Note added 30 June 2004: I'll probably revise this whole page soon. I'm finally starting to understand the EPS approach and its chief advantage: EPS files are vector-graphics based, so they look good even when rescaled. That's important for most publications. The method below, with BMP files, is pixel-based, so the pictures look bad when you rescale them.

Math software for Windows Of related interest: how to make slikdes

Quick and Rough Pictures in Latex

by Eric Schechter - - version of 9 Feb 2004

LaTeX has a few of its own built-in graphics commands -- for drawing lines, circles, etc. -- but they are cumbersome and not very powerful. Alternatively, you can create a graphic image with some other program, and then insert it into your tex files; that's the topic of this page.

There are really two different needs to be met here:

  1. I want to see my pictures in my document while I'm creating and editing the document.
    I prefer to use Yap for my previewer during editing, because it has such great forward and inverse search capabilities, and because it runs much faster than Acrobat Reader (particularly on old, slow computers). This forces me to use certain filetypes -- apparently, DVI for the output file, and BMP for the pictures.
  2. I want the same pictures arranged in the same way, in the finished document that I distribute to colleagues.
    I prefer to use PDF files for my output, because they are largely device independent (unlike TEX or DVI files) and because they look good on paper or on computer screen (unlike PS files, which generally only look good on paper). This forces the use of certain other filetypes. I have had good results using DVIPDFM.EXE and either JPG or PNG files, as outlined below, but there may be other good methods that I haven't explored yet. Admittedly, this requires a conversion between BMP and PNG, but that's fairly easy, as indicated below.
The TeX distribution that I'm using is Miktex. I believe the method outlined below will work with any flavor of Microsoft Windows, but I've mainly tested it in Windows 98. (Other methods, less familiar to me, may also work for tex graphics. In particular, PDFLATEX.EXE and EPS files are widely used; perhaps I'll add an explanation of those to this web page at some later date.) I welcome your suggestions about this web page.

Before you begin, you may want to install some of the free programs mentioned below. Now here are the steps:

  1. GENERATE THE IMAGE. For this purpose you can use any Windows program whatsoever -- it doesn't have to be a graphics program or even a program that is designed to generate a graphics image. You just need to be able to see the image on your computer screen.

    For instance, when I teach calculus, I sometimes make illustrations using a free, very simple program called WinPlot (see sample picture). More recently, I've begun learning to use a more complicated (but also free) program called GraphCalc. See my list of selected free math software. There may be better programs available -- certainly Mathematica is more powerful -- but my point here is that you can use any program.

    Another program that I use for some of my illustrations is Paint, which comes with Microsoft Windows. You start it up with "Start", "Programs", "Accessories", "Paint". If you study the help file that came with Paint, you'll find that it can do a fair amount.

    If you're planning an image for a Tex file, though, you want to keep these things in mind:

    Of course, some experimentation will answer these questions for you.


    (You can skip this step if you created your image using a program that can save graphics files in some common format. For instance, if you create your image using Paint, then just save the image as a BMP file. If you create your image using some program that can save picture files but not as BMP's, then use Irfan View -- described below -- to convert the picture to a BMP.)

    This step involves a few substeps:

  3. TOUCH UP THE IMAGE. Use Paint or other graphics programs to make any desired changes in the image. And you'll probably want to convert it to black-and-white, too.

  4. Note the dimensions of the image, in inches or centimeters. Here is one way to do that: Open up the image in Paint (for instance) and go to "Image" "Attributes".

  5. GET THE IMAGE INTO YOUR DVI FILE. Put the image file in the same directory as your tex file, and issue your "latex" command from within that directory. The previewer "Yap.exe" will display the BMP file within your DVI display, if you have altered your Tex file as follows:

    \documentclass[12pt]{book}\newcommand{\pix}{bmp}% for dvi

    %\documentclass[12pt,dvipdfm]{book}\newcommand{\pix}{jpg}% for pdf


  6. VIEW THE DVI FILE; EDIT THE TEX FILE. Run Latex to create or update your dvi file. View it with Yap. You'll be able to see the pictures (i.e., the BMP's). Edit the TEX file to make whatever changes you'd like. Run Latex again, to update the dvi file; view it again with Yap. etc.

    We still want to make a PDF file. Dvi and bmp files are convenient for editing, because they load quickly into Yap. But dvi files are not recommended for sending to other people, because the dvi file is not really device independent (despite its name). The dvi file relies on font information that may vary from one computer to another; not all tex installations will display a dvi file in the same way. Postscript (ps) and Acrobat (pdf) files are much more portable -- i.e., they will print essentially the same from any computer. I prefer pdf files, because they also look good on the display screen of any computer (Postscript was only designed for printing, not for the paperless office.) So when I'm done editing, I produce a PDF version of my finished document.

  7. CONVERT THE IMAGE TO JPG OR PNG. The BMP file worked fine in YAP, but it won't insert so easily into a PDF file. We need to convert it. Two of the formats that will work are JPG and PNG. I'll do my explanation with JPG, but everything works just the same way with PNG. Take your pick -- either of those formats seems to work equally well. Actually, each has minor advantages:

    So, how do we convert it? Open the BMP file in some graphics program such as Irfan View (mentioned earlier), and then use the "File", "Save as" command, you can save it as a JPG file.

  8. CREATE BOUNDING BOXES. This step is actually optional, so if you find it confusing, just skip it. If you omit this step, you'll get some error messages during one of the later steps, but they are harmless error messages and can be ignored; you'll still end up with the same PDF file. (Personally, I prefer not to get into a habit of ignoring some error messages, because then I might accidentally ignore others that should not be ignored.)

    In the Miktex bin directory, there is a program called "ebb.exe", which we apply to the JPG (or PNG) files to make "bounding box" files. For instance, if you have a picture named "mypic.jpg", you would want to apply the command "ebb mypic.jpg". This will create a file named "" in the same directory. That file does not replace the picture file, but it supplies information about the picture's dimensions to dvipdfm, which doesn't know how to get that information directly from the picture file.

    If you're going to do this many times, you may want to build the command into your Windows interace, to simplify your work. Create a new file association, as explained at tips_install.htm#associate. You can set things up so that when you right-click on any JPG (or PNG) file icon, one of the commands offered on the resulting menu is "bounding box". The application line should be:

    "C:\Program Files\MiKTeX\miktex\bin\ebb.exe" "%1"
    (Modify that line if your bin directory is located elsewhere on your hard disk.)

  9. MODIFY THE TEX FILE. Move the "%" sign that I told you to put at the top of your file. Now it will look like this:

    %\documentclass[12pt]{book}\newcommand{\pix}{bmp}% for dvi

    \documentclass[12pt,dvipdfm]{book}\newcommand{\pix}{jpg}% for pdf

  10. Optional. At this point you may want to make a backup copy of your DVI file and store it in some other directory; reasons for that will be made clear in a later step.

  11. Run the Latex program again, to create a new version of the DVI file.

    If you did not create bounding boxes correctly, at this point you will get some error messages about the images. Just ignore the error messages. Sorry, I know they're annoying, but they're harmless.

    Don't bother loading the new DVI file into Yap -- it won't show the images.

  12. Now run the program "dvipdfm". (Presumably you have a button on your tex shell program that will take care of this for you.) For instance, to turn my "sample.dvi" file into a "sample.pdf" file, I would use this command:
    dvipdfm sample.dvi
    issued from a command prompt inside the directory that contains the files. This will create a PDF file that includes your images. We're all done.

  13. Optional. Now would be a good time to restore your DVI file to its earlier form, so that it will have pictures the next time you look at it in Yap, should the need arise at some later time. You can restore it either by moving the backup copy back into your document directory, or by changing the TEX file back to the "bmp/dvi" form and running Latex one more time. This restoration will not affect the PDF file.

  14. You can repeat this procedure, as needed -- i.e., if you have some afterthoughts and want to alter your document. Each time you run Latex, it will overwrite the DVI file with a new copy of the DVI file. The new copy will either be one that displays pictures in Yap or one that is ready to produce PDF files, according to which way you have the "\pix" command defined. Each time you run Dvipdfm, it will overwrite the PDF file with a new copy based on the most recently written version of the DVI file. (However, dvipdfm will not create the new DVI file if the old one is currently loaded in Acrobat Reader, so you'll need to close that first.)

Of related interest: The package "picins" works well for making text flow around a picture. It is compatible with the picture procedure outlined above. Here is a typical usage: In your preamble (i.e., between "\documentclass" and "\begin{document}"), include the line

Then, at the place where you want to insert the picture, include a line like
\parpic[sr][r]{\includegraphics[width=1.19in,height=1.18in]{mypic.\pix}} At the right you can see my picture ...
The syntax being used here is
\parpic(width,height)(x-offset,y-offset)[Options][Position]{Picture} Paragraph text....
where the parts in red are optional (and most are omitted in my example in the preceding line). The default settings (obtained when the optional parts are omitted) will have the picture on the left and the text on the right.

The picins package is by Joachim Bleser, and the lengthy documentation included in the package is in German. However, a brief description in English (including a list of the optional settings) has been supplied by Piet van Oostrum; it can be found separately in Tex repositories such as Dante.

If you're going to be switching back and forth fairly often between the yap-viewable dvi format and the pdf-preparation format, here is a procedure that makes the switching easier (though it takes a little longer to set up, initially):

  1. Create a directory where you will keep some auxiliary files. To avoid some possible difficulties, I suspect you may want to use a short filename. I used "C:\Moreapps\Texmods\", but you can use some other directory if you wish.
  2. Within that directory, create a couple more subdirectories. Give them different names, preferably names that suggest what they're for. I named my subdirectories prep4pdf and prep4yap.
  3. In each of those directories, create a short tex file. Those two tex files should have the same name. I named mine both texprep.tex. Here is what I put in them:
  4. Begin your main document with the line \input{texprep.tex} instead of lines about documentclass and \pix.
  5. Create two new buttons in your tex shell program (or two new Build Output Profiles, if you're using TeXnic Center for your shell).
  6. Now clicking on one button or the other will create the appropriate type of dvi file.