LaTeX, ConTeXt and plain are the most well known TeX formats/macro packages. But there are others, such as Lollipop. What others are out there and are any in use these days anymore?

  • What form would be best for answers? One format per answer, excluding the 'big three', perhaps?
    – Joseph Wright
    Dec 20, 2011 at 11:45
  • 6
    in the "olden days", when it took really long to load in macros, basically any macro file could be loaded into initex along with plain.tex to make a custom format. hardly worthwhile these days; heck, it's not even worthwhile to run amstex with its own format -- just \input amstex at the top of the file and process with tex instead of latex. Dec 20, 2011 at 19:02
  • It's hard to take a "correct" answer, I just pick one by random.
    – topskip
    Dec 21, 2011 at 13:37
  • Formats available via CTAN: ctan.org/topic/format
    – Adobe
    Feb 18, 2022 at 12:34

8 Answers 8


Less known formats

A search in the TeX Live 2009 tree reveals:

  1. phyzzx (by Alan Spragens at SLAC)
  2. psizzl (by Arthur Ogawa)
  3. StarTeX (by Dag Langmyhr of Oslo University)
  4. TeXsis (by Eric Myers and Frank E. Paige)

Arthur Ogawa is well known for his work on TeX and LaTeX: he is the current maintainer of the RevTeX class, for example. Formats 1, 2 and 4 were directed to physicists, only TeXsis was, as far as I know, rather extensively used.

StarTeX had a quite interesting approach, as its syntax is HTML-like:

<title> <startex><-->A <tex> for beginners </title> 
<author> Dag Langmyhr<p> Department of Informatics<p> 
University of Oslo<p> <tt>[email protected]</tt> 
<info> <today> </info> 
<h1>The notation used by <Startex></h1> 
The notation used in <startex> resembles HTML and some of the commands 
are the same, but the philosophy of the two is different. HTML was 
designed to display hypertext information on a computer screen, while 
<startex> is used to produce a student report on paper. 


In the olden days, AMS-TeX; it was written by Michael Spivak for the AMS and featured the alignment environments for multiple equations we are familiar with:

\align ... \endalign
\gather ... \endgather
\split ... \endsplit

No *-version, as AMS-TeX didn't do any automatic numbering. It provided \tag to which one could hook in order to provide automatisms.

There was also

\proclaim ... \endproclaim

to produce theorem statements; it was easily configurable for accommodating numbers. Also \proof...\endproof.

It had interfaces for the AMS symbol fonts and featured also \topsmash and \botsmash (which became \smash[t]{...} and \smash[b]{...} in AMS-LaTeX).

It provided also a "preprint" style, amsppt.sty that was the "generic" format for submissions to the AMS journals. Other in-house styles could be applied to the manuscript.

It had also a nice way to cope with simple bibliographies and a primitive way to build (rectangular) commutative diagrams.

The nicest feature was the manual: "The Joy of TeX", whose structure is strictly modelled on the famous "The Joy of Sex", with the same chapter titles. :)


Spivak also wrote a package on top of AMS-TeX, LAMS-TeX, that he sold. The "L" recalled "LaTeX": the format featured automatic numbering, cross-references, bibliographies with BibTeX and also an environment for pictures, particularly for commutative diagrams with diagonal arrows.

This package never really caught on, mainly because it was commercial. The macros are now in the public domain, but not the manual, and so they are unusable.



In the early nineties Yannis Haralambous worked on a package to support writing in complex scripts. It was commercialized and perhaps for that reason not much known other than through talks given by Yannis. Eventually the numerous problems to support such scripts lead to the development of the Omega processor. You can find traces of this system still on the web, for example an article in Cahiers Gutenberg or an annoucement of its availibility and price.

A summary of its functionality is:

ScholarTeX is a collection of fonts, macros, preprocessor, hyphenation patterns, other related software and a 150-pages manual with many illustrations, exemples, exercises and mottos. It's purpose is to allow the use of TeX in the following alphabets: Greek, Armenian, Arabic, Hebrew, and many further scripts.

I'm fairly sure that it was based on top of plain TeX in those days, but not having used it myself this is just a guess.



Again a commercial format written in the late eighties by Amy Hendrickson. I have a manual but not the sources. From the samples in there it is an early approach to structured documents (covering lists, tables, indexes, figures, etc). Formatting directives and style of commmand syntax is more in plainTeX style (similar to the amsTeX family of commands) but structurally going in the direction of LaTeX. I believe it became free at some point, but I couldn't find any trace on the web. Anyway, I think Amy abandoned it for LaTeX :-) given her resume.



Technically not a format rather a macro package built on top of plain.tex. It provides cross-referencing, hyperlinks, tables, graphics, and color support.

  • 3
    The authors of 'TeX for the Impatient' (Paul W. Abrahams with Karl Berry and Kathryn A. Hargreaves) developed eplain. Dec 21, 2011 at 23:29


Tailored for Czech/Slovak users, but can load many other hyphenation patterns or font encodings; it also distributes an alternative macro package OPmac, which may also run on top of other Plain-like formats.



By TCI Software Research. Is it still in use? It is buried in the belly of SW/SWP, thus it is kind of used (although I would discourage this).

  • 2
    This seems to be a macro package on top of LaTeX, not a stand-alone format.
    – Joseph Wright
    Dec 20, 2011 at 12:11
  • @JosephWright Well, "TeX formats/macro packages" was asked for, and because it changes quite a few basic things and SWP changes more things in a TeX file (which results in the programme distinguishing between "own" TeX files and normal Tex files (called "portable" ones)), I assumed this to be a valid answer. For example tex.stackexchange.com/q/23963/6865 suggested that TCITeX/SWP is not >>LaTeX built on "Knuth TeX"<<.
    – Stephen
    Dec 20, 2011 at 19:07
  • 1
    @Stephen tcilatex.texis just a mediumsized LaTeX file (kind of a package) that did three things: a) prividing some amsmath commands and environments even if amsmath (amslatex back then) was not loaded, b) providing some special commands for loading graphics and making frames that got used by the visual editor from ScientificWorkplace and c) dealing with 2.09 issues like the different font selections in use. All in all it was something to ship alongside with your document in case you wanted it to be compiled by LaTeX elsewhere. Dec 20, 2011 at 20:52
  • On the whole it wasn't changing the source look and feel much. In fact I recently compiled old documents of mine from those days and in most case it was possible to just comment out loading this file. So I don't really think this classifies as a different format. Dec 20, 2011 at 20:53
  • Maybe one should distinguish between tcilatex.tex and "the way SW/SWP handle TeX-documents". I am referring to the latter. Maybe SW(P)-TeX would be a better notation. For example, %TCIMACRO{sorry}% <LineBreakHere> %BeginExpansion <LineBreakHere> {\LaTeX}% <LineBreakHere> %EndExpansion <LineBreakHere> produces sorry instead of \LaTeX with SW(P).
    – Stephen
    Dec 21, 2011 at 9:23

HyPlain and bplain

These are small (the former far more than the latter) formats meant to extend Plain TeX to support multilingual documents, by allowing it to load several hyphenation patterns. They provide different interfaces, though. Bplain may also load some features of Babel's Language Definition Files.

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