I noticed that there are a lot of "beginner" resources for LaTeX, lots of novice friendly tutorials etc.

Are there similar resources available for Plain TeX that are geared towards beginners?

Please note, prior to answering, that this question only relates to "Plain TeX".

To the best of my research, all of the TeX.SE existing answers setting out beginner resources deal only with "LaTeX".

The answer: what-are-good-learning-resources-for-a-latex-beginner is great for people who want to learn LaTeX. It does not however address those people (including me) who want to get started on learning Plain TeX.

The answers given so far are well thought out "Plain TeX" beginner resources.

Related: Transition from latex to plain tex

Related: Plain TeX online documentation references

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    Some suggestions can be found in a related question.
    – Dɑvïd
    Commented Mar 19, 2016 at 19:17
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    I would appreciate if the person who voted to close as a duplicate would comment as to the rationale behind their vote.
    – A Feldman
    Commented Mar 22, 2016 at 1:19
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    (non-computer) genius or non-(computer genius)?
    – percusse
    Commented Mar 23, 2016 at 20:05
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    "all of the TeX.SE existing answers deal only with LaTeX" May be not pointing to beginner tutorials, but many answer here are plain TeX solutions or explain with examples TeX primitives.
    – Fran
    Commented Mar 24, 2016 at 11:21
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    I get the sense that some of the elaborations on the statement of your question are either comments on answers or answers themselves. Do you mind putting them in their proper place, for the format of this website?
    – jarnosz
    Commented Apr 4, 2016 at 15:50

5 Answers 5


Grab a copy of TeX for the Beginner, by Wynter Snow. It teaches basics of Plain TeX programming and has notes for LaTeX users explaining key differences and how to implement similar features. Additionally, browsing through the Plain TeX contributions directory of CTAN may give you some useful code to learn from.

  • just bought myself a copy. It is not available in electronic form, so I'll take a look at it in a couple of days. I'm excited to see what it offers!
    – A Feldman
    Commented Mar 19, 2016 at 19:47
  • Great book, have started to read it.
    – A Feldman
    Commented Mar 23, 2016 at 2:48

another good possibility is "a gentle introduction to tex" by michael doob. available from ctan: http://www.ctan.org/pkg/gentle (and included in tex live: texdoc gentle).

there are a few others listed on the ams web page http://www.ams.org/tex/tex-pub under "plain tex -- beginner to intermediate". links are given where available. unlike some other books listed on that page, the publishers have kept most of the "beginner" selections in print, paper only, at rather high prices. (when victor eijkhout's "tex by topic" went out of print, he negotiated with the publisher to revert the rights to himself, and released it for free access. too bad that's apparently not possible for these.)

  • I agree with you, but the neat thing about Snow's book is that it teaches newbies to effectively write plain macros dos specific tasks. I wish there was an electronic version of that.
    – jarnosz
    Commented Mar 19, 2016 at 20:49
  • @erreka -- added a link to some other possibilities, as well as a comment regarding electronic availability. agreed -- that would be really appealing. Commented Mar 19, 2016 at 21:08
  • For those who may lack access to all these items in their local libraries, I may add that Clark's book seems a rather expanded version of Doob's; and Borde's books seem expanded versions of Impatient's chapter 3. So imho Gentle and Impatient are indeed the two best free resources for beginners. TeX by Topic is the natural next step.
    – jarnosz
    Commented Mar 19, 2016 at 21:57
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    @erreka -- i must admit to a partiality for the book by levy & seroul; the original (in french, and excellent) was one of the first written for actual users, and the english rendition is equally understandable. Commented Mar 19, 2016 at 22:01
  • I remember browsing through Levy&Seroul, but somehow it didn't have any impact on me. Maybe I was searching for something like Snow, so it didn't stick out, naturally. Maybe I'll have to have a second look.
    – jarnosz
    Commented Mar 20, 2016 at 0:42

The secretary for my research group learned TeX from The TeXbook. So did I and everyone else in the research group (students, postdocs, profs, and secretaries) up until the last 5 or 10 years. In those recent years, I don't think I have met a single person who wanted to learn TeX, so I don't know much about recent books.

Maybe some of the recent books are wonderful, and probably the advice given previously is excellent. But I know a lot of people who learned from Knuth's book, and I've noticed that anyone who spends the hour it takes to "get into the groove" of the book tends to find it very clear and surprisingly engaging. Therefore, I recommend this classic without reservation.

The TeXbook by Donald E. Knuth (Reading, Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley, 1984), x+483pp. ISBN 0-201-13448-9

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    Perhaps you should add the proviso: as long as the reader doesn't get into any dangerous bend section.
    – jarnosz
    Commented Mar 23, 2016 at 1:39

TeX for the Impatient has been a real help to me.

I have also found Making TeX Work, although out of print has been kindly made available on the internet.

The University of Cambridge publishes a very understandable online publication, Intro to TeX which is part of the Cambridge curriculum, but is nonetheless made available to the public.

TeX Primitive Control Sequences which is the HTML version of the TeX Reference Manual by David Bausum, is full of really nice, instructive, and understandable explanations, plus simple examples, for the use of each TeX primitive.

And a handy TeX Reference Card, provided by Elevator Lady Inc., maker of Aurora is also useful!

  • Some of your links are broken (or don't exist anymore). Please, could you update them? Thank you!
    – CarLaTeX
    Commented Apr 28, 2017 at 7:37

Maybe, it is of topic because the language (Czech) used in the cited sources is somewhat impractical for most of you, but (for sake of complexity) I add the following links:

  • 20 pages "První setkání s TeXem" (first meeting with TeX). See here. The text gives comparison between plain TeX and LaTeX and reader can decide what is best for him/her.

  • 140 pages "TeX pro pragmatiky" (TeX for pragmatic) is available here.

  • 460 pages "TeXbook naruby" (TeXbook inside out) is intended for advanced users and it is available here.

All these sources are written by Petr Olšák. Three points above are three steps for readers to grow to "Master of TeX".

There is a short summary (27 pages) of TeX principles in English in TeX in a Nutshell. It includes the features of TeX extensions (pdfTeX, LuaTeX) too.


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