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Using LaTeXiT to display math formulas

TeX is a typesetting standard that, among other things, allows you to typeset complex math formulas. One flavor of Tex is LaTeX, for which LaTeXiT serves as a front-end for on Mac OS X. Using LaTeXiT, one can drag and drop complex math formulas to a number of apps -- Pages, Keynote and TextEdit, to name a few.

While the LaTeXiT workflow is fairly simple and straightforward, getting it setup and running may not prove to be the most clear-cut and easy process.

To get started, download the latest version of LaTeXiT (free download). However, because proper functionality requires several other components, they will need to be installed as well. These components are:

  • pdfLaTeX
  • ps2pdf
  • Ghostscript

PdfLaTeX and ps2pdf are part of the BasicTeX package, while GhostScript is a separate installation package. Luckily, Richard Koch of the University of Oregon Mathematics Department has download links (free) to both packages readily available at his site. After installing the packages, you'll want to configure their paths within the composition pane within LaTeXiT's preferences. The following were the paths of my configuration files:

  • pdfLaTeX: /usr/texbin/pdflatex
  • Ghostscript: /usr/local/bin/gs-X11
  • ps2pdf: /usr/local/texlive/2008basic/bin/universal-darwin/pst2pdf

The two most prominent palettes in LaTeXiT are the LaTeX palette and the viewer/editor palette. Clicking on a symbol, number, letter or notation within the LaTeX palette will result in the corresponding markup appearing within the editor pane of the viewer/editor palette. When the markup of your formula is complete, clicking on the "LaTeXiT" button on the bottom right will produce said formula in the viewer, which is drag-and-droppable across a variety of apps.

In my case, I'm dragging and dropping a formula into Mail.app.

But if you happen to know the markup by heart (for which SmileOnMyMac's TextExpander would be a great timesaver), you can type it within an app and convert it into a formula via OS X's system wide "Services." Here, I'm performing this function within Pages, but can perform it with other apps as well.

LaTeXiT's other features include support for OS X's Automator as well as a host of export formats, including pdf, eps, tiff, and jpg.

A number of other LaTeX front ends are available on the Mac as well -- such as TexShop and TextMate. However, as someone who wasn't too familiar with LaTeX and all of its underpinnings, I found that LaTeXiT provided an easy learning curve as well a good foundation from which I could build upon. After playing around with the markup and its structure, you get the hang of it pretty quick.

(Readers, what is your favorite LaTeX front end for the Mac? A mathematician or physicist I am not, so if you know of a more hassle free setup process for a LaTeX front end, give us your thoughts.)

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