature against the relative concentrations of two substances in a binary mixture called a binary phase diagram, as shown at right. Such a mixture can be either a solid solution, eutectic or peritectic, among others. These two types of mixtures result in very different graphs. A textbook example of a eutectic phase diagram is that of the olivine (forsterite and fayalite) system.
Another type of binary phase diagram is a boiling point diagram for a mixture of two components, i. e. chemical compounds. For two particular volatile components at a certain pressure such as atmospheric pressure, a boiling point diagram shows what vapor (gas) compositions are in equilibrium with given liquid compositions depending on temperature. In a typical binary boiling point diagram, temperature is plotted on a vertical axis and mixture composition on a horizontal axis.
A simple example diagram with hypothetical components 1 and 2 in a non-azeotropic mixture is shown at right. The fact that there are two separate curved lines joining the boiling points of the pure components means that the vapor composition is usually not the same as the liquid composition the vapor is in equilibrium with. See Vapor-Liquid Equilibrium for a fuller discussion.
In addition to the above mentioned types of phase diagrams, there are thousands of other possible combinations. Some of the major features of phase diagrams include congruent points, where a solid phase transforms directly into a liquid. There is also the peritectoid, a point where two solid phases combine into one solid phase during heating. The inverse of this, when one solid phase transforms into two solid phases during heating, is called the eutectoid.
The x-axis of such a diagram represents the concentration variable of the mixture. As the mixtures are typically far from dilute and their density as a function of temperature usually unknown the preferred concentration measure is mole fraction. A volume based measure like molarity would be unadvisable.
The solidus is the temperature below which the substance is stable in the solid state. The liquidus is the temperature above which the substance is stable in a liquid state. There may be a gap between the solidus and liquidus; within the gap, the substance consists of a mixture of crystals and liquid (like a "slurry").