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Are there any professional alternatives to TeX/LaTeX which produce equal or even better typesetting? Maybe expensive commercial ones. The software counts if it is comparable or superior to LaTeX (with microtype) in typesetting text or math (or both). In any case, please mention both aspects in your answer.

I am only aware of ConTeXt (which is partly based on TeX).

Note that I am not looking for an alternative for my personal use, I am just asking out of curiosity.

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Without making any comparisons, there is Adobe inDesign –  Scott H. Jun 20 '13 at 19:20
@ScottH. -- to the best of my knowledge, indesign doesn't (yet?) handle math. –  barbara beeton Jun 20 '13 at 19:26
@student Now that it has been mentioned, is math typesetting a requirement? –  Scott H. Jun 20 '13 at 19:35
@barbarabeeton: But there is a plugin named MathMagic for Adobe InDesign to handle math. –  kiss my armpit Jun 20 '13 at 19:55
There is an interesting comparison LaTeX vs. InDesign (but a bit old): zinktypografie.nl/latex.php?lang=en –  student Jun 20 '13 at 20:06

11 Answers 11

up vote 41 down vote accepted

You asked for professional solutions. Several top technical journals, including I believe Physical Review Letters and Nature magazine, use Advanced Print Publisher (APP), also known as Advent 3B2. Formerly available from Arbortext but now from PTC.

It can definitely handle mathematics, and I'm sure it deals with typographic details such as ligatures and microtype-like tweaks. I believe the main strength over tex is that it makes complete document production very automated. Things like dealing with floats (tables and figures) in a more-automatic way than tex, and giving manual controls to override it.

I haven't used it, however. (standard desktop version starts at US$5000-10000 as of January 2015). The wikipedia page has a little information.

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45,000 dollars? I wonder if they have student version? –  Nasser Jun 22 '13 at 9:33
Does Advanced Print Publisher relate to LaTeX? I ask because I know submissions to Phys. Rev. Letters can be given in LaTeX (with the revtex package). –  mrc Aug 4 '14 at 23:23
@mrc More likely if you submit in LaTeX, they send it to some developing country to re-type everything from scratch. –  yo' Jan 14 at 19:39

I truly believe nothing comes close to TeX (and Friends, e.g. LaTeX, ConTeXt) when it comes to output quality.

Other DTP programs such as Indesign (Adobe), QuarkXPress (Quark) or Scribus (open source) offer a graphical interface and hence an easier learning curve, but they don't match up in terms of quality. Amongst many, let me just point the two most obvious quality advantages of TeX:

Math typesetting

Typesetting maths correctly is very complex (symbols need to adjust in size, spaces are very specific, etc.), and only TeX gets it right. There are probably even better examples, but try obtaining something like the following in InDesign:

math typesetting

Line and page breaking

Tex's algorithm is very complex and takes into account possible hyphens, widows, orphans, etc. to produce an output that is more elegant.

The best showcase of this I have found is a comparison posted by Roel Zinkstok of Zink Typography, reproduced below. On the comparison, Roel indicated with red dots lines with inter-word spacing that is out of proportion, a cardinal sin for typography, while the red circles indicate hyphens, which should be minimized:

line breaking

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@mozartstraße More precisely, the red dots represents the lines with inter-word spacing (IWS) larger than 9pt. The count is reflected in the table below the showcase. –  Xavier Jun 20 '13 at 21:36
It also looks as though the pdfTeX output was made without the help of the microtype package. –  jon Jun 20 '13 at 22:48
@ach You are probably thinking of the comments to this answer. The proof (as I would claim) that it's not a fair comparison can be found here, which shows the result with tex's default settings on the first page and then increasing tweaks to mimic the example. @jon Actually, I do not think this output is achieved by using microtype but rather by allowing spaces to stretch and shrink much more than tex would normally permit (being as fussy as it is on this point). –  Robert Jun 20 '13 at 23:12
@student: Adobe has stated openly (and in typeset form ;-) ) that InDesign uses precisely Knuth's linebreaking algorithms (per paragraph as opp. to per line). I have not used InDesign myself seriously, but from what I've seen done with it, I think it is a great typesetting system (ranking high together with QuarkXpress). Moreover, in this site there has been some discussion on grid-oriented typesetting design; maybe in this regard InDesign even ranks higher than TeX-based systems (not for lack of design excellence in TeX, but simply because it was not conceived with such a scenario in mind). –  Marcos Jun 26 '13 at 18:06
@Marcos Most commercial products use a Knuth-Plass-like algorithm, which usually mean they remove constraints to speed it up. Adobe even went as far as to apparently patent theirs... (don't get my started on stupid math / software patents). Regarding grid typesetting, it is actually quite simple in TeX, just not in LaTeX. Watch Jean-Luc Doumont's "Quantum spaces: Designing pages on grids" presentation if you want to know more. –  Xavier Jun 27 '13 at 0:26

A shameless plug: We are offering a professional typesetter (though open source) which is based on LuaTeX. If it is "equal or even better" than LaTeX is surely subjective.

Our focus is to bring the DTP world to automatic typesetting (database publishing). For example we have

  • master pages based on arbitrary conditions
  • text flow based on "frames"
  • multi page tables including subtotals and repeating tablehead and tablefoot
  • easy to install/use fonts
  • grid based layout/typesetting
  • ...

While TeX / LaTeX is focused on text documents (with or without math) our main application area is product catalogs, price lists and other documents that are created automatically from databases but have flexible and nice layouts.


I'd like to invite everyone to try out or perhaps work on the software. Development never ends (as usual).

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I'm intrigued by the grid-based support and text flowing. These are both regarded as 'hard' problems with TeX-based systems. How general are your solutions (in broad terms: not looking for anything commercially-sensitive)? –  Joseph Wright Jul 1 '13 at 16:04
@JosephWright hard to discuss this in a comment... I believe your question is along the lines: "can we take the approach and throw it at LaTeX"? I'd say no, since I almost completely leave the TeX world. For example I save the text blocks and reformat them on demand (for example if columns are of different widths or of I need a parshape in the second column). –  topskip Jul 1 '13 at 16:10
I wish I could get feedback for the downvote! Too much advertisement? (Hey, it's open source, so you can use it). Not a good answer? (I think it matches the question.) It would be nice if the downvoter could explain why this answer is a bad answer. –  topskip Jul 2 '13 at 11:13
On 'generality' I was thinking for example that there are a few approaches to grid typesetting in TeX, but most (all?) have limitations, often related to display or math mode material. So I was wondering how generally you've been able to deal with this. –  Joseph Wright Jul 2 '13 at 11:36
@JosephWright I have an invisible grid in the background with height of the grid cells of \baselineskip of the text font. Every object is placed in the grid (and thus integer multiple of \baselineskip from the top). There is still much to do but I will for example include an invisible "adjust to grid" marker that goes to the next cell. This part is currently under development. –  topskip Jul 2 '13 at 11:46

Troff (http://troff.org/) should definitely be mentioned for its simplicity. I normally use LaTeX for all my documents, but for some special cases (e.g. user manuals) troff (or it's GNU version groff) is just the simpler way. It also can handle math using the preprocessing tool eqn. A nice comparison between troff and LaTeX can be found here.

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I just realised that the link I provided for the comparison actually is a macro package for groff which the author claims makes it comparable to LaTeX. I think I just found something to do for the weekend :) –  user2426172 Jun 21 '13 at 8:14
Nice find! Can be a nice alternative to LaTeX for good looking automatically generated documents. –  gniourf_gniourf Jun 21 '13 at 8:26
fyi, from wiki, troff can trace its origins back to a text formatting program called RUNOFF . see RUNOFF en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RUNOFF RUNOFF was the first computer text formatting program to see significant use. –  Nasser Jun 22 '13 at 21:42
I used ditroff to typeset my thesis. And I believe groff has taken over some of $\TeX$ line-handling and math formatting techniques, so it should be comparable for text at least. But overall a troff document feels like assembler to $\LaTeX$' more structured approach. Lerned $'LaTeX$, and never looked back. –  vonbrand Mar 23 '14 at 17:57

GNU TeXMacs is a WYSIWYG scientific structured document editor and typesetter. It used to require a TeX distribution but now it does not.

Here is a list of not so widely known typesetting systems that I found googling around, mostly work-in-progress (or work-used-to-be-in-progress):

  • cl-typesetting is written in Common Lisp, which implies that its markup language is also Common Lisp. (Macro language, anyone?)

  • The Z format looks like HTML, but is not.

  • Platypus commands look like [list|bullet:{rarrow}] . Written in Java.

  • Patoline, written in OCaml. Also handles SQL bibliography databases, and comes with Bibi, a bibfile to SQL converter written in Haskell. (The developers seem to be really keen on functional languages.) You have to build it from source. Commands look like a mixture of TeX, OCaml and new markup:

    (* #FORMAT FormatArticle *)
    \begin{genumerate}(AlphaLower, fun s -> [tT (s^". ")])
    \item First item
    \item Second item
    $$ a + b $$
    $ a + b $
      let dr ()=
        [bB (fun _->
          [Drawing (drawing [Path (default,[rectangle (0.,0.) (10.,10.)])])]

    Note that I have no idea if this code works, I just copied together parts of the manual.

  • SILE (Simon's Improved Layout Engine) is written in Lua with the Pango and Cairo libraries. It also tries to provide a syntax nearly identical to that of LaTeX:

    \begin[class=book,papersize=129mm x 198mm]{document}
    \left-running-head{A Scandal in Bohemia}
    \right-running-head{\hfill{}Alexander Conan Doyle}
    \headline{A Scandal In Bohemia}
    \noindent To Sherlock Holmes she is always \em{the woman}.
    \footnote{Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet.}
    \begin[family=Snell Roundhand]{font}
    Consequetur adipiscing elit.

Maybe more to come.

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AFAIK, TeXmacs was never based on TeX; it uses various TeX algorithms but they are implemented independent of TeX. It uses TeX fonts, though, so that might be why it needed a TeX distribution in the past. –  Khaled Hosny Jul 1 '13 at 22:49
Nice edit, I searched for this just to add it :) But it seems that you already added it. –  Manuel Aug 3 '14 at 21:28
This Patoline thing looks promising, in case of active development. It can provide better error messages than TeX/LaTeX, due to types and safety checking. –  Anton Kochkov Aug 19 '14 at 13:16
The Patoline manual has not been available for about half a year (patoline.org/patobook.pdf), apparently because of a bug in Patoline, sadly. –  Benjamin McKay Jan 11 at 16:26

First, add XyVision to the list of proprietary batch composition competitors.

Here's a bit of commentary I wrote up a couple of years ago, which still applies. It's also on the ConTeXt wiki.



  • using Quark is like being chained to an oar which is covered w/ splinters and mostly broken at the other end and which will randomly break due to being poorly carved (Quark has crashed on me 183 times this year) leaving one adrift or run aground, or sometimes returning the vessel to its starting point (a few of those crashes have resulted in unrecoverable document corruption --- my autobackup folder may contain 2 or 3 GBs of files for a given iteration of a particular project each month) --- the oar can be smoothed somewhat and reinforced (by purchasing or finding XTensions, using XTags &c.) and periodically one is required to purchase a new oar (sometimes just after the previous one has been customized adequately). For some tasks, one can impress any graphic designer as a galley slave to ease the effort for others, but while charts are available, there are not automagic navigation options and every journey must be manually piloted.

  • using InDesign is pretty much the same except the oar is smoother and stronger (it's crashed 29 times on me thus far this year), there aren't as many customization options and it's not quite as easy to find a candidate for impressment (though soon it'll be as easy as for Quark). Charts are available, but again, piloting is strictly manual.

  • using Plain TeX one has to craft the vessel's oar oneself (as well as the rest of the vessel unless one is typesetting a clone of The TeXbook), but it's as sturdy and as nice a one as one's skills allow and can even be an engine which moves the vessel in and of itself --- it can be difficult or impossible to find people suitable to help w/ either carving the oar or using it though, but once a given journey is worked out, the oar becomes magical and rows for itself except for when one runs into an unplanned for obstacle (the navigation charts are old ones and not often up-dated, with a lot of ``terra incognita''), allowing one an auto-pilot option for certain journeys, dependent upon one's skill.

  • using ePlain, an oar is provided, can be customized, and can be enchanted and the charts are okay, but have a lot of ``terra incognita'' on them.

  • using LaTeX, an oar is provided and there're lots of nifty customizations and improvements already available, and one can impress additional oars from CTAN, however on a semi-random basis, adding one oar will break other oars, sometimes leaving one adrift or run aground. One can enchant a set of oars to accomplish a given journey, easing the piloting requirement, and the navigation charts are decent and obstacles are fairly well-known.

  • using ConTeXt, a very nice oar is provided, which has lots of customization options, but the navigational charts aren't easily read by a traditionally trained navigator at first, although they are fairly compleat and most journey can be carefully worked out, but once one is, it is quite automatic and there's a good auto-pilot option.

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your quotes around terra incognita give away your preference :P –  percusse Jun 28 '13 at 23:33

TeX and friends maybe still the best. There are some alternative and results are various. I do not really use any of them, but kind of know there existence.

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Another one: asciidoc –  qunying Jun 20 '13 at 23:34
there was also chi-writer. no longer around. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ChiWriter –  Nasser Jun 20 '13 at 23:44
Welcome to TeX.SX! You can have a look on our starter guide to familiarize yourself further with our format. –  Heiko Oberdiek Jun 20 '13 at 23:56
ANT is an impressive codebase, especially the support they have for OTF. Also, the embedded scripting languages is a huge win. Unfortunately it depends on archaic versions of libraries and the language, so it won’t build on current systems. The most recent post on their mailing list is from 2010 so I guess it could be considered unmaintained. –  phg Jun 21 '13 at 9:10
I'm really interested in whether Lout and Ant have ever been used. Can you give examples/sample output if there's any? (Apart from their respective user manuals, of course.) I'm also interested in their "stories", why they are unmaintained, what happened with the author, etc. –  marczellm Jun 22 '13 at 8:37

A new alternative is Patoline, which is still in an early development stage but the goal is to be a modern digital typesetting system.

As for the LaTeX compatibility one can describe the Patoline compiler as

Obviously, a related (but much smaller) project is the Patoline compiler, which compiles a mixed Wiki/LaTeX/Ocaml syntax into a variety of output formats, including traditional PDF files, but also web servers that deliver dynamic contents, synchronized for instance with a talk.

The documentation includes a PhD thesis and a description of the syntax which was produced using Patoline, and which looks to me as an amateur in typesetting pretty good:

enter image description here

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However, Patoline has many flaws that make it very hard to use at the moment. As well, it introduces some concepts that I don't quite like. I wonder if Xavier and his collaborators manage to make it as tweakable as TeX is, in the sense that any feature it has has to be tunable, and in particular, easy to disable. –  yo' Aug 19 '14 at 14:03
@tohecz: I have unfortunately not found the time to try it out myself. Still, I am hoping for an alternative to LaTeX which keeps the good features but replaces the 'programming language' with something more reasonable. LuaTeX is definitely a step in the right direction. –  Alexander Aug 20 '14 at 13:37
That's another point: OCaml doesn't look like a good choice... –  yo' Aug 20 '14 at 14:08
sorry I used the wrong name in the 1st comment, the main developer is of course Pierre-Etienne, not Xavier. –  yo' Aug 20 '14 at 14:13
The Patoline manual has not been available for about half a year (patoline.org/patobook.pdf), apparently because of a bug in Patoline, sadly –  Benjamin McKay Jan 11 at 16:27

While LaTeX is the markup language of choice in many scientific and scholarly circles (especially in the fields of mathematics, computer science, physics, and astronomy), some scholars are starting to write papers using new markup languages tailored for the web. Markdown is one of them. It is very versatile and it can be easily extended to satisfy the needs of scientific writing. The advantage of using Markdown (or similar) instead of LaTeX is that we are writing on the web more than ever. Thus, it makes sense to use a web native typesetting format. For those who would like to use both Markdown and Latex on the web, Authorea (full disclosure, I am a co-founder) is an online social authoring platform that allows articles to be edited in both formats simultaneously. Authorea also renders and compiles LaTeX and MathML equations to the web, in addition to PDF.

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LaTeX is not only markup but also typesetting. And welcome to TeX.sx! –  Qrrbrbirlbel Jun 25 '13 at 22:56
Welcome to TeX.sx! That platform looks quite intriguing, indeed. Do you have any relationship to the company that runs it (apart from being a user)? –  Jake Jun 26 '13 at 1:31
hi Jake- yes I am the co-founder of Authorea (and a user, since I still write papers in Astronomy + Information Science). We have a couple of thousand users and the vast majority of them writes in LaTeX. –  Alberto Pepe Jun 26 '13 at 15:44
@user32799: Thanks for the reply. When posting an answer promoting a product you're affiliated with, that affiliation should be disclosed (see tex.stackexchange.com/help/behavior). Could you edit your post to include that information? –  Jake Jun 28 '13 at 20:50
hi Jake- I just updated my .sx profile information with my affiliation. Thanks! –  Alberto Pepe Jun 29 '13 at 21:02

As long as you don't need mathematical typesetting, you actually can find better than TeX with Heirloom Documentation Tools. Not only does it provide Knuth's algorithm for formatting paragraphs; it also allows to compute spacing by mixing three systems (interletters spacing, interwords spacing, imperceptible change in the shapes of the glyphs). Thus you can work with constant space between words! Selecting a font among various kinds of fonts is much easier and quicker than with TeX. I have been using it for years while my colleagues use LaTeX; they wouldn't have the idea to only think their documents can be on a par with mine. If you are interested in typography, then Heirloom version of troff is definitely the way to do.

edit: Since I first wrote this answer, it looks like new pieces of software have appeared. I just heard about utroff which seems to come from Heirloom troff; I will very certainly have a look at it and probably use it now because Heirloom troff doesn't seem to be actively maintained and may be difficult to compile.

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Scientific Word can be another alternative software for scientists: http://www.mackichan.com/index.html?products/sw.html~mainFrame

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Scientific Word comprises a TeX distribution along with a quasi-WYSIWYG front end. The code it generates is (mostly) LaTeX. I'm thus doubtful that Scientific Word can be considered a alternative to LaTeX. Separately, the software hasn't seen an upgrade in years and years. The current version, numbered 5.5, has been around since at least 2007 (and probably even longer). A software package that's been around essentially unchanged for more than seven years is functionally obsolete, I'm afraid. –  Mico Jan 11 at 17:22

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