I am aware that best practice questions are not always appreciated since there there's not "one size that fits all".

I am going to give a LaTeX introduction for phd students at my company. All of them are engineers.

The (German) slides I use were created in 2011 (not important for the question though). There is also a handout (same content but different formatting).

For mathematical stuff I recommend to use the well known amsmath package (link) and recommend not to use the standard math support of LaTeX.

I often look through the posts here in order to keep me updated about new developments and sometimes when a question is easy I try to help.

1. Question

For the new LaTeX introduction I thought that I should mention at least the mathtools package (link).

Do you think that it is Ok to recommend the mathtools package instead of amsmath package. The mathtools package calls the amsmath package and improves it as far as I understand.

2. Question

What about the empheq package (link)? Should I generally recommend this package? I don't understand if it's automatically loaded if one uses the mathtools package (it says The em­pheq pack­age is part of the math­tools bun­dle.).

3. Question

Is the fixmath package (link) still needed? Can I achieve the ISO conform formatting also with the mathtools mathtools package?

4. Question

In order to have less trouble with available symbols and so on I would recommend to use the Computer Modern font. Are there other fonts which can be safely be used without running in too much trouble with the availability of symbols and font features like small caps and so on.

5. Question

Do you have any further recommendations about good practice or "now you should use this and not that" regarding mathematical stuff?

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    mathtools can safely be considered an alternative to amsmath, as long as you explain that mathtools automatically loads amsmath so all those facilities are there; give pointers to the documentation, which is separate for the two packages. using the computer modern fonts is, of course, safe, but more alphabets and symbols may be needed; amssymb (which loads amsfonts) adds fraktur and blackboard bold as well as other symbols compatible with cm. don't have enough experience with other packages mentioned to have an opinion. – barbara beeton Jan 31 '16 at 20:21
  • @barbarabeeton Thanks for your opinion. I will mention the amssymb as well now. And I think it is really important to mention that mathtools builds on amsmath - thanks for the hint. – Dr. Manuel Kuehner Jan 31 '16 at 20:38
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    And don't use \\ in the text ( number 0 item on my list of user errors). Most people will need lists, how about mentioning enumitem. – daleif Jan 31 '16 at 20:57
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    If they are new to LaTeX, don't tell them what not to do, but what to do. (They'll remember \\ can break a line. They'll less likely remember not to do it.) If they have used it a bit, telling them what not to do is more useful. Latin Modern is a good alternative to Computer Modern. – cfr Jan 31 '16 at 22:59
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    Please I'm begging you to drop that ISO standard on notation nonsense. Do whatever you please but forget about that ridiculousness. It's out of ISO jurisdiction and clearly, the authors are pretty tasteless in typography too. – percusse Feb 1 '16 at 1:50

multi-question questions don't really fit the site format but..

Do you think that it is Ok to recommend the mathtools package instead of amsmath package. The mathtools package calls the amsmath package and improves it as far as I understand.


What about the empheq package

It's OK but more of a "contrib" package than mathtools which aims to be a core extension of amsmath. That is if you want that feature it's a perfectly good package to get it, but otherwise no need to mention it.

Is the fixmath package (link) still needed? Can I achieve the ISO conform formatting also with the mathtools mathtools package?

It was never needed, but if you want that style then again it works. Note it is a mistake to think of "ISO conformant mathematics" That isn't how ISO works. IS0 31 is just one possible style guide that was standard for use by one community (in physics mostly) it certainly is almost never followed in mathematics.

Are there other fonts which can be safely be used without running in too much trouble with the availability of symbols and font features

These days you can normally assume people are using a packaged distribution such as texlive or miktex so any font set that is in there will be available or easily installed via package update, which means that there are more choices than in previous eras.

Do you have any further recommendations about good practice

Read a manual before starting, don't use blank lines before a displayed equation, make sure the mathematics is correct not just typeset well:-)

  • Thanks for the answer - I will surely incorporate this in the LaTeX introduction. Maybe there is a misunderstanding regarding my 4th questions (about the fonts). I thought that not every font (package) offers the same font features (random example: sans serif + bold + small caps) and symbols. I didn't mean if they are easy or hard to install. – Dr. Manuel Kuehner Jan 31 '16 at 20:40
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    @Dr.ManuelKuehner yes even compuer modern lacks some that people expect eg bold small caps but if you like the look of one set (say, tex gyre fonts) and you test them in one place then it is safe to recommend them as it's easy for anyone reading your guide to use them. Oh by the way you should also decide if you are just describing pdflatex or also lualatex and xelatex (where the font choices, and other things, are different) – David Carlisle Jan 31 '16 at 20:52
  • Thanks for the quick reply and tips. About lualatex and xelatex: I will use pdflatex for the whole course but I will mention lualatex as "the future". Since I did never use xelatex and since I don't understand the concept (Why is it there? What are the differences to normal LaTeX? Is only one person maintaining it?!) I won't mention it (maybe "there is also..."). – Dr. Manuel Kuehner Jan 31 '16 at 21:04
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    @Dr.ManuelKuehner 2 people currently (and many more testers/users;-) it was the original tex extension to use system fonts (and it is still widely used by anyone requiring scripts with complicated font shaping requirements, for which it has more advanced support than luatex at the present time) – David Carlisle Jan 31 '16 at 21:08

To answer your question 4 about fonts, you can get a good list of Type 1 math fonts usable by PDFLaTeX, with samples, at the LaTeX Font Catalogue. I personally like


This gives you an attractive Palatino clone with excellent coverage. You can combine it with other math symbol packages, such as amssymb, boondox and mathabx. The most comprehensive set of symbols PDFTeX will support, with its limited number and size of math alphabets, is in the stix package, which is based on Times Roman. Another good choice is fourier with Utopia.

In XeLaTeX and LuaLaTex, the unicode-math package supports any OpenType math font: Asana Math, XITS Math, TeX Gyre Pagella Math, Latin Modern Math, Cambria Math, etc. Any Unicode math font will have better coverage than any combination of traditional LaTeX packages. Asana Math is a great replacement for mathpazo. XITS Math is based on Times Roman, and Latin Modern Math is based on the default Computer Modern and the classic glyphs. I personally like how Asana Math and Palatino look, but XITS Math has the most symbols and Latin Modern Math looks the most like classic LaTeX. Several of the TeX Gyre fonts support math: you can compare Pagella to Asana and Termes to XITS. Cambria Math is what Microsoft’s equation editor uses, but for once, they followed a standard and made something that works in other programs; I mention it for the sake of completeness.

I recommend using the unicode-math package for new work, or a font package that loads it: it’s a lot more powerful and flexible than traditional LaTeX, and all new fonts these days are released as OpenType Unicode fonts. Linux Libertine has even removed its support for Type 1. Among other features, unicode-math defines all the commonly-used symbols, including the ones from textcomp, amssymb and tipa. It completely removes the limit on how many glyphs you can support and the need to split them between different math alphabets. It allows you to copy symbols from your PDF and paste them in other applications. It lets you put Unicode symbols directly into your source file. It makes it very easy for you to use any glyph or range of them from any font you want. For example, you could tell it to use your favorite Fraktur font for \mathfrac or your favorite script fonts for \mathscr and \mathcal. And I like to tell it to use the ▮ tombstone symbol from XITS Math at the end of a proof, following the usage of (some of the time) both Paul Halmos, who introduced it, and Donald E. Knuth. But it works well if you just load it without any of that extra setup and is backwards-compatible.

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    I've never seen a good use of \mathscr anywhere other than some math papers that were already difficult to read. – percusse Feb 1 '16 at 2:28
  • @percusse You have to do some extra work to load \mathscr and \mathcal separately anyway. if you must, the rsfso package has one of the better ones, with a less extreme slant, and \mathalfa allows you to scale it. And unicode-math lets you load any script font or any math font’s script letters, auto-scaled to the same height as your main font. – Davislor Feb 1 '16 at 2:36
  • I meant scripted fonts are ugly as math notation. – percusse Feb 1 '16 at 2:38
  • @percusse You aren’t objectively wrong. – Davislor Feb 1 '16 at 2:39

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