LaTeX and friends for OS X

February 11, 2006

I switched to Mac OS X in 2003. As a graduate student, I use LaTeX a lot. Setting up and using LaTeX on OS X is easy, even for an OS X newbie. But, there are some OS X-specific applications that can work together with LaTeX, which I found to be of great help in putting together my papers, reports and presentations. I describe them here. (Note: All software mentioned below (except Omnigraffle) are free, most of them open source.)

Installing TeX

Download the i-Installer and follow the instructions on the i-installer page to install TeX, Ghostscript, and Freetype 2.

TeX directories

  • TeX is installed in /usr/local/teTeX/.
  • The binaries like latex and bibtex are in /usr/local/teTeX/bin/powerpc-apple-darwin-current/.
  • Put your LaTeX packages and class files (.cls) under ~/Library/texmf/tex/latex. These will then become available to latex, pdflatex when you use those packages in your LaTeX source file.
  • Put your BibTeX bibliography files (.bib) under ~/Library/texmf/bibtex/bib . This directory is part of the default path that bibtex looks for .bib files.
  • BibTeX bibliography style files (.bst) go in ~/Library/texmf/bibtex/bst .

Text editor

I use Vim to edit my LaTeX documents. Besides being a powerful editor, it also allows me to use the vim-latex plugin, which supports many time-saving macros. Besides vim, there are many other capable text editors for OS X. Look for them here [].

PDF Previewer

Each time LaTeX compiles the source code with pdflatex, the PDF needs to be refreshed, and the PDF display must remain at the same page that was being viewed before. I use TeXniscope to do this. It also works with latex/DVI.


Earlier, I used to compile my LaTeX code by typing keyboard shortcuts for pdflatex and bibtex multiple times, using a frontend like TeXshop. Then, I discovered latexmk. All you do is save your LaTeX source in your editor and latexmk automatically runs latex and bibtex the correct number of times, and refreshes your PDF previewer. Instructions to install and set up latexmk with TeXniscope can be found here [].

Bibliography Management

If you use bibtex to manage your bibliographies, you need Bibdesk. It is more than a mere front-end to bibtex. I’ve only used some if its many features. I extensively use the citation import feature that it provides as an OS X service.

Drawing figures

I’m a big fan of Omnigraffle for drawing figures. The user interface is very thoughfully designed and well integrated with OS X. Simple math symbols can be added through the “Edit–Special Characters” menu that is present in many OS X applications. For more complicated math, I first enter the LaTeX code for the math into a little tool called LaTeX equation service. This tool then renders the LaTeX code into a PDF that I can drag and drop into my Graffle drawing. (Omnigraffle is free for drawings with less than 20 objects. A free one-day license can also be obtained from their website that allows unlimited number of objects.) Before Graffle, I’d used Xfig and more recently, Inkscape, which are also available for OS X through fink.

Image editor

I sometimes need an image editor to modify images that were not created with Omnigraffle, or to modify a figure’s background and foreground to suit a desired presentation theme. For all these, I use Gimp.

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