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What are the actual differences between the two? I am new to LaTeX and I need to create a custom "look & feel" -- should I be looking into making a class or a style?

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Are you really required to make a custom look and feel? There are many, many different ready-made solutions to choose from. If your customisations are really just a different typeface or margin requirements etc. it's better to choose a standard class and use a few packages and commands to tweak things. –  qubyte Nov 20 '11 at 5:06
    
I need some pretty specific details. I'm going to start looking for pre-made ones, but I would still like to know the difference between the two. –  maxmackie Nov 20 '11 at 5:07
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You should use an existing class and start a .sty file with your customization of it. Pretty much everything can be customized starting with a class like article, or book. –  Peter Grill Nov 20 '11 at 5:20
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2 Answers 2

up vote 8 down vote accepted

To answer your question directly: imho, you should start by seeing if you can tweak one of the ready-made documentclass, and if you really can't get it to look the way you want (which is really quite unlikely), then consider making your own (but I don't think anyone would recommend this until you've experimented extensively with the choices described below).

Some basic documentclass examples:

  • article is one of the most simple, and will allow the highest section level as section
  • report and book are the next ones up from article and will make the highest section level as chapter

In each of these classes, you will likely use packages to help you tweak the appearance such as

  • geometry to get your page dimensions setup
  • fancyhdr to get your headers and footers
  • enumitem to customize your enumerations
  • titlesec to customize your section/chapter headings

The tufte-book class has some particularly aesthetically pleasing settings by default.

Once you are familiar with these classes, you can move on to some of the more intricate classes such as memoir, koma-script, etc. I describe these as intricate because some of the packages that work with the 'basic' classes do not work with these (they have their own way of doing the same thing).

Once you've produced a few simple documents and you want to put some 'bling' into them, you could start by reading the following post, and the answers within:

How to add some visual style and pizzazz to course notes?

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In modern LaTeX a class is one of the major formats for documents. It is invoked using \documentclass. Style files sit on top of these, and are invoked using \usepackage. If you absolutely have to make something, then make an example document using a standard class first, then use some newpackages, newcommands and other tweaks to get it looking how you like, and then bundle those bits of your preamble into a style file. Do not start making a style file straight away. This will only lead to frustration.

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