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I am fed up with the poor quality of the pictures in the papers written by my graduate students and am trying to convince them to use TikZ. I know of three ways to begin learning TikZ:

  • The TikZ & PGF manual, but there is no way to convince them to read it — it is just too long.
  • TikZ pour l'impatient. At 189 pages, it is still above their threshold for manuals, and it is in French, which most of them do not read comfortably.
  • A very minimal introduction to Tikz (24 pages, including examples), which I wrote hoping it would be short and direct enough? It is aimed at economists and tries to present the smallest possible number of techniques one would need to be functional.

This leads me to three questions:

  • Are there other resources of which I am not aware?
  • Can you see any forgotten indispensable features of TikZ in my document?
  • What are the best ways to make manuals and guides visible to people for whom they would be useful?
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As currently phrased, this doesn't quite fit the "question and answer" format of this site. May I suggest rephrasing it? You could ask for a list of resources for learning TikZ and then add a link to your document as an answer - then that would give others an opportunity to add other resources. Also (thinking along the lines of Will's answer) you could (separately) ask how one makes useful guides about TeX-related stuff known to the wider community. –  Loop Space Jan 17 '11 at 8:06
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Good tutorial for me. :-) –  xport Jan 17 '11 at 8:14
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Thank you Andrew. I hope the rewrite fits the style of the site better. I thought that putting inside the question the guides I knew about was less artificial that answering my own question. –  Jacques Cremer Jan 17 '11 at 8:58
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@Jacques: Yes, that's better. We usually make this type of question "community wiki" with the intention of having a single answer that collects all the possible resources (which is better organised than a host of disparate answers). If there's no objection, I'll do this for this question. –  Loop Space Jan 17 '11 at 9:05
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@Jacques: Now it's three questions! I'd like to suggest that this one be kept for the first: gathering resources (and tips, so Ryan's answer would be fine) for learning TikZ. Then ask your second as: "What features of TikZ/PGF would people consider as something that beginners should know about?" - mention your document by all means, but don't make it so that someone has to read it to answer the question. Thirdly: how to disseminate quality information. The first two should be "community wiki" because they are geared towards assembling a list of resources (ctd) –  Loop Space Jan 17 '11 at 13:26

6 Answers 6

User Guides

  • The TikZ/pgf manual (texdoc pgfmanual) or on CTAN. Comprehensive, filled with good advice on making graphics, but rather long. The first sections are written as a tutorial and the rest of it as a reference.
  • "TikZ pour l'impatient" is 189 pages and in French.
  • "A very minimal introduction to Tikz" (24 pages, including examples), aimed at economists and tries to present the smallest possible number of techniques one would need to be functional.
  • For algebraists, “Commutative Diagrams using TikZ” by Felix Lenders is a useful introduction to the parts of TikZ most used in modern algebra texts.
  • Chapter 5 of van Dongens "LaTeX and Friends" (direct link to PDF) is a ~40 page introduction to TikZ.
  • "L'Arte di disegnare con LaTeX" is 55 pages and in Italian.

Example Sites

  • TeXample: examples of TikZ/pgf pictures demonstrating most (if not all!) of the features of TikZ/pgf.

  • This very site: not so organized, but by definition anything it says is the answer to a question that people have actually had while using TikZ. The answers are quite thoughtful and often nuanced. Usually they provide working code samples.

(Community Wiki: add other resources to the lists in this answer; if you haven't enough reputation to do that, add as a comment or an answer and I'll merge them in.)

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The 'resources' (texample.net/tikz/resources) from TeXample place are also very useful. There you will find a 'Tikz minicourse' (automatica.dei.unipd.it/people/varagnolo/tikz.html) and a video with a Tikz tutorial (river-valley.tv/…) –  Ignasi Jan 17 '11 at 17:40
    
@Andrew ... Unfortunately the van Dongen book mentioned above is not available at present (though it is shown on Amazon.co.uk as a future print publication) –  mas Aug 21 '11 at 13:19
    
One may still find part of the book at csweb.ucc.ie/~dongen/LAF/LAF.pdf –  ilakast Jul 11 '12 at 23:28
    
I thought texdoc was originally intended to be used with the package name? Not that there is anything wrong with texdoc pgfmanual, just that it otherwise makes more sense imho. –  henry Oct 12 at 15:04

I recently made the "switch" to TikZ (from xy), and the experience reminded me of the first time I used LaTeX itself.

  • First, I refused to do it until I had a pressing need to convert (or produce) some specific pictures. Perhaps not surprisingly, the demands of a "live" application motivate a huge variety of seemingly advanced methods and teach you a lot more than doing toy examples. It is also way more motivational.

  • Second, I relied largely on the tutorials in the TikZ manual. That section is not long: in version 2.10 (which has a new tutorial), it is only 62 pages, and broken into five roughly equal parts each focusing on different methods. They are cumulative, but the manual is well-hyperlinked.

  • Third, I spent several days, where the first day was basically getting just one picture to work. I went back to the manual every few minutes and pushed myself to make the code "right" even if I had found working but ugly code earlier. As I figured things out I applied them retroactively to previous pictures and, in the process, developed a good sense for what works when/where. I also built up a "style file" of TikZ styles (many defined by myself) and libraries which I always used.

  • Fourth, I used this site a lot! If you want to know the sorts of things I wanted to do but couldn't find in the manual, have a look at my questions here (go chronologically or, roughly, in decreasing order of upvotes as they became ever more esoteric). By now there is a good chance that a given basic question has already been answered, which will save your students even more time. If not, well, they should ask here, which is a valuable skill in itself.

There's no royal road and all that, but it sounds like your students are in the perfect position in their TeXing to take this particular leap. If you're willing to devote some of your own time, I can say (from my experience as a grad student, not necessarily in learning TikZ) that it would be a huge help to critique their code and their results for a little while. The right way to do things is often the easiest in the long run anyway.

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Note: some of that answers the question, some of it (strictly speaking) does not. I am not adding this to Andrew's CW answer since I think it fits the "answer" portion of the Q&A format and has a different aim than his. –  Ryan Reich Jan 17 '11 at 12:55

This TUGBoat article helped me get started http://www.tug.org/TUGboat/tb30-2/tb95mertz.pdf.

Also there are useful packages by Alain Matthes at "altermundus.fr" in french and current, or "altermundus.com" in English but not always up-to-date, that make specific tasks more accessible. Some of these packages are being updated and should be on CTAN in a few days. (Sorry, I don't have enough points to post more than one link.)

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While writing my thesis, I converted many figures to TikZ. I didn't have to learn much; I just used the excellent tools matlab2tikz and inkscape2tikz. That was all I needed to create very nice graphics.

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Your documents seems to be reasonably complete (sorry, I only found time to very quickly flip through it). I don't really know what economists need. Maybe some additional information about nodes (to draw flow diagrams) or trees could be helpful. Also you could add some pointers where additional info on a topic can be found in the TikZ manual (e.g. as margin notes).

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We recently wrote a combined WYSIWYG/text Tikz editor that allows for some WYSIWYG editing, via an "overlay" displayed over the pdf preview. I think it is helpful for beginners. (Simple pictures and modifications can be done w/o knowledge of Tikz to begin with, while for more involved things you have to learn the language.) http://code.google.com/p/tikzedt/

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