LaTeX and InDesign: how do they match up?

Ringo's picture

Hello everyone,

This week, someone asked me to design a science book, which is all set in LaTeX. I don't have any prior experience with this markup language and I might lack time to learn it comprehensively.

Having gathered some information about the language and downloaded the software at I'd say that, with respect to typesetting of scientific formulas, LaTeX can be very helpful. But when it comes to over-all book design and typographic details, I'd rather stick to InDesign (CS3, it is).

Is there an easy and reliable way to 'translate' LaTeX-documents into InDesign?

Theunis de Jong's picture

In short: No.

I've had mixed results with first converting LaTeX to RTF, then importing the RTF into ID, but it totally depends on how "good" the LaTeX writer was. The more complicated the document is and the more 'tricks' the writer used, the smaller is the chance Latex2rtf can do something -- or anything.
The RTF files it generates should be checked anyway, because at times it seems it forgets the odd closing brace.

Ringo's picture

So it might be more of what we call in Dutch 'a monk's job': copy and paste the text from the LaTeX-document into InDesign and taking care of all typographic details by hand instead of leaving them to the machine?

Theunis de Jong's picture

Copy/pasting of formatted TeX code isn't really the best way ... you'd have to manually clean up all codes -- that's what LaTex2RTF might be able to do for you. TeX' syntax can be used in exceedingly weird ways; it needs a program to make sense of it. Search and Replace is not gonna cut it ... (Personal experience: Been there, Done that, Given up, Went to do Something else.)

Second best, however, may be to get hold of a PDF. It might be possible to use Acrobat Pro to "Save As" the PDF to Word text. It's also fairly unpredictable, because it depends on what software produced the PDF in the first place. As with all things related to TeX, there are "proper" and "good ol' quick 'n dirty" ways to do so.

charles ellertson's picture

Well, yes and no.

First off, I don't know LaTex. We used our own implementation of TeX for 20 years, which, like LaTeX, was based on plain TeX. Anytime you add macros to plain TeX, as LaTeX does, you up the work for someone who doesn't use your particular implementation. So I don't really know LaTeX.

With that caveat, TeX sets better text type than InDesign. Just one example: InDesign's line-breaking algorithm is not quite as good as what TeX uses, but takes up less memory. That was the basis for the patent Adobe got. TeX isn't WYSIAYG. The control is unbelieveable, but so too can be the amount of work needed to exercise that control.

Practically speaking, TeX is less good with embellishments. I'd hate to use it to set a popular magazine or advertisements -- or for that matter, a high school text book as such have developed in the States -- all pictures, tints, sidebars, etc. If that's the kind of book it is, you'd be right to move it to InDesign.

But if it isn't, if it's a science book along the lines of a monograph, what you might consider is doing the design with whatever system you're comfortable with, then have it set by a compositor who uses LaTeX.

charles ellertson's picture

Theunis -- a "word space" isn't a character in TeX, and I'd assume not LaTeX either. Acrobat's pretty smart, but that does make recovering text set in TeX a fair bit more work.

twardoch's picture

I'd recommend trying a different path: take LaTeX, generate a PDF and use Recosoft PDF2ID to convert the PDF into an InDesign document. This actually might produce useful results.

Ringo's picture

They insisted on having an end document all made up in LaTeX, so there was no way of translating it into InDesign. Next time, better chance.

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