Are there any ways of generating SVG files from LaTeX math formulae, that are not built from outlined glyphs? I.e., I want the SVG file to contain the math glyphs within <text> tags, not <path> tags.


MathJax has long been the only decent way of displaying math on a web page. But it may be terribly slow to load a page full of math when using MathJax. Recently, the project KaTeX has emerged, which provides a much faster rendering method, with somewhat less extensive coverage of LaTeX commands than MathJax. But I wonder why no-one seem to have thought of the obvious SVG solution to math typesetting on the web. SVG text embedded in <text> tags have a fixed position, are scalable and searchable, and can be specified with any set of fonts.

Therefore, the easiest solution to math typesetting on the web would appear to be a direct pdf/dvi/xdv --> svg conversion. This way, one could even take advantage of OpenType math fonts through XeTeX/LuaTeX.

Existing tools

  1. Inkscape. However, simple pdf's generated from pdfLaTeX, XeLaTeX, LuaLaTeX come out as partially garbage when imported to Inkscape, unless imported via poppler as outlined paths.
  2. pstoedit. This tool has a pdf-to-svg plugin, but again, it only gives outlined glyphs.
  3. MathJax. Yes, MathJax can output SVG, but only as outlined glyphs.
  4. dvisvgm. Best solution I've found so far. It gives formulas as <text> tags, but some of the characters come out wrong.

Brute force solution

I might try and implement a solution myself, if I only knew the specifics of the dvi format. However, I might end up with re-implementing dvisvgm, only to discover that my program fails in the same way as dvisvgm and Inkscape fails - for the same (yet unknown) reason.


After fiddling around with the dvisvgm tool, I got close to a solution. Sample XeTeX document:

\setmathfont{XITS Math}

Expected output (PDF): PDF output

After running the .xdv file through dvisvgm, and doing some minor manual edits, I obtain the svg file

<?xml version='1.0'?>
<!-- This file was generated by dvisvgm 1.13 -->
<svg height='22.5026pt' version='1.1' viewBox='-72 -70.0443 176.006 22.5026' width='176.006pt' xmlns='http://www.w3.org/2000/svg' xmlns:xlink='http://www.w3.org/1999/xlink'>
<style type='text/css'>
text.f0 {font-family:"XITS";font-size:9.96264px}
text.f1 {font-family:"XITS Math";font-size:9.96264px}
text.f2 {font-family:"XITS Math";font-size:9.96264px}
text.f3 {font-family:"XITS";font-weight:bold;font-size:9.96264px}
text.f4 {font-family:"XITS Math";font-size:9.96264px}
text.f5 {font-family:"XITS Math";font-size:7.44319px}
<g id='page1'>
<text class='f0' x='-72' y='-58.2067'>aA</text>
<text class='f1' x='-60.3836' y='-58.2067'>π‘Ž<tspan x='-55.3823'>𝐴</tspan>
<text class='f2' x='-48.2391' y='-58.2067'>a<tspan x='-43.8157'>A</tspan>
<text class='f3' x='-36.6227' y='-58.2067'>a<tspan x='-31.6413'>A</tspan>
<text class='f1' x='-24.4483' y='-58.2067'>𝒂<tspan x='-18.66'>𝑨</tspan>
<tspan x='-11.0984'>𝛼</tspan>
<text class='f4' x='-5.47945' y='-58.2067'>𝜢</text>
<text class='f1' x='1.13574' y='-58.2067'>∞<tspan x='10.3611'>β„“</tspan>
<text class='f5' x='16.1295' y='-62.1918'>π‘Ž<tspan x='19.866'>𝛼</tspan>
<tspan x='24.0639'>∞</tspan>
<text class='f1' x='33.1149' y='-58.1868'>∫<tspan x='41.6694' y='-58.1868'>βˆ‘</tspan>
<tspan x='52.4357' y='-52.0747'>πž»—</tspan>
<tspan x='65.4037' y='-52.9863'>πžΌ‰</tspan>
<tspan x='79.9358' y='-58.2067'>π’œ</tspan>
<tspan x='88.8025'>𝔸</tspan>
<tspan x='96.1849'>𝔄</tspan>

SVG output, rendered by Chrome: SVG output

This is indeed very good! One thing is missing: The large operators. Seemingly, these are encoded into an unused area of unicode. Does this mean that XeTeX is actually creating specific glyphs for the big operators and bundling them with the xdv/pdf? Is there any way of relating the big operators to the glyphs in the font file instead?

  • Could you add a small TeX/LaTeX file that leads to wrong characters in the SVG file when the corresponding DVI is processed with dvisvgm? This might happen if the font file doesn't contain proper information about the semantics of the characters. In these cases it's not possible to precisely map the DVI character codes to Unicode. Nonetheless, the rendered SVG should still look correct.
    – Martin
    Dec 10, 2015 at 9:33
  • @Martin See my update. Seems like there is only the big operators that causes problems if I use XeTeX.
    – akvilas
    Dec 10, 2015 at 12:52
  • Right, the problem is that a font might contain characters or character variants that are not covered by Unicode. For example, there's no Unicode point for big sum signs. Thus, dvisvgm assigns the glyph outline to a PUA character here. In the XDV file all characters are referenced by the native character codes/indexes of a font. Generally, only a subset of them can directly be mapped to Unicode, i.e. all other characters of the font are usually not accessible via a Unicode point.
    – Martin
    Dec 10, 2015 at 13:23
  • I understand. Are you the author of dvisvgm by the way? In that case, nice work :-) Is the mapping from .xdv characters to unicode PUA consistent? I.e., can I count on the value 0x07BB to always be a big integral? And have you any idea of how I can access the big integral sign in XITS Math using SVG?
    – akvilas
    Dec 10, 2015 at 13:43
  • Yes, I'm the author of dvisvgm, and thanks. :-) Unfortunately, it's not possible to guarantee that characters without Unicode equivalents are always mapped to the same PUA code because the font file usually doesn't provide information on the semantics of the characters. In these cases, dvisvgm simply doesn't know whether a glyph is an integral sign or something else. If the XITS fonts don't provide Unicode mappings for the integral sign, it's not possible to access it in SVG. Maybe you can use a font utility to check whether the big integral sign is assigned to a Unicode point.
    – Martin
    Dec 10, 2015 at 14:21

1 Answer 1


I take it upon myself to answer this question, based on Martin's comments and my own research.

Yes, the conversion from .dvi to non-outlined .svg is feasible. The best tool for the job is dvisvgm by Martin Gieseking, but it works best with XeTeX. Running the XeTeX-generated .xdv file through dvisvgm, one obtains an .svg file with embedded fonts. By deleting the preamble specifying the embedded font, and properly renaming the fonts within the .svg file, one obtains the desired result.

Except for one thing: XeTeX utilizes some glyphs which are not mapped to unicode characters directly. Specifically, this applies to big operators, which have different glyphs for \displaystyle and \textstyle. The \displaystyle glyphs are "hidden" within the font. In theory, it is possible to access these glyphs from SVG using, e.g., the <glyphRef> tag. But almost no major browsers support this feature.

The simplest and safest solution to this problem seems to be to edit the font file, and give an explicit unicode mapping to the display style glyphs. This way, the .svg file given by dvisvgm can be used with the modified font to display math equations on the web.

Sample python script for mapping unencoded glyphs to the PUA area starting with 0xF0000, using the FontTools/TTX library:

fontFile = "C:\\Windows\\Fonts\\xits-math.otf"
outFile = "C:\\Windows\\Fonts\\xits-mod-math.otf"
font = ttLib.TTFont(fontFile,

font['cmap']; #Load the cmap table into font.tables
all_glyphs = font.getGlyphOrder()
for i, subtable in enumerate(font.tables['cmap'].tables):
    if subtable.format == 12:
        encoded_glyphs = subtable.cmap.values()
        unencoded_glyphs = [g for g in all_glyphs if g not in encoded_glyphs]
        charcodes = range(0xF0000, 0xF0000 + len(unencoded_glyphs))
        new_cmap = dict(zip(charcodes, unencoded_glyphs))

font.save(outFile, False, False)

Beware that the script overwrites possible existing mappings in the PUA area. A more complicated script can take care of this as well. And only mappings in cmap format 12 are added, it would probably make sense to add mappings to format 10 and 8 as well, if they are present in the font.

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